- The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is. [Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (1980), Chapter 1, “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress”.]
In Buddhism, the supreme aim of human life, as expressed through the Four Noble Truths, is the elimination of suffering. The health sciences are dedicated to it directly and many professions are dedicated to it either directly or indirectly. Anyone who engages in charity work, or good works of any kind, is engaged in the elimination of suffering. In fact, a musician is trying to eliminate suffering through her art. When we begin to see how every good work or act of service is aimed at the elimination of suffering, we have begun to think like a Buddhist master.
- Ben Shephard, The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011): displaced persons after World War II.
- Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (Scribner, 2010).
- Adam Hochschild, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011): presenting World War I as a slaughter of the working class.
- Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, The Man Who Would Cure the World (Random House, 2009).
- Dave Isay, David Miller and Harvey Wang, Milton Rogovin: The Forgotten Ones (Quantuck Lane Press, 2003).
- Judith Keller, Milton Rogovin: The Mining Photographs (J. Paul Getty Museum, 2005).
- Melanie Anne Herzog, Milton Rogovin: The Making of a Social Documentary Photographer (University of Washington Press, 2006).
- Joann Wypijewski, Tryptichs: Buffalo’s Lower West Side Revisited (W.W. Norton & Co., 1994).
- Milton Rogovin and Eric Gansworth, From the Western Door to the Lower West Side (White Wine Press, 2009).
- Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (Nation Books, 2012).
- Rachel Pearson, No Apparent Distress: A Doctor’s Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine (W.W. Norton & Company, 2017). “A doctor describes her experiences trying to help the uninsured poor.”
- Thomas Fisher, The Emergency: A Year of Healing and Heartbreak in a Chicago ER (One World, 2022), “is about being an emergency room doctor on Chicago’s South Side; it’s a busy book about a busy man.”
- Lars Eighner, Travels with Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Streets (St. Martin’s Press, 1993): “ . . . a modern autobiography of a supertramp. For Lars Eighner, homelessness was until very recently a full-time job, as it was for Davies, and this book takes us into the profound depths of that other country that lies all around us on the streets.”
Documentary and Educational Films
- Diego Rivera, Night of the Poor (1928)
- Frédéric Bazille, The Improvised Field Hospital (1865)
- Gustave Courbet, The Wounded Man (1844-45)
- Gabriel Metsu, The Sick Child (ca. 1660)
- Adriaen Brouwer, The Operation (c. 1631)
- Angelo Caroselli, The Plague at Ashdod (after Nicolas Poussin) (1631)
On suffering at the hands of others:
- Joseph Mallord William Turner, Slave Ship (1840)
- Francesco de Goya, The Third of May, 1808 (1814-15)
Music: songs and other short pieces
Film and Stage
- The Lower Depths: Two great filmmakers, AkiraKurosawa (Donzoko) and Jean Renoir (Les Bas-fonds), reinterpreted a 1902 play by Maxim Gorky.
- The Good Earth, abouta poor Chinese family
- Bonnie and Clyde, a filmabout “rebels who empathized with the poor working folks of the 1930s” – I emphasize that I do not offer their lives as examples of moral virtue but the genesis of their anti-hero status is an important reminder about the ethical perils inherent in the continual struggle against injustice in an unjust world
- The Gleaners and I, a documentaryabout people who scavenge for crops, this film is an “extended essay on poverty”
- Bound for Glory, a dramatizationof Woody Guthrie’s life
- Armadillo, on “the means by which war has been brought home to noncombatants”
- The Little Fugitive, about the fears a small boy tricked into thinking he has killed his brother, and his methods of escape
- Look Back in Anger, a pessimistic lookat the struggling working class
- Lamerica: taking advantageof the poor for political gain
- Viridiana: a young nun reluctantly visits her uncle, who has an unhealthy attraction to her, and ends up trying to change the lives of destitute people through charity
"Drink!” repeated Quasimodo panting, and for the third time.
At that moment he beheld the crowd give way. A young girl, fantastically dressed, emerged from the throng. She was accompanied by a little white goat with gilded horns, and carried a tambourine in her hand.
Quasimodo’s eyes sparkled. It was the gypsy whom he had attempted to carry off on the preceding night, a misdeed for which he was dimly conscious that he was being punished at that very moment; which was not in the least the case, since he was being chastised only for the misfortune of being deaf, and of having been judged a deaf man. He doubted not that she had come to wreak her vengeance also, and to deal her blow like the rest.
He beheld her, in fact, mount the ladder rapidly. Wrath and spite suffocate him. He would have liked to make the pillory crumble into ruins, and if the lightning of his eye could have dealt death, the gypsy would have been reduced to powder before she reached the platform.
She approached, without uttering a syllable, the victim who writhed in a vain effort to escape her, and detaching a gourd from her girdle, she raised it gently to the parched lips of the miserable man.
Then, from that eye which had been, up to that moment, so dry and burning, a big tear was seen to fall, and roll slowly down that deformed visage so long contracted with despair. It was the first, in all probability, that the unfortunate man had ever shed.
Meanwhile, he had forgotten to drink. The gypsy made her little pout, from impatience, and pressed the spout to the tusked month of Quasimodo, with a smile.
He drank with deep draughts. His thirst was burning.
When he had finished, the wretch protruded his black lips, no doubt, with the object of kissing the beautiful hand which had just succoured him. But the young girl, who was, perhaps, somewhat distrustful, and who remembered the violent attempt of the night, withdrew her hand with the frightened gesture of a child who is afraid of being bitten by a beast.
Then the poor deaf man fixed on her a look full of reproach and inexpressible sadness.
It would have been a touching spectacle anywhere,—this beautiful, fresh, pure, and charming girl, who was at the same time so weak, thus hastening to the relief of so much misery, deformity, and malevolence. On the pillory, the spectacle was sublime. [Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris, or, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), Volume I, Book Sixth, Chapter IV, “A Tear for a Drop of Water”.]
- Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth (1931).
- Marysé Conde, Waiting for the Waters to Rise (2018): “Condé puts forth the secrets and histories of a fascinating cast, producing a timeless exploration of the wounds that emerge—and linger—when people lose those who mean the most to them, be it their family, friends, or country.”
I'm Ramón González Barbagelata from anywhere,
from Cucuy, from Paraná, from Rio Turbio, from Oruro,
from Maracaibo, from Parral, from Ovalle, from Loconmilla,
I'm the poor devil from the poor Third World,
I'm the third-class passenger installed, good God!
in the lavish whiteness of snow-covered mountains,
concealed among orchids of subtle idiosyncrasy.
I've arrived at this famous year 20000, and what do I get?
With what do I scratch myself? What do I have to do with
the three glorious zeros that flaunt themselves
over my very own zero, my own non-existence?
Pity that brave heart awaiting its call
or the man enfolded by warmer love,
nothing's left today except my flimsy skeleton,
my eyes unhinged, confronting the era's beginning.
The era's beginning: are these ruined shacks,
these poor schools, these people still in rags and tatters,
this cloddish insecurity of my poor families,
is all this the day? the century's beginning, the golden door?
Well, enough said, I, at least, discreet,
as in office, patched and pensive,
I proclaim the redundancy of the inaugural:
I've arrived here with all my baggage,
bad luck and worse jobs,
misery always waiting with open arms,
the mobilization of people piled up on top of each other,
and the manifold geography of hunger.
[Pablo Neruda, “The Men”]
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
- John Adams, The Wound Dresser (1989)
- Corigliano, Symphony No. 1 (1988), about the AIDS epidemic
- Weinberg, Chamber Symphony No. 4 for clarinet, triangle and string orchestra, Op. 153 (1992)
- Weinberg, String Quartet No. 15, Op. 124 (1979)
- Boris Tchaikovsky, Cello Concerto in E Major (1964): 1. Andante – Allegro - Andante; 2. Allegretto; 3.
- Halffter, Planta por las victimas de la violencia (1971)
- Raga Kamod, a Hindustani classical raag for late evening, visually portrayed as a young woman with a rosary in her hand, legend held that this raga could cure the sick (performances by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Vilayat Khan and Kashalkar)
- Penderecki, Cello Concerto No. 2
- Halffter, Cello Concerto No, 2, “No queda mas que el silencio” (“There is nothing left but silence”)
- Hemphill, “The Boyé Multi-National Crusade for Harmony” (box set)
- Chuck Mangione, “Children of Sanchez”: the greatest film score for a film that was never released, this work is about children in an impoverished and oppressed village
- Remmy Ongala & Orchestre Super Matimila, “Songs for the Poor Man”
- Tormis, “Forgotten Peoples”
- Sahrauis: “The Music of the Western Sahara”
- William Parker, “In Order to Survive” and “Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy” doube-album, reissue