MARY LEE EDWARDS Cardboard shanty, Austin, 1988 of those children as desert flowers flowers that somehow thrive on sand and stone because that’s about all they’d get in that building. One person heard me talk about this recently and got angry at me again this wish to criticize mothers and said, well what are those mothers doing, letting their children play out in the corridor late at night? They have no business being out there at two in the morning. And what I said was, it doesn’t matter. When you’re on the 16th floor [of a] building ‘like that it doesn’t matter whether it’s two in the morning or two in the afternoon, the sun will never shine, it’s always dark. It makes no difference. And I’d wade my way through all these kids out to the landing where the garbage was always spilling over onto the floor and walk down 16 flights of stairs because the elevator was never working, past the guards, who were always very hostile and some older teenagers hanging out in the stairs, and out into the lobby, out into the street. take a deep breath of air, no buses or taxis at that hour. so I’d walk twelve blocks uptown to the nice hotel where I was staying. Go in the lobby, take the elevator up to my room, step into the shower, and steam away that child smell. So in an awful awful way, even these children have become untouchables. When they die in New York City, what happens to these children? Where are these children laid to rest? New York allows poor people $800 for something that’s called a death benefit. In welfare, everything has to have its proper name, so it’s a death benefit. It’s more generous, in fact, than any life benefit the children ever get. But it’s not enough to do the job, as almost always is the case now. Whatever we allocate is just short of the mark. It costs $2,000 to have the funeral and burial in New York City, so these children receive no funeral; they are buried in an unmarked grave in a ditch at a place called Potter’s Field. Potter’s Field is New York City’s public burial ground, it’s on an island in Long Island Sound, it’s part of a prison colony. The children are brought there from hospital morgues and buried by prison inmates. No ceremony memorializes their existende. Their mothers can’t attend their burial, and that may be just as well. It wouldn’t be consoling. Half the people buried in Potter’s Field since 1981 are infants. A lot of them the children of the homeless. y OU MAY HAVE guessed by now that I’m a Democrat. But despite the fact Lnat we’re here in the Lyndon Johnson Library, and I feel I’m among friends, I don’t intend to pose it as a purely partisan issue, because it wouldn’t be fair. The Democrats have been in control of Congress for several years and they’ve contributed to this, there’s been a sense of national inaction. And I know there’s some Republicans here, and I meet Republican people often; in fact, I speak frequently to conservative audiences and I go wherever people will invite me. I’ve come to Texas several times, to Houston and Dallas and to the Valley, Brownsville and Harlingen. And when I come I’m usually speaking to fairly conservative audiences and I do my best to reach whatever audiences will listen to me because this nation is conservative now. And I never believed in rituals of futility and simply talking to the converted I try to reach out as best I can. Sometimes it’s hard for me, I have to tell you. A couple years ago, I went to California, to San Francisco, to keynote a conference called the ANPA, that’s the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association. It’s a large group of about 4,000 people, including the publishers of every newspaper in America, just about every paper. And it’s a very conservative audience. frankly mostly Republican people, I suspect. The editors tend to be liberals. Editors more likely are Democrats, the publishers are mainly Republican; and that was a difficult audience for me to face. Because it was about 2,000 pretty dour looking men, in three-piece blue suits, and THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13
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