I don’t want to bring the government to a screeching halt.
I don’t hate capitalism. Much.
I don’t believe that drum circles will bring universal peace and love to America.
Although, being a dancer, I do relish a good drum circle.
I don’t even watch political news. I get all my politics through B, who has a much keener interest in keeping up with pundits and blogs.
And yet I have been sounding off frequently on facebook and on this blog about #occupywallstreet.
Because I do have some strong opinions about the political/economic situation that we find ourselves in.
These opinions don’t come from pundits, or op/ed’s. I wasn’t raised with them. In fact, my current view of things is pretty far removed from the ethos of my upbringing.
My feelings about the injustices in this country come from living with them daily.
Before you get your knickers in a twist (I really love that phrase), I’m not talking about the economic realities that I am personally living with.
It’s true that I belong to the 99%. I am 32, have a master’s degree, work two jobs, get by just above the poverty line, will be paying off medical bills for several more years, and remain uninsured by force of circumstances.
I would say that 70% of my financial hardships are by choice, and I’m fine with that. I chose an industry with very limited earning potential (and I’ll not choose this post to pick a fight about the drawbacks of relying entirely on market forces to assign value to things). I chose to leave a cushier job to do something I’m more passionate about. (Also b/c the cushier job had a very abusive environment. Still, I chose it. I could have stayed.)
I accept that I will live in shabbier neighborhoods, shop at thrift stores, and eat out much less than other people as a consequence of my choices. I don’t resent that other people make different choices and make more money.
I am pissed about health care. I played by all the rules, avoided credit cards, avoided student debt, socked money away in an emergency fund and a 401(k), and still got slammed with dental bills that weren’t covered by the health insurance I had. They wiped out my emergency fund and put me $4000 in debt before I could recoup. Then I got stuck in that awkward earnings range where I’m making just a little too much money to qualify for free health care, but the cost of even the cheapest available healthcare became too high for me to meet after a year of paying for it on my own. It shouldn’t be this hard just to go to the doctor if I’m sick.
Still. It wouldn’t be enough to make me leave the house.
What really drives my obsession with #OWS is what I see at work.
I am a teacher. I teach an enrichment program to underserved public schools, and I supplement that by tutoring on evenings and weekends. I tutor for a very high-end boutique firm.
I serve the children of the very, very poor, and then I serve the children of the very, very rich. Every week. For years.
I love my students in both demographics. I know wonderful and horrible families in both demographics, and neither group, as a group, has tremendously more intelligence, drive, or raw potential than the other, but the differences in their available opportunities/supports is stark. Dramatic.
Growing up working class/middle class, I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.
My wealthy students are very hard-working. The vast majority. Wonderful people. I’m happy for them when they are successful, and I want the best for them.
My poor students are also very hard-working. The vast majority. Wonderful people. I want the best for them too. The thing is that many of them are working very hard at things that my wealthy students don’t even have to think about.
Like staying healthy. It’s hard work to stay healthy in a neighborhood where the pollution is so bad that you and many of your friends are in and out of school and the hospital with asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
It’s hard work to stay healthy when you live in an area without ready access to healthy food alternatives.
It’s harder work to get your homework done if you don’t have the luxury of a stay-at-home mom or nanny or tutor, or even a teacher’s aide, to make sure you understand everything. Because trust me – the wealthy kids don’t understand everything the first time either.
For that matter, it’s a lot harder to get your homework done if you can’t afford notebooks and pencils.
It’s harder to learn how to read if your school doesn’t have enough books.
There’s a lot more. The opportunity costs of poverty are severe. I know this because I’ve seen it, not because I read about it or was brainwashed by liberal news media. But I would like this post to be readable in one sitting.
I don’t want to hate on any particular socio-economic demographic. All I’m saying is that the system itself is broken. And it’s hurting more of my students than it’s helping. I support #OWS for them.
One more thing.
There’s something else I learned from teaching.
I teach mostly kindergarten and first grade classes in my public school program, and we talk a lot about fairness.
Fair does not always mean equal. If Johnny works twice as hard as everyone else and accomplishes something extraordinary, then Johnny gets rewards in kind. Extra gold stars. Extra recess time. Maybe extra snack. And maybe some public praise and a letter of commendation home.
All this is good and deserved, and it even motivates the others to perform in kind, so it’s healthy for the community as a whole.
But fair also means there are some things Johnny does not get, no matter how extraordinary his achievement.
Johnny doesn’t get excused to push the other kids around on the playground without repercussions.
He is still bound by and held to classroom regulations.
He doesn’t get to use his extra cookies as leverage to get the other kids to bend to his will.
Johnny still has to clean up his own messes and contribute to the maintenance of the classroom environment.
Johnny doesn’t get extra votes in classroom decisions, nor does he get more than a regular share of time holding the Talking Stick to air his opinion.
Johnny doesn’t get all the gold stars, all the cookies. He doesn’t even get most. He is 1 of 25 classroom citizens, and other people are putting in work too.
And that’s really what it comes down to for me.
At the end of the day, we all only have 24 hours.
Some people are willing to work many more of those 24 hours than I am, and they should totally get more money than me.
Some people are able to accomplish much more for other people in the same amount of hours that I work, and they should totally get more money than me.
There are people out there who should definitely be making 10x and 20x more money than me. More than that, even, for the really extraordinary people.
But nobody should be making 500x what I make – without paying out to the greater community the same percentage that I pay out, without having to clean up their own messes, without having any repercussions for when they use that 500x leverage to push people around, bend regulations, buy off enforcers, and have everything their own way.
At the end of the day, we all have 24 hours. No one person, and no 1%, I don’t care how innovative they are, is so crucial to the economy that they get to make everybody else play by the rules they invent to benefit themselves. That’s not fair.
That’s what #OWS is about for me.
I don’t care that we don’t have cohesive demands yet. Everybody had demands for the 2008 elections, and look how much has changed!
The system, as it is, is broken. And the people we elected to fix it for us have failed, time and again.
It’s our system. We don’t have to wait for other people to change it for us. That’s what democracy means.
That’s why #OWS is taking the streets. The streets that we, the people, paid for with our own tax money. They already belong to us.
If the government won’t hold Wall Street accountable for their crimes, then we’ll do it ourselves. We are already occupying their space.
If the government isn’t creating solutions that work for everyone, then we’ll create our own. We are already crafting action plans in General Assemblies.
If the media won’t tell the truth, then we will create our own media and distribute it over the internet and social networks, and through word of mouth.
And if you don’t like the lefty-leaning sound of the actions and solutions emerging from the movement so far, then stop complaining about it and come make yourself heard.
We will listen. We want a system that is responsive to everyone’s needs, everyone’s values, not just the lefty-leaners. If you are a libertarian, come out. If you are a Republican, show up. If you are a Tea Party member, get down there.
I am confident that the American people are at least as great as the Egyptians. I am confident that we can make this work, even with our differences.
All we have to do is make the system responsive. We do that, first and foremost, by showing up to be seen and heard and counted.
Come occupy with us.