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The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it.

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Seventy years after The Grapes of Wrath, Chris McGreal recreates John Steinbeck's famous fictional journey to reveal life in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression

It's a series you need to read and follow.

day 1
day 2:

Tulsa has seen its share of poverty and desperation over the years. In the 1930s, it saw a tide of hundreds of thousands struggling west along Route 66 to escape economic collapse in the north and the notorious dustbowl of drought and wind across the Midwest. Whether they had lost their land or their jobs, that flow of desperate humanity – chronicled so devastatingly through the fictional Joad family in John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath – struggled hard to find enough to feed and clothe their children as they trekked towards an illusory dream of prosperity in distant California.

To travel the old road today – stumbling across crumbling ghost towns and half-abandoned communities, across the sprawling Native American desert reservations, through cities where people work all the hours they aren't sleeping and still cannot afford to go to the doctor - is to encounter new despair, some of it still recognisable to the Joads.

The banks are once again evicting. Foreclosures plague the parts of northern Arizona and New Mexico traversed by the evicted 70 years ago.

But the monster – as Steinbeck described the financial system – has spawned modern beasts unknown to the Joads, such as the vast multinationals discarding American workers in favour of cheaper labour in Mexico and the health insurance companies that cut off the medical lifelines to the gravely ill.

~ Chris McGreal

It ain't that big. The whole United States ain't that big. It ain't that big. It ain't big enough. There ain't room enough for you an' me, for your kind an' my kind, for rich and poor together all in one country, for thieves and honest men. For hunger and fat.


Like so many in Oklahoma and across the south, Levy has a visceral distrust of government – not just President Barack Obama's administration but any of them.

In the heart of the Bible Belt it is often religious organisations that step in to the breach. Evangelising courses through Oklahoma and charity healthcare comes with God thrown in.

..."You see a lot of children in need here," said Veronica Banks, the minister at Friendship church. "You see a lot of elderly in need, a lot of single mothers and a lot of the working poor. Even though they're working they cannot afford medical care, the cost of healthcare the way it is. They're on minimum wage jobs or only working part time. We know the faces, we know the names."

Friendship church has a mostly black congregation. But the clinic draws white faces across boundaries that many in the city would not normally cross.

~  McGreal

Before I knowed it, I was sayin' out loud, 'The hell with it! There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do. It's all part of the same thing.' . . . . I says, 'What's this call, this sperit?' An' I says, 'It's love. I love people so much I'm fit to bust, sometimes.' . . . . I figgered, 'Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe,' I figgered, 'maybe it's all men an' all women we love; maybe that's the Holy Sperit-the human sperit-the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of.' Now I sat there thinkin' it, an' all of a suddent-I knew it. I knew it so deep down that it was true, and I still know it."

~ Steinbeck

"I pretty much hold back from going to the doctor," she said. "I was raised in a very poor family and never had insurance all the way through high school so for me it's normal. Thank God I've never been really super sick. If ever I needed something somehow it was provided.

God willing, whatever way it came, it came. It was just one of those faith, trust in God kind of things. If the needs not met there's a reason, I guess."
...The patients are encouraged to pray while awaiting treatment. The medical staff introduce God as part of what the organisation describes as holistic care.

"We find a lot of people who come to us with a medical need but wouldn't set foot in the door of a church," said the mobile clinic's nurse, Lynn Hersey. "They want to check and see if someone who is a Christian can be trusted with one little thing, if they're going to shove Jesus down their throat because they ate the bait and came in through the door."

~ McGreal

And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.

~ Steinbeck


I voted for the other guy. McCain," she said. "Something grated against me [about Obama]. I really don't know what it was. I'm not racist. It's just one of those things where he's a good speaker, he talks very very well, even better than Bill Clinton I would say. But I wasn't about to go there. I went the other way."

Banes said she doesn't have confidence in the government to look after her interests even if the state of Oklahoma is providing free healthcare to her children.

"If for some reason Oklahoma state's healthcare failed then I would have something to worry about because of my children, I know. But I'm really not going to worry about it because that's one more thing to put on the plate. I don't really trust the government," she said. "The Lord has a plan and if anything happens, then it's meant to be".

Levy, too, voted for McCain.

"There's a lot of people with health problems who really need help and they have no place to turn," she said. "But the government? People who run government don't care about people like us. And there's a lot of people need to know that there's someone who cares about them."

~ McGreal

Originally posted to route66 on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 08:46 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (19+ / 0-)

    I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's. - Mark Twain

    by route66 on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 08:46:41 PM PDT

  •  It seems... (4+ / 0-)

    we forgot to learn from that history...

    Now we are repeating it.

    I am here to represent the democratic wing of the Democratic Party. Roar louder!

    by Josiah Bartlett on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 08:56:15 PM PDT

  •  "The Government" doesn't care (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    but hopefully, a majority of their fellow Americans care enough to get it for them anyway.

    Repubs - the people in power are not secretly plotting against you. They don't need to. They already beat you in public. (Bill Maher)

    by Sychotic1 on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 08:59:32 PM PDT

  •  ok, that is all good but... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mrs M

    you are way over the line of fair use. Maybe we can get a ruling. There is the point-to-point comparison, so I can see it in that regard, but I would have liked to see some more words on your part.
    Will check out the article, good heads up.

    "When did punctuation become subject to the laws of fashion?" Craig Ferguson.

    by cactusflinthead on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 09:00:22 PM PDT

  •  Very enlightening and revealing (6+ / 0-)

    It seems depression writers like Stienbeck and Nelson Algren really fell out of favor since the Reagan1980s. We were so thrilled with our markets and wealth nobody wanted to be reminded of how dirty our money really is and the suffering of the cheap laborers (cheap from their pov) upon whom our wealth was built. For a lot of folks these writers were just one big bad guilt trip. Which may have something to do with why T. G. O. W. is seldom required in high school anymore...

    Beer cans are beautiful. It's the roads that are ugly. -- Edward Abbey

    by frankzappatista on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 09:14:49 PM PDT

  •  This article (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens, Always Thinkin

    makes me so mad:

    But there's another kind of evangelising at work too, involving a web of interests more focussed on Mammon than the Almighty. Much of Good Samaritan's work is funded by hospitals trying to keep patients who cannot pay out of emergency rooms, where they must be treated for any immediate health crisis by law whether they can pay or not. Those same hospitals have an interest in promoting charity as an alternative to President Obama's plans for government to take the lead in getting healthcare to the poor and the middle classes likely to be bankrupted by catastrophic illness.

    Good Samaritan makes no secret of where it stands on the issue; the government has no business involving itself in healthcare.

    "Governments treat you like a number," said the organisation's director, Dr John Crouch. "I really believe that there has to be a way to cover the folks who can't get care at all, and I think one of the ways is what we're doing. Maybe there's a different way of funding us, besides just funding us through our donations. We're emphasising that the more all the time."

    Hersey concedes that the present system can be a tragedy for the poor.

    What happens to someone with a chronic disease and no insurance? A woman with cancer, say, who might get the surgery she needs thanks to Good Samaritan but not the medicines afterwards. Hersey hesitates.

    "They go without," she said.

    You mean they die?


    But Hersey quickly added that where there is no chemotherapy there is still God.

    "I can say that even with the spiritual help they may die but for those of us who are Christians and believe in God intervening directly in peoples lives, we've seen many answers to prayer where medicine falls short. We have seen cancer turn around," she said.

    Tulsa is not a poor city. There is so much oil money there it would make you sick. If the answer was charity, there is enough oil money in Tulsa to give every resident a Cadillac health care plan. Charity is not enough. Some things only government can do. I can't believe the nurse is saying to pray away the sickness. Doctor wants another source of funding. Like what? Taxpayer money?

  •  One of my favorite novels (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, Larsstephens

    That section about the bank is classic.  I also love Steinbeck's passage about the "thing to bomb" is the move from "I" to "we".  I don't have the book right here to look up the chapter.

    "What is essential is invisible to the eye."

    by greywolfe359 on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 09:56:43 PM PDT

  •  More Steinbeck, less Glenn Beck... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    route66, Larsstephens, croyal

    Reader, suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself. --Twain

    by ra in ca on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 09:57:24 PM PDT

  •  More quotes (0+ / 0-)

    Obama too is spending hundreds of millions on modern day programmes to revitalise the economy and provide jobs, including to renew Sallisaw's antiquated water system and double its output in a project that should last 50 years.

    "You'd think people would be grateful but people are not grateful," said Mayo.

    Banes is 27 and a mother herself now. Her husband pulls in about £15,000 a year as a bartender. From that there's the rent, two young mouths to feed and clothe, and the interest on college loans to study at Oral Roberts university in Tulsa, led by a prominent Christian evangelist and described as one of the "buckles on the Bible Belt".

    She cannot even begin to think about paying back the principal on the loans. That leaves nothing for medical insurance for Baines or her husband, although the children get free cover from the state of Oklahoma.


    Banes said she doesn't have confidence in the government to look after her interests

    "I voted for the other guy. McCain," she said. "Something grated against me [about Obama]. I really don't know what it was.

    the children get free cover from the state of Oklahoma.


    Banes said she doesn't have confidence in the government to look after her interests

    Steinbeck, my ass. These people would wipe their ass with Steinbeck's novels.

  •  Thanks very much for this diary my friend. (0+ / 0-)

    We're headed to those times again, only with the Internet to record it all, and our major media to deny it on the morning show and all day long.  

    There is a film based on the novel: (also the film about the Woody Guthrie story is exellent)

    The Grapes of Wrath (1940) is an American drama film directed by Academy Award Winner Best Director, John Ford. It was based on the Pulitzer Prize winning The Grapes of Wrath (1939), written by John Steinbeck. The screenplay was written by Nunnally Johnson and the executive producer was Darryl F. Zanuck.

    The film tells the story of the Joads, an Oklahoma family, who, after losing their farm during the Great Depression in the 1930s, become migrant workers and end up in California. The motion picture details their arduous journey across the United States as they travel to California in search for work and opportunities for the family members.


    "It all happened before, and it will all happen again."

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