Friday, December 24, 2010

Charity? Bah! Redistribution? Yes!

My family gives money to the Salvation Army every Christmas. I give money to the Salvation Army every Christmas, even raise money for them in between. Sally Anne as it's more colloquially known, or even more concisely, 'The Sally'. Our neighbor across the road eats two meals a day there- he is diabetic and needs decent meals to keep it under control. Of course we don't have a grocery store of any substance anywhere near by, and bus fare is not cheap. Of six churches in walking distance, only one offers meals and then once a month. But Sally is right here, every single day.

Our neighbour across the road is the only person we know who is brave enough to climb up on our roof and clean the leaves out of the gutters- four times a year! There were trees actually growing in the eaves troughs when we bought the place. He keeps an eye on the house for us, having a somewhat more nocturnal life than us. He lets the dog run up to him anytime she wants, even run into his apartment. We wave from door to door every day.

When I first started university I discovered there is lots of socialist angst about things like the Sally Anne, and charities in general. The Sally Anne in particular is also cast as the worst kind of charity, trading a meal for your presence at a church service- not true, but the explicitly faith-based nature of the Salvation Army seems to leave no doubt for most.

I agree with lots of this vague socialist angst. I was raised (by the same family that gives money to the Salvation Army every year) to know the difference between palliatives and ruptures, between band-aids and changes, between actions that help us cope with injustice and actions that create social justice. All very socialist, with a capital S.

And yet, the Sally exceeds the grasp of this criticism for us. Because? Because my family is paying the Salvation Army back for all that they have done for us. For people like us who have been directly supported by the Sally in their lives, maybe all of us who have been supported by the likes of the Sally Anne, the Salvation Army is not 'a charity', it is 'insurance', a bell-ringing redistribution network that holds us all together. The debt we owe was never recorded- I haven't inherited an invoice for services rendered. Nope. Instead, I inherited the knowledge that the Sally is there, was there, and will be there. For me, for us, for my neighbour across the road.