Monday, July 5, 2010

Land of the Free?

Sunday night I watched the fireworks at Randolph AFB here in San Antonio. How American, sitting on a blanket in a baseball field while the wind carried well-known patriotic songs across the field. As the finale came down, I could hear the Star-Spangled Banner and one phrase sort of struck a chord: the land of the free. I don't really feel free, do you?

Perhaps that's a terrible thing to say - after all, my own father is a Vietnam veteran and he suffered a lot because of his time served for this country. However, I can't help but feel locked into some sort of system, a system that works against me. I've done what I was supposed to. I got good grades in high school, went to college...a lot. I can't find a job. I'm hoping that my unemployment goes through and I'll get a check tomorrow, but for now I'm just waiting for something to happen. I've been quite diligent in my job search; job hunting is a relentless task. So far, no dice.

I'm not free. I am held down by credit card debt, by ever increasing bills, and by a job market that has tanked. I'd be lucky to get a job that pays $12 an hour right now. I'm trapped. I couldn't even afford to move to a cheaper apartment! The only thing I have going for me is my decision to go back to school and get more education because trust me, I've looked and the only jobs out there are non-skilled (i.e. poverty level wages) and jobs that require graduate degrees. The middle ground has disappeared along with the middle class.

Who are these richest 1% of Americans that control the rest of us and just who the fuck do they think they are? Democracy my ass. This is slave labor. Minimum wage is still under what economists agree is a living wage. Minimum wage in Texas is $4250 above the federal poverty level for 2010.

When I was a union organizer here in San Antonio I was shocked how many people I came across that couldn't read or write. It was embarrassing for them, but I knew why they were illiterate. It might surprise most people, but our poverty problem still causes 15 and 16 year olds to drop out of school to help the family get make ends meet. Such was the case with these guys.

Although "union" is such a bad word in the South, I think it's the only thing that will save us. I don't mean union as a entity that you pay dues to, but union as a group of people working toward a common goal. Goals such as a strong middle class, closing the gap between the rich and the poor, elevating people from poverty through education.

In business school you learn that to improve production you fix your weakest link in the supply chain. America's weakest link is it's inability to diminish poverty and our selfish nature to just look the other way. We forget that on our Statue of Liberty it is written: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." We don't need to look across the ocean for these huddled masses. They are in our own backyard and they want a way out of their slavery.

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