Social Justice Poetry

Buff Whitman-Bradley

The Flint, Michigan Water Crisis | A Social Justice Poem by Buff Whitman-Bradley

At the end
Of long hot summer afternoons
Parents call their children
Home for supper
And when the young ones come banging
Through screen doors
To slake their thirst
And cool down
For the evening meal
They pour themselves
Glasses of ice water

When the kids return from school
On frigid winter days
And take off their jackets
Their boots and hats, scarves and mittens
Mom sets out a few cookies on a plate
Then spoons some chocolate powder
Into a shiny cup
And adds boiling water

Water in the oatmeal
Water in the soup
Water in the orange juice
Water for boiling potatoes
Water for soaking beans
Water for poaching eggs
Water for stewing apples
Water for bathing and brushing teeth
Water in drinking fountains at the park
A glass of water the last thing
Before going to sleep at night

Water full of lead
Particularly toxic to youngsters
Water full of lead
Kept secret by the governor
Water full of lead
That killed a dozen children
Water full of lead
Causing brain damage
To countless others

In a just world
The wholesale poisoning of young children
Would be a crime against humanity
In a just world
Crocodile tears
And intricately crafted apologies
Uttered by empty suits
Would not be enough
In a just world
The governor and his henchman
Would be out of office
And behind bars

In a just world public officials
Will be decent and honorable people
In a just world
Governors and legislators will not cut taxes
For the well-off
Then allow essential services to decay
For lack of funds
In a just world
Health and safety will be human rights
Not budget line items
In a just world
Politics will not be contaminated
By the dense metals of mendacity and greed
The public good will prevail
None will be expendable
And the water we drink
Will be pure and clean

The Dreams of Oligarchs | A Social Justice Poem by Buff Whitman-Bradley

In 2015, just 62 individuals had the same wealth as 3.6 billion people — the bottom half of humanity.
An Economy for the 1% — Oxfam International

In the dreams of oligarchs
The rest of us are
Interchangeable nonentities
Faceless helots of drudgery
Who only exist
To feed ourselves
To carnivorous machines and factories
For the multiplication of assets

In the dreams of oligarchs
We are insects underfoot
Cartoon roaches
Skittering and scrambling
Much to their aristocratic amusement
To avoid the master’s
Exquisitely hand-crafted Italian heel

In the dreams of oligarchs
A tailored and cologned and manicured God
Said Let their be wealth
And there was wealth
Pornographic accumulations of riches
Stolen from those who create it
With their labor and their lives
Who watch their children
Go hungry
Who watch their children
Die from poisoned slums
And lack of medical care
Who watch the flames flicker out
In their children’s eyes
As it dawns on them
That their beautiful and irreplaceable
Minds and bodies
Are so much detritus
To those who live
In the pages of glossy magazines
And inform us who matters
And who doesn’t

But in the dreams of oligarchs
There are also the dark corridors
In the rat-infested tubercular tenements
Of their souls
In the fever dreams of oligarchs
The insects grow huge and vengeful
In the fever dreams of oligarchs
Limousines sprout fangs
And an appetite for the upper classes
Estates become fetid swamps
Mansions decay into tar paper flop houses
In the fever dreams of oligarchs
The sweatshop destitute
The ghetto asthmatics
The landfill dwellers
The garbage eaters
Come in the night
To kidnap their darling money

And in the dreams of the rest
Justice breaks out
Like a sky full of kites
Like boulevards of food and flowers
Like conga lines
Of love and liberation
In the dreams of the rest
Fiestas erupt in the streets
Backyard potlucks go on all night
And the poor dear oligarchs
Become little gray moths
Banging frantically and furiously
Against windowpanes and porch lights
Unnoticed by everyone
Except themselves

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Spirit | A Social Justice Poem by Buff Whitman-Bradley

“Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will . . .” Antonio
Gramsci

At the strategy meeting to invert
The established order
Coffee and cookies are served
In attendance are a dozen or so persons
Who do not need a weatherman
To tell us that something
Is horribly wrong
After much discussion
We fashion an excellent plan
For an action of virtually no significance
That will likely go completely unnoticed
By the general public
And have no effect
On the powers and principalities
We will sit blocking the entrances
To some ponderous edifice
Until after a couple of hours
The police cart us away
We may spend a little time in jail
But probably not
And all will return to
What has come to be called normal
However

There is method in our insignificance
Because we know deep in the origami folds
Of our ancient memory
That for thousands of years
Ordinary people whose identities have evaporated
Like dew from early morning grasses
Have been committing acts of resistance
That are now unremembered
And we know that those seemingly ephemeral actions
Do not vanish
But accumulate in a growing mass
Each fraction of a gram
Added to the bulk of all the others
Until the day finally comes
When the weight is great enough
To flip the world
And none of us can say for certain
Tomorrow will not be that day