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When does “just getting by” become “can’t take it any longer”? In history, we’ve seen it countless times. Disaster pushes those living on the edge right over the cliff, and they either drown or they scramble back onto land, determined to fight.

In 1927, the waters of the Mississippi rose, flooding ten states.  Blacks were forced at gunpoint to build levees. Those who resisted were shot. When the floods came anyway, sweeping workers to their death, the press reported jubilantly that no whites had died.  During the flooding, Black sharecroppers were locked in barns and warehouses by their “masters”---the white folks who owned their farms. The bosses were afraid that their tenants might run away, and then who would work their land once the flood waters receded? Herbert Hoover persuaded prominent African-Americans to suppress the story. In exchange, he would give them expanded rights. He broke his promise, and American Blacks broke with the Republican Party, never to return, just as thousands of African-Americans left the south, never to return. They had seen too much violence, too much starvation, too much inhumanity. They were pushed over the edge, and those who survived said “Enough!”

In 2005, the levees broke again, and the world watched, aghast, as the poor inhabitants of New Orleans clung to rooftops. Those who tried to flee the flooded city were shot. The right wing mocked.  Rescue efforts were delayed. Aid was withheld, just like in 1927, but with one important change. This time, it was all captured on film. Middle America cried. It was too much. Once again, we had been pushed over the edge. Bush’s approval rating plummeted, never to rise again.

In 1964, Gerri Santoro checked into a motel room. She was pregnant by her boyfriend. Her abusive husband was on the way to see her, and if he discovered that she was with child, he might kill her. Abortion was illegal, so she improvised---and died.

The utter tragedy of her needless death during these years of unsafe and illegal abortion in the United States is further compounded when we imagine her fear and desperation as her bleeding increased and she tried to stem the flow of the heavy, warm blood with towels. She must have been in abject agony, terrified, knowing that she was going to die, and that she would never see her beloved daughters again. These were Gerri's last hours: alone, suffering, writhing in pain in an impersonal motel room, and perhaps, in her delirium, realizing that the two men she had tried to love in her life had used her and completely failed her.

For a generation of women, Gerri’s death---and the grisly photograph of her corpse  lying in a pool of blood--- was the moment they were pushed over the cliff. What kind of society offered a young mother two choices: death at the hands of her husband or death by wire coat hanger? Those who had survived their abortions published their names in Ms. magazine, turning a mark of shame to an act of defiance. The Supreme Court changed the law, but women changed society.

Now, in 2011, a middle aged woman grimaces. She is the sole caregiver for her mother, crippled by rheumatoid arthritis and her sister, also crippled by the disease. The woman is the lucky one of the family. Her joints are only red, swollen and painful. She can still use them to lift her mother from bed  to chair and to bathe and dress and feed her. The federal government says she is not (yet) disabled enough to qualify for Social Security. Once her relentless disease becomes bad enough that she is also confined to a wheelchair, then Washington will start the two year countdown so that she can get on Medicare. There are medications out there that would stop the progression of her arthritis and save her joints. But she is not “important” enough to get such treatment. All she does each day is take care of her mother and sister. That isn’t considered work by those in power. That is considered sloth. She should be at work picking fruit with her hands that can not grasp a pen without pain or mopping floors down on her swollen knees. A labor of love in this day and age is labor lost. Labor only counts if it makes someone (else) a profit.

Right now, the middle aged woman is angry, but she does not say much. She is getting by---just barely. Will she be the one to say “Enough!” and rally her brothers and sisters who suffer from disease and poverty? Or will she be the sacrifice? I hope that she’ll survive. I hope that she’ll climb back up the cliff. I’ll do everything in my power to help her get there. I don’t want to see another Mississippi Flood or another Katrina or another mother dead in a pool of her own blood. Maybe if we all reach out, it really will be enough, and we can skip the sacrifice and go straight from the problem to the solution.

Originally posted to McCamy Taylor on Sat Aug 27, 2011 at 07:52 PM PDT.

Also republished by There Are No Nobodies (Anti-Rankism Group) and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  5 abortions later - (27+ / 0-)

    don't tell my daughter she is my 6th child.

    I felt too poor, wasn't ready, couldn't understand who would take care of my child while I worked. Married or unmarried, it was all to much.

    America does not support working families. Or families of any description, really.

    America does not support families that try to take care of their elder members, either.

    I never knew until it happened to me. I actually called my congressperson to find out about childcare options. Silly me! Before the Family Leave Act went into effect, all I had the right to was 6 weeks state disability leave at a big $192/week.

    When my elderly mother was increasingly incapacitated, and I was living out of state, my elder care options were limited to what I could organize on my own. Thankfully I had a friend with a PhD in geriatrics that could advise me what to look for in the state where my mother lived. I guess I was lucky that my mother died at 82, after being able to stay in her own home, before we had too many serious questions to deal with.

    It doesn't take a weather disaster to visit disaster upon a multi-generational family.  All you need is the cycle of life to turn it's inevitable turn to show you how ill-prepared you are to deal with it.

  •  "All she does each day (28+ / 0-)

     is take care of her mother and sister. That isn’t considered work by those in power."

    This is a huge problem in this country. People in power have NO clue about economics. Economics is the science of alternatives. Without this woman's efforts the country would have to pay a helluva lot more in ever more expensive health care.

    How hard is this to understand?

    •  Yes, they are clueless. We elect them (7+ / 0-)

      because they have no sense of honor, no sense of shame, no inhibition when it comes to repeating what someone has written for them.  Their flaws are not apparent because the camera likes them and they have good hair.
      We must do better.  We must not assume that people who threaten to deprive others, will not deprive everyone.  We must not conclude that "story-tellers" are just making things up to amuse us.  We must not think that if they share our resentments, they won't resent us.  We must not tolerate people who were hired to look after our resources and assets announcing they've mismanaged and we're going to have to be content with less.
      Sacrifice is not good when it is imposed. Isaak would have know that, had Abraham not been spared from being clueless.  Jesus had to come with the same message that men should love their children.  He failed, as well.

      Why don't men love the little children?  Perhaps, like Cain, they're just jealous or clueless.

      by hannah on Sat Aug 27, 2011 at 10:49:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  saying they are clueless may be true (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      muddy boots

      or they may be sociopathic bastards who simply don't care.

      It is time for us to recognize that many or even most in power are capable of great evil and guilty of great evil.

      It is a huge mistake for us to get caught up in deifying or demonizing our public "servants". It is the first mistake we make from which all others flow.

      Instead let us remain committed to the basics such as caring for our fellow humans and careful consistent and humane enforcement of the rule of law.

      •  Haters are going to hate (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        We are clueless for letting them get away with it. We are clueless for failing to show up at the voting booth, for failing to communicate our own truth in these matters. I very much appreciate the diarist for simply saying what is true.

        I don't need to hate those in power, just speak truth to them and those who support them. I do so not to demonize but to simply speak my truth. I do it out of respect for myself first, and then them.

        We are living in interesting times.

  •  mean old levee (19+ / 0-)

    taught me to weep and moan.

    Rec'd for the tragic thread of commonality you've exposed here, spot on.

    Tipped because that song, "When the Levee Breaks", along with being among my all-time favorites; couldn't be more apropos.

    Wakeful people make better democracy

    by Hammerhand on Sat Aug 27, 2011 at 08:31:31 PM PDT

  •  Wow. (16+ / 0-)

    After all of the meta and frustration, this is such a huge reminder of how bad it was, and how we are starting to go backwards not moving forward.


    "Pretty soon we're not going to be able to find reasonable decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serving public office." Sheriff Dupnik, AZ

    by voracious on Sat Aug 27, 2011 at 08:33:25 PM PDT

    •  Money. (10+ / 0-)

      There's one good thing about using money to mediate almost all our transactions.  We can tell where the relative deficiencies are.  But, we need to remember that money is only a measuring stick.  We don't know what we don't measure, but if we're fixated on the size of the measuring stick, then we overlook what's important.
      Galbraith said "the best money is worthless."  We have that now.  The dollar doesn't grow on trees, but it's made out of trees, as intrinsically worthless as the sea shells used by the Native Americans and the tobacco grown by the early settlers. The transition of our money to worthlessness is a step backwards that's actually progress. The problem is that there's an old guard which refuses to believe that the money they accumulate is worthless, unless they spend it.  If nothing else, they are convinced, it has to give them power to control how people make a living.  So, they hoard it and it does--give them power.  But, money isn't like the gas in a car where the quantity in the engine determines if the car goes fast or slow.  No, money is like the oil, which doesn't make the car go, but without which the gears grind to a halt, but pouring in more or over-filling won't make it start.

      I know Richard Nixon did not know what he was doing when he severed our currency from gold because he told me so.  I suspect his main interest was in undermining Russia and South Africa, which were keeping their repressive regimes going with the gold they were able to dig out of the ground. But, whatever his intent, liberating the dollar from gold upset the old order.  Fort Knox was no longer the key to world supremacy.  Moreover, if anyone could become a millionaire or billionaire, then measures would have to be taken to insure that they didn't.  Insuring that money flows to those who deserve it and access is denied to those who don't became a full-time occupation, not just on Wall Street, but on Capitol Hill.  Deprivation and theft had to be made legal so the scam could be run under cover of law.  That money leaves no finger prints turned out to be an advantage for the thieves, but that numbers make it easy to count is a boon for our side.  We can tell who the thieves are by the size of their hoard -- a cumulative hoard of over $2.5 trillion in cash at the moment.
      Somebody must be getting desperate.  The people who are buying gold are getting a clue that the paper money and electronic blips are worthless.  After all, American households have "lost" between $5 and $8 trillion in the value of their houses.  The houses are still there, but they're worthless because the householders have no money and the developers and banksters don't want them -- never did.  And that's the other reality the old guard and their economists don't want to face -- the economy isn't a response to want; it's a response to what people don't want for themselves and prefer to sell. The supply-siders got it half right.  What they got wrong was the idea that the supply of goods and services could be increased by increasing the wants of the providers, making people work harder by depriving them of what they need to survive. It's still true that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink, even if he's dying of thirst -- just as you can't make women give life by threatening death.

      Classical economics is based on the assumption that "man prefers leisure and must be made to work" -- i.e. coerced.  And this leads to the corollary that the way to make man work is to impose stress, to insure that his ability to survive depends on it by making sure there is "no free lunch."  Deprive man of access to sustenance, so he has to beg or work for it.  Modern communications are a serendipitous invention, making it possible to deprive just a few so the rest get the message.  Bread lines are a message to labor that people with jobs had better work harder or get to the end of the line.

      The irony is that, if you start from the assumption that humans are clever and produce many more good things than they can use themselves and, unless they get rid of the surplus, the sheer volume will become an impediment to more production, it's clear that the non-productive can easily be sustained.  We can carry the freeloaders.  They also serve who only admire and use what we produce.
      But, there's a problem here. If the incompetent are sustained as freeloaders, how's their lust for power going to be satisfied. What lies in their future if people who can't make things, can't make people do things for them either?  They'd have to rely on the social network -- the network they've been trying for decades to disrupt.  Just imagine how insecure that makes them feel.

      The truth is that, just as the "masters" of the old plantations, our modern day Rumpelstiltskins are incompetent, unable to do for themselves, totally dependent, not weaned from the public teat.  And it has them in a dither. Scared witless.

      Where we go wrong is in letting the witless decide anything for the rest of us.

      by hannah on Sat Aug 27, 2011 at 11:47:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Agreed, except substitute "heartless" for witless. (8+ / 0-)

        People who can not love themselves can not love others. Their relationships with others are all about safety and power.  That's all the lust for power boils down to----good old fashioned Buddhist attachment born of fear.

        "A dog starved at his master's gate/Predicts the ruin of the state" Blake

        by McCamy Taylor on Sun Aug 28, 2011 at 01:34:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well, except "heartless" refers to (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          marykk, Oh Mary Oh, marleycat

          an emotion and, while people may not be the object of their "love" (attraction w. a desire to possess), it's more likely that what is manifest as a lust for power, is an obsession that grows out of the frustration of not having their desires satisfied.  Because, as my mother said in a moment of revelation during a minor bout with pneumonia, they don't "know how to live."  
          If someone doesn't know "how" something works or "why" things happen, because they simply don't perceive the relationship between cause and effect, then all their endeavors are likely to end up as disappointments and then their frustration leads to wrath.

          There's a reason the seven deadly sins are called that.


          are self-defeating emotional attitudes, the instinct for self-preservation become obsessive.

          If you listen to some of our politicians (clueless people make good politicians because they have no shame and parrot what their handlers say), it's obvious that they can't distinguish between cause, consequence and coincidence.  They indulge in logical fallacies that have been identified for a long time.  In other words, some human brains have the same deficits they always and everywhere did.  A sense of time seems to be significant.  But, a sense of time doesn't need to be universal, as long as there's some percentage of a population that keeps track and keeps everyone working in unison.

          Clueless people are mean, but they don't mean to be mean, necessarily.

          by hannah on Sun Aug 28, 2011 at 01:56:16 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  "Nixon Shock" See: (0+ / 0-)

        ""...Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman summarizes the post-Nixon Shock era as follows:

        "The current world monetary system assigns no special role to gold; indeed, the Federal Reserve is not obliged to tie the dollar to anything. It can print as much or as little money as it deems appropriate. There are powerful advantages to such an unconstrained system. Above all, the Fed is free to respond to actual or threatened recessions by pumping in money....
         ....While a freely floating national money has advantages, however, it also has risks. For one thing, it can create uncertainties for international traders and investors....""

        Distant memories.

  •  This should be carved... (7+ / 0-)
    Those who resisted were shot. When the floods came anyway, sweeping workers to their death, the press reported jubilantly that no whites had died.

    This should be carved in our minds so that we will never forget...

    "Corruptio Optimi Pessima" (Corruption of the best is the worst)

    by zenox on Sun Aug 28, 2011 at 06:04:45 AM PDT

  •  Took about 10 years for me (7+ / 0-)
    When does “just getting by” become “can’t take it any longer”?

    Just FYI.

    Another fine piece of writing.

    Tea Party manifesto: We're resigned to our collective fate because we don't want no stinkin' collective future with the likes of you

    by Richard Cranium on Sun Aug 28, 2011 at 06:22:49 AM PDT

  •  Women's willingness to do childcare, cleaning, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    muddy boots

    family labor, caregiving, all those things that are not considered "work" but on which our society relies for day to day functioning-- those things were all considered labor lost (I love how you put it, "A labor of love in this day and age is labor lost"), weren't considered by economists as "work," and still are "labor lost" left out of economic equations, even after feminism and after post-feminism.  

    That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

    by concernedamerican on Sun Aug 28, 2011 at 08:24:27 AM PDT

  •  Highland Clearances (3+ / 0-)

    When the men were needed for fighting, the clans wore tartan and marched proudly.  When the fighting stopped, it was more economical to use the land for sheep.  The people were marched off the land and over the cliff.  When the Cherokee adapted to the white man's farms and succeeded, it was more economical to march them west and take their farms.  When the "economy" changes, watch out for the powerful looters.
    I hope you reach a wide audience because this type of writing is needed in this country especially right now.  Thanks.

  •  Women have always borne the brunt of greed (0+ / 0-)

    and societal anger.  Women are among the most vulnerable, the most discriminated against, and the most reviled as "weak, worthless, parasites."  The Republican party seems bent on reinvigorating archaic laws and deregulation that harm women, which is no surprise.  

    I visited Italy about a dozen years ago and went to the Torture Museum, against my own better judgment.  The instruments used to inflict horrid pain upon people were, well, horrifying, but what struck me most was the huge ratio of those instruments intended for women as opposed to men.  It's not an exaggeration to say that 75% of the torture devices in that museum were for women.  It's not to say that that is reflective of the actual ratio of torture between men and women, but I found it disturbing.

    What women go through in our society, and to a more extreme extent in others I'm afraid, is tantamount to torture.  Refuse to pay them a decent wage, take away welfare and disability and medicare, take away their right to abort as heartbreaking that might be, and you have women who live in poverty and on the streets, having to prostetute themselves to put food on the table.  Then they're reviled more and put in jail.  It's a vicious and unrelenting cycle that society has bestowed upon women, and only in the most forward-thinking of countries are women taken care of the way they care for others.

    Sarah Palin: All pistol and no squint.

    by CanyonWren on Sun Aug 28, 2011 at 01:23:18 PM PDT

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