Less than a week to go before the Presidential Election and we keep hearing that folks are “undecided”. Wondering what in the world that could be about (considering that everything around us has been unraveling throughout the last eight years) we concluded that nothing has made a greater statement about the unrealized promise of America than the numbing onslaught of failed civic integrity. All that it takes “for evil to reign is for good men to do nothing” and with trust in the leadership and promise of America being suppressed for so long there seems skepticism that any candidate can or would actually deliver anything but rhetoric.
On a more positive note, during the primaries more Americans have re-engaged as stakeholders with reason to be involved, so much so that people prominent and unknown wiggled out of the woodwork to vote after admitting openly and honestly that they have never voted because they have had no faith or trust in, or hope for our political system. That in turn translates into us having none of these as well for our society.
Since its inception, we as a nation accepted the fact that the American dream was actually an American nightmare for specific gender, special interest, racial, ethnic, religious and/or cultural groups but now increasingly it’s a nightmare for most, regardless. Once we valued getting an education, but that was when there were schools where students had books. Once we valued earning a living, but that was before companies could fire you at will without cause if you didn’t play ball. Once we spoke out on injustice but that was before doing so was a ticket to the graveyard ergo the loss of great political leaders in the 60’s. Once we valued our marriages but that was before serial monogamy was made easier through no fault divorce. Once we valued honesty but that was before it got you nowhere or a place in the unemployment line. Once we valued children but that was before you could drop them off with anonymity at hospitals without penalty. Once we valued one another and ourselves but that was before institutionalized and systematic divisions preyed upon us and individuals began a race toward entitlements and privileges and exceptions rather than a rule that served us all until we became a house divided. I got mine. Get your own was a more accurate operative. My kid got into a good school too bad yours has to go to the one down the street. NMP, or not my problem.
It was just a matter of time before a society built upon the brick and mortar of greed, anger, and stupidity would crumble. When the closing of steel mills in Chicago was deemed irrelevant to coal miners in Pennsylvania, we had already lost the battle. What destroys one of us destroys all of us, eventually. The stretch between mothers killing their own babies and us posting pictures of those we killed on the covers of magazines or on the internet is not that great. …and it should be. Making a mockery of truth while rewarding lifestyles and careers built upon dishonesty glamorizes “the rich and famous”, immediate gratification, and egotistical arrogant self-centeredness, not intellectual curiosity, innovation, compassion, collective cooperation or the public good. Ergo the Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Enron, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Wachovia and other recent examples where the public good and self interest of greedy individuals were poles apart. In addition, trading national sovereignty, strength, and independence for foreign ownership of internal resources is proof again that what was dreamed for America and what has become of America are not the same. Is this why you are still undecided?
No wonder that folks lost faith in leadership who were entrusted with minding the ship as we sailed through our lives weathering storms of adversity while distracted by staying alive and one step ahead
of personal and financial disaster. We had leadership that claimed a commitment to no child being left behind until now when according to the Educational Trust, l out of every 4 will drop out (for minorities l out of every 3) and the three that do not will struggle to survive in an economy where value is measured by quantity not quality, corporate welfare, and bottom lines that embellish profit margins and
stock values. And for many, our children have a better chance of being dead or in prison than in college. Penguins take better care of their children.
Tolerating the schisms between those that had a chance for a better future and those who had no chance was a norm even as the fight for expanded human and civil rights was expressed through administrative and legislative change. Economic, social, and racial divisions that had been cause for our own Civil War continued to be alive and well. Complicit and complacent denial of our interdependence snowballed until the avalanche of mortgage foreclosures, and outsourcing jobs, and insourcing drugs, and separate and unequal practices revealed that we had spent more time on what was a wedge between us than what we had in common. When we stopped minding our own affairs and acquiesced to advice that we go shopping after 911 we traded weaving service throughout the threads of outreach and advocacy and care for one another for fears. We consented to question less and follow more.
In their quest to create a more perfect union independent from foreign/global control, the founding fathers created a skeleton for the body politic of America whose promise has until now been an unrealized dream for a society in which “all men are created equal”. There are periods of U.S. history when that promise becomes more like the dark tunnel where no light prevails than a beacon for mankind. This is such a period for you, for me, for our children, for our grandchildren, for the planet, for the globe. So HOW can one yet be undecided?
States throughout America pronounce that their unemployment rates are less than the national average without honest admission that those rates represent miniscule samples (an average of 2,500 people in Pennsylvania per the Current Employment Statistics or CES) and not those who have simply traded a search for honest work for illicit, illegal, and underground practices in order to survive. Per Labor and Industry sampling guidelines one is only “unemployed” if one is actually and officially still seeking work.
Married couples working full and part-time jobs cannot make ends meet. 760,000 jobs lost in 2008. After years of work and struggle college graduates complete their studies to face about $5,000 in credit card debt, $20,000 in student loan debt, diminished prospects for employment, and increased possibilities that they will return to their parents’ residence for whatever indefinite period is required for them to afford their own debts. So HOW can one yet be undecided?
Groups that formerly transitioned directly into employment opportunities are now meeting the same diminishing opportunities to reach for the American dream that other groups have experienced generationally. According to Joseph Stiglitz, Noble Laureate, Professor at Columbia University and former Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors for the Bush Administration was recently quoted in a Vanity Fair article saying that once the value of the dollar (based upon inflation is taken into account that) a young man in his 30’s today has an income that is l2% less than his father was making when he was thirty himself. Furthermore, 5.3 million more Americans are living in poverty than when President Bush took office.
With the bailout of Bears & Stearns, AIG, and Lehman Brothers, the odds of being able to shut yourself off from things not going okay just diminished. Marcy Kaptur who is serving her l3th term representing the Ninth District of Northern Ohio is one of ninety women out of 535 members of the ll0th Congress. When she said that when an Ohio Brass Pro Shop advertised it was opening a new location l3, 000 showed up to apply for the 300 jobs it would hire for. With the closing of Archway cookie manufacturer, rising foreclosures and an anticipated l00, 000 more expected in Ohio in 2009
Kaptur authored the “No Bailout” bill, urging that any “bailout” should go first to citizens on Main Street rather than banks and investors from Wall Street.
After passing the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, better known to most of us as the “bailout”, many of our elected representatives as well as policy makers and analysts are already dismayed that once the legislation was passed the administration of disbursement of funds has already indicated a preponderance of support will go to banks, investors and in a word, Wall Street rather than main street. Fed lending to banks from bailout funds was reported last week to be l25 billion already invested in nine of the nation’s largest banks with automakers possibly next in line. There is a global credit crisis is a factor as well. The IMF (International Monetary Fund: primarily the U.S., Europe and Japan) is talking about loans to Hungary, Iceland, Pakistan and the Ukraine.
Our global indebtedness is staggering. President Bush came into office with a national budget surplus of 2.2 million. That surplus was eroded and we now have a staggering national debt primarily for money borrowed from China and an $850 billion trade deficit. (The rule of thumb is that l billion dollars equals l3, 000 lost jobs.) Is this why you’re still undecided?
Our perspective is a little different perhaps because Barack Obama was our State Senator when we lived in Chicago, IL. We were married then and there wasn’t a week that went by when Clarence wasn’t sitting in his office with a “position paper” in hand, ready to give the Senator a piece of his mind about something! Clarence is a Vietnam Veteran and I was the wife who had to hear every day about something that was his issue of the day. Local neighborhood violence and what should be done about it; the use of public money and how it should be used instead; how child support was collected and how it should be collected instead…. these were only a few issues that were on the menu. We shared the same residence so I was his captive audience, but Obama and his staff never had to listen or continue accepting these position papers. In fact, they could have asked if he would just stop already.
Week after week after week this continued until the day when we all met face to face to see if we couldn’t find what was really on Mr. Gafeney’s mind. Obama took out his paper and pen and began taking notes as Clarence talked and I sat there in disbelief. How was he taking this so seriously instead of considering him a nuisance? After each point Clarence made, Obama would ask, “so how can we help you get what you want, Mr. Gafeney?” (bottom line) Finally when I remarked that the State Senator was being incredible he responded, “not at all, he risked his life for our freedom and he deserves that I do whatever I can to assist him.”
I didn’t have to tell Obama that Clarence has Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD), nor would have mattered negatively to Obama anyway. When he tells you that he believes in the dignity of ALL people, he means it. That’s how I know that when the mother who has a problem with teachers not doing all they can for their children who are ADHD or when seniors have a problem with housing or health care
issues or when veterans return from Iraq without finding jobs, Barack Obama is one person who will p.
look them in the eye saying and meaning that he will do all he can to resolve their problems to their satisfaction.
Remember how skeptical people were when Obama started his campaign for the U.S. Presidency? They were skeptical because they had never met Obama. It was a joy to see blue states and red states become believers because everyone has a “gut” feeling as well as hard evidence that this is as close to a politician who has integrity and a hoot about YOU as you’re ever going to get. Still undecided?
Have you ever seen a politician organize a nation, reinvigorate old and register new voters, raise over $600 million dollars from small contributions form the largest pool of contributors our political history has ever seen? Have you ever seen ANYONE masterfully use technology and the Internet to “speak” to every one of its supporters frequently with updates and information and networks to join? When was the last time you saw the diversity from the base with regards to age, race, color, ethnicity, religions and cultures?
When I ran as an independent for City Council in Chicago over a decade ago against an entrenched Democratic Alderman who arrogantly missed appointments with constituents without explanation or apology I asked Congressman Jesse Jackson for a chance to speak with him about my campaign and he asked me to take his private telephone number and call him anytime because he would be happy to talk with me. I called that number over forty times a week at all hours of the day and night and not only did no voicemail come on but no one ever picked up the phone. Americans disengaged from politics because these are the games we are used to.
When the phone rings at 3 a.m. after he is elected I am confident that President Obama will arrange for your concerns to be heard and responded to. Throughout this campaign despite the demanding schedule required of its core staff, Barack and Michelle, when they were running late, they called. They neither failed to answer the phone nor to use it when they needed to explain anything that affected them maintaining their commitment to keep appointments and their word.
Clarence is now in Ohio and I am in Pennsylvania. I hit the ground the day after Obama announced his candidacy for the Presidency because I understand unemployment, not having health insurance, being a single mother waiting on delinquent child support for six months, repairing one’s credit, foreclosure, issues veterans and their families face, while politicians continue their inconsiderate, disrespectful, manipulative misuse of its greatest resource: the people.
The only other politician that I knew cared as much, as sincerely and as deeply for the everyday Joe and Jane was Harold Washington and he also created a movement before being elected the first Black Mayor of Chicago. There is no doubt in my mind that Obama has the brains and the guts and the vision and the team and the heart and the faith to be the best President we have had in the history of the new millennium. Most importantly I know he welcomes restoring America with you as you restore yourself, your family, your schools, your libraries, your recreational centers, your parks, your public service centers and your income. For the sake of the future decide.
About the Authors:
Victoria L. Johnson, Ph.D., Formerly Harvard University Fellow at The Program for Science and International Affairs, Lecturer and Administrator at The University of Illinois in Chicago & Director of Workforce Development, Retention & Recruitment for The Institute for the Advancement of Working Families in Philadelphia, PA. Currently teaching Social Studies to 7th Graders at The Germantown Settlement Charter School in Philadelphia, PA
And Clarence H. Gafeney, Jr., Vietnam Veteran and Formerly Senior Report Analyst for Continental Bank of Chicago, currently living in Toledo, Ohio.