Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Working Class

Women's March Palm Springs, CA

I was at a women’s rally a couple of weeks ago, right after the inauguration. It reminded me of the rallies of the ‘60s to protest the Vietnam War. It was all a bit surreal and again I was there more to support my wife than anything else. But while standing in the shadows of the speakers I realized there’s another side to that equation. And it leaves me confused.

Much has been written about the under-served and long ignored White working class who propelled our new President into office. The media landscape has been covered with broad gray swatches of their concerns and complaints. We’re told they feel neglected and forgotten in today’s push for globalization, fair trade, equality for the races and justice for all.

I won’t venture into that minefield of conflicting emotions, exaggerated statements, and a plethora of false premises. Sufficient it to say, that group feels their concerns are justified and they’ve responded accordingly.

What fascinates me most about this vanilla tsunami is the fact that I came from that very same socioeconomic group. I was raised in that environment and yet I can’t relate to their shouts of injustice. While not disputing their claims of neglect I still can’t resign myself to sliding alongside their verbal marches. Guess I’ve always been more rainbow than strictly red or blue.

J.D. Vance gave a fascinating presentation on TED some time ago. It was a heartfelt examination of the challenges facing so many of his friends and neighbors and classmates in a small Southern Ohio town where he grew up. He gave a very convincing argument for their justified concerns that they felt weren’t being addressed by either party in government. Or perhaps society in general.

It could be argued that I was raised in another time and place. But the fact is that almost all of the people I’m familiar with who ‘made it’ have come from modest backgrounds. This in itself is more than a little ironic since I always saw them (back then) as more privileged, more supported and more loved than myself. I admired them and wanted to be like them. I have always been drawn to strong assertive women and driven men.

Yet upon reflection, gradual maturity, and recent conversations, it turns out those folks were all pretty much the same as me. We grew up in the fifties and sixties. We were either poor or lower middle class or balanced middle class. Yet most of us could make ‘something of ourselves’ through hard work, some luck and often with a supportive partner at our side.

Lucky; I guess. Focused and determined is more likely.

Only through education and a work ethic inherited from my mother was I able to move myself into another life cycle. Of course, we hate to talk about class in America, believing that if we don’t, we can all continue to pretend that it doesn’t exist.  I can’t speak for others nor would I pretend to know what drove me and yet doesn’t motivate others. It brought me to where I am today and, in the end, that’s all that matters.

I’ll go out on a limb here. There seems to be this collective agreement among those disenfranchised voters that government is too big and should be reduced substantially, yet there is this collective whining that government isn’t doing enough to give them jobs, health care, personal protection, and financial security in their old age.

They loath paying taxes but demand government/state/municipal services like snow-plowing, police and fire protection and city services be there for them twenty-four/seven. They want it all but don’t seem willing to accept responsibility for some of those actions that fall on their own collective shoulders.

It’s so easy to sit back and complain about things and then not do anything to reduce or alleviate the perceived problems. They want some government official to do it for them. Then they complain when they don’t get the outcome they think they deserve.

My wife has often chided me for a lack of compassion for the plight of the downtrodden masses. Yet it’s neither disrespect nor contempt that I feel, it is a deep seeded belief that the answer lies within all of us and will seldom be found in some book or lecture or government handout.

No one gave me a handout. Most (not all) but most of my luck was a lucky collision of hard work and determination intersecting with opportunity. I wish the same for all those folks who feel they’ve been left out of the equation.

My life has had its ups and downs but it’s been one heck of a ride thus far. It’s given me an opportunity to help, influence, advise, cajole and I hope set a good example for my kids and grandchildren. What a gift that has been.

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