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We Are America

By Paula Sayles
Opinion | October 5, 2010

uncle-sam-with-poor-woman-in-street-300px.jpgSHAWNEE, Kan. - Unions aren't perfect, so we should do away with them. Government isn't perfect, so we should do away with it.

This kind of Black/White, simplistic thinking that is neither constructive nor helpful in solving the crisis-point level problems that this country faces today needs to stop. The kind of thinking that still considers America to be a place where, if you work hard and apply yourself, you can get ahead in the world no longer applies to our situation. The America where we used to be able to work hard, pay our bills and still afford to send our kids to college; the America where a child could expect to work hard and move ahead of his or her parent's economic status; the America of opportunity and justice, industry and ingenuity where a good idea could be brought to the marketplace, benefiting the inventor and the consumer; this America is the one of yesteryear, not of today.

This America has been destroyed along with the American Dream. And it's time for the little people to turn from denial and admit that the dream is dead.

Who are the little people? A majority of us must wake up to the fact that WE are the little people. Many of us who like to consider ourselves middle class aren't middle class anymore, through no fault of our own whatsoever. We work as hard as before and try to live within our means, but if there is no middle class anymore, what does that make us? We are the little people.

You will hear some loud people crying out that they don't want to work to support lazy people anymore and that those people need to learn to live within their means. People used to work hard and pay their own way, but, some say, now they expect a free ride. Our taxes are paying into programs that pay these people to stay right where they are, you will hear bitter people complain. The problem is that many of the people that are receiving support DO work. (In Kansas it is the law that you have to work in order to receive any sort of aid.) They are the working poor.

Who are the working poor? Many of us work two jobs and still struggle to pay our bills. We have low credit scores because we don't have a lot of credit cards because we can't afford to pay them. Therefore we pay more for things like houses, cars and insurance. And we have trouble finding jobs and many of us end up in low-paying jobs. We work hard and struggle and hold our heads up everyday. But it gets harder and harder every day to pay for the things that we used to be able to easily afford-food, medicine, clothes, utilities. More families are facing struggles that they did not bring upon themselves just to pay for the necessities. And those numbers are growing.

We are the average American. America's citizens need to, as Dr. Phil would say, Get Real about our situation. The middle class is shrinking, depending on your definition of it, and most of the population is just trying to hold on to their homes and jobs. People with multiple degrees are out of work or underemployed. It's hard to find good-paying jobs and many Americans are working two part-time jobs in order to make ends meet because they can't find a full-time job. This means that they don't get benefits in many cases and that means that many are going without health insurance. More and more working people are one illness away from losing their ability to support themselves, and sometimes the whole family suffers.

We are WE THE PEOPLE. And this is the new America.

This is the America that we all have to live in; we can't make it something it was, or something it's not, simply by wishing it so. Immigrants didn't come take our jobs, immigrants were induced to come here via newspaper ads and pamphlets placed by industries and business that cared more about their bottom line and their dividends than they did about our country and our society. In order to make more money, not just to make a profit, but to increase their profits exponentially, they drove down wages by bringing in foreign workers. And it was not just Mexicans, either, but peoples of other nationalities as well. Now it is hard to find a job in the trades, in warehouse work or any of the other places where working people used to earn their living, that will pay a living wage. Why do we blame the immigrants for "taking" our jobs, when it was industry that gave them away?

This is the America that we have to work with now. Outsourcing sent formerly good-paying jobs outside this country so that greedy manufacturers could exploit impoverished peoples to make an ever bigger profit. CEOs that make over a hundred times more a year than the average working American, sat in offices and meetings and decided to cut the working American out of the equation.

This America is filled with people who want to work and are willing to work as long as the job will pay their bills. Industry is not creating those kinds of jobs in this new America and there is nowhere for the working man to turn. Recognition of the obvious facts is not the start of a class war; the class war has been waged against us by the businesses that our sweat and labor helped to build.

Americans are scared. In the place of the meritocracy we were promised, WE THE PEOPLE see a society where no matter how hard we work, we can barely hang on to our homes and barely support our families. In place of the mobile society we once knew, WE THE PEOPLE see an America where our children may not be able to keep the standard of living that we afforded them growing up. In the place of a country with bounty to spare, WE THE PEOPLE find ourselves fighting over the scraps that are thrown to us as if we were a pack of wild dogs.

It's no wonder people turn to the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh for answers. Their answers are so easy on the ear. Blame the Socialists, blame the Immigrants, blame the Liberals, blame the lazy welfare recipients, on and on. If WE THE PEOPLE could just rid ourselves of the parasites in society, we can return to the days of plenty again.

It is so much easier to believe a simple solution exists than it is to realize that there is a complex set of problems that confront us and that we will have to work together in order to solve them. It is so much easier to believe that the companies that we worked for and supported with our consumer dollars would never betray us this way.

It is so much less frightening to believe that we can simply vote these problems away by putting a D or an R in office next time. These are the lowest of lies to sell a nation in distress. These lies sow hatred and division. That hatred and division in turn benefit those that have put us in this situation by keeping us fighting amongst ourselves. If the powerful can keep us divided, we waste our time arguing with each other instead of facing the real enemy.

The new America comes with a new truth. There is a class war in this country. It has been being waged under our noses for decades. Business and industry that the sweat and labor of the working people of this country helped to build has gotten so big and expanded its reach so far, that we have all become expendable. We should never forget that it was the sweat and hard work, long hours and ingenuity of the American worker that built these corporations and the value of their stock. Business, banking, Wall Street and insurance would never have flourished were it not for the hard work and enterprise of WE THE PEOPLE.

Now, industries that used to rely on us to consume their goods have long since moved our jobs overseas and have other markets in which to sell. They no longer have need of our hard work and industriousness. They no longer need to invest in our communities. They no longer have a stake in our economy because they are looking to the global economy. They no longer have a stake in our society because they have taken what they needed from us and moved on to greener pastures.

Conservatives, moderates and liberals alike find themselves in this situation. We share concerns, fears and questions about our common future. We may have different reactions to our circumstances, and have different ideas for solutions, but it is WE THE PEOPLE, that are all in this together. It is WE THE PEOPLE who must bridge the divides that have been created between us and come together to share our common concerns. We must concentrate on our shared resources to solve our common problems. We must start to move away from the politics of division, which are being played by "both sides."

There are only two sides that WE THE PEOPLE need concern ourselves with now -- those that would maintain the status quo, stomp out hope, squash opportunity and with it destroy the dream that is America and those of us that are willing to go to whatever lengths we must in order to restore it. It is WE THE PEOPLE; we are America and we will have to come together to find solutions to our common problems if we really want change.


4 Comments

Great piece, Paula! The first 3 paragraphs net it out. Now, to get to those un-easy solutions. There is a new group formed in Salina called the Resilience Group, formed to investigate what we do when the artificial means of our "wealth," namely fossil fuels (for fossil fools), disappear, or poison us in our headlong rush for "energy independence." There's no one silver bullet, of course, but the community you call us to is perhaps our only salvation.

Thanks again.


Thank you David. I am at a loss to know exactly what the solutions are to the problems that we face, but the one thing that I have figured out is that it won't be politicians that solve it and that we must all find common ground to come together and find solutions ourselves. The problems have been created at the top and trickled down on the average citizen. The solutions will have to come from the bottom and work their way up to those in power, or the power structure will need to come down. That's the only part that I have figured out. Maybe it will start out with lots of small groups, but eventually we will have to come together with ideas instead of slogans and actions instead of words.


This is great. I've recently been writing about education reform and a lot of your points are compatible with that. The real solutions are never easy, and often they aren't good politics. Americans have become very near-sighted. The long term is fuzzy and unknown. So we focus on the short term, but national problems aren't solved in the short term. Republican's are saying the stimulus didn't work, and that message resonates because people are afraid to give it time to work. We need to start focusing on long-term solutions and finally admit their are no magic cures.


Nice article Paula – I enjoyed it! Now, as this article is essentially a call for unity within a workforce (the middle class), I think you would benefit greatly from (and thoroughly enjoy) reading Ansolabehere, Rodden and Snyder’s (2007) “Purple America.” The authors challenge the commonly held belief that the American political realm is polarized (i.e. Liberal vs. Conservative or whatever. You can find a free version of it from MIT by searching Google with the terms “MIT” and “Purple America.” Happy writing!


- Dave


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