The poor thank the rich  

The poor thank the rich

“Mommy, what’s welfare?” asked ten-year-old Louis as his mom talked with a group of welfare recipients who had rung the doorbell of her luxurious mansion. After some initial confusion, it turned out the welfare recipients had come to bring a pleasant message.

It was back in 1999 when Elena Simons, then a student at art school, organized a group of welfare recipients and invited them to join in an unusual action. Every member of the group contributed a few gifts to fill up a large basket. There were flower bulbs and home-made cakes. One lady, herself an artist, contributed a number of lithograph prints. Another wrote a poem. Finally, somebody added a sausage to the basket.

Next the group made their way to Bloemendaal, the richest town in the Netherlands. They walked to the neighborhood with the largest and most beautiful mansions and rang doorbells. Residents who opened the door were offered a gift from the basket, accompanied by a note reading: “As a rich person you pay a lot of taxes. We can understand very well that you aren’t too excited about doing so. But as welfare recipients, we live off this money. That’s why we would like to express our thanks through this little gift.”

Most of the reactions were politely positive. At two addresses, the group was invited in for tea. Many residents gave their opinion on the welfare system. A common sentiment among them was: “I’m in favor of the system so long as nobody makes misuse of it.” Various people were shy, saying: “Thanks so much, but I’m not sure you picked the right address. It may look like I live in an enormous house, but in fact there are four families living here.”

It was an interesting encounter, not only for the rich but also for their visitors. Towards the end of the action, the lady who had contributed the lithograph prints commented that the experience had forced her to reconsider her prejudices. “Rich people are much friendlier than I thought,” she said. Finally the sausage was taken out of the basket and given to a mansion-inhabiting dog for lunch.