The Myth of Manufacturing in America

Personally, I think the next president was decided ages ago, by people with far more money and influence than the average American. She’ll oversee the next 8 years of (yes, eight) increasing wealth divisions in America. There will probably be a brief economic uptick at the half-way mark of her terms. Things won’t change much.

(edit: how tragically wrong that prediction was. USA didn’t go with the status quo, or populism, or progressivism; but with racism, fear, and capitalism on steroids.)

The US will continue to decline as a world power, primarily because we do not invest in strong social nets that benefit our citizens through tax funded programs such as equal-opportunity education, social aid for needy families, on-the-job training and in-company promotion, paid vacation policies, requisite living wages, and labor protections for all residents regardless of citizenship documentation (if you protect all workers, regardless of their citizenship status, then it makes it easier for workers to organize and increase their wages and protect their benefits, which makes it harder for employers to fuck them over).

According to the July 2016 report from the International Monetary Fund, US growth is lower than before the Great Recession, and the USA needs to invest in policies that incentivize work, raise productivity by investing in infrastructure and innovation, and reverse the wealth income disparity.

Although the IMF survey says the US economic forecast is good in the short-term, in the long-run our decreasing labor force participation, low productivity gains, and increasing wealth disparity/ high poverty levels is going to fuck us over. The IMF report did not say “fuck us over.” It said, “solid continued growth hinges on addressing long-term issues of falling labor force participation, weak productivity, rising income polarization, and high poverty rates.”

Basically, if we want our economy to continue to grow, we have to stop fucking over the working class.

One problem (as noted in the IMF) is the lack of production/ innovation. Although we’re slowly rebuilding (largely machinated industries, now), the USA doesn’t have the infrastructure for manufacturing that it used to. Our factories, long unused and fallen into disrepair, are out of code and filled with machinery that’s out of date. We outsourced manufacturing to other countries for lower costs, and as a result are two generations behind every other manufacturing country.

I’ve heard people say the solution is to bring manufacturing back, and sure, I agree. That’s definitely one solution, and one we do need to invest in over the long term. What bothers me is when its presented as the only solution, or as though manufacturing alone is a panacea–like manufacturing and high wages go hand in hand. As though service work, retail work, domestic labor, restaurant labor–these things are somehow not “worth” high wages, benefits, and secure hours in the way manufacturing is. See, service labor is here, now. These jobs are available here, now. They don’t have to be “brought back”. The infrastructure doesn’t have to be rebuilt. All that has to happen is:

  • Increase wages to a living wage
  • Write schedules two weeks in advance–no more of this on-call shit. They’re service workers, not medics.
  • Provide benefits and paid vacations.

But manufacturing/ factory work is hard, and dangerous! It’s skilled labor! That’s why they got living wages, and benefits, and protections!–is usually how the arguments goes.

I kind of want to scream when I hear it. Because first off–that wasn’t manufacturing. That was unions. Employers didn’t give those benefits out of the compassionate goodness of their hearts. Workers fought for those benefits! They were dying in the factories and mines–they lived in corporate towns, where the employers paid them in “company money” that could only be spent on company grounds and on company goods! The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was an industrial disaster that helped launched the workplace rights campaign into the mainstream US consciousness!

Hell, since Reagan broke the unions, a lot of manufacturing jobs today are shit-work! Employers abuse their workersdeny them breaks, and nowadays will even outright sell the company and void the union contract/ gut the pension. It’s not like manufacturing work has some special protection from employer abuses.

Once, manufacturing was seen much like service work is today–as something low-skilled, that uneducated people did when they had no other options in life; not as a means to a middle class life or long-term job security. When contemplating the history (and present) of manufacturing, and the attitudes of people toward so-called unskilled labor, it’s almost laughable (in the laugh or cry way) that people look at our current situation–having outsourced all our productivity infrastructure and set our manufacturing tech back by generations–our national response is to say, “You know what? Instead of giving service workers living wages, predictable schedules, and benefits, I think we should do our damndest to get manufacturing back over here,” like that’ll help. Like it’s a magic wand that we can wave and make everything better. Like we’re not still actively fucking over manufacturing workers right now, in this day and age.

The manufacturing industry isn’t a magical bean that equals living wages and a middle class life! That was unions. It’s unions people are really thinking of when they say “manufacturing.” They’re thinking of organized labor, of all the things unions won in the manufacturing industries. They’re thinking of pensions that allowed their grandfathers to retire at 50, their bodies bent and broken from years of labor, but their finances secure. They’re thinking of affordable healthcare plans, of companies that trained their own workers (instead of requiring them to go outsource training, and pay for it out of pocket), and then promoted from within, and raised their wages annually according to cost-of-living increases. That’s what they’re thinking of.

But instead, they say, “manufacturing,” and think they mean factories and skilled labor, as though people who stand over boiling oil or work on warehouse floors with electric pallet jacks and forklifts aren’t doing skilled labor. As though people who deal with the daily psychological abuse of entitled customers aren’t engaged in skilled labor. As though the presumed lack of a college degree somehow, someway means the person behind the counter deserves poverty wages, unstable hours, and no benefits.

Fuck that. All labor has value. Someone who thinks that burger slinger at the fast food place doesn’t deserve a living wage? They need to go home and make their own goddamn burger. Spend their own precious time and materials making their own food. Don’t demand the labor of other people if you’re incapable of even respecting or valuing the fact that it is labor–human labor–that is being purchased.

All labor has value. Any labor purchased is purchased because, for whatever reason, the customer does not or cannot do it on their own. They don’t have the skill, the materials, or the knowledge, so they are buy the labor/ skill/ knowledge of someone else. People denigrate service workers all the time, but I tell you what–service workers are the fucking backbone of our society.

Service workers dominate the labor industry. Nearly every US household is touched by service work–someone in their family has worked, is working, or will work in the service industry. They face psychological abuse on a regular basis from entitled asshole customers, and often lack protection from management. Worse, service workers often find themselves on the receiving end of bullying and abuse from coworkers and management, as well, without any sort of substansive corporate infrastructure set up to help mediate the situation.

We’re told this is a “new, mobile workforce,” and that people don’t “like” to stay in one place, with one company anymore. Meanwhile, HR representatives in reddit threads discuss the problems with hiring and promotion: Companies will offer large entry offers, but small or nonexistent wage increases over time. They don’t tie wage increases to performance, either–the most effective way for an employee to increase their wages over the course of a career is to bounce from company to company, as an employer will “match and increase” with their entry offer the salary of the previous company.

Obviously, that doesn’t really work at the service labor level, where wages are set according to state hourly wages, and employees are hired and fired at the whim of management rather than moving according to their own needs or desires.

I smile darkly at the assertions that we in the US are a new and mobile workforce. It seems to me that our employers just stopped investing in us, and got the right to fire us when-the-fuck ever. It’s not that the American worker is “mobile,” (which sounds so free and breezy), it’s that we’re cast adrift.

We were told to get college diplomas to enter the middle class, and now people with Masters and PhDs are applying to service-level jobs. College diplomas are the new form of job training. Now most jobs have substantial job training; just an afternoon or a day with a more experienced employee who shows you the ropes and then abandons you to find your footing.

Bonus for the employer: They don’t bear the costs of job training. Too bad for the employee: They are thousands in debt for a degree they don’t need, because they’ll learn on the job.

We were told 401ks were better than pensions, and employers all shifted into 401k/ stocks, and now we’re all fucked for retirement. Bonus for employers and the banking industry: Modest cost savings! Too bad for the workers: No security for retirement.

We were told unions were stealing our wages, and employers want to give us our whole paycheck; that they want to negotiate employer-to-employee. Bonus for employers: No unions to negotiate with! Too bad for workers: No consolidated power and voice to negotiate with the powers that be.

We were told at-will employment was beneficial to both parties, because it allowed either the worker or employer to terminate an employment contract for better opportunities at a moments notice, for no reason whatsoever. It allows for a more mobile society, see? But in practice, workers don’t have quite the access employers do. Workers provide 2 weeks notice, and train their replacements. Employers fire, and escort their discarded employee out with guards.

This is a mobile society, yes, but largely not by the choice of workers. It was because, for the most part, employers chose to stop investing in workers. They chose to stop training them–requiring, instead, that workers bear the cost of their own training. They chose to stop promoting from within and offering good benefits–forcing workers who wanted higher wages to seek work elsewhere, bouncing around their industry in an attempt to increase their wages and benefits.

Basically, USA employers (by and large) chose to stop investing in their employees, and then have been shocked by decreasing labor participation, an increasingly unstable/ mobile labor market, and an ever-growing wealth disparity, then scratch their heads and pout at each other as they hrrrm and huuuuuhhhh over how on earth such a thing could have possibly happened.

Like, wtf? Big picture, people! Do you ever step back and look big picture? Ever? For a moment?

my town

Generally not a fan of country music, but there’s this one country song that resonates with me–echoes through my head as I drive the familiar roads of my hometown.

This is my town

where I was born, where I was raised

where I keep all my yesterdays

Where I ran off, ’cause I got mad, and it came to blows with my old man

Where I came back to settle down, it’s where they’ll put me in the ground

This is my town

(my town–montgomery gentry)

I wasn’t born here. I was actually born overseas in a military hospital. But I was raised here. I say “town,” but really I guess I mean “towns,” because the city I was raised in officially only has a population around 45,000 or so, but the boundaries bleed together with two other towns so the combined population of all three is 111,500. This is my town.

My town is linked by an Intercity Transit System–a bus route that will take me all the way from one end to the other. There is a train station, two bus stations, an historic downtown shopping area,  an awesome comic book shop, two Costcos, two Fred Meyers, six Safeways, and (collectively) about 30 other grocery stores–co-ops and local chains and market stalls and whatnot. There are the usual big box-store shopping options, a mall, a now-thriving shopping center that used to be a dead mall.

When I was a kid, the mall–the one that’s still functioning– used to host this Christmas/ Holiday village or train every December. It was really cool. They’d set up a series of train cars or a village row along the hallway, and the kids could go through the little rooms doing different crafts. Volunteers dressed in elf costumes would sort of guide/ corral the throng, and there was a table for gift wrapping.

I guess it was free, or very low cost, because I remember my parents taking us every year. We’d make things like cotton ball snowmen and paper snowflakes and foam-cutout ornaments, and at the end we could get a picture taken with Santa at the Sears studio setup (that did cost something–my parents never did that part). They don’t do that any more. I don’t know why– maybe because for a while there in the 90’s, the mall was trying to rebrand and be all cool and updated and a lot of their community involvement seemed to go by the wayside during that time? Changed their signage, tried to get everyone to call it something something shopping center, I dunno. We all just kept calling it Capital Mall, like always. Recently I noticed they have the old signage back up, from the 80s.

There are approximately 30ish elementary schools, and about 20ish middle and high schools (combined), and three colleges–one community, one public, and one private. There’s a ridiculous amount of churches. Someone once told me–I don’t know if this is true or not–that Washington has the most amount of church buildings per square capita in the United States, but the lowest church attendance. If true, it’s certainly amusing.

There are two hospitals. Soon to be three. Six funeral homes. Two public cemeteries and one (possibly two) private/ religious ones, that I’m aware of. Technically, each of the three cities has a separate police force, and there’s also a county sheriff’s office, as well as the Washington State Patrol. So  I guess we actually have five separate police precincts in the area. For most of my life, it’s felt like a safe and generally crime-free area.

Growing up, I used to sneak out of my bedroom window late at night and walk around the neighborhood. I wasn’t up to anything, I just couldn’t sleep and felt restless. I lived in a split level suburban house, in a neighborhood that was pretty evenly divided between owned and rented homes. Down the street was an elementary school, and up the way was a public park and the post office. The neighborhood had no street lamps to speak of (still doesn’t); no light pollution to drown out the stars. I would walk in the cool dark night, alone and unafraid.

In high school, most days I walked home– 2.7 miles, stopping at the library on the way home. I could’ve ridden the bus, but I hated the bus and I like walking. So I walked instead.

Foolish, I guess.

There have been several rapes and sexual assaults reported on trails in the area over the past year or so.

They are on trails I used to walk on. Trails I used to rollerblade on. I used to rollerblade at night with a friend, from our neighborhood to the state capital campus and back home again, for hours and hours in the summer nights; unconcerned by the darkness or presence of strangers.

The other night my husband and I went downtown for a #blacklivesmatter rally. Neo nazis lined up in opposition, trying to drown out our solidarity by screaming invective and hate. Several others milled about, trying to simultaneously distance themselves from the neo nazis and convince us to discard the #blacklivesmatter movement because #alllivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter. It was an impossible argument to make.

I feel like, when your allies are neo nazis, you should re-examine your position. Maybe consider the somewhat confrontational and uncomfortable notion that you don’t actually have all the information and historical context you think you do.

I remember when I was 17 or so, my older sister taking me downtown for a concert or something … I was supposed to be her chaperone, ha. She wore a long sweater over opaque tights, like a minidress, and lent me her button-down brown leather skirt, which I wore with a cream crop top. So 90s. There as an alt band playing, something in the vein of Sleater Kinney grunge. The door was black with stickers on it, and the air smelled like weed and cigarettes–both of which I smoked back then, although I pretended not to, around my family. The crowd was too noisy for me, and when my sister found her date, I bummed a smoke from a stranger in the crowd and slipped out the door to stand in the alley, which was quiet and smelled like weed. I’ve never been a fan of concerts or live music.

The downtown core was littered with used needles. There have always been drugs in downtown, but I swear the drugs are different now. When I was 18/19, I lived downtown for a while, as part of the drifting/ homeless scene, while I dated one of the downtowners. Harder drugs were available, and a lot of my friends used them (I stuck with weed and cigarettes), but mostly I recall people being into weed, hallucinogens, and maybe a little cocaine. I never tried anything like that–cocaine, heroin–completely off-limits to me. D.A.R.E. had well and truly frightened me with their narrative of the one-time-use addictive properties. I can’t even recall meth. It must have been on the scene, by then, but I just don’t remember it.

Today weed is legal, which is good, and (ironically) I no longer use it. I’m generally pro-drug legalization, as I believe in taxation and regulation. When I walk through downtown, the smell of weed no longer seems to permeate each alley and doorway–probably because, as part of the legalization process, restrictions were placed on public usage, but there are used needles everywhere. I guess we must not have well-funded needle exchange program.

I feel tired.

There was a shooting in my neighborhood in June. Three people were killed. There was another shooting in downtown in July, over a traffic disagreement–a pedestrian and a motorist disagreed about right-of-way, and the motorist shot the pedestrian, then drove away and called 911. The pedestrian is in critical condition at the hospital.

Side note–the disagreement started when the motorist allegedly violated the pedestrian’s crossing space, and the pedestrian slapped the car hood, then used their skateboard in anger and slammed it against the motorists’ vehicle, causing the driver’s side window to shatter. While I admit this would be frightening (having been inside a car in the driver’s seat when an abusive ex kicked the window of the car in on my face), I would also point out that the motorist was still able to drive away from the scene, as evidenced by them doing just that moments later. 

The shooting was unnecessary–they were inside a steel cage of a vehicle powered by gasoline. The pedestrian was, well, pedestrian. A year ago, a police officer in the city used a similar defense (felt threatened by a skateboard) to justify shooting a black youth in the back. Skateboards: A real threat.

There was a quadruple shooting in a home of one of our towns in July. The officer on the scene said it was the first such shooting in the town’s history.

Apparently, 2012 public records showed about 10 percent (rounding up) of adults in this county having a concealed carry permit. That’s a lot of guns. Pew surveys show that most Americans who own weapons, own multiples.

I think about that, when my son goes to a friends house. I think about the news story about the kids on the military base just a year or so ago, about my sons age–around 12-16–and they were goofing off, playing in a field. One of them had found their dad’s handgun, and the familiar story played out.

There was a shooting at my old high school in 2015. My nephew will go to that school. My son practices drills at school, in case a disgruntled classmate brings a parents’ gun to school and tries to kill his classmates and teachers. In the past four years, he’s been sent home three separate times because of gun threats to the school.

My brother owns guns. He doesn’t speak to me for unrelated reasons. Sometimes I wonder if the next time we hear about each other will be a news article about a school shooting where one of us has lost a child, or a mass shooter at his place of work, or someone going road-rage on me and shooting me while I’m riding my motorcycle.

It’s weird to live so close to someone, and be so far apart.

It feels like a metaphor, almost, for the town. Like all my yesterdays are laid out in landmarks, mapped out close to the touch in happy memories across this beautiful place with its awesome parks and trails and libraries and shopping and everything I love … but then, there are also used needles and a growing white supremacist movement. There’s a subtle racism I didn’t really notice when I was growing up, because, well, I’m white. There’s a disturbing amount of unsecured guns. There are school shootings and threats. There’s classism and unemployment and homelessness, and all these other awful things I hate, things tainting my adoration of this place. Things that make me feel far apart from the community, things that make me want to scream for the pain of it.

I’m furious at the inequalities inherent in the system. I want to scream, because trying to engage with the status quo is so frustrating–the business owners, the politicians, the community members. Trying to support and fund actionable, research-based solutions to systemic institutional inequalities is seen as unfair–“welfare,” “rewarding laziness,” “encouraging drug use,” “affirmative action,” “harmful to small business owners,” “unconstitutional,” and their just interested in preserving their financial security and social privilege.

 

Brexit

Today the UK–or at least Britain– seceded from the European Union. Apparently Scotland and North Ireland are rather more on the fence about the decision, which means the United Kingdom itself may be fractured as the other two countries within the UK try to decide what they’re going to do regarding their relationship with Britain and the EU, respectively. It’s an unprecedented historical moment.

Suddenly all those states with secession movements are a lot less funny.

The value of the British pound has plummeted across the globe. The question of British nationals studying, working, and living abroad on EU visas, and EU nationals living, working, and studying in the UK on EU visas is now of serious concern. Apparently, there are quite a few EU-related scholarship, civil service, and research fund grants to consider, as well.

In the coming months top economic experts predict Britain will suffer a sucking whirlpool of loss in economics, trade, and labor. I suspect there will be a substantial brain-drain, too, as UK-educated EU nationals living and working in Britain return to their home countries and families.

David Cameron warned, to general mockery, that Brexit would increase the risk of war. I dunno. I’m somewhat comforted by all the policy articles pointing out that NATO is more instrumental in keeping international peace, but still … the last time in history a major unified coalition of state powers disagreed so much on internal trade and human rights issues that an internal faction attempted to assert independence and leave the coalition while citing racist dogma, it did in fact lead to war. So it’s not like war is exactly unprecedented in this situation, and a lot of lives have been upended in entirely unexpected ways– plus, the situation in Ireland, as I understand it, wasn’t exactly stable before Brexit.

I feel a bit sick, watching it play out. I’ve been on and off messaging with my friend in the UK, discussing the repercussions. The old joke of, “Oh, I’ll move to X country if the vote goes this or that way,” has suddenly become a real consideration. As a doctor, it’s actually a possibility for her: She would pass the immigration requirements for necessary work.

The worst part is that in the hours after the referendum passed, a certain google search spiked in Britain: What is the EU?

Isn’t that heartbreaking? Voting for something without even realizing what it is? According to Brexit vote demographics of the Brexit vote, if it was up to the 18-49 age range, they would have stayed. The 18-24 cohort voted by an overwhelming 75% to remain, and the 25-49 was a more lukewarm but still solid 56% remain vote. It was the elderly generation– those 50 and older– who decisively swung the vote to leave, and the really sick irony of it is that they’re not going to have to live quite as long with the consequences of their fucked-up decision.

We’re approaching our own election in November. I sincerely hope my fellow countrymen learn from this, and do their research before they go to ballot boxes. I especially hope the millennials learn, and turn out in fucking droves. 

I hope those doing research do not rely on fearmongering ads from the corporate-financed politicians trying to sell them another term in office (during which they collect a paycheck, insurance, and lobbyist checks), but actually look into the issues that matter to them. If you know someone who seems a little lost on the USA candidates, or confused about the issues, point them to one of these non-partisan sites to kick-start their political education. Better late than never.

  • www.ontheissues.org — A non-profit and non-partisan organization run by volunteers which provides information on candidates backgrounds and issues stances.
  • www.votesmart.org — A non-profit and non-partisan website for collecting and dissementating factual information regarding the biographies, funding, donations, and resume experience of political candidates in the USA.
  • www.isidewith.com — An in depth and nuanced political quiz on social and economic issues. It even allows you to expand the questions for more answers and write-in responses where none really match, and finishes by saying where on the political spectrum you fall and which political candidates are more closely aligned with your values and why.

For Jennifer, a comment continued.

Regarding the housing/ income thing … I know exactly what you mean. I don’t know how much John has shared of our marriage story with you, but the (not-so-brief) version is that when we first got married in April 2001, we were both working minimum wage jobs. I was a hostess at Shari’s, and he worked at a plant nursery. In June 2001, I learned I was pregnant, and he was laid off that same week due to a workplace injury. We had to move back to Olympia, which meant I had to quit my job at Shari’s. Over the next year, he looked for work and I … well, I was pregnant. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how difficult it is to get hired when you’re pregnant.

So then we had Kidling, and by then John was working at Target. Soon after, he got a job at his current employer. Starting wages meant we received TANF and EBT benefits, in addition to housing aid and WIC. We were still barely scraping by. I looked for work, but with a high school diploma and no long-term work experience (my parents didn’t want me working during high school; I was supposed to be preparing for college. That did not work out in my favor.), the only jobs I could get paid minimum or barely above minimum wage. And childcare, as it turns out, is expensive. If I had gone back to work, my entire paycheck + a portion of John’s would have had to pay for childcare, and we would no longer qualify for any of the aid we were getting.

So we stayed on welfare for about 18 months after Kidling was born. It paid our medical co-pays, put food in our cupboards, helped keep our rent down, and meant that we could afford to put gas in the car and diapers on Kidling’s bum until John was promoted to full time and his wages started going up.

Over the next few years, I was the sahp, doing everything I’d been taught growing up in the LDS church to save money — canning and home-cooking and cleaning and childcare and cloth diapering and sewing/ mending clothing. John worked, sometimes two jobs. In 2005, we bought a house.

When we bought it, the mortgage + taxes + homeowners insurance cost less than our monthly rent. We were really excited. We were doing everything right. We were on our way up. We were finally getting out of the early years of poverty and enjoying financial security.

Then the housing meltdown. Then the motorcycle injury — a car hit John one day when he was riding to work. Then the flood. Turns out, flood insurance does not cover a rental to live in during the time your home is under repair … and it also turns out, we had no family nearby to move in with for months at a time.

I had a brother who was willing to house us overnight, when the house was actually flooding. A friend who let us crash for a month in his basement while John and our motorcycling buddies started the teardown of the flood-damaged floors and walls. But then we had to move into the gutted house and live in it, with space heaters running to keep us warm. And I was working part time and going to college, and John was injured and on disability wages, and we still made too much money to qualify for any sort of welfare aid. I went to the food bank in those months.

As bad as that was, we got past it. Within 6 months, John was back at work, and 6 months later, the house was almost completely repaired. And then it turned out that those grinding months of poverty; of trying to pay for repairs on the house and the mortgage and the $600+ heating bills from using space heaters in an uninsulated house instead of the (flooded) heat pump — those months had a horrible consequence.

Our credit was tanked, the situation didn’t count as a “hardship”, and our mortgage rate skyrocketed. The next thing we knew, we were paying almost double the original mortgage. We started siphoning from John’s retirement just to stay in the house. We applied for hardship reductions, spoke to the housing authorities, visited financial aid counselors, etc. etc. I kept looking for work, but in Centralia work is hard to find — especially work that would pay enough to justify childcare. And for me to work in Olympia, the pay needed to justify childcare and the commute costs.

In the end, I finally convinced John to surrender the house in bankruptcy. It was better to give up that house than mortgage our future.

So I really, really get from a visceral and very emotional place how if feels to buy a house in a good market turned bad. I hope your housing situation has a much better conclusion than ours did.

We lost almost everything to move up to Olympia. We sold our cars, most of our stuff, and surrendered our home. We intentionally and knowingly tanked our credit for the next 7 years. We did all this so we could live comfortably within our means. Now we pay less than $1000 for housing, we don’t have any car payments, and we have no commute costs. When we moved here in 2012, we were living paycheck to paycheck and were often in the red. Since then, we’ve been lucky enough to build some small savings, send me to college, and even help out some loved ones in need.

When I write passionately about poverty and pain and humiliation, I write from the perspective of someone who did everything “right” according to the social mores perpetuated in our society. My husband works full time. We didn’t have more children than we could afford. We owned a home. I was going to college and working part time. We did everything “right,” and we still struggled with poverty. And there were times when we didn’t have anything to eat, because everything had gone to bills and commuting costs, and my deepest wish was that the welfare and food stamp programs had enough money in them to encompass needy families like mine, who were a good $20,000 above the poverty line, but still scraping by.

I remember when we were having our budget assessed by the financial counselor, we admitted (shamefully) that we smoked and had an $8 monthly expense of Netflix. Many other well-intentioned people had told us that if we “really” wanted to improve our financial situation, we would cancel expenses like Netflix or smoking or ever buying alcohol. Money, many people told us knowingly, was for bills and food, and that was all.

So I was ridiculously, brought-to-tears grateful by the response of the financial counselor. He looked at us compassionately and said, “Everyone deserves some way to relax. $8 a month isn’t going to even put a dent in your debt … but it will help you take your mind off it for an afternoon. Do what you gotta do.”

It’s funny. After we moved up here and stabilized financially, that’s when we quit smoking. Before, we smoked because we couldn’t afford date nights or family activities, and smoking was an excuse to step outside and get a 15 min break from the kid and some adult-only conversation. But after we moved up here and filed bankruptcy and stabilized our finances, we didn’t need that. Now we go to movies and fairs and festivals and on long drives and short day trips together. We have regular date nights and family time.

So all of this together sort of coalesces to explain why I feel like limiting the choices of the many because of the behavior of the few is damaging … not only to those who meet the Federal guidelines for poverty, but for all those families who need government aid and never even come close to qualifying because we’ve so gutted and de-funded the system.

handguns vs. rifles, and other sundry thoughts

Man, this has been a … weird month. All uneven and full of stops and starts. Strangely exhausting. I think what happens is that all through the holiday season, I keep telling myself that in January I am finally going to relax and de-stress, and somehow I always forget that January is still stressful.

It’s stressful on a few fronts: First, the holiday season usually ends up dipping into our meager savings and stretching us a little thinner, financially. In the past two years, we’ve also done some extensive out-of-pocket charity that strained our resources further. As a side note, I’d really prefer stronger social welfare programs funded by community tax dollars. It would be a much more efficient means of assisting low-income friends/ family who’ve fallen on hard times than forcing them to rely on a hodgepodge network of people who are living comfortably within their means, but perhaps lack the resources to take on entire extra families. But I digress.

The point is, the holiday season financial strain usually extends into the first quarter of the year, and I always seem to forget this. Then, it’s exacerbated slightly by the two birthdays we have in the first quarter of the year; mine and Kidlings. And of course, there’s the emotional stress of ongoing party planning and socializing (due to the birthdays), gift planning and purchasing and preparation, and not having any time to recover from the holiday strain you’ve been wearing yourself thin over for the past few months.

So now it’s almost February, and I am still feeling asocial and exhausted and stressed. It’s difficult to find time for myself. The skies are grey and cloudy. I live in a beautiful state that I love, but this is a difficult time of year on every level — emotionally, psychologically, financially. It’s just draining, and that’s why I haven’t been blogging very much at all throughout the holiday and post-holiday season.

Anyway, I was writing this comment on FB, and it was getting long(ish), so I decided to bring it over here instead. Basically, John and I were having a conversation about guns last night that really got me thinking.

Now, I tend to be pro-gun control, which a lot of people interpret as anti-gun. Since I’ve never been particularly interested in owning a firearm, that definition is neither here nor there for me. My biggest concern when it comes to firearms is not the weapon, but the owner. I don’t care if someone owns a firearm, I care if that person is responsible and sane.

Like, there is this family in the neighborhood that owned guns. We’ll call them … Dotsti and Brennen, and they have two sons who are about Kidling’s age. They own guns, and they are not what I would call responsible gun owners.

I should probably clarify at this point that Brennan is hardly the first gun owner I’ve met. My brother is in the military, as was my father-in-law. My brother-in-law is a parole officer. Many of my close friends and casual acquaintances alike own firearms and are gun enthusiasts. I live near a military base. My dad grew up on a farm and used to hunt, for chrissakes.

It’s not that I’ve never been around guns, it’s just that my mom was a bipolar woman who was terrified of the temptation a gun offered to a person who went through suicidal swings, and I definitely picked up on that distaste. I see guns and I think of death, and all the times I’ve wanted to die. Hell, we were loaned a handgun by a close friend in 2007, after our house flooded and looters were overrunning the town. I tried to kill myself with that gun. Luckily, my knowledge of guns is so miniscule that I couldn’t figure out how to take the safety off.

Anyway, so Brennen is the type of gun owner who picks up on someone’s discomfort, and finds it amusing. He would make a point of pulling out the guns and cleaning/ handling them in front of me when I visited. As in, I would go to the house, no guns would be out, and within 5 minutes of my arrival Brennan would decide to bring out all his guns and start cleaning them. He had guns laying (loaded) around the house. A lot of his stories involved drinking and gun mishaps. Once when I was at their home, he fired a gun out their back bedroom window and into a tree to “feel” how it shot. He has a lot guns and he thinks they’re quite fun, and thinks it’s funny to intimidate people and make them uncomfortable by pushing his enthusiasm for murder weapons in their face.

As it happens, a little under a year ago, Dotsi’s sons made some verifiably false claims about my son to try and get out of trouble for beating my son up, and we no longer associate with their family in any way whatsoever. About a year prior to our falling-out, however, I had forbade my son from going into their house because Brennan’s irresponsible and immature attitude toward guns disturbed me so much.

I was (and am) certain that their home is the scene of a gun accident waiting to happen. I keep expecting to hear that their kids took a loaded weapon to school, or that Brennan shot Dotsi during an argument, or that a visiting friend/ cousin/ nibling found one of the loaded firearms Brennan has lying around “in case of burglary” and accidentally shot someone.

Now, I don’t have a problem with my son going to his uncle’s house(s), or most of the other gun owners I know. Most of the gun owners I know are responsible, and keep their weapons unloaded and locked away. They don’t intentionally flaunt them for laughs. However, all those responsible gun owners don’t make up for the small percentage of super-irresponsible ones like Brennan.

On top of that, even responsible gun owners have bad days, lapses in attention, and basic human fallacies. Examples — one, that handgun lent to us after the flood? When the owner was showing John the safety and firing mechanism and how to chamber a bullet, he (the owner) accidentally fired a shot in the house. He was aiming the handgun at the floor and pulled the trigger to show how the bullet was not chambered … except that it was, and it fired a bullet into the floor. This is a guy who is a gun enthusiast, who has taken (and taught) gun safety classes, and who is a generally responsible person. He’s not a crazy person who likes to intimidate people for laughs. He’s just an ordinary man who had a slight lapse in judgement.

Another example — before I met John, I briefly dated a very sweet guy who was into hunting. About a year after I married John, I heard that my ex had died in a tragic hunting accident. He and his brother were hunting together, and hopped a fence to follow a deer or something. My ex hopped the fence first, and his brother hopped it right after him. As his brother hopped the fence, the loaded rifle went off, and the misfired stray bullet went into my ex’s head and killed him.

Again, these were responsible guys who’d been on hundreds of hunting trips together. They grew up with guns, they were familiar with gun safety, and they weren’t the type of people to flaunt their love of firearms. In fact, I didn’t even know he owned a firearm during the short time we dated! I learned about his usage of firearms and history of hunting at the same time I learned about his death!

Hunting, though, is interesting. It’s the only area of gun owernship I’m super conflicted about. Handguns and the like, I see no real need for the average citizen to have. All the statistics and information have shown time and again that it’s a deadly and murderating tool that is prone to misuse and tragic accidents. There’s really no need for a handgun in a civilized society.

Rifles, though … well, the other day I was talking to my dad, and found out my dad has something he calls a “30-aught”. I mentioned to John that it was freaky to me that my 70+ year old dad who has vision and hearing problems owns a firearm, and John asked what kind of gun my dad had. When I repeated the information my dad told me, John said, “Oh, well that’s a rifle. It’s just for hunting. That’s different. Only the military uses rifles for hunting people — anyone else who owns a rifle tends to have it for hunting animals.”

He further pointed out that a responsible, normal hunter would have no need for their rifle to be laying around the house loaded, since it only needs to be loaded while actively hunting, so I probably didn’t need to worry about my son’s safety in visiting his granddad (at least, not in regard to firearms — my dad’s driving, on the other hand …)

The more I think about it, the more I think I might be on board with rifles and hunting. Because we “hunt” (in a manner of speaking) with dipnets and crab traps and shovels and fishing poles for crab, clams, and fish. And I like it.

I like gathering as much as we want to eat, no more and no less, from our local resources. I like knowing that our wild-caught crab was ethically sourced and didn’t involved worker exploitation or animal abuse at any point. I like knowing that my husband uses humane quick-kill methods. I like that we are concerned both for the well-being of the local crab/clam/fish populations and for the benefits of ethically feeding our family.

I think would be down with hunting. I think that if we got rifles and did that whole hunting thing, I could really get into the using-the-whole animal gig with the skinning and the butchering, and it would certainly ease my mind regarding factory farming. If we were shooting and killing our own meat, and processing and butchering it, then yeah, it’d be more effort … but it would also be the peace of mind of knowing that we did not contribute to the animal rights violations that are endemic in the current meat industry.

I’m still pro-gun control. I feel strongly that our current gun laws are deeply flawed and contribute overwhelmingly to the gun violence plaguing our nation. But I might be a little less anti-gun than I have been in the past. Ironically, my research into gun legislation and my pro-gun control stance may have led me to a place where I am willing to (under very restrictive circumstances) allow a firearm into my home, and perhaps even own one myself.

thoughts on accidental racism and passing as “normal”

Someone in my FB feed posted this Sun Magazine article, “Some Thoughts on Mercy,” by Ross Gay. It’s a poetic and gripping read; both relatable and thought-provoking.

I especially like his points about how suspicion — of ourselves, of others — taints our daily interactions. He calls it suspicion, I think of it more as the white fear of accidentally appearing discriminatory — the microaggression perceived, rather then intended. What is interesting is that he points out that this suspicion (of self, of others) seems to be pervasive in all interactions, regardless of skin tone.

For example, when we lived in Centralia, there were a series of robberies. During that time, John and I went to the reservation store to buy smokes (because cigs were cheaper at the rez). While we were at the store, John and the cashier were making small talk about the robberies, and John made an off-handed comment about, “Well, what else do you expect around here?”

The cashier slammed the cigarettes and change down on the counter and snapped, “The robberies were committed by white guys.”

John blinked, confused by her sudden change in demeanor, took the smokes, and walked out of the store with me. As we got in the car, he wondered at her sudden bad attitude, and we realized she thought when he said “around here,” he meant specifically the reservation (and the Chehalis tribe residents). In fact, he meant the predominantly poor white tweakers that Centralia is sort of infamous for.

That’s the type of situation I call “accidental racism,” and I believe it occurs because we live in a cultural moment that — as this article explores — perpetuates suspicion of ourselves and others.

I do not have a solution or idea on how to address this. I wouldn’t for a moment even dream of suggesting that people should “just stop being so sensitive.” It is absolutely necessary that we speak out against discriminatory language and behaviors, even the ones that are often performed by rote and not out of a desire to be discriminatory. I mean, if we didn’t point out and object to discriminatory language and behavior, things would be a hell of a lot worse in our society right now.

Btw, I know some people complain about this change in language as too “p.c. (politically correct). I’m always amused by that, because as far as I can see, so-called “p.c.” language is just polite language. It’s a teensy bit like how I don’t see any problem with swearing and I think religious strictures against it are childish and silly … but I am still respectful to my religious friends and family who abhor swearing by choosing to abstain from the language they deem offensive while in their presence.

Anyway, back to accidental discriminations … I may enjoy the privileges society affords cis-gender straight educated white women, but I have also run into my fair share of stereotypes. After all, I am still a woman, and I did grow up diagnosed as having bipolar (and being treated for it).

I’m lucky. All I have to do is cut my hair and shut my mouth, and I start to disappear into the crowd, androgynous and unnoticeable. Small-breasted and short-haired, I am often mistaken for a young man. If I keep quiet and keep my head down, I don’t get hassled for being female, or for being a mental health ally. I can glide through life almost invisible, untouched by the stereotypes that swirl around about women and mental illness. On my motorcycle, with my full-face helmet, gear, and tall frame, I am even more androgynous. I can hide in my blandness, however temporarily, escape the stereotypes that define women and the mentally ill.

I do not wear cultural markers of “otherness” in the texture of my hair and the color of my skin. A cop will not pull me over for being bipolar while driving — a cop will not even realize I am bipolar. I have this respite from the discriminatory beliefs our culture still holds about people like me. Yet the tastes I have had of being stereotypes and “othered” have allowed me the space to imagine and empathize how awful it would be to deal with that every single day; to expect it. To have it be so common that it becomes a default understanding of the world, read even into neutral or benevolent interactions.

More times than I can count, I learned that if I shared my family background with mental illness, I would be told that mental illnesses aren’t real. I would be told to just focus on being happy, to sleep more, to eat right. To go on a strict fruitarian diet. To buy lights that mimic the sun. I would be told that medications and therapy are useless, that it’s all just a state of mind. Implicitly and explicitly, I would be told that mentally ill people are weak and selfish — that my mom, who was the greatest mom ever, was a bad mom. Weak and selfish for having bipolar, for committing suicide, for giving in.

When mom was alive, she told me never to tell anyone I was diagnosed with bipolar. She said people wouldn’t understand. She said they would treat me differently. She was right, but I didn’t care. I figured it was a test. Anyone who learned mental illness ran in my family and shunned me for it wasn’t someone I wanted as a friend anyway.

I didn’t learn to shut my mouth about bipolar until my mom died. I can handle the slings and arrows and suspicions when they’re hurled at me. But there’s no cause, no reason, no heart in speaking ill of my mom. She suffered enough. We suffered enough. There’s no need to hear people call her weak, call her selfish. She was the strongest woman I’ve ever known. She battled bipolar for 20 years. She was amazing.

All I have to do is shut my mouth, and I don’t have to hear it. I listen, I observe, I decide if the person to whom I am speaking is compassionate about mental illness or not, and then I can decide whether or not to risk it. Whether or not opening up will result in being lashed at with idiocy and discrimination, or met with compassion. It’s like my own version of a closet. I pull the door shut time and “pass” as normal for a little bit, just long enough not to deal with uneducated bigots.

But people of color, they don’t have a closet to hide in. They can’t pull down their melanin and shake their hair free of texture in order to slide by uneducated bigots. They have to face it all head on, the bad, the neutral, and the good. And I know I have a hard time reading neutral or well-intended jokes/ sarcasm as harmless or teasing when I’m having a bad day. When my period cramps are acting up, and I’m on edge from noise, and I just want the world to recede for 30 goddamn minutes, but I have to go to the store to get this stupid thing I forgot. I can only imagine what it would be like to be having an already fucking shitty day, and then you go to work and some white guy makes a crack about crime in the neighborhood … yeah. I can see how sometimes when the world sucks balls, miscommunications like that happen, and its no-ones fault.

All I know is that sometimes I spout things without realizing possible alternate interpretations, and that I am grateful when grace and understanding is extended to me — so I feel it is only right that I extend grace and understanding when I speak clumsily or in ignorance and am met with frustration and anger.

thoughts on police brutality

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I recently read this article on Mic.com: The DOJ Just Released Its Cleveland Police Investigation. In case you weren’t aware, apparently the Department of Justice has been investigating nearly 600 use of force incidents which occurred in 2012 and 2013.

The author of the article, Gregory Krieg, selects 8 disturbing facts from the report and summarizes them. Sans summary, these are the facts he shared:

  1. Cleveland police officers consider themselves an “occupying force” and one station has a sign calling it a “forward operating base.” (as in an occupying military force)

  2. More than 100 patrol officers chased a single car through city streets speeds surpassing 100 mph for about 25 minutes.

  3. Officers twice “drive-stunned” a suspect they had on the ground in handcuffs. (that apparently means delivering the shock from the taser without actually firing the darts. The report found that drive-stunning was used to punish rather than subdue).

  4. An officer punched a handcuffed 13-year-old two times in the face.

  5. Officers routinely violated citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights and rarely offered an explanation.

  6. A sergeant shot at a recently escaped hostage who was wearing only boxer shorts; the boy had just escaped after being held captive by “armed assailants.”

  7. Officers shot a man with his hands in the air.

  8. “CPD officers hit people in the head with their guns in situations when the use of deadly force is not justified.”

The Department of Justice is also examining use of force incidents, practices, and policies in almost 20 other police departments nationwide, including our own Seattle Police Department due to ongoing complaints of police brutality. I know of several incidents in Seattle involving racially charged police brutality … the Seattle police are kind of locally notorious for their behavior, so I’m not surprised to hear they’re being investigated, as well.

Remember, all these investigations regarding police brutality were instigated long before the Ferguson outrage. The investigations started in 2013 because of hundreds of complaints per year and backlogged complaints over the previous years. The brutality has continued nationwide, even as police departments were actively being investigated. Ferguson is not an anomaly in terms of police brutality. It is the norm. Those riots could be happening in pretty much any precinct across the country right now.

Of course, the usual suspects on social media have responded, basically saying some variation of, “Not all cops are like this,” or, “Rioting isn’t the answer,” or “What are you doing to change the situation?

First off, the “not all X are like this,” is a stupid and reductive argument that I despise. It’s a pointless and obvious thing to say. Of course not all X are like whatever the current conversation is about. The sole reason for even making that statement is just to detract from the original discussion by starting a related argument about semantics and nuance.

Not all men are rapists. Not all feminists are misandrists. Not all misogynists are serial killers. Not all cops are racist bullies. Not all gun owners are irresponsible fuckwits. Thank you for stating the obvious. The normal, sane, non-discriminatory, responsible, nice people are not the problem under discussion. The issue under discussion is the crazies messing it up for everyone. I hate it when someone (myself or someone else) brings up a perfectly valid point, ie:

It is not the right of cops to be judge, jury, and executioner, and we need to stop bad cops from abusing their power,

and a disturbingly loud contingent of the population responds,

Cops are heroes! Not all cops abuse their power! How dare you! Don’t act guilty if you’re innocent! Cops are heroes!

And it’s just like … uh, thank you for completely fucking missing the point. We’re not having the same discussion here. Nuance exists. Here’s a mindblowing thought: It is possible for a police force to have both good, heroic, kind officers and cruel officers who abuse power and are violent. It is also possible for good, kind officers to turn a blind eye to cruelty and abuse of power because they fear repercussions to themselves or their families. We need to change the policies that allow abuses of power to perpetuate and give cops a bad name.

Second, that rioting isn’t the answer: Again, shut the fuck up. Don’t be a fuckwit. In one of my classes at Evergreen, we had this namby-pamby idiot hippie who was preaching love and peaceful response in one of our seminars. It was MLK day, and we were talking about the peaceful protests MLK promoted. You know what this quivering ballsack said? He said that MLK and his associates were no different from the Black Panthers and terrorists. He said that peaceful protests — counter sits and the bus boycott and whatnot — were still acts of aggression because they were a form of resistance and resistance is inherently aggression. Then he suggested that a truly peaceful way for MLK and his allies to change the world would be to plant a garden in their neighbors yard.

I shit you not. Plant a fucking garden. To end racism and discrimination.

Now you tell me, if your neighbor is a racist, homophobic, sexist fuckwit, you think having a queer woman of color going in to plant a garden in his yard is going to help matters? I don’t think so. I think the type of person who thinks another person is worth less because they happen to be queer or a woman or a person of color is the type of person who will get all aggressive and angry about trespassing on their property. I think that if civil rights activists tried to go onto their neighbor’s property and plant a garden, that would also be seen as an act of aggression.

I think that riots, protests, etc. are a natural response when a community or population is pushed too far. There’s only so far you can bend until you break. History is full of uprisings. When they are successful, it is called an uprising or a rebellion, and it is cast as heroic. When it is unsuccessful (or perpetuated by people of color), it is called a riot and is cast as overreaction.

When the colonists went and raided British ships in the Boston harbor to throw tea overboard, that was a riot. That was a minority population rising up and destroying the property of the ruling class. In our history books, we call it the, “Boston Tea Party,” and laud it as the spark that lit the flame of rebellion. It has become a mythical and heroic moment; the instigators brave men who were fighting for a brighter tomorrow. At the time, it was not so cut and dry. The individual characters of the participants included men who were not wholly perfect. Some had unsavory pasts.

So what if Michael Brown robbed a convenience store? Darren Wilson didn’t know that. Wilson just shot a guy who didn’t obey his orders. The robbery did not factor into Wilson’s response or decisions. Hypothetically speaking, even if Wilson had been aware of the robbery allegations, murder is not the correct response to that situation. First, there’s just no way to defend murdering someone in response to the theft of property. No material item is worth more than human life.

Second, that was not Wilson’s job. His job, as a police officer, is to detain the suspect. The suspect is then supposed to be tried and found guilty or not guilty in a court of law by our justice system — you know, lawyers, judges, juries, that lot? Then, upon being found guilty, a sentence is determined by the court. Not cops. Wilson skipped (at minimum) like three steps in that system. He went straight for shooting. Hell, he didn’t even shoot a suspect, so far as he knew. He just shot a guy on the street who didn’t immediately obey him.

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Finally, what am I doing to stop police brutality? Well, that’s an interesting question there, and one of the reasons I think riots are starting to break out. Like many in America who have accepted the blatant reality of police brutality, I feel helpless in the face of it. Not threatened. I am a white woman, and the heart-aching reality is that I benefit from the safety of that racial privilege. And I treasure that safety. I would like that safety to be extended to all the people of color in our country.

Everyone should be able to feel safe walking down the streets in their neighborhood, regardless of the color of their skin. Every innocent individual should be able to feel comforted, or at least unmoved, by the sight of a police officer or cruiser. Not frightened, or trying to figure out how to come across as least threatening, or wondering if this is the day they die because they “looked threatening.”

But I don’t know how to change it. Police departments are not accountable to ordinary citizens. They should be, but they’re not. I can urge my elected leaders toward reform and changing legislation, but that’s a slow and ongoing process. It’s been ongoing for many years. Investigations have dragged and politicians have prevaricated, and the brutality has continued. Lives continue to pile up. In the face of political intransigence, is it any wonder that riots are beginning to break out?

What else do I do? I don’t know. I don’t live local to the places with rioting, so there aren’t protests or riots I can attend. The closest protests to me are in Seattle, which is still an hour away. So instead I post about it on social media. I discuss it online. I argue and debate and attempt to educate my fellow citizens about police brutality. I continue to write my legislators and agitate for police reform. I feel helpless and pointless, silent and useless in my empathetic pain.

As a civilian who does not have the ability to report on internal department training and work safety issues, I cannot effect change from within. How can civilians within the community change these situations? I don’t know. Obviously, contacting elected representatives and voting in politicians who favor reform is one step. But it’s a long and not always productive process, and sometimes it’s not enough to change things. So when you’ve worked within the systems allowed to you and nothing has changed, how do you call for reform then? I favor police reform, as do many. I fear that the protests and riots currently sweeping our country are a natural and even necessary response in the face of overwhelming silence for these calls for reform.

So what sort of reform do we want? Personally, I favor reform that includes strong citizen review boards comprised of community members; holding officers found guilty of unnecessary force criminally responsible for their actions; and incorporating policies (as well as legislation) that accounts for the role of unconscious bias and adrenalin in police responses.

I also favor reform that stops tying the funding and supply provisions of police departments to drug-related arrests. The war on drugs has been a HUGE player in the overall militarization of the civilian police force, and we need to enact legislation and policy changes that address this incredibly serious issue.

I am a fan of cameras on cops. I favor reform that enacts that, too, especially as preliminary studies and testing indicate it is beneficial for the the police and the community. Such cameras benefit the police by providing more context to the incident in dispute and appear to encourage better behavior and de-escalating tendencies in both the police and the community when use of them is properly implemented

Overall, I would like police in general to shift toward policies that are keyed to responding to and investigating crimes instead of trying to predict/ prevent. They’ve shown themselves woefully inadequate at predicting, preventing, and de-escalating situations, so it would be nice if they stopped trying and just focused on investigating crimes and catching actual criminals.

the thankful post

I don’t believe in god(s) or whatever, but I do believe in expressing thanks and gratitude for the good things in your life. I think this is psychologically healthy, and helps us focus on and appreciate the positive. Although Thanksgiving as an American holiday has a deeply problematic history, the tradition of a harvest festival predates the colonisation of America. I also like the idea of a day set aside to recognize and celebrate that which we are grateful for. So with all that said, I would like to express my gratitude(s).

I am grateful for my husband, who is my best friend and lover and partner in crime. He makes me laugh, he has my back, and he’s the coolest and most intelligent person I know.

Of course we have our disagreements and ups/downs, like every couple, but that is yet another thing I am grateful for. Over the course of our marriage, we have both committed to improving our communication skills. Thanks to John’s commitment to our relationship and his willingness to participate fully in the often-difficult work of introspection and addressing his role in our mutual disagreements, we have both experienced a level of personal growth, maturity, and commitment that I used to think was a myth.

To get mushy and direct (instead of hiding behind increasingly verbose descriptives: Being married to John has made me a better person. Watching John push himself to be a better person has inspired me. John makes me believe in the innate goodness of the human spirit. Also, he’s sexy and hilarious.

I am grateful for our son, who is a clever, quick-witted, and intelligent child full of compassion, grace, and affection.

Rolling the genetic dice is always chancy. Aside from issues of mental or physical abilities, there are issues of personality. I’m sure everyone has had the experience of dealing with a difficult family member; someone it’s hard to believe you share a gene pool with. If it happens with siblings and cousins and parents, it can clearly happen with children. I feel very lucky and thankful that we have a kid I get along with, and whose company I (generally) enjoy.

I am further grateful that both of us get along with our son — I cannot imagine the pain and heartache some parents must deal with when an unlucky role of the genetic dice means their partner and their child are forever at odds.

I am grateful for my friends.

I have always considered friendship to be a special notion. In our modern culture, the term “friend” is often casually applied to everyone we have semi-regular positive or neutral interactions with. Under this litmus test, I am “friends” with former coworkers or classmates that I haven’t seen in years, but keep in touch with on  social media. “Friends,” in the colloquial modern parlance also encompasses acquaintances that I see or interact through social media with on a regular basis, or people whose company I enjoy and have the potential to be actual friends, but we are prevented by life circumstances and scheduling from investing in the real work of a mutual friendship.

Taking the above paragraph into account, I have (outside my family) a very small handful of friends. To me, a friend is a platonic relationship that is otherwise akin to that I share with my husband. My closest friends are people who “get” my quirks and accept them, who are there for me (as I am for them) in times both difficult and happy. I value these relationships beyond measure, and am very grateful to have these generous and wonderful people in my life.

Continuing thoughts …

There are many other things I am grateful for, as well. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to attend Evergreen, and for all the wonderful experiences I had there. I am grateful for my acquaintances, who enact a different yet also valuable influence into my daily life. I am grateful for my living situation — I live in a beautiful state with a wonderful family in financial comfort and good health. I did not do anything in particular to deserve all this — I happened to be born into a situation and family that positioned me in a financial and educationally stable position. I happen to have been lucky enough to be born in a society where my race, sexual identity, and gender identity are valued.

Because of this background, I was ideally positioned to have a high probability of having a happy life unless I consciously made some really serious fuck-ups, like trying cocaine or meth as a teenager. I didn’t do that. So even though I had some minor fuck-ups and run-ins with the law as a teenager, my race and class status shielded me from any disparately egregious consequences. I didn’t do anything to deserve this luck, and I am both very aware and very grateful for the role chance and family background has played in my current happiness.

My heart is with those families in Ferguson and across the nation who are dealing with the unfair cruelties the cards of fate and society has dealt with them through the social hardships bestowed by their economic status, race, gender identity, or sexual orientation. On this day of gratitude, as we ponder on all that we are grateful for, I would also encourage everyone to consider how we can reach out to repair the social wrongs that perpetuate such massive inequalities and how we can work toward a better world not just for our children, but for all children.

Talking about it is good. It’s a start. It’s necessary. People will say that talk solves nothing, but that’s not true. Ending slavery started with talking. Gaining suffrage for non-propertied men, black men, and eventually women started with talking. Democracy started with talking. All great social movements, all change starts with an idea, a notion. And we share that idea, that notion. We talk about it. We expand on it. We educate. We lecture and share and grow, and eventually talking becomes action but we also keep talking — we explain why we’re acting, we explain the necessity of action.

So talk about it. Spread the word. Acknowledge and learn about social inequality. Educate yourself and others. Brainstorm ideas for change, and then move forward with them. Change is possible. The tides of history have shown us how to carve out new shorelines, so don’t listen to the naysayers who claim there is no inequality, or there is no point to trying. Don’t be afraid of the possibilities. Be grateful for the opportunity. We live in a transformative historical moment — grasp it with both hands and move gleefully into our shared future.

I am not fond of libertarian politics

So I was responding to this comment on FB:

strong programs that encourage consumerism over production make me frustrated. go MAKE something. stop complaining about other people’s attempts to make something, and CERTAINLY don’t let a self-interested entity like government “regulate” businesses that they meddle with based solely on maximizing profitability for the gov’t. perfect examples: ANY farm vs monsanto. that organic cleaning supplies company vs the FDA. the WHOLE documentary “Farmageddon”. on one hand, the little guys can’t compete with government regulations that are only in place to keep mega corp kickbacks coming. on the other hand, if more people joined “the little guys” we could stop bitching about who’s paying what wages and start worrying about what WE will pay OUR employees.

… and I ended up writing such an incredibly long response that FB told me it was too long and I had to try again. I’m actually embarrassed to admit this happens to me regularly. I could try posting it over several comments, but it’s late and I’m lazy. So instead … tadum! I post it here, and then cross-post this entry to the FB comment. Problem solved!

So, my response …

Corporations that encourage throw-away consumption over sustainable production frustrate me, too. I don’t complain about other peoples attempts to make something. I object to shipping jobs overseas, not paying living wages, and utilizing discriminatory tactics to divide the working class against itself. Production, I encourage. I buy locally made and produced foods and items whenever possible. If I can’t buy Washington-made, I try to buy American made.

I believe in government. I believe that government can be used on behalf of the people, to strengthen the nation and the community. We tried states rights immediately after the Revolutionary War, and the fledgling country almost tore itself apart. That’s why we had the constitutional convention and created the constitution — because we tried to make a go of it without a strong federal government, and nearly failed.

Over the history of our country, government programs have done horrible things (the American Japanese concentration camps, Native American extermination programs, encoding slavery into the Constitution), but they’ve also done admirable and great things (ending slavery, even at the risk to our internal cohesion; ending the Great Depression; entering WWII; constitutionally protecting the civil rights of women and people of color). I believe that in a functioning democracy, government can be a boon to the people.

I also believe we do not currently live in a functioning democracy, and we need to limit the power of corporations which are currently influencing legislation, government, and the courts to the extent that we can no longer call America a country with democratic capitalism. It is a capitalist oligarchy.

In the 1800s, the government passed a series of Homestead Acts, which allowed many working class Americans (mostly white males) the opportunity to go out West and claim a plot of land. This was not (and is not) seen as government welfare, but as “encouraging growth” and “helping small businesses.” That land passed down or was sold, and the money used to fund businesses or the education of later generations. Wealth was passed on through families and businesses because of that government program.

In the early 1900s, white Southerners restricted voting rights and employment/ living opportunities for people of color. Across America, practices like redlining, color bars in unions, and employment discrimination systemically impoverished people of color. Sometimes when a town or area (like black Tulsa) did well, the neighboring white community would raid the town and take their businesses, homes, and accumulated wealth. This benefited the whites, not just of that generation but for generations after. This harmed the people of color, not just those who immediately lost their businesses and goods, but the generations that came after and lost that intergenerational wealth.

In the 1950s, thousands of returned (white) GIs acquired their college degrees and went into white collar industries. The veterans of color were overwhelmingly denied that same benefit. Labor union membership (still rife with color bars) plataued. So all this created a history where people of color were systemically discriminated against, not protected by their government, unable to even access government programs, and unable to build the wealth/ businesses/ productivity that you trumpet. Credit for inventions by people of color was taken by whites, as well as the wealth.

And this happens over and over and over with communities of color — hell, the Japanese concentration camps were part racism, part jealousy. Japanese immigrants ran most of the small farms in Eastern Washington and had actually started the Pike Place Farmers Market. When the US gov’t shuffled the Japanese (but not Germans or Italians) into concentration camps, their neighbors stole their businesses and farms, and few gave them back. Japanese Americans were eventually given reparations of 10 cents on the dollar.

So you sit here and say, “People should be paid what their work is worth, and the government shouldn’t get involved,” and I’m sitting here going, “Dude, we have a 200+ year history of people getting enslaved and imprisoned and discriminated against because the corporate interests in our country were more interest in producing cheap sugar/ cotton/ tobacco/ labor than they were in ‘paying what people were worth’.”

And that’s not all! We have a 200+ year history of the government turning a blind eye to this shit because the corporate interests were successful in a) buying off government representatives and b) convincing the white working class that they were the real hard workers, and everyone else was just a bunch of lazy fucks sucking off the teat of the government and the taxes of the working class.

When the government DID get involved, rare as it was, THINGS CHANGED. When the gov’t DID say, “Fucking enough with this slavery,” they passed the Emancipation Proclamation, fought a war, gave black people the vote, and even passed a Civil Rights Act. Yeah, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was the SECOND civil rights legislation we passed — the first one was ignored because they used colorblind language, instead of specifically saying, “Do not discriminate against black people.”

And when the gov’t said, “Enough with this fucking wealth inequality and child labor,” THEY CHANGED THINGS. They passed laws to make child labor illegal, and they set a minimum wage, and they set required safety protocols so children wouldn’t be dying in anymore factory fires.

And when the gov’t said, “Enough with these fucking Nazis,” they went into WWII and THEY CHANGED THINGS. And when they said, “Fucking enough with this Jim Crow bullshit,” THEY CHANGED THINGS. They passed a law guaranteeing equality.

So you sit here and tell me the government is useless, and I sit here and think they’re only useless because people like you are convinced it’s all a scam and have given up and let the corporations have their oligarchy. You won’t even fight back. You’re just rolling over and crying about how much government and consumerism sucks, while at the same time saying how you wanna be a millionaire and the rest of us are lazy because we believe in community and country and government.

But! But here’s the thing — the government didn’t just sit up one day and say, “Huh, what were we thinking protecting slavery and all that fuckery? Man, we must have been smoking crack — let’s fix that shit right up!” No! They resisted, at first. But the people, the American people, they pressured their government to do the right thing. They pressured the government to free the slaves. They educated other people. They stood on street corners and lectured, they passed out pamphlets, they rioted, they took photographs of the people being harmed by colorblind and discriminatory government policies, and they engaged in often-unpopular and decades-long campaigns to force their government to act in the interests of the people. To protect the people. To be a government, not a military puppet hand of corporate greed.

The problem here is not government. Government is supposed to be shaped and formed by the people. The problem is that people gave up on the government. In the 1950s, suburbia and post-war wealth meant there was a television in every home. Vietnam was the first war where the news coverage was televised on screen, in your living room. Over the next few decades, televisions and internet and interconnected media everywhere gave us all a 24/hour stream of news, and people saw video images of the terror of war in Vietnam, and people watched nuclear bomb tests on the tv screens in their living rooms.

Suddenly, war and crime were real and in your living room, on your tv, in your face in a way they’d never been in the history of mankind before. And since then, it’s just gotten worse, even as the world has actually gotten better with less crime, less war, and less inequality. But some people looked at all this fucked up-ed-ness on the news and they just give up. They blame the government and corporations and all those lazy fucks the government entitled with their aid programs, and they give up trying to change the world.

It’s funny, too, how the definition of “welfare” has changed over the past century. When government programs funded the Homestead Acts and GI bills and VA home mortgages for white people, that wasn’t “welfare” or “sucking off the government teat.” But when government mandates a minimum wage or basic fucking labor safety or some goddamn health insurance, that’s “sucking off the government teat” and welfare. Nobody calls student financial aid programs “sucking off the government teat.” They call it a wise investment, and have whole classes set up to teach middle and upper class American youth have to navigate this educational maze. You know when unions started losing popularity among the average Joe? In the 1960s/ 1970s, when color bars became illegal.

The government should be regulating (and taxing) the big-ass corporations more heavily, as well as enforcing labor laws. They should punish the big-ass corporations for shifting their labor, taxes, and income offshore. They should institute fines and tariffs on major corporations that suck America dry and put nothing back into her.

The government should also encourage small business growth. I am the daughter of a small business owner, the (former) employee of several small business owners, and the friend of even more small business owners. Small business often operate very close to the line, and I’ve worked for more than one small employer who was a nice person but a fucking shitty boss. Small business owners are regularly forced to choose between the well being of their employees (who are often friends or family members) and the success of their business. Pay a living wage or cut the employee wages and pay the operating/ licensing taxes and fees?

I do not want to be a small business employer, or a producer. I do want to be an author. But I do not want to be in the position of trying to decide whether to pay my employee a living wage or shut down my business. I do not want to compromise my values or integrity in the pursuit of profit. I am not interested in becoming an employer in America, because the choice is too often money or the value of a human being, and that is quite simply a choice I do not want to make.

I don’t know if you read that whole thing. I would say TL;DR: brief history of capitalism in America, but I’m tired and getting bored of writing this. I understand your stance. I’ve heard it many times. Your views are not new to me. I have discussed this ad nauseum with many libertarians and redditors who admire Ayn Rand and are dismissive of the long-term impact of the tides of history on modern times.

Truth is, I don’t like having this discussion with people who are unwilling or unable to acknowledge the intergenerational disparate impact caused by uneven distributions of wealth, the role a changing pop culture/ mediascape has on society, and the benefits of a well-managed government. This is not a black and white issue that boils down to “Government bad, work good,” this is a nuanced and complicated issue with many intersecting factors.

There is a reason I do not like to argue politics with people. I don’t want to disrespect your views, but I also feel as though you are trying to convince me to yours — as though you think I haven’t heard your arguments before, or considered that point of view. As though I have always been a static, unconsidering pro-government liberal, rather than someone who came to my political beliefs after years of study and consideration.

Over the past decade, my views and attitudes shifted from conservative religious Republican to progressive atheist liberal. This was not some sort of reactive rebellion against my upbringing and loss of faith — my politics actually changed before my religious views did. For several years, those political personality calculators were classifying me as a libertarian — small government, anti-union (well, I thought unions had once been useful, but that time was past) and not a believer in government programs to combat discrimination — but socially progressive. Pro-gay, feminist, that sort of thing.

But I kept reading. I kept studying. I kept learning. I linked modern political events with eerily similar historical events — labor riots, wealth inequality, tax questions, racialized systems of labor, legislative actions. I learned how labor law has been stifled and silenced since the 1950s through a series of limiting court decisions. As I took in all this new information about my history and my country and my government, my views shifted, and I realized that the Ayn Randian ideals of small government/ self-sustainment are incompatible and unsustainable in modern society. Quite frankly, I’m not convinced they’re sustainable in any society — they are isolationist, reductive, hypocritical, and not suited to the complexities of the real world.

worldviews in film, cont. (again)

So far I’ve covered how Robin Hood was influential on my nascent socio-political conscious, while both Beauty & the Beast and Dangerous Beauty acted as key influences on my relationship with feminism and religion. Next we’ll look at the influence of Newsies and Swing Kids on my attitudes toward authority figures, workers rights, and social welfare programs.

So, both Newsies and Swing Kids are Christian Bale vehicles. Oddly enough, this is a total coincidence. I actually thought Bale had a super funny (like funny ha-ha) looking face when I was a teenager.

200_s

Look at that goofy face! | Newsies, Walt Disney Studios (1992)

Newsies

Newsies is about labor rights, freedom of the press, and worker activism. There are also themes of elitism, class stratifications, social mythologies, bribery and corruption, and the harm unregulated social institutions (like the Refuge) can cause. And it’s all told through Christian Bale and the medium of song and dance, so it’s a double win!

trick-or-treating-as-told-by-disney-characters-jack-kelly-from-newsies

Newsies, Walt Disney Studios (1992)

There’s this one part in Newsies where Davey (David Moscow) is explaining why his dad is unemployed to Cowboy (Bale). Davey and his little brother took the job selling newspapers in part to support his family now that his father has been fired. Davey’s sister and mom are also both working; the entire family is clearly working hard to support themselves, and the loss of their primary income is a significant blow to their financial well-being.He tells Cowboy that his dad was injured on the job while working at the factory, and that, “He’s got no union to protect him,” so they fired him.

In the context of the film, this line is delivered after the Newsies spend a day trying to sell papers covering a local labor strike, and after Cowboy and Davey personally witness a riot with the labor strikers. So it’s not like the line comes out of nowhere–it’s totally in context. It was only years later that I realized how pro-union a line like that actually is.

So, Newsies is another film inspired by a true story: The Newsie Strike of 1899. Now, the way selling newspapers worked back then is that the newsies would buy the papers in bulk, then go out on the streets and hawk them to passerby. If they did well, they would cover the cost of the papers and make a little extra. If they didn’t do well, they had a stack of useless papers and were out the cost of them. And mind you, most of the newsies were, as described in the opening narration, “poor orphans and runaways.” Newsies were often homeless children being exploited for their labor.

Newsies, Walt Disney Studios (1992)

The story really takes off when the newspaper magnates of the day, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, decided to charge the newsies more for their papers. There’s no real reason for it, except that pennies add up and newsies are exploitable. Pulitzer and Hearst, like the other wealthy tycoons of the era (and like many of the modern 1%) were perfectly willing to increase their already substantial wealth by putting the screws to the rank and file … in this case, homeless children living in poverty.

The newsies react with outrage, and led by the character of Cowboy (who’s based off the real-life leader of the newsie strike, Kid Blink), they decide to form a newsie union and go on strike, which they end up winning. There’s obviously more to the story than that, with the usual ups and down of plot, but that’s the essence of the film.

Newsies clearly illustrated the old maxim that power corrupts. They depicted wealthy employers as more interested in consolidating their wealth then in protecting the welfare of their employees, and it was a truth I began to notice reflected in the world around me.

Newsies, Walt Disney Studios

A year after Newsies came out, my dad’s employer downsized and pushed all the non-contracted employees into early retirement. My dad went into private practice, but it wasn’t as financially reliable as his previous gig. When I acquired my first job at the age of 16, I further internalized how little power or influence workers actually have.

Maybe if I hadn’t watched Newsies a dozen times a week since it came out four years earlier, I would have just accepted the employer-employee relationship as a necessary power dynamic. But Newsies had taught me that even the lowliest of employees still has value. My belief that all workers should receive a living wage, health benefits, and unemployment protections were originally inspired by this film.

Swing Kids

Swing Kids, Hollywood Pictures (1993)

Swing Kids is about how adult-trusted and propagated institutions of authority can indoctrinate kids into evil. In the film, Christian Bale plays a 1930s German youth who, with his friends, goes to underground swing dancing clubs in the city. Hitler has spoken out against swing clubs, and they are being subjected to raids. In one of these raids, Bale’s character is picked up by the HJ (Hitler jugen, or Hitler Youth), and begins to attend their meetings.

As a teenager watching this, I was discomfited by the superficial similarities between the HJ and the BSA, which my brothers were both in. I knew the BSA only as a force for good at that time in my life, but I couldn’t escape the reality that both the BSA and the HJ were adult-approved mainstream programs aimed at keeping kids “out of trouble.”

Viewed from a modern lens, the eventual choice of Bales’ character to eschew dance clubs and side with the HJ is a clear fall from grace. He has failed to uphold his moral code, he has “chosen” to become a Nazi. Sure, he did so with the explicit encouragement and approval of the adults around him, but we all know it was the wrong choice. We have the benefit of hindsight. With the context of history, it has become apparent to us that the HJ was way more trouble than swing dancing clubs.

In the context of the era the film takes place, though, there’s a disturbing parallel story. This story is the story of a bad boy gone good — this is the story of a kid who keeps getting in trouble, but manages to cut out the bad influences and get his life in order.

If the same movie was made today, but with kids lying to their parents and sneaking out to smoke weed instead of dance swing clubs and the BSA instead of the HJ, it would be a story of redemption and growth; an inspirational story about a guy who overcame temptation and the bad influence of peers in order to become an upstanding pillar in the community. That’s pretty disturbing, and that parallel message taught teenage me an important lesson about blind trust in authority.