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She appeared to be in her eighties. Standing alone, tightly clutching her purse, anxiously watching the cash register.

When the total was announced, she handed first one, then two cans of soup back to the cashier. She didn’t have enough money.

So begins an incredibly powerful column in today's Washington Post by Colbert King, which I am going to urge you to read and to pass on.

THe woman is able to leave with all of her intended purchases because the person in line behind her quietly offers to make up the shortfall.  She thanks him and then leaves, with her less than $20 in groceries.

King uses her to start a broader reflection, reminding us

There are people in our community, in our midst, who live like that. Choosing between a can of soup and a package of rice because they can’t afford both.

Stand with me at the bus stop in the early morning hours. Look at the passengers traveling to their low-wage jobs beyond the city limits. Their faces are mostly brown and black. They used to all be black. My mother and the grandmother of my wife, Gwen, were once among them, both domestic workers.

Thus it is personal to him.   As someone who taught school for 17 years, and who pays attention to people around me, on buses or metro, in stores, on the street, it is personal to me as well, which is perhaps why his column struck me so powerfully.

Please keep reading.

My father's father came to the United States in his teens, and somehow wound up in Utica NY.  He became a tailor, but never made much money.  In her 60s, after he had died, my grandmother got a real estate license to make money. Five of the six kids in the family graduated from Cornell, all paying for it with a combination of scholarships, campus jobs and what little he could contribute towards their education.  The sixth  graduated from high school at 16, but did not earn his degree until more than a decade later, because as bright as he was school was not a good fit for him.  By then he had to attend part-time while working in the Post Office.

I have never personally known that kind of financial struggle, although there have been times when I was not sure how I was going to pay the next month's bills.  Yet each year I have taught students who were homeless.  Increasingly I was teaching students where parents had lost jobs, or had their incomes severely slashed.  I saw post-secondary educational choices become restricted as the family income declined, or children who were bright who went into the military to earn money for their own educations.

These students were still semi-visible.

Too many of those in our community, who quietly get on buses, clean houses and office and hospitals and hotel, somehow seem outside the sight of many of our policy makers.

Or maybe some of those policy makers and those who pay to put them in office simply do not care about people like those about whom King write, of whom the are many, hard working, or retired and worn out.

King writes that

These American lives were lost on the crowd of Republicans who gathered in Tampa last week.

King reminds us that the elderly lady whose embarrassing shopping experience was the occasion that provoked this column was able to get out of the house, being able to be somewhat healthy, thanks in part to social legislation like Medicare and Medicaid.  The people he sees waiting for the bus as they travel each day to low-paying jobs can help care for their families because of programs of public support.

But some, rather than see us as part of a common fabric of society, choose to divide us into makers and takers.  And those who are makers, how do they react to the old woman, to the people on the bus?  

That old woman in the supermarket and folks like her are viewed as a threat to individual freedom. Those brown and black bus riders are a threat to good old American self-reliance, the makers might argue.
King tells us that is part of what is wrong in our nation, attitudes like this, to which he contrasts the words of Julian Castro, who told us that his mother held a mop so that he could hold the microphone.  

I will disagree with Colbert King on only one part of his powerful column.  He writes

The well-off have no idea what’s on the minds of those bus riders, the little old ladies in the supermarket, or the people who cleaned the toilets and swept the floors after the GOP conventioneers blew town.
I think they are very aware that if these people are able and willing to vote, they represent a real threat to the privilege those who classify themselves as "makers" have established for themselves.  That is in large part the rationale for the various approaches to voter suppression.  Some of the hardworking people barely getting by?  Remember, they are riding buses because they cannot afford cars.  They will not have drivers' licenses, particularly in inner cities where many of color are congregated, because at least those cities provide public transportation that is affordable.

I would argue that it is part of the reason that inner city schools are often so poorly equipped, because they educate "those kids" whose only real purpose should be to serve the makers, whose education should be geared to create a larger pool of workers and thus keep the wages lower for those who benefit from their labor.  It is why the likes of Mitt Romney have no trouble of benefiting from the labor of those who are undocumented until it becomes a possible embarrassment because they are "running for office, for Pete's sake."

King rightly refers to the powerful words of Bill Clinton at the Democratic convention: "We think ‘we’re all in this together’ is a better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own.’ ”

King concludes with one simple sentence:  

Sadly, conservatives, led by Romney, Ryan and their well-heeled supporters on the right, will never understand or accept anything other than winner-take-all.
And because they view things through the lens of winner-take-all they believe that justifies anything necessary to achieve that win, including outright lying about their own programs and beliefs, and the policies and actions of their political opponents.  On the few occasions when the press does its jobs of calling themselves out they obfuscate and they accuse their political opponents of their own sins.

In part some Democrats are equally responsible for such a situation, because for all the rhetoric about building a middle class, a Democratic party that is willing to cut social programs  (raising ages of eligibility is cutting benefits) is also responsible for the continuation of the suffering of so many, including that old lady with whom King began his piece.  Deciding that you want money from the wealthy to win elections and therefore you will not insist on approaches that would make them have to contribute their fair share prevents you from fully articulating a moral vision that could inspire many in the country, including those hardworking people who vote at such low rates, and whose votes are now being taken away from them by programs imposed on the false ground of supposed voter fraud.  To some of the "makers" anyone who will not vote to sustain their privilege and wealth should not be able to vote - and it is only by excluding those votes that they can hope to maintain their positions of privilege, power, and wealth.

As I listened to part of the Democratic Convention on MS-NBC for some of the commentary, I heard Lawrence O'Donnell describe himself as a Socialist.  I find myself increasingly tilting in a similar direction,  because I see too many people  being excluded, I see a country of great wealth yet increasing disparities of wealth and income.  How is it we can have so much wealth yet so much poverty?  What other highly developed country has more than 1/5 of its children in poverty?  How can anyone who reads the entire Gospel claim to be a Christian and not only tolerate such inequity but advocate for even more by cutting the social support programs that even now are insufficient?

King's piece is about Give and Take.  For too many those in need are seen as unworthy takers.  Look at their rhetoric about those who do not pay income taxes and the argument flowing therefrom that maybe those people should not be allowed to vote, even though for many of them their total taxes come to a rate higher than that of the likes of the Mitt Romneys of the world, whose true total taxation rate is probably less than 10% and thus less than the combined total of payroll and sales taxes paid by many of our working poor.  

To argue, as does Paul Ryan, that income from financial transactions should not be taxed at all, or even to allow the continuation of the 15% rate for capital gains while paying for our most basic social safety nets through taxes on approximately the first 106,000 of earned income is to make those already struggling pay for their own safety net while those doing so well do not pay for the benefits the labor of the many provide for them, including the military-industrial complex from which so many of them reap their wealth, even if like Mitt Romney neither they nor their kin ever serve.

This piece is now more of my words than those of King.  To me that indicates the power of his column, the thoughts it provokes in its readers.

Obama and the Democrats are far superior to Romney and the Republicans.  They are still insufficient.  We need a much greater commitment to ALL of our people.  

Which is why ALL of us need to pay attention.

All of us need to realize how much our own lives are made better by the labors of those we so often ignore.

All of us need to remember that there are those who still struggle through no fault of their own.

Otherwise we become takers, selfish, benefiting from labor and suffering from which we do not pay our fair share.

That would make us like those selfish people who think their third car and fourth house is more important than the worn-out and the poor being able to obtain basic medical care.

I read Colbert King.

I was moved.

I wrote.

I ranted.

Thank you for reading.

Now what are WE going to do about it?

Originally posted to teacherken on Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 04:09 AM PDT.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (33+ / 0-)

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 04:09:00 AM PDT

  •  Powerful... both Colbert King's words and yours. (9+ / 0-)

    I feel a great sadness that so many in need remain unseen by those who have plenty.  Having been on both sides, not having enough for groceries and having more than enough, I consider it my honor to "pay it forward" in thanks for my many blessings.

    Andy's two-timin' tail run off wiff mah sig line!

    by nannyboz on Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 04:18:00 AM PDT

  •  Wonderful diary! (11+ / 0-)

    Even now, no one talks about the poor.  Your diary is filled with wonderful gems such as these sentences:

    How is it we can have so much wealth yet so much poverty?  What other highly developed country has more than 1/5 of its children in poverty?  How can anyone who reads the entire Gospel claim to be a Christian and not only tolerate such inequity but advocate for even more by cutting the social support programs that even now are insufficient?
    Tipped and strongly recommended.

    "Growing up is for those who don't have the guts not to. Grow wise, grow loving, grow compassionate, but why grow up?" - Fiddlegirl

    by gulfgal98 on Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 04:31:50 AM PDT

  •  What am I going to do about it (5+ / 0-)

    I make the usual charitable contributions. I recently gave a contribution to a local autism charity group. My wife and I are are pretty generous charity givers when our income is considered.

    In a political context, I've been a lifelong Democrat; however, If we are successful this year, but the party turns to Simpson-Bowles deficit solutions and continues to give only lip service to climate change, then I will switch party affiliation and become either Green or, join NYS Working Families Party.

  •  ...and you wrote (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gulfgal98, spooks51, Oh Mary Oh

    ...as powerful as King did.

    Blessings.

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

    by zenox on Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 04:52:02 AM PDT

  •  "Iago" (9+ / 0-)
    And because they view things through the lens of winner-take-all they believe that justifies anything necessary to achieve that win, including outright lying about their own programs and beliefs, and the policies and actions of their political opponents.  On the few occasions when the press does its jobs of calling themselves out they obfuscate and they accuse their political opponents of their own sins.
    (Emphasis mine)

    According to scriptures, and Shakespeare...that's what 'evil' is all about.

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

    by zenox on Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 04:55:28 AM PDT

  •  The "winner take all" mentality is the (9+ / 0-)

    mentality of the vicarious cannibals -- humans who destroy and consume their own kind symbolically via money and the law.
    But, while the act is symbolic, based on figments of the imagination, the consequences for the consumed is just the same as if they'd been eviscerated on the spot.  Their deprivation and demise just takes longer and the perpetrators don't have to contend with blood and guts.

    But, it need not be that way.  The tools the cannibals are using are ours.  The laws and the currency belong to us. The notion that there is not enough money is a grand deception.  If the crash of 2008 should have taught us anything, it's that if $40 trillion of nominal value can disappear almost over night without leaving mountains of rubble (as in an earthquake) and millions of dead bodies rotting, then the value wasn't real to begin with.  It was a figment of the imagination (ditto for the derivatives and CDOs) and figments can be recreated.
    There is plenty of money. The trading on Wall Street and the banksters bonuses prove it. But, and I think this is the key, the gnomes of Wall Street (now known as financial engineers) have managed to sequester the money so that only a trickle flows through the economy to mediate real trade and exchange. Washington keeps pumping money out, but the system is rigged so that a portion of every dollar is captured by the hoarders and effectively stopped from circulating.
    I'm not sure President Obama understands that.  If his agreement that the national debt and deficit are bad is designed to encourage the hoarders to let go of their stash and let the money circulate, then I have little expectation that will actually work. Because the money hoarders are accumulators who can't let go.  And, there's actually a practical reason, besides hoarding being an obsession. A stash of worthless money is not much to bank on.  They can't eat it, wear it or use it for shelter in the storm. If people who have no reason to like them won't provide the necessities of life at any price, what are they going to do?
    You see, our conservative overlords have reason to be afraid. They mumble about revolts, which can be put down by force of arms. They don't dare talk about striking workers refusing to do what needs to be done.
    So, why are they niggardly with their stash?  The seven deadly sins (wrath, greed, gluttony, sloth, envy, lust, pride) are deadly for the simple reason that they are obsessive manifestations of basic instincts and obsessions are self-defeating.
    Yes, Wall Street caused the crash.  Wall Street has been causing crashes ever since they got control of our currency.  That's because they use the money as a tool to control and demand and depress and suppress their fellow man, instead of using it to measure and lubricate exchange and trade.  So, periodically, for whatever reason, they get scared and shut down the current and the economy crashes and they conclude, "see, we were right, it's a risky business." Not our fault.

    Btw, "give and take" is one of my favorite themes.  I like to make the point that give comes first and take follows.  Predatory humans don't understand that.  We can apparently teach dogs to give a paw before taking a treat, but we can't teach generosity to some humans.
    Perhaps it's because they don't see giving as a spontaneous action, but as a coerced response -- as if the teat that suckled them was responding to their demand.

    We organize governments to provide benefits and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 05:05:32 AM PDT

    •  Always love your posts hannah (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Oh Mary Oh

      Lyrical, logical, lovely.

      "The Republican argument against the President’s re-election was pretty simple: we left him a total mess, he hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in." - President Bill Clinton

      by redstella on Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 05:48:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Clinton's was the only high-profile speech (7+ / 0-)

    I can recall at the convention that even mentioned the "poor," and even he couched his sentiments in terms of special-needs kids and  Medicare-eligible seniors "otherwise eligible for Medicaid", as if the latter were somehow a "separate" category from those we normally think of as "poor."

    It says something about the state of the American character when its elected representatives deliberately shy away from mentioning the least fortunate and most in need in American society--whatever their reasons for doing so.

    I think the popular perception is that people don't want to hear about the poor, but what is it about the poor that instills this avoidance? Are we so insecure of the effectiveness of our capitalist model that we have to hide the evidence that it doesn't really work very well? Why do other countries with economies just as vibrant as our own have no problem acknowledging the plight of the poor, and dealing with it?   What are the roots of our practiced indifference?

    Part of it is undoubtedly the pervasive influence of racism.  Part of it is the precarious nature of even upper-middle-class economic insecurity that makes people focus only on their own interests.

    But part of it, I think, is that Americans just aren't as good or compassionate a people as we're taught to believe we are.  We're becoming less of a unified  community and more a nation of selfish islands unto ourselves.

    That's the fault of our institutions, our representatives, and leaders whose responsibility is--or was-- supposed to be to exemplify and encourage the kind of values that bring out the best--as opposed to the worst--in all of us.  That's been lost or worse,  twisted into something obscene.

  •  Only If You Fantasize the Democratic Party as a (6+ / 0-)

    non conservative party could most of us imagine ourselves as socialists.

    We have 2 conservative parties favoring free trade, regressive taxation, global military empire, aristocratic wealth concentration, fossil fuel for energy, privatization of the commons, and monopolistic plutocracy.

    Most of the political spectrum short of socialism and communism is empty in this country.

    Certainly the portion that built the only large middle class and depression-free economy ever known under the framers' system is missing.

    First things first; in 2 months we have to take up the problem we've been avoiding for 45 years --what to do about the Democratic Party.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 05:49:29 AM PDT

    •  I have been participating (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      redstella, Oh Mary Oh, jgilhousen

      in several efforts considering what it is we do, if it is possible to still do something.

      It is frustrating in so many cases

      we see party organizations more concerned with their self-preservation and unwilling to recognize that taking a far more progressive approach would actually win MORE votes, so they back centrists and those who could self fund thus stifling real progress.  

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 06:19:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  What are we going to do about it? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh

    We can become socialists. Not sure why that is such a radical idea. My family came from Europe as socialists. It seems logical to me. If you take the newly avowed meme - we are all in this together - Uhm, that socialism

    In my youth (as my husband says - yout), I lived on communes (admit it! you did too!) which was a great way to learn how to be human.

    Mr. redstella comes from England which has a strong rich tradition of socialism - party, philosophy. He doesn't see why Americans have such an aversion of it. If you look at social history of the 20th century it is a mystery why we abandoned socialism as a solution (except for the right wing lies and fear-mongering of boogeymen under the beds and how we all came to believe it) .

    Repugs like to fear socialism in the take of it and rarely want to participate in the give of it. But a real examination of american life is the truth that we are all in on the take. We take our liberties, freedoms and luxuries as a given. Not even mentioning the solid 'takes' - free education, etc. etc. We start yelling when we are being 'short-changed' but we rarely see what we should give.

    I once had a friend who objected in a strenuous way to 'paying for other people's kids educations' - in a libertarian way - "why should I...??.." UNTIL, he had children of his own. After that, I didn't hear that argument.... Clearly, he at last understood what a social contract is.

    So, my solution is to openly avow socialism, support those things in the democratic party that approach the 'we are in it together' tradition, resist the 'I did it myself' tradition.

    "The Republican argument against the President’s re-election was pretty simple: we left him a total mess, he hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in." - President Bill Clinton

    by redstella on Sat Sep 08, 2012 at 06:19:09 AM PDT

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