I was born back in 1950, when America was still recuperating from World War II. Mom was a widow with two young daughters. At around the age of five, I begged her to buy something long since forgotten. Her final exasperated response was, “Marylin, we’re poor. We can’t afford it.” Her words shook me. At five, I didn’t know exactly what “poor” entailed, but my imagination didn’t disappoint me. Living in the Yakima Valley, I had already seen signs of poverty. (When Diane Arbus comes to town to take 1955 depression photos, it’s not a good sign.)
Dad’s Social Security death benefits supplemented mom’s secretarial wages. Because she worked at a produce plant, growers who knew her situation would give her fresh produce to bring home during the growing seasons. Her work benefits included a small pension and health insurance, which saved us the unlucky summer she developed pneumonia, my sister broke her arm and I ended up in the hospital with an eye injury.
Nobody wants to be poor. But if anyone has to be poor, living in a consciously caring community and having a government with accessible social programs means survival. It means not going hungry and not going homeless when in need.
Today, America has become a different place to live. An enormous divide lies between our incredibly rich and incredibly poor. As a nation, we forget that one-third of us are poor or near-poor. We forget that more than 46 million of us are without health insurance. As a nation, we have become greedy and self-centered, damning the consequences to others in our grab for more.
I recently reread Bill Moyers’ “For America’s Sake” (www.thenation.com) where he describes the feeling of “freedom in America has come to mean the freedom of the rich to get richer even as millions of Americans are dumped from the (American) Dream.” Our Bill of Rights has come to mean to the rich “the freedom to accumulate wealth without social or democratic responsibilities and the license to buy the political system right out from under everyone else, so that democracy no longer has the ability to hold capitalism accountable for the good of the whole. And that is not how freedom was understood when our country was founded. At the heart of our experience as a nation is the proposition that each one of us has a right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ ”
Moyers added, “… corporations have too much power, money in politics is corrupting democracy and working families and poor communities need and deserve help when the market system fails to generate shared prosperity.”
More than 80 percent of us don’t like what America has become and want change now. How do our presidential nominees (both multi-millionaires) respond?
Senator John McCain has gone from being the self-professed moderate maverick to a lapdog for the Bush administration, leaving us unsure as to who he really is and how he is any different.
Senator Barack Obama said that we will look back at this election and see it as the moment America began to provide care for the sick and jobs for the jobless – and that it was the time to for us to “remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideas.” As inspirational and insightful as Senator Obama may be, he has yet to offer a plan reestablishing the American Dream for all Americans.
That dream is a promise of freedom from our Declaration of Independence that every American – not just the rich, and not just the powerful – has the opportunity to make a better life for ourselves, and for our children.
Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.