An Open Letter to Sen. Joe Manchin

by on October 12, 2021 · 9 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Joni Halpern

Dear Sen. Manchin,

I am writing to convey my sorrow that you are ill.  When you first won your Senate seat, people said “Joe Manchin is a guy who listens,”  “Joe Manchin is a guy who cares about his constituents,”  “Joe Manchin understands how his people struggle.”  But now we find you have your limits.  Human infrastructure is nowhere near as compelling as bridges, roads and Wi-Fi.  You can’t be spending money on people who don’t work.  That’s when I realized you are suffering from the same serious illness that afflicts so many American political figures.

In fact, you are a victim of a pandemic that has overtaken millions of our countrymen as well.  It is not COVID-19.  It is a blistering, foul smelling, open-sored ignorance caused by not knowing what it means to be poor in America.

I watched you commenting on the cost of the Reconciliation bill – the so-called “Build Back Better” bill – that is supposed to provide “human infrastructure” – namely, the things people need to help prepare and become available for work.  These are things like child care, dental and vision care, community college education, and other necessities that help human beings compete in a competitive job market of which a fundamental part is a service economy.

As I watched you pontificate from the back of your yacht, reminding your kayaking constituents that you can’t vote for this bill is because it costs too much money, and taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing people who don’t work, I thought I had found the source of your illness.  Maybe you just never knew the poor.

I think I do.  I have served them as a free lawyer for more than 25 years.  In that time, I have seen them by the hundreds in most of those years.  They have come to my office with their little ones so accustomed to long bus rides and longer walks that they don’t even bother anymore to try to get out of their strollers.  We called them “stroller babies.”  There was no child care available for them, because child care has never been adequately funded in this country.  So, while other kids of higher economic standing went to music, art, tumbling and “Mommy and Me” classes paid out-of-pocket by parents, these little folks learned to look at the world from a stroller.  Eventually, the urge to explore it left them.

You never met a little fellow like Joshua, who came to my office with his mom and two sisters when he was three years old.  He refused to take off his backpack, though it was heavy with toddler books.  He was used to living in a shelter that required its inhabitants to leave every morning by 6:30 a.m., take all their belongings with them, and wander the streets all day long without a penny for food or drink, until they were allowed to return to the shelter at 6 p.m.

I took Joshua and his family to lunch the first day we met.  They were hungry.  It took me half an hour to talk him into leaving his backpack locked in the car, so he could lighten his burden while he ate.  Finally, he gave in and eased the backpack onto the seat.  As soon as the car door slammed shut, he wailed and wouldn’t stop.  His mom explained he had once lost his precious backpack after taking it off in a shelter.  He never risked that loss again.

You never knew Rose, Sen. Manchin.  She was a devoted mother who cooked and cleaned meals on a hotplate and walked her children to school.  Having been abandoned by her husband, she was unable to find a place to live, not even a room inside someone’s house.  The rents were too high, and she was repaying the County for the cost of having previously housed her children in protective custody while it was determined that they were not skinny from neglect, but from their mother’s inability to navigate the chaotic food stamp application process.

You might have judged Rose harshly, Sen. Manchin.  She had not one dime for rent, no child care, no transportation, no way to free herself from her predicament to find work.  The cost of the small enclosed, unheated porch she rented for herself and her children was that she sleep with the owner of the house,  a mean-spirited, disheveled man who threatened her with eviction if he didn’t get his way.

I do not expect you ever met the thousands of people in your state, or the millions of others like them across America, who raise kids while working full-time at minimum-wage jobs that pay next to nothing, with no benefits, no health care, no sick leave, no future.  You probably pass by them without knowing them or seeing them.  They rise before the nine-to-fivers, get their kids ready for school, walk them to bus stops or take them on the bus with them, drop them at school and head on out to the “plantation,” where they bus tables, clean hotel rooms, scrub bathrooms, vacuum empty office buildings, mop hospital floors, dispose of noxious waste, clean the bodies of the infirm and the elderly, lift the disabled, watch over the children of the affluent, cook food they could never afford to put on their own table, and pick the fruits and vegetables in the fields that would cost us all so much more if it weren’t for the cheap labor.

You probably don’t know this, but almost all poor people work.  Even the ones who don’t have jobs work.  They climb into dumpsters after everything is closed, they fight with the rats in the park trash cans in order to harvest recyclable bottles.  They perform odd jobs for barter.  They walk the streets looking for what we throw away as garbage – broken chairs, desks, bookcases, tables, lamps, kitchen utensils and small appliances, anything they can sell to other poor people who can fix anything and resell it.

And then there are the romantic poor, like Mr. Embry.  Every year, on the anniversary of his marriage to his beloved Katherine, he walked for miles to harvest one good rose from each garden in an affluent neighborhood he visited late at night.  When I met him, he had been married 20 years.  “I have worked all my life,” he said.  “Hard work.  But I could never afford to buy my wife roses on our anniversary.”  He shook his head.  “But it’s getting harder to find them each year.  I have to walk miles now to get enough.  I don’t like to take more than one from each garden.  Roses are hard to grow.”

I did not hear you preach from the back of your yacht, Sen. Manchin, about why we can afford to raise the federal debt and deficit by giving rich people and billion-dollar corporations tax breaks.  I did not hear a peep from you about how the rich corporations were stealing our future by using their taxpayer-funded windfall to buy back their stock and stow away massive amounts of cash.  I never heard a whisper from you when they sent their lobbyists to Capitol Hill with wads of contributions to buy their bank holidays, so they could repatriate the fortunes they had sheltered overseas.  You were a man in public office for years before you were a senator, and I never heard you explain to your constituency why their hard-working, struggling families were less deserving than the clients of the lobbyists and campaign donors who funded you.

Yes, it costs money to help people in need, whether they are working in a job or working to stay alive, Sen. Manchin.  But you don’t know them as well as you know the wealthy.  You don’t know them as well as the people who support your candidacy.

You should look them up some day.  Maybe get off that yacht of yours and take a walk along the docks.  See who is recycling the trash, cleaning the restrooms, mopping the kitchens in the restaurants, walking the dogs for the folks away on a cruise.

You might meet someone who could cure the potentially fatal illness of your ignorance.


Joni Halpern

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Marjie Larson October 13, 2021 at 8:39 am

Thank you Joni for speaking of the thousands of poor people you have served and helped over the years. I have met many of them and was surprised how hard they worked to do the things we take for granted like jumping in a car we own. It is hard walking to and catching buses everywhere one needs to go if they don’t have cars. It is hard to find affordable homes, food when hungry and caring individuals. Government ignores those in need and support only the wealthy. Thank you for your knowledge and help for those who live in poverty.


Joni Halpern October 13, 2021 at 2:40 pm

Thank you, Marjie. I shouldn’t call you “Marjie.” I should call you “the Person I Most Want To Be Like,” for you are one who has cared for low-income families in the kindest ways for almost 30 years.


sealintheSelkirks October 14, 2021 at 12:14 pm

Serious words, Joni, the worst part being that this is how our society (in general) operates. And it is deliberate, deeply embedded by those that profit who do not want to change it. It also shows that the Democratic Party leadership have few if any ethics to speak of because they let people like this run as Democrats.

And those that think they can change it end up bought & paid for. Here is a paid Republican political ad from 2012 against his fellow Democorprocrat Sinema in 2012:

Was she always this way? Her first term results is in the link below. She switched immediately to being a Republican operative.

If you want to play with the Big Boys, you become one of the Big Boys. Or at least let them buy you off if you want to stay in the game. Power and wealth…corrupts it all. Thank you unSurpreme Court, you have done your job well.



Joni Halpern October 14, 2021 at 4:30 pm

sealintheSelkirks: I watched the youtube video about Sinema. Even the typography portrays her as a 70’s-style radical. But what is she really? Is she like Pete Wilson, one thing one day, and another on an other day, depending on what is needed for traction in the next election? Is she dipping her hand into the stream of Arizona public opinion, so sharply divided by class, race, income and ethnicity that the water varies dramatically from one place to the next? After all is said and done, who is Kyrsten Sinema? Is she just one more confused American who hasn’t settled on a set of values or a way of thinking steady enough to guide her through her own life, let alone guide that of a nation? If in the end, she answers up at least to herself, it will still be too late for the rest of us.


sealintheSelkirks October 14, 2021 at 10:54 pm

Masks within masks within masks, Joni, but sociopaths are expected to be good at that, yes? Somehow I don’t get the impression she’s confused. She’s got her own agenda just like her other DINO Munchie coal boy.

Two from today for people who don’t read common dreams:

Manchin gets $1.5 mil from corporates against Biden agenda:

And then there’s this one on Sinema his co-conspirator in cognitive dissonance who just took off to Europe to ‘fundraise.’ Excuse me? She wants to hobnob for re-election money in 2024 from out of the country? Doesn’t that fall under the same rule that’s being used on whistleblowing reporters as being a foreign agent? I mean, whistblowers aren’t even taking any money?

I’m thinking she’s just ensuring her revenue stream. I’m sure she’ll be put on a couple of ‘board of director seats’ for doing what she’s been doing. Corruption is quite lucrative after all!



Chris October 17, 2021 at 6:38 am

He was born and raised in Farmington WV so I think it a stretch to say he hasn’t seen what it’s like to be poor. I think it’s a matter of lacking empathy and compassion DESPITE seeing the suffering around him.


sealintheSelkirks October 17, 2021 at 1:17 pm

Then what you’re saying is that his behavior is more along the pattern of a Sociopath? Seems like a lot of those infest US politics…in both parties.



Frank Gormlie October 17, 2021 at 3:23 pm

There ya go again! You just can’t help it! A sort of false equivalency between the parties, even though one of them is marching us into a US-style fascism. ‘See, they’re really both the same, really.’ The needle has gotten stuck on this track.


Chris October 17, 2021 at 4:27 pm

I think of him more as an opportunist.


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