On The Occupy Disconnect and what it has to do with a white girl sitting center-left:
Blacks are accustomed to glacial progress. They’re familiar with cutting shitty deals that move the ball a few inches down the field. They’ve never been under the misimpression that the cards aren’t stacked against them. They are no strangers to high unemployment, job insecurity, or grinding undeserved poverty. If there is one defining difference between how the black and brown progressives have reacted to the president and how white progressives have reacted, it has been that black and brown progressives had much more realistic expectations. I think a lot of blacks look at the white people protesting income disparity and think to themselves, “when did you notice?”
This shouldn’t make sense to me, but it does.
I tend to take the long view when it comes to current affairs. My partner thinks in spans of fifty-odd years (so, his lifetime) and I’m still somewhere in the late Victorian era. I grew up fascinated by history and keenly aware that there was a world before I lived in it. So when I step back and try to get a feel for the bigger picture, I am thinking all the way back to the Magna Carta.
Occupy Wall Street reminded me of the slogan “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will.” I am angry that, over a hundred years after Haymarket, we still need to work ridiculous hours to make ends meet. I was angry about this before Occupy–I couldn’t find a job that paid a living wage for, well, love or money. I looked at rent in the area, I looked at wages, and then I realized that employers had moved the goalposts on the average working stiff. Without specialized degrees or over a decade of equivalent experience, job seekers were simply not going to be able to pay their bills unless they could work more than forty hours a week.
We have, in short, gone backward. We work far safer jobs now, those who work, but weekends are no longer guaranteed time off, and a forty-hour work week is a privilege for the wage earner. (I’m not qualified to lecture about salaried workers and their ridiculous hours. I’m sure there are some who would prefer more time for “what [they] will”, too.) I’d call that a glacial pace. Wouldn’t you?
I also take a very broad view of our tangled market. Change has to snowball. We can’t just turn around and say, “All right, forty hours at a living wage, and if that’s not enough hours to get the work done, then employ more of us.” We have to look at the hows and whys of every problem we have, including this one. Small changes first. How shall employers pay people more? How shall they get things done with a forty-hour workforce and not go bankrupt? What are the solutions? Can our communities construct affordable housing? Can our doctors provide affordable care?
I can only answer one question: Can this happen overnight? No.
That’s why you won’t find me castigating President Obama for the mess we’re in. Before him, we had eight years of mess. Supposedly it takes as long to break a habit as to acquire one–why can’t we apply that notion to our economy? And let us not forget that Congress holds a great deal of power in this country. Right now, we have as divided a Congress as we have a nation. Some members of that Congress are as entrenched in their legislative soil as sequoias in Californian soil. We don’t just throw out our entire government every four to eight years and start anew. Thanks to the system of checks and balances, we replace half at most, if the people choose to do so. I grant you, it is difficult to speak up over corporate interests, lobbyists, and the media. There’s a change we can make: we can begin to move those interests out of our electoral process.
“The mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.” I’ve lived by that quote. I sat through the Bush administration chanting that quote sotto voce. (Sometimes not so sotto. The neighborhood nutter has her reputation to maintain.) I am in it for the long haul, here, and it is awfully deep and stinky. You try needing an estimated twelve years to accomplish what your peers do in half that time. The process of becoming educated has been an education in itself!
The cards are stacked against me, too, because I am disabled. I do know about unemployment and job insecurity. I know that a fair society would permit me to try living on my own without risking what few resources I’ve scraped together. I’m irritated that my problem is only getting attention because my able-bodied, white, upper-middle-class classmates are having it, too. Somehow it was all right for me to be stuck here, but not them. Why? And then I think about people who have had it even worse, and I want to slap a lot of faces with a lot of wet fish.
It wasn’t a fair society up until my generation’s fortunate sons and daughters got stuck in the deep-and-stinky. Now they’ll have to learn the same lessons I’ve learned. No, kids, change doesn’t happen overnight. But if you actually look at the problems and try to solve them, maybe we can all make some headway.