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Brave Cincinnatus

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The summer heat is fading, and it brings a welcome relief but also a worrisome fear that the winter cold is right behind it. Each season brings with it a different set of problems - each inverse of the other but still mainly the same. The changing season is making me angry because it marks the passage of time, and I am still here. I'm still living in this nasty fetid little room, hiding out like Anne Frank and dreaming of a job in concentration camp America.

While I was at the library yesterday, I saw my friend who lives under a bridge. He joked and said, "I didn't expect to see you here, I thought you'd be in Washington at the big Glenn Beck Rally!"

Laughing, I answered, "No I've got to stay here and fight for the Democrats, cause if the Republicans get elected God help us! They'll expand the war on terror, they'll open up the Gulf of Mexico to deep water oil drilling, and they'll try and gut Social Security!"

It was the only laugh I had all day as my mood had grown dark and the burden of oppression was weighing me down. As I went through the want ads, most of the jobs - even if I could get one - don't pay enough for me to even support myself, and I was reminded of "The Grapes of Wrath."

"I'm going home to starve, it's better to starve all at once."

I grew up during the 1960s and I remember Dr. King's "I Have a Dream Speech" as a small boy. His voice was the most powerful that I had ever heard, and I thought to myself, "this must be what God sounds like." Dr. King brought change to America and the faces in the crowd were unified by their skin color. They could easily identify each other and that is a valuable tool. Because in America, we the people are raised to believe that we are all individualists, strong, stoic, and solitary.

It is a most useful corporate lie, because as solitary agents we are weak and defenseless. I was asked the million dollar question by a person buried under the rubble of urban decay, and it was a damn good question: "What do we do?" Well that question along with my dark mood made me think hard. I've read about the march on Washington in October, and I think that it is a good and noble thing." A commentor offered, "the mainstream media will never cover it," and that strikes to the heart of the matter.

In a free democratic nation the media report the news as it happens; in a Fascist nation the media is told what to report. It is true that during the 1930s the Hearst newspapers downplayed hunger and poverty of the depression, but the new instrument of radio was not yet corrupted so FDR's fireside chats could carry the message of change to millions, many of whom never read the newspaper anyway. In our generation it is the Internet, and without Internet access a child is left behind in school. You can't find a job - even if there was one to find - and you have no source of independent information whatsoever. To a free and democratic state that should be an issue of grave concern.

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We need to talk to each other about the things that matter, not to tell our own stories, but to hear theirs. As I sat at the computer yesterday a woman was trying to log into a website but couldn't get through, so she phoned them. She was trying to get a copy of her last pay stub from January so she could file for public assistance. I could tell that she was getting the bureaucratic run around and as she hung up she started to sniffle, trying to hold back the tears.

I said, "Excuse me I didn't mean to overhear, but you're not alone. Everyone in this room is in a similar situation."

"Really?" she replied, and I think it helped her some to discover that it wasn't just she, and that there are millions of us. "I've been trying for a week," she explained, "but they've changed all the screen names and passwords. I'm a substitute teacher and I haven't worked since last year. I call and call and I keep getting a different voice mail and they never call me back."

It occurred to me that to become a public schoolteacher takes more than just sending in box tops; it takes a college education. To be a substitute teacher deserves combat pay because of the little cretins trying to run roughshod over substitute teachers. Why isn't there a job for this obviously talented woman? Why is she weeping in a public library, unable to get assistance from her employer or her government?

I'll tell you why; it's the same reason that no sooner had BP plugged the oil spill in the Gulf than it began drug testing cleanup crews. They weren't drug tested when they were hired, but a clause in the company policy allows for random drug screenings and so the crews were called in and told, "Pee in the cup or throw your ID in the trash can." If BP can fire them with just cause, they don't have to pay unemployment expenses. Those people were good enough for the company to wear HAZMAT suits in the upper ninety-degree heat cleaning up the filthy vile crap from BP's negligence but now that the end is approaching, "Smithers, release the hounds!"

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We have to understand that we as a people haven't stumbled; we were pushed! In "The Grapes of Wrath" Steinbeck wrote about the large growers buying up the canneries and once they did they lowered the price paid for the fruit. It effectively put the smaller farmers and growers out of business. The large growers set up associations that decided the wages that would be paid to the pickers, and any growers who violated the rules faced the retaliation of the association.

It is no different today; these things that have befallen us aren't accidents. Cities don't accidentally fall into ruin. If we export forty percent of our manufacturing base overseas what happens? If you have no manufacturing jobs, you have no need of managers and you have no need of suppliers and they have no need of truck drivers. The trucking association lobbies Congress for higher weight limits and double trailers so they need fewer drivers still. Sure, it's not as safe and it's harder on the roads than the other way but what do they care?

It is not a democratic system that offers us a choice between awful and God-awful - that isn't a democracy. The parties decide who the candidates will be, just as they did in Soviet Russia and just as they do today in Beijing. So when you get through falling to the bottom of the stairs, and once you're through rubbing your head and your elbows, try to see the world with new eyes. Try to understand that the game is fixed and you're slowly be pushed towards the door out into the cold.

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I who am I? Born at the pinnacle of American prosperity to parents raised during the last great depression. I was the youngest child of the youngest children born almost between the generations and that in fact clouds and obscures who it is that I (more...)

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