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Monday morning, back to work. The day before the election, a week after the storm. So many still in darkness. Challenging times like these can be opportunities to reflect on the decisions we have made and the path before us. I sincerely hope that we do not miss this opportunity in a rush back to the comfort of our normal routine.

Health Care, Education, Energy, Environment, Jobs... During the 2008 election cycle I produced two campaign videos to draw attention to the essential differences between Kucinich policy positions and the obligatory bullet points found on each of the other democratic primary candidates respective websites. For example, when Dennis Kucinich talked about “universal health care,” he was talking about a not-for-profit single payer system: Medicare for all - House Resolution 676. Barack Obama and media covering the primary used the term “universal health care” interchangeably with the newly minted “affordable health care,” obscuring the definition of the term “universal” and making it next to impossible to have a conversation about the relative differences of the policies. Later in the primary (long after Kucinich had been vanquished from the debate), we learned that this was a special enforceable mandate free kind of affordable. The five points were spelled out phonetically in the videos to poke fun at their over use and mis-use, to mock the arrogance of a political system that time and again presents these same bullet points as a bottled panacea to cure all that ails us. They treat us like children, too ignorant to understand the finer points of our own suffering. As is often the case with real children, we are rarely consulted and included in these adult discussions of our fate. We are relegated to the status of “swing state” campaign stop backdrop, selected as a scripted validation of whatever political point needs to be made.

In 2012 this already deficient five point perennial campaign platform has been narrowed even further, all other issues funneled through one single point - jobs. Health care in the USA continues to exist primarily as a benefit of a “good job,” rather than as a function of the common good. The power of this incentive (coupled with the scarcity of “good jobs”) keeps many tethered to jobs (and treatment on the job) they would otherwise reject. Education “reform” is predicated on the idea of lifting young people out of poverty by enabling them to compete for these “good jobs.” Absent from this argument is any discussion of how education enriches and empowers our youth (and our society) through creative and critical thought, regardless of economic outcomes. It has been suggested that a college education may be as key to attaining the highly specialized jobs of the 21st Century as secondary education was in the 20th century. Between this and the retraining of workers to keep up with technological progress, how much life will we actually spend learning to live? Most outrageous, in light of the recent storm, is how the issues of energy and environment have been consumed whole by this focus on jobs. Democrats and Republicans (and a complacent media) conveniently limit any discussion to the relative economics and job potential of their respective “plans.” Environmental, health and safety concerns have all been labeled “job killing.” In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, some economists are even talking about a potential bump to the economy in particular sectors...

About a week ago I watched a news program that brought together Mike Caputo, Vice President of The United Mine Workers of America and Tyson Slocum, director of the Public Citizen Energy Program. Mr. Caputo spoke in depth about the 70,000 - 100,000 dollar jobs with excellent health care and benefits, as well as the families and the economies of entire communities that depend on these jobs. Mr. Slocum pointed out that, despite wide acceptance of the science of climate change, the politics and economics of energy policy dominates the discussion specifically because the US is the largest fossil fuel producer on the planet. I enjoy watching this show because of the host’s ability to bring people together in constructive dialogue, but here there didn’t seem to be time to go much deeper than presenting two sides of the argument. One thing that really struck me was when Caputo mentioned that the jobs that wind farms create are minuscule compared to coal mining. I haven’t fact checked this claim myself, but I thought about how he might actually be making a sustainability argument for coal jobs, after all coal needs to be mined continuously as it is used. Wind power? Not so much. But isn’t that part of the point? Is the labor intensive nature of mining actually an asset? If in fact we are maintaining an industry that is detrimental not only to the planet (and all life on it), but also to the long term health and safety of those involved in it, can’t we find other (perhaps better?) ways to address the issue of job security for these workers? Can we do this in a way that is mindful of the dignity and self worth that is engendered through work? I faced some of these feelings myself when the economy crashed and I couldn’t find work. It can be challenging and frightening facing the prospect that the work you have spent most of your life doing may simply no longer be necessary. All of this got me thinking about the underlying hopes and fears of all involved, wondering what could be accomplished if our politicians were not consistently framing the argument as a battle between environmentalists and those directly affected in terms of their livelihood. Everyone involved and affected must be included in the discussion, and after Hurricane Sandy there will likely be many more in the United States who will have reason to participate in this discussion. And what of the millions affected by Sandy and multiple storms this season outside the US? They must be involved in this discussion as well. This isn’t about government bureaucrats making decisions that adversely affect the lives of citizens (as it is commonly spun); this is, at its heart, about a 1% that profits from the desperation of those who are made to prioritize their immediate survival over their survival a year, ten years, 50 years from now…

Romney claims he will win the election if he wins Ohio. When I read articles about Romney family holdings in a company that manufactures voting machines, it is hard not to hear his claim as back story to validate another stolen election. Key to stealing an election is the appearance of a close race, and that is just what the pundits are spinning about Ohio. When Romney and Obama got into a pissing match over who loves coal more in the second CPD debate, they were talking to “coal voters” throughout south eastern Ohio and West Virginia. Notably their focus was on the coal industry itself rather than the welfare of these workers and their families. Is this really about jobs, or is it a cynical manipulation of the fears of these men and women? Are they making a case for the prosperity of these workers or are they relying on the fear of a lost job to drive these workers into the voting booth? And if this is the case, how does this relate to policies that keep these families dependent enough to submit to this manipulation? During the match, neither candidate addressed the mining disasters that have made the headlines recently, and how the corporations responsible in those cases get fined, rather than shut down. Not surprisingly neither of them addressed acid rain, mountain top removal, or climate change either. The singular focus on jobs dominates the discussion, wiping away all other concerns. Month after month of “opinion polls” pushing this single word to the top of the pile, conditioning us to accept that only the most pressing, most desperate, of concerns need be addressed. Everything else is extravagance, a burden we can’t afford to even talk about. So says the austerity model.

Matthew Fox writes in his book The Reinvention of Work:

Under the pressure of the world economic crunch that is creating a worldwide depression, the grave danger looms that we will seek only jobs–jobs at any price–and ignore the deeper questions of work such as how, why, and for whom we do our work.

So, if all of these issues are being funneled through this single point, what happens when we remove jobs from the equation? Just for kicks, what happens with climate change if all coal miners the world over were to suddenly find themselves independently wealthy? What if all the tax payer money we spend subsidizing the mythical “clean coal” was spent instead to provide a cushion for miners to decide what they want to do without it being a question of economic survival for their families and their towns? And I’m not talking about a bridge loan here, or a program to retrain these workers, or a mandatory resume writing seminar to get your unemployment check. I’m talking about dignity, and respect, and a well deserved reward for years of hard work. What if health care was independent of your job so you could make career choices based on what you want to do rather than what type of benefit package you can get? What if we dealt with child poverty (which is of course family poverty, community poverty, etc.) before we sent children to school, rather than as the ultimate objective of education, so that our youth could instead focus on how best to contribute their unique genius to our society? When our politicians speak of “winning the future” through education fueled innovation, what kind of message are we sending to our youth? Are we at all concerned about their freedom to build the life, the world, they desire? Or are we just priming them to take their role in saving the existing system from collapse? What is the impact on innovation when an entire generation of young people seek MBAs based on the ratio of return for their education dollar? And finally, what impact would removing this singular focus on jobs from the equation have on our elections? If your boss sends you a memo “encouraging” you to vote for a particular candidate, is it ok for you to send  a reply “encouraging” your boss to mind their own business? Which issues rise to the top of your list when the issue of jobs is removed? How many of them are issues of economics? What would it take for you to prioritize the ones that are not?  

One percent power players love to use the term “redistribution of wealth” to attack those seeking economic justice, but they never use this term to refer to the enormous direct and indirect government subsidies (tax breaks, tax credits, loans, incentives, deals, etc.) their own corporations receive. Occupy Wall Street chants, “Banks got bailed out - we got sold out!” This is a somewhat different response from the Wall Street vs. Main Street narrative I heard over and over after the crash. The idea of taxing Wall Street a small percentage on transactions, in order to generate funds to offset the damage done to Main Street is clearly a downward spiral. Getting a kickback from the guy who is robbing you will not get back the home or the job you lost. And he can always gouge you more (put you into debt) to pay off your cut... It’s important to recognize that the bailout is a redistribution of wealth, from the tax payers to the wealthy. It is the same redistribution of wealth that happens when public resources and services are privatized, directing our tax dollars into the bank accounts of private corporations, rather than back into the hands of our citizens. The OWS chant doesn’t ask for a corporate handout (is that an oxymoron?) or a government bailout for the people. The People’s Bailout, the Rolling Jubillee, comes from the people directly. I remember Bush senior talking about “a thousand points of light” and thinking what an asshole. But that was a time when those thousand points responded (when they actually did respond) more out of sympathy, pity, charity. The thousands of points of light I witness in Occupy are coming from empathy. Many in the movement have experienced or are experiencing the same suffering that they are responding to directly, and progressively more and more folks throughout the country are having similar personal experiences that move them to take action. The “safety net” is no longer keeping them safe and in its place they are seeking to build communities of trust and mutual aid. Within these communities they can be who they want to be and do the work they want to do. The adversity they face is simultaneously an opportunity for greater solidarity, for deeper connection. Occupy Sandy is a wonderful example of this dynamic.

From Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin’s book Your Money or Your Life:

And they call this making a living? Think about it. How many people have you seen who are more alive at the end of the work day than they were at the beginning? Do we come home from our “making a living” activity with more life? Do we bound through the door, refreshed and energized, ready for a great evening with the family? Where’s all the life we supposedly made at work? For many of us, isn’t the truth closer to “making a dying”? Aren’t we killing ourselves–our health, our relationships, our sense of joy and wonder–for our jobs? We are sacrificing our lives for money–but it’s happening so slowly that we barely notice. Graying temples and thickening middles along with dubious signs of progress like a corner office, a private secretary or tenure are the only landmarks of the passage of time. Eventually we may have all the comforts and even luxuries we could ever want, but inertia itself keeps us locked into the nine-to-five pattern. After all, if we didn’t work, what would we do with our time? The dreams we had of finding meaning and fulfillment through our jobs have faded into the reality of professional politics, burnout, boredom and intense competition.
My political advisor astutely suggested that I look into what is being done in other countries to address the dignity of coal workers AND the continued existence of life on this planet. Due to the storm I have not been able to research this point, but I will certainly look into it and post my findings when I have my phone and internet back up and running. This post is dedicated to him on his birthday.

Originally posted on Nov 4, 2012

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