Not only are the poor blamed for living in that harrowing position of poverty, for not being middle class, for not being what middle and upper class consider “productive members of society”, for being “lazy” despite working harder just to make it through every day, for just existing in a constant state of discomfort that others claim is leisurely and comfortable, the poor are also blamed when we try to leave poverty.
It is perfectly acceptable for a handful to leave poverty at a time. People may reactively cheer for the fortunate few raised in poverty who enter and finish college, who thrive in professional fields, and who join the management or professional class. But those positions and places are open for only a few. The vast majority of the poor are not able to enter the upper classes, are not able to leave the bitter financial insecurity, no matter how hard they may want it or try. Even getting a Master’s degree is no guarantee for a job, let alone a decent-paying one. Escape from poverty is bottle-necked – working harder and smarter isn’t the main qualification, facing a certain type of fortune is.
So the poor are expected to, as a mass, as a significant amount of families, men, women and children, remain poor and suffer the physical and social effects of poverty. While we are blamed for it. What a double damning sword.
And we come to realize that the American Dream is a trap for most of us. We recognize that we are manipulated and conditioned to believe that anyone who wills it will succeed in the so-called Land of Opportunity. And this is all a shambles, a packaged dream. As we unplug, we begin to ask for more for not just ourselves but for our fellow workers. We ask for rights for not just some of us, but for us all.
We protect collective bargaining rights. But pundits call us thugs and politicians call us thieves while the upper classes spread rumors that we are lazy and seek to shield incompetence. This is not just a Republican tactic anymore, either. For the old people’s party, the Democratic Party, has bought into the lies as well in union-heavy regions like Chicago. We are ridiculed and maligned for wanting to be in unions that will protect us from the billowing whims and desires of a shifting managerial and capitalist class. We are expected to be grateful for the good nature of the managerial and capitalist classes – those who would fire us at a moment’s notice for no reason at all. Those who would give us as little as possible as much as necessary – as they treat their workers in non-unionized Third World nations. While we try to unite, they work to divide us.
We lobby for minimum wage increases. And knowing that the minimum wage – even at full-time hours – is not enough to sustain a person, let alone a family, safely and well we ask for slight increases to ease our burdens. Never mind the fact that, had minimum wage kept up with either inflation or productivity rates for the last thirty years, minimum wage would have increased two- or three-fold; we only asked for a slight percentage increase, a couple dollars an hour. Never mind that the poor are constantly under attack for not contributing enough to the tax base. Never mind the studies that show that raising the minimum wage has a negligible effect on inflation or on the closing down of businesses. No. Never mind those, for we are rebuffed and refused once again.
We pursue the prospect of living wages. Because a slight increase in horrible, unjust wages is still unjust. And yet the ability to work and get paid well enough to live without fear, without being constantly on the edge – this is looked upon by the same class of people as a cruel joke against their vaunted system. If we seek it, we are derided as delusional communists who want to steal and commit warfare against our betters. But if this is what capitalism offers, maybe the entire system needs to be questioned. Maybe it needs to be gutted.
We seek equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, sex, orientation, race, and ethnicity. And we are told there is no such thing as inequalities. And we demonstrate in case after case that these inequalities are real and devastating. And some powerful people who have made it to the top finally agree. But only for those who are at or near the top. The rest are encouraged to lean in – to forsake all for the pursuit of business success in the hopes that that success will allow women to finally share with men. But for the vast majority of poor women, particularly poor mothers, such options are not viable. And again, the shaming continues.
We push for accessible and affordable medical coverage for all. When we do that for the poor, we are mocked and called unrealistic. We are accused of trying to destroy the country and reward laziness. In pure Orwellian tactics, we are accused of trying to kill the poor and infirmed. When we point out that every industrial country in the world but the United States covers all their citizens and for cheaper rates than we have for fractions of our citizens, we are reminded that the US is special. Apparently, that designation is one it shares with its poor. We are ever-so-helpfully informed that ERs are open and free (they are not). And when we remind them that the poor can and often do suffer from chronic issues as they do, we are ignored or told that’s why we need good insurance or we are blamed for our chronic issues.
We seek full health coverage for all women’s bodies. But then we are reminded that the conservative status of the body (read: person) of the female – and the non-cis male – is one of subservience and jilted disdain. Indeed, the very women who abide the brunt of bearing the children of men (and whose bodies pay the consequence of that which men – and particularly, patriarchy – praise them for) are despised for carrying those same traits. The very price for bearing the responsibility of bearing and nurturing children is looked upon as a sign of shame by the same society that so highly declares its value in children and mothers. But particular woe to a woman who is poor, and yet even more to one who is also Brown. Poor women workers do not receive compensations for the price of bearing or raising children, do not receive concessions, do not receive protected time off for bearing or raising children. Have to struggle to make ends meet as they are, as men are not as tied down to the fate of women’s bodies or children as men are. And as such, poor women are also refused adequate birth control and family planning at every turn. They do not have the freedom over their own bodies or over their own liberties as their male counterparts nor their wealthier counterparts practice.
We ask for the simple benefit of maintaining affirmative actions to include People of Color and women in the hiring and registration process in those very places that continue to disregard women and POC. And we are told that we are merely affirming racism and sexism. We have out-of-context quotes thrown in our face by the same type of people who tried to silence the very person they are now quoting. And we are told that to pursue such policies actually hurts People of Color because then co-workers will constantly question whether or not the POC at their workplace are adequate enough workers, are smart enough or qualified enough. Of course it is they who project these very feelings of inadequacy (feelings that are innately racist) onto the Black and Brown workers.
Those very same women and POC who are not only capable and competent, but often come from hard stock as they have had to and continue to work harder than white males simply because of the social handicaps afforded them by the hegemony – by the controlling powers*.
We poor people struggle to unite, but we are divided. And we are divided because we are simply too weak to change such powerfully embedded political, economic, military, social, psychological institutions when we are few. So they divide us on race, on gender norms, on loyalty to baseball teams, on education level. They use our cultural identities – which are good – as tribal markers that mark us as greater than or less than our peers, our fellow travelers.
No! To attain economic equality and justice, we must seek equality and justice in an equitable and just manner. We shall not be divided anymore. We shall not allow cultural differences to keep us from loving each other, even as we respect and recognize cultural differences.
We tire of their tired tricks.
We demand justice.
We are hounded and pursued and ridiculed and silenced and lied to and pushed back and hurt and ignored on every turn, every inch, every corner.
But we will not be denied.
*As we discussed previously, Black and White servants and slaves fraternized and even rebelled against the powerful elite before, but were intentionally divided to keep the populace under control.