Half of Americans are working-class or poor, yet all I heard about in the State of the Union address was the middle class, and now I’m annoyed. I wrote down all of President Obama’s references to class issues. Here are my quick (possibly overly sarcastic) responses to those references.
Many a magazine, including the usually liberal New Yorker, has gone ga-ga about Taskrabbit, AirBnB, Elance, and other new companies that in one fell swoop make a mockery of fair labor practices, regulated consumer products, minimum wage, and taxes. In a rather lengthy article in which a New Yorker writer gushed about her Taskrabbit experiences, not once did she consider how this new setup would affect people who need to make a living, not even when describing Fiverr, a company that preys on the truly desperate by posting jobs that only pay $5! The only concern was whether this would work for the consumer and “spoiled child.”
There are so many ways to suddenly become disabled – a fall, a virus gone rogue, bike accident, stroke, tick bite, infection that causes blindness or deafness or loss of a limb, a car running a red light. All of us are one moment, one misstep away from our lives being turned inside out.
The Global Women’s Strike, Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike and the Every Mother is a Working Mother Network and more than two dozen grass roots organizations are petitioning congress to implement a welfare policy which prioritizes the elimination of child poverty and enables mothers and other caregivers to choose to raise their children full-time up to the age of three without having to take another job. The petition urges the Congress to pass and implement the Rise Out of Poverty Act (RISE Act) introduced by Rep. Gwen Moore, and to reintroduce and pass the Women’s Option to Raise Kids Act introduced by Pete Stark D-CA who is no longer in Congress.
This week the Supreme Court made two widely publicized decisions (and one non-decision). In one, the court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Doing so has provided gay married couples with over 1000 previously denied federal rights and privileges. This is a huge victory for the LGBT movement and people have every reason to celebrate the decision. In the other decision, which will open the floodgates for state-based voter suppression laws, the Supreme Court ruled section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) as unconstitutional. The gutting of the VRA will make it even more difficult for marginalized communities, particularly the poor, people of color, immigrants, and people with disabilities, to vote and to secure adequate political representation in our government.
Labor unions, welfare rights campaigns, and the fight for pay equity are historical struggles for justice that have impacted the shape of the wealth distribution in the last century. Each of those fights was strengthened and more effective as they became more inclusive of people of color. One of the most effective tools we have in the struggle for economic justice is alliances across race.
Grama says I’m Indian.
Mama says my dad was “a Mexican” and that if he really loved me
I’ve been interviewing people and carrying out research lately on housing affordability in San Jose, and what I’ve found has been both heartbreaking and enraging. In a city and area where housing is jaw-droppingly expensive, some of the wealthy exploit the poor, or worse, take for themselves public goods intended for the needy.
A darling of the film award season this year, the American fantasy drama film Beasts of the Southern Wild (BOTSW) has been nominated for numerous prestigious awards, including a Best Actress nomination in the 85th Academy Awards for the youngest ever nominee, Quvenzhané Wallis, at nine years old.
You would think from watching “Downton Abbey” that the only reason enormous estates existed was to provide jobs. Every time a change comes up, the lord of the manor bemoans its possible deleterious effect on his tenants and servants. And a remarkably high proportion of those servants seem happy to live their entire lives in the basement and the attic, never getting married, never having kids. Life as a servant is just such a meaningful identity, it seems.
If you ain’t poor (by America’s low poverty standards), you are “middle class.” That is the current political and pundit mode of understanding the USA. Those below the middle class income standards have no claim to a class appellation—they are just “poor.” The president’s speech was largely about improving the situations of those already in that desirable middle class way of life; it was also concerned to lift the non-middle class.
As the economic inequality gap continues to widen, students at Grand Valley State University in Traverse City, Michigan, started saying that they were tired of “talking” about economic inequality; they wanted to “do” something.
I must have been around seven, living in far northern Wisconsin—not classy Minoqua and other Chicago playgrounds, but the dregs of the timber industry, the swamps reserved for Natives, and rocky farmland left to the last immigrants, a place where the last snow might surprise you on the last day of school—when my dad sat us down and told us there was no Santa. It was very near Christmas, and the reason given was that there was no money for presents. Dad added, of course, that the true meaning of Christmas was Jesus’ birth, but that was no consolation at all. Santa was colored lights, glittering paper, frosted cookies, quick-step songs, and ornaments. Jesus was straw, barnyards, and bare poverty. We knew enough about that already.
College, they tell us, is the great middle class-making machine. When I think back on my own cross-class interactions at college, I mostly feel gratitude for the worlds my wealthier friends opened up to me and the way they included and shared with me. My closer friends were solidly middle (including comfortable working-class) and upper middle-class folks, and they influenced me in numerous ways.
I had a bizarre and frustrating experience recently talking to an agent at a writing conference. My main interest was to pitch a novel, but when she said she wasn’t looking for fiction, I threw out a few nonfiction ideas, among them a book on what people don’t know about poverty.
When the Supreme Court approved “Obamacare,” most of my Facebook friends had joyful statuses about the ruling. And it is something to cheer about: millions of Americans will now be able to be insured; women will now have access to affordable birth control and not face gender pricing of insurance; and people cannot be denied insurance for a pre-existing condition, to name a few accomplishments. However, like the ‘rainbow drainers’* we are, my more analytical friends and I had more somber responses.
At the Working-Class Studies conference last weekend, I heard an amazing dialogue about class, race and movement-building by five progressive journalists and activist scholars: Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now!, Frances Fox Piven, Bill Fletcher Jr. of Blackcommentator.com, and former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert of Demos, with conference organizer Michael Zweig, author of The Working Class Majority moderating.
We’ve all heard rags-to-riches stories about successful individuals who “pulled themselves up by the bootstraps.” Certainly, many successful business people owe their good fortune to hard work and innovative thinking. But, to describe those people as “self-made” would be to dismiss a big piece of reality—the role of the commons.
I first started to look at disability as a class issue when 18 of our members from Piedmont Peace Project and I attended a national peace movement conference in Atlanta. Six of us were disabled and three in wheelchairs, including me. No other group had visibly disabled people present, although I’m sure some hidden disabilities were there. We were in an accessible hotel, but when we got dressed up and went to the main event in a nearby historic church, we arrived only to find out we could not enter. We could not get up the steps or inside the doors.
Last January Classism Exposed asked for your votes on which was the most classist comment by a public figure in 2010, offering eight options. Readers weighed in and added their own grisly candidates. But this year, there’s no point in running a poll, since we already know who’s going to win (drumroll, please): Newt Gingrich, for calling child labor laws “truly stupid” and advocating firing union school janitors and replacing them with poor students.
Remember when it was the poster board? I do. I remember my elementary school classmates—Russell, Missy, Jake—who could never afford it, who would raise their hands meekly, eyes downcast, when the teacher asked, “Who needs help getting poster board?” I pitied them and wondered what else they couldn’t afford: a pack of National Football League pencils, a Hong Kong Phooey notebook, one of those four-color ball-point pens, a mega-box of 64 Crayola crayons with the cool little sharpener built into the back. The teacher would summon them to the back of the classroom, hand each of them a white piece of poster board that she had pulled out from behind a cabinet or bookcase or portable coat closet. The teacher must be rich, I reasoned, stocked up, as she was, with so much expendable poster board. The summoned students would walk slowly back to their desks, poster board in hand, careful to avoid eye contact. Poor kids, I thought. Poor, poor kids. Pity, I know now, is the worst form of disgust.
Dear Class Action, What should I do? My neighbor in my conservative rural town emailed this racist/classist piece of junk to me. I need some advice on what to do next.
I fear I am raising spoiled-rotten, middle-class brats. I fear I am raising the very kind of children I would have hated as a child. Why? Because they are comfortable and cozy and have everything they need in their day-to-day lives.
Often overlooked amid the current attacks on long-established public sector unions around the country is the threat to recently organized workers, who are the lowest paid and most badly treated. When “regular” state workers are under attack, it’s not easy to improve the conditions of a contingent workforce of direct care providers at the bottom tier of public employment, such as home health care aides and child care workers.
Recently four people were killed about ten houses away from where I grew up in Mattapan, a neighborhood of Boston. The neighborhood was maligned by the media coverage which plastered the headlines “Massacre in Mattapan” in large print across the 6:00 news every night. That image of Mattapan was permanently emblazoned across the minds of the nation.
It is unjust enough that scores of young people in the United States are denied basic human rights; that even in a country which paints itself as a global model of human rights, kids go without food, safe and affordable housing, equitable schooling opportunities, and healthcare. Heck, in a country with the level of resources the U.S. has, the very existence of homelessness, hunger, and poverty in the face of growing corporate profits is inexcusable. In this way, the U.S. is the very definition of systemic classism: a country in which poverty rates, income inequality, and corporate profits often grow simultaneously.