not the only one…

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Poor and Rich share the same America

The American life is a constant balance between having enough $ to “live” in our inflated, over-priced society and giving enough to support the many people left behind by colonial capitalism. I put the word “live” in quotes because that is a highly relative term in today’s America. The stratifications within our society are so stark that one wealthy American may find it hard to “live” without their iPhone, organic food, or designer car(s), while another American, hidden in the woods behind million dollar mansions, finds it hard to “live” on change from pan handling, food from dumpsters or food banks, and one pair of old worn out shoes.

The divide between poor and rich continues to grow. Just yesterday, I was doorbelling for my husband’s campaign for state representative in a middle- to upper-class neighborhood and learned about another encampment of people living in the woods. Part of this neighborhood is filled with million dollar homes that wind down the hillside with gorgeous panoramic views of the beautiful Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains. I met an older woman in her yard and after we’d talked a bit about why my husband is running… fully funding public schools, restoring our social safety net and ending homelessness… she stopped me and said she was worried about me walking alone out here in this neighborhood. She said “its a nice neighborhood, so you wouldn’t guess its a problem, but we have a ton of homeless people living on the 15 acres over on the other side of my street. And, just last week they found a woman strangled to death. And that’s not the first time.” I thanked her for letting me know and called my husband to let him know. He was doorbelling not too far from me, so he came by and met the woman and her nephew to learn more. And as we talked to more people in the neighborhood, they were all very aware, and had varying responses, but all were concerned for the safety of the neighborhood.

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard about people living in the woods or parks. It happens everywhere but we notice that it’s happening more and more, in every city and suburb and in rural towns too. Its a problem, but its not just a problem because homeowners feel unsafe or because crimes are occurring, its also a problem because there are people “living” without homes.

Homeowners don’t know what to do so they call the police. Terrible crimes like murders are happening, so the police should be alerted. That’s the first layer to the problem:  stop the violence.  But what happens next?  Why are there people living in the woods in the first place?

In America, as competition over resources increases, our capitalist system creates more “casualties.” The “casualties” of capitalism are people without access to money. If you’ve paid attention to the social and economic history of America, you’ve seen that chattel slavery is the root of our economic system.  Even after chattel slavery of Africans was abolished a century after the birth of America, the economic model continued in the form of feudalism where Africans and poor whites could rent land from landowners only to be charged high interest rates so it was not possible to accumulate wealth. Many Africans were enslaved again. This is not unlike today, where a majority of all Americans live with debt that hinders them from living them a life of their own making. Many Americans are so strapped with debt, they are forced to get a job with corporations like Wal-Mart or fast food chains who contribute to the poverty and homelessness problem in our country because they game the system to escape paying taxes. Jobs With Justice has a great info graphic that perfectly sums up how Wal Mart simultaneously scams its workers, the US Government, and US taxpayers to put more profits in their pockets. WalMart, in its never ending search for profits, exemplifies the perfect implementation of capitalism and exactly how capitalism destroys and disregards human life in the name of profit. They would rather have their workers on food stamps than loose a tiny bit of profit.

In the midst of capitalism we find Americans hungry or stuffed, living without homes on the street or in million dollar mansions, in designer shoes or shoe-less, dropping out of high school or graduating from ivy league schools, living as inmates or celebrities, as workers or CEOs, as over-burdened, underpaid teachers or overpaid, tax-evading wall street bankers, and so on.

Even though there are days when I complain and wish we had more space or a more reliable vehicle, I’m thankful to have our one bedroom apartment and our 20 year old car. Living in America is very strange. In the richest country in the world, we find people without money living right next to people with lots of money and it seems like all the rich people want to do is banish the poor people from sight. I’m appalled at the disparity of wealth in our country. It makes me very angry. I’m appalled and dismayed that the only solution cities can find is to sweep poor people out of the woods and shoo them off to somewhere else. Well, the world isn’t so small. We have too many people to keep sweeping the problem to the next zip code. When they are pushed into another suburb, its going to be the same in that community.

We need to address the root causes of homelessness. We need more affordable homes, we need more living-wage jobs and every person needs access to quality affordable education. Or, maybe we need a new economic system???  We’ve tried capitalism for centuries and its not working for most people. Only the top 1-10% thrive/hoard all the wealth, while most of us run in hamster wheels, and about 1% of Americans go to jail. Its pretty depressing and we need to make a change. Ideas encouraged. Discuss.

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Look closer

“Look closer.” This was a theme in the movie, “American Beauty,” one of my favorite movies because the story chooses to see all the beauty in our world, even amidst the greed, self-loathing and ego pervading our society. The movie takes on harsh realities; a teenage girl rebelling against her parents, a woman who chooses to find her identity in money and who forgets why she ever loved her husband until she loses him, a middle aged man hitting on his teenaged daughter’s friend, loveless marriages (mirages?), a closeted, retired military man who collects nazi stuff and his wife who is dead inside from years of abuse from this self-loathing gay man, and their son, teenage boy so intelligent he doesn’t fit in at school so he makes lots of money selling drugs so he can be his own person and someday get away from his dysfunctional family in the suburbs.

I must admit that I find myself worrying too much about money. After grad school, I have a lot of debt and I’m realizing I don’t have a narrative to frame this student debt in a positive way. Everything and almost everyone seems to say debt is bad, it will keep you down. But my wonderful partner reminds me that it is my choice. I can decide to view my debt as a shackle that will paralyze me and keep me frozen in fear. Or I can decide to live my life and make myself happy.

I want to be a professor. I have wanted that since I graduated college. I want to make positive impact on the world. More specifically, I want to make an impact in America, which can change the world since we are such an influential nation. I want to end the prison system. It’s a blight upon our world. Putting people in cages only makes our society more unjust and does nothing to truly heal people who have suffered as a result of American capitalism and institutionalism which lack compassion and deference for difference.

Growing up, I never wished for a lot of money. I knew I didn’t want to work only for a paycheck. After grad school at a private university, with so much debt, I got scared. But I can’t live my life scared. I’m a bold person with bold ideas. I enjoy challenging myself and I want to take risks. I’m working through a lot of this now because I have lost my center. I need to regain my focus on the things that matter to me: love, peace, justice, community and joy. These are my values. I will do my best to live them everyday.

To my readers, what are your values? How do you center yourself?