Professional fire fighters are unionized public servants. The budgets their departments operate on are paid through our taxes. Their generous salaries are provided by the tax payers and land owners that rely on them to protect our property and our lives. Fire prevention is almost exclusively the purview of government regulation through building codes. Even volunteer departments rely on government largess for the purchasing of facilities and apparatus in the form of grants, often federal grants, with other fundraising activity being only a small portion of their budgets.

Professional fire fighters are predominately conservatives.

Law enforcement and corrections officers are also unionized public servants. Their budgets, their equipment, their station houses and salaries and jails and prisons all rely on government money. Their generous pensions are funded by all of us.

Law enforcement are predominately conservatives.

Ambulance personnel, our EMTs and paramedics, are healthcare professionals. Some are unionized, some are not. Some work for non-profits, some for for-profits, some for municipal agencies. All rely very much on medicare and medicaid, on the public health systems of each state and federal regulation. All rely at one time or another on specific government grants for upgrading systems and capabilities.

They also are a predominately conservative group.

Day in and day out, when you are pressed to serve mainly the worst that humanity has to offer, you become jaded. When you daily observe other people harming themselves in such preventable ways, or abusing that you are but three buttons on the telephone away to be their taxi, it gets a little hard to empathize. When you have to act in another's self-interest and take authority for their well-being and get abused for doing so, it is very hard to keep from burning out, to keep from just not caring anymore about the people themselves.

It becomes a job, a duty. The people become objects that it is your job to set to order and you think, maybe, if these people would take responsibility for themselves they wouldn't be in this situation. You drop the empathy, drop the sympathy, because it is just too hard to care when you caring is not going to make a difference. You'll probably see them again, doing the same things to get themselves into trouble or hurt, and its just not worth it.

There is a huge disconnect in the politics of public safety. Each worker, whether in public service or private, benefits more from liberal policies that adequately fund their departments and services. Most benefit from liberal policies supporting collective bargaining and unionization. They all benefit from smart regulation that aids public safety and public health, from building codes to public health initiatives to anti-violence initiatives and gun control. Yet the every day experiences of these workers leads quite predictably to a much more conservative ideology.

I'm not saying that that is right. In fact, my experiences have only reinforced my own liberal viewpoint over the years.

The disconnect can be seen where I work. I do not represent the views of my employer, so I must be vague, but my agency has actively supported Democrats politically in my area and continues to do so. Yet the vast majority of my coworkers and management are unabashedly conservative. I'm afraid that I bite my tongue more often than not, but it is not unusual to be subjected to hearing my friends that I work with spouting openly racist comments about the people we serve. I hate it, and I've thought occasionally about reporting it, but I know that if I did it wouldn't change anything and probably would cause me more pain than them. It is that entrenched culturally.

Day in, day out, we see the worst that humanity has to offer. The vast majority of upstanding, responsible people do not use 911 for every sniffle and fever, every argument with their significant other, every stubbed toe. Most people do not get drunk and drive. Most people are not in gangs and shoot one another and their children in the van they are driving by. Most people are just doing their best and the thought of doing something illegal or abusing the system does not cross their minds.

Then there are those that do. That is the population that public safety workers see every day. Delinquents. Abusers. Alcoholics. Those who do not care for themselves. Those who do not care about others. When all you see is depravity and the depraved, it becomes all too easy to believe the right wing's lies. It is easy to ignore the issues of poverty, education, opportunity, social mobility, income inequality, and instead focus on race, or on government dependence when every patient has medicaid and food stamps. The narrative is effective because it is "truthy," as Colbert might say. Yet not true.

Public safety workers are the last line of defense in the safety net. When the financial safety net fails, we're left to pick up the pieces. That is, ultimately, the tragedy of public safety conservatism. A stronger financial and medical safety net for the poor, elderly and infirm could and would keep so many more people from hitting rock bottom where we so often find them. Better health education and access to public health services would keep a lot of people out of the ER. Better public transit would give so many people opportunity to access the services they need. More funding for low income housing and homeless shelters would keep more people off the streets. Stronger food security would give the impoverished access to healthy nutrition to avoid obesity and diabetes. More abuse and rape crisis centers would keep women safe. Sufficient funding of family planning and reproductive education would keep so many more people out of poverty.

I've lost any hope of changing anyone's minds or attitudes at this point. There are those few who already agree with me, and the majority of those that never will. Their world is defined, their experiences have cemented them into their ideological box even if it contradicts their interests and the interests of those they serve. I sometimes question whether that is, in its way, the point: to punish people for what they perceive as failures. I have not yet become so cynical as to believe that. By and large, they are good people, but in many cases deeply flawed. I will soon have to leave them behind, because I already feel as if I'm burnt out by the hopelessness of it all. I understand, I forgive, but will not excuse.

Originally posted to RadicalParrot on Tue Mar 19, 2013 at 03:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Community Spotlight.

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