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Understanding the Effects of Injustice, the Intersectionality of Poverty, and the Importance of our Moral Narrative


Intersectionality … is the only path forward. We cannot play “my crisis is more urgent than your crisis”: war trumps climate; climate trumps class; class trumps gender; gender trumps race. That trumping game, my friends, is how you end up with a Trump.

Either we fight for a future in which everyone belongs, starting with those being most battered by injustice and exclusion today, or we will keep losing. And there is no time for that. Moreover, when we make these connections among issues—climate, capitalism, colonialism, slavery—there is a kind of relief. Because it actually is all connected, all part of the same story. ~Naomi Klein

The critical first step in harnessing the power of intersectionality is to convince activists of all stripes it’s in their best interest to move forward together. When this happens on a grand scale, the synergy possible will be extraordinary.

Once I thought of Bryan Stevenson’s quote, “The opposite of poverty is justice” outside the mostly judicial story of his book, Just Mercy, I realized all social ills are poverty problems caused by injustice. With injustice a common thread, it was easy for me to understand intersectionality. And with my long-held beliefs about the importance of narrative, a dynamic emerges where a distorted moral narrative of fear and greed results in injustice which in turn produces economic, environmental, opportunity, and security poverties. Since these poverties have a common connection to injustice which is the result of a distorted national narrative, a collective moral fusion movement enlisting the combined energy of environmental and social activists of all stripes that work together will rise together because poverty declines as justice rises and all declines in poverty are intersectional, meaning a positive effect on one type of poverty produces positive effects on all types of poverty. In the paragraphs that follow, this concept is explained in more detail.

The opposite of poverty is justice. (Bryan Stevenson, Founder/ Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative)

The outcome of injustice always is poverty in one or more forms.

The root cause of all injustice is a distorted moral narrative driven by fear and greed. All injustice manifests itself in one or more forms of poverty:

  • Poverty of living standards,
  • Poverty of stable climate, abundant natural resources, clean air, clean water, healthy food, healthy soil, and healthy forests,
  • Poverty of opportunity, and/or
  • Poverty of peace

Economic Injustice leads to labor exploitation in the form of depressed wages, poor working conditions, lack of healthcare, etc.

Environmental Injustice leads to environmental exploitation and devastation.

Racial/Sex/Gender Injustice leads to discrimination, inequality, mass incarceration, and lack of opportunity.

Security Injustice leads to paranoia, national bullying, unbalanced funding away from social programs, promotion of the myth of redemptive violence, and civil militarism.

The Importance of Our National Narrative

Having shown the connection between injustice and the various forms of poverty that are intersectional, let’s now examine the influences on our national narrative that allow injustice to poison our societal tree.

The best way to see the difference between a distorted narrative and a moral narrative is to start with an environmental perspective. Environmental injustice is an outgrowth of a distorted narrative that privileges an anthropocentric (human-centered) viewpoint over an eco-centric (life/nature centered) viewpoint. Life centeredness recognizes we are all part of an interconnect web of life (the ecosystem). In contrast, human centeredness is a manifestation of past cultures that feared nature and strove to dominate it. Early biblical scriptures reflect this. A viewpoint that privileges human rights over the rights of the rest of our planet justifies human domination and exploitation of the environment.

Once domination and exploitation by our species is accepted, it is then easy to apply it to our own clan, where our clan can be defined by our nationality, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and/or economic status. Consequently, human centeredness easily morphs into self-centeredness that justifies unbridled nationalism, racism, religious intolerance, sexism, homophobia, and elitism. Self-centeredness is fueled by fear and greed: a fear of losing preferential status and greed that understands status influences opportunity and wealth.

Moving from a narrative based on self-centeredness to an eco-centric (life/nature centered) narrative is not only good for the environment; it is good for the whole societal tree since life centeredness manifests itself in compassion and generosity for all creation, human and otherwise. In contrast to self-centeredness:

  • Racism is an anathema to life-centeredness.
  • Sexism is an anathema to life-centeredness.
  • Environmental devastation is an anathema to life-centeredness.
  • War/nationalism is an anathema to life-centeredness.
  • Economic poverty is an anathema to life-centeredness.

In other words, white supremacy, male supremacy, national supremacy, and elitist supremacy cannot exist under an umbrella of life supremacy (life-centeredness).

A national narrative of self-centeredness, fueled by fear and greed, supports ever increasing consumption and environmental devastation, poverty, racism, and a war economy.

A national narrative of life-centeredness promotes the common good for the planet and all life— both present and future.

Watering the societal tree with a life-centered moral narrative promoting the common good nurtures the tree, sending justice through its branches that produces health and vitality throughout the tree.

In this article I hope I’ve demonstrated to you that no matter what your social justice focus is: environmental devastation, economic poverty, racism, sexism, gender bias, immigration, and/or war/militarism, they all are a form of poverty—a poverty caused by injustice that is promoted by our distorted national narrative driven by fear and greed. These forms of poverty are all inter- relational, interdependent, and intersectional. An advancement in one area produces collateral benefits in others. Likewise, an improvement in our national narrative will promote greater justice for the benefit of all. If we all work together to change our distorted national narrative based on greed and fear to a national moral narrative of compassion and generosity, we all will benefit. Forward Together!

Steve Hansen lives in Chesapeake, VA, and is a tri-chair of the Virginia Poor People’s Campaign Hampton Roads chapter. Steve can be reached at The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

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