Your website asked for stories,well, I have one to tell...
Last year, I lost my house to foreclosure. My family and I spent many sleepless nights wondering where we would go. In this new America, you can't even rent a house without good credit, mine is shot thanks to the divorce that cost me my house. Landlords now see this housing mess as a way to turn a pretty nice profit by charging those applying for rental units double the cost of the credit check. We finally found a place that didn't require a credit check and moved in. The furnace was so bad, it was red-tagged by the gas company in the middle of winter and the landlord refused to fix it. We could have died had the furnace exploded and the landlord was going to let us freeze to death. We had to move again. Now, we live next to drug dealers who scream in the street at all hours. My kids can't go outside and play or walk to the park because they are scared. We can't afford to move again, so we're stuck living here and hoping nothing horrible happens.
In the new America, we were forced to choose between paying our electric bill and our gas bill. We currently have no gas service and I can't afford to pay the bill, so we will go without. The electric company demands over 10% of my monthly income to continue electric service. There are months when I have to skip paying my rent just to keep the lights on. I now buy food when I can, we pretty much just throw together whatever we can when we're hungry. It's a rarity that I'm able to cook an actual meal like I used to. I am the only person in my family with health insurance because I can't afford to spend 50% of my income to insure my family. My kids haven't had a Christmas in over 4 years. It doesn't look like they'll have one this year either. We can not get help from any agency because they all say I make too much money. Really? Because I sure don't see it. I can't afford to pay my rent and my monthly bills ever. We do not live a lavish lifestyle. In fact, we rarely do anything except sit in our house. Right now, I have a 10 day shut off notice for my water service and no way to pay it. I live every day in a state of panic because I never know when the rug will get pulled out from under us again.
In some ways, I'm lucky. I'm not working a minimum wage job or three. I work full time, but nobody will hire me for a second part time job because my schedule is not flexible. I went to college, hell, I'm studying for my Master's Degree right now. It all seems so useless because I will probably never earn a living which will allow me to pay my bills, feed my family and take care of things the way I should. I do no like this new America. When I was a child, I was raised to believe that hard work and education were the keys to success, that is not true in the new America. Here, I don't know what it takes to get by. I am terrified that we will freeze to death this winter or that we will be evicted due to having our gas and water shut off. I don't know what will happen to us then. People just don't want to see the human face in all of this. It's easier to sit back and call the occupy protesters lazy and unemployed. That probably makes the armchair quarterbacks feel good because considering that it could be them next is just not something they are willing to do. Calling others lazy or saying they just want a hand out is much easier than facing the very real possibility that it could be you next. It very easily could be. I never imagined that I would be living this way. I never imagined that my kids would have to go without so much. But guess what? It did happen and I am not lazy or stupid. I work hard every day even when I'm sick. I've never not worked hard and here I am, terrified and depressed because this new America does not want me.
Thank you for listening.
New Blog by James McMurtry:
About a week ago, at the end of a short solo tour of Southwest Alaska, I
wandered down to Occupy Anchorage. The camp was only a block from my hotel.
The temperature was in the single digits with a light snow. There were three
tents, the first of which was wide open. Inside were four young men, two
white and two native, a dog, and a propane heater. I offered them some
smoked salmon and some CDs. They took great interest in the salmon and it
was quickly consumed. The white guys introduced themselves. The natives did
I guess I should have introduced myself to all of them, but I felt sheepish
and shy, like an interloper or a tourist. They all seemed to handle the cold
pretty well. I asked them if they had any tips to help Occupiers in the
lower forty eight get through the winter. They shrugged. John, the dog's
owner, said,"It's pretty simple. You need shelter, heat, and food." About
then, a nice woman named Wendy, who lived in the neighborhood, came in with
a crock of hot soup. Morale improved instantly. Wendy struck up a lively
conversation with a young man named Matt, who seemed like he could become a
spokesman, if the movement wanted a spokesman. He had something of a
thousand yard stare from, I guessed, fatigue and constant cold.
Matt considered himself lucky to be protesting in Anchorage rather than
Portland or Oakland, because the Anchorage Police were not bothering the
protesters, and some officers were openly supportive of the movement,
stopping by to chat and to gripe about departmental budget cuts. Matt said
he thought he preferred sub zero temperatures to pepper spray, horses, and
batons. He offered me some of the soup. I'd had plenty to eat and had to
catch an early flight, so I declined, wished them luck, and left. I was
struck by their generosity. I liked the salmon, but they needed that soup.
Historically, it's always been pretty easy for the powerful to get poor
people to swing sticks at other poor people. The powerful simply have to pay
the stick swingers just a little bit more than they used to pay the strikers
or the protesters or whatever group is causing them annoyance, divide and
suppress. Police officers may not live in abject poverty, but they're
certainly not rich. They need their jobs and they're trained to follow
orders. They are not paid to care whether or not they belong to the one
percent that gives the orders, though I don't doubt that some of them do
care anyway. I'm curious about the origin of the orders.
With regard to Occupy and Law enforcement, mayors and college
presidents seemed to be charged with giving the orders, at least officially,
and they are subsequently charged with taking the heat when the execution of
any of their orders goes terribly wrong and produces violence, physical
injury, and embarrassing Utube. Politicians and Administrators don't
generally like controversy, it's bad for careers. I don't think such people
would give orders that would likely result in some really messy controversy,
unless enough pressure were brought to bear on them that they would fear for
their careers anyway. I think there are bigger forces at work here.
In October, the New York City Police Department arrested over seven hundred
Occupy protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge. Some were held for hours without
charge. Earlier this year, J.P. Morgan/Chase, one of the recipients of the
government bailout, derided by both Occupy and the Tea Party, donated 4.6
million dollars, partly in technology, patrol car laptops and such, to the
New York City Police Department. This was the largest single donation ever
received by NYPD. You can't tell me there were no strings attached. City
Budgets are strapped. Departments are underfunded. A direct donation from a
major corporation must be like manna from heaven to a police department. But
of course, the department will need more in the future, and it won't get
more if it turns on its new benefactor.
No one gives away 4.6 million expecting nothing in return. J.P. Morgan CEO
Jamie Dimon is quoted as saying, "These officers put their lives on the line
every day to keep us safe, we're incredibly proud to help them build this
program and let them know how much we value their hard work." I wouldn't
argue that NYPD, or any police department, is not worthy of such a donation,
but I must question the motive and the timing. I wonder if Mr. Dimon
actually lives in the City. The few New York CEOs I've had the pleasure of
dealing with all lived in Connecticut and rode limos down the Meritt Parkway
to work and back. Wherever Mr. Dimon lives, I doubt he fears for his safety.
I hear complaints that the protest is unfocused, that the protesters
rejection of traditional hierarchy renders the movement ineffective as a
political force, that it has no clear message. But I don't see a problem
yet. Occupy has been effective simply by coming into existence. No one
organized Occupy ahead of time. A call went out and people showed up.
They're still showing up and their numbers and tenacity do have an effect.
They get noticed. As for the message, one can google Keith Olbermann and
hear the message, well written by Occupy and well read by Olbermann.
Basically, occupiers want to take their country back from the banks and
lobbyists. Their demands aren't that different from those of the Tea Party.
The two groups should join forces. They're mad about the same conditions,
though they disagree on where to put the blame.
The Tea party blames the government, Occupy blames the corporations that now
own the government. Is there that much difference? Ultimately, we will all
have to join forces if we are to call ourselves a nation. Right now, we are
too polarized to be effective. We no longer recognize each other as
Americans. The mayors and college presidents who call out the riot squads
apparently don't know that those are their fellow Americans getting beaten
and pepper sprayed. Those are American sons and daughters. Those are
American students, American librarians, American grandmothers, and American
veterans, and when they get hurt, we all get hurt. The stick swinging has to
stop. It serves no useful human purpose.
I've taken part in very few protests. I attended one No Nukes march
in Washington D.C. in the late seventies. It seemed to be conducted mostly
by old hippies who wanted to do it again, and younger people like myself who
thought we were sorry to have missed the sixties. My son and I attended
several anti war protests in Austin at the start of the Iraq war. Our fellow
Americans screamed expletives at us as we stood on the street, but we didn't
get arrested. There were some "protest for fun" types there too. I think
Occupy is different. I'll have to go to New York and check it out. I'm
pretty sure the guys in Anchorage weren't out there for the fun of it. They
seemed to feel that they needed to be there, that they had no choice. It's
common feeling and common conviction that makes a movement. And it seems
that more and more of us feel that we have no choice.
Sometimes my song,"We Can't Make it Here", seems a bit naive. It's still a pretty good song, and songs don't have time to be fair and balanced. Songs are mostly about emotion. So I still sing it. But I read the New York Times a couple of Sundays ago, and I now understand why we can't competitively produce iphones here. It seems that Steve Jobs was not happy with the easy to scratch plastic screen on his prototype iphone and demanded that the screen be made of scratch resistant glass. Making good glass is not a problem in the U.S., Corning has been doing it forever. Cutting glass to specs at a competitive pace is a different matter. After the meeting at which Jobs expressed his dissatisfaction, one of his execs booked a flight to China, where he knew there was a factory that could mobilize three thousand workers on a moments notice, by which I mean, waking them up in their dorm beds, putting them on the production line, and training them to cut the glass for the iphone screen. Corning did get the contract to produce the glass and a Corning plant in Kentucky was revived. But now, Corning is building plants in Asia to save on time and shipping costs.It takes thirty five days to ship glass from Kentucky to China, not competitive.
The Times article did a good job of detailing the intricacies of modern production. Cell phones employ materials from around the globe. The article mentioned, but did not dwell on, "rare metals from Africa". A memory rose from my mind like a pre-historic fish, long thought to be extinct. I was in a bar in Austin. The guy to my right was some kind of computer person, a nice enough fellow, but most of what he talked about was incomprehensible to me. Yet, he told a story that I at least partially comprehended. He told me that there is a rare metal in the Congo. This metal is necessary for the miniaturization of circuitry, without which, there would be no cell phones of any kind. People dig large chunks of this metal out of creek banks and carry it out on their heads, at gun point. The people who harvest this metal are slaves. So are the Chinese workers who can be forced to wake up at any time of night, paid though they are.
We can't make iphones in this country because we don't want to tolerate slavery within our own borders. We tolerate it within the borders of other nations because, without slavery, there would be no cell phones and cell phones have come to be seen as necessary by every culture in the world. So we outsource our slavery.
People love to talk about fixing our country. The Tea Party wants to " take our country back", from whom, or to what, I'm not sure. Such talk is as naive as my song. The manufacturing jobs aren't coming back here as long as, elsewhere, there are people willing to enslave and masses of people desperate enough to be willing to be enslaved. Fixing the country would not be enough anymore. We'll have to fix the world.
It could take a while