The pope and the president of the United States are perhaps the two most prominent figures to speak out against inequality. They are right to do so, and I hope they continue.

Both have pointed out the corrosive effects of the growing polarization between the rich and the rest, or, as some now put it, between the 1 percent and the 99 percent. No surprise that both men are falsely accused of being communists by the usual suspects.

Capitalism’s apologists are quick to pounce on any deviation from ideological orthodoxy, even if the suggested reforms can all be made without changing the system. I am reminded of a quip by the late Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

The plight of poor people here — and around the world — is scandalous and unnecessary. The modest reforms advocated by pope and president are welcome. I believe their instincts and intentions are good. Too bad that reactionaries have the power to thwart badly needed changes: increasing the minimum wage, tax reform, investments in education and infrastructure.

If change cannot be achieved from within the system, there is an alternative: We can change the system. We all have witnessed the way institutions of state are used to serve the interests of bankers and corporate CEOs. Why can’t those same institutions be used to serve the interests of the vast majority? It isn’t so much a question of the goodness or badness of government; it’s more a question of in whose interest the government serves? Government can serve the people, but the change we need must come from below.

Christopher N. McKinnonAugusta