“They’re going to get us all killed.”
“Protests aside, I agree with them. This is an economic disaster, and people need to work. Need to feed their families.”
“If you’re working from home, you can’t speak on this. You’re not stressed about next month’s rent or how you’re going to feed your kids.”
“Look, not all of us want to be lazy and rely on the government. It’s easy for them to say stay home. Those politicians are still getting paid their salary while we’re headed for starvation. #righttowork”
The comments section is explosive, as per usual on any politically-minded viral video. Protests are currently erupting in many states over lock-down orders that have plunged many Americans into unemployment, and consequently, financial ruin. As I watched and read, I wasn’t mad with the protesters or wishing for their ironic deaths. I was saddened. Our current system idolizes independence, pulling yourself up by your non-existent bootstraps, and working until you literally drop. We have to keep in mind that these protesting crowds are not an abnormal reaction. We’re not seeing an alien attitude. This is the logical end-conclusion of our collective image birthed by the way we manage our country.
We’re the country that insisted the Civil War was about the economy, not slavery, as if slavery wasn’t the heart of our economy. We’re the country that shows our support through our dollars and consistently underpays entry-level jobs, teachers, and social services while spending $41.6 million annually on Viagra in the military. We’re the country that lists taxi companies as one of our most popular ambulance services, a crowd-raising site as one of our largest providers of health insurance, and has holes the size of Texas in our social safety nets. Those aren’t my millennial hipster opinions. Those are straight facts. Protesting for the right to work (and potentially die) instead of taking a “handout” from your own money? It’s a feature, not a bug.
Susan Rosenthal, a leading Canadian socialist, once wrote “For the majority working class, obedience is demanded, questioning is forbidden, and defiance is punished. Children present a problem for capitalism, because children are natural scientists. They want to know “Why?” about everything. And when they don’t like the answer, they keep asking “Why?” The relentless inquiry of each new generation is a gift, an opportunity to rethink everything. Nothing is more subversive.
For children to accept the unfairness of capitalism, their inquiring spirits must be crushed into submission. This process begins in the family, is reinforced at school and consolidated at work.
When confronted with the child’s “Why?” most adults are too stressed, too fearful or too ashamed to answer. Adult frustration tells children that questioning is not acceptable. Things are the way they are…because.”
We can take care of ourselves.
How did we get here?
In a feudal agricultural system, we would live with the people we work with and be directly connected to each other’s fate. One of the reasons we’ve been able to stay alive on this planet for this long is that taking care of ourselves often meant taking care of each other. As Andre Maurois once wrote, “Without a family, man, alone in the world, trembles with the cold.”
However, production ceases without people reproducing miniature workers and paying into the system. The Industrial Revolution made that clear with 24/7 factory work sending our death rates shooting up and lowering our life expectancy to 18 years old. We needed a way to keep people alive and having babies without the unprofitable method of arranging social services like national childcare, national healthcare, and collective living. So, we embraced individualism and told ourselves we needed to take care of our families (because society wasn’t going to help at all.)
In industries like mining and agriculture, we set up company camps to fill the space of our extended family. In others, we made the romantic partner the end-all, be-all of our support. Instead of having 10–12 adults responsible for the care of children, we isolated care-giving inside our homes. We are expected to raise children with no outside assistance, shame our dependent relatives as “freeloaders”, judge those who cannot live on their own in this system, solve our own problems, and blame ourselves when we inevitably do have not all of our needs met. Gradually, our villages and communities were no longer our source of mental/emotional and physical support. We don’t collectively take care of each other anymore. We’re rugged- John-Wayne-types with the spirit of the pioneers. We can take care of ourselves.
My most previous job was a considerable amount of work. That’s no slam against where I worked. Honestly, it’s still one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, and if bills hadn’t gotten in the way, I’d still be working there. Nonprofits are notorious for having one employee covering the responsibilities of two or three (or four or five) positions again due to us underpaying for social services. When people ask what I did, I say I managed events. It’s quick and easy.
I don’t say “I researched and created a business plan for a social enterprise in my first three months, created a quarterly marketing strategy, developed social media marketing and advertising, managed invoicing and billing, gave tours of the space, worked 9–5 Monday-Thursday, 9-midnight on the weekends, vacuumed, swept and mopped, washed dishes and moved tables, handled adult tantrums, and survived on a combination of adrenaline, diet coke, and leftover cake for $24K.”
It’s a little much.
Before that job, I didn’t tell people the required hours an AmeriCorps volunteer needed to work for 10 months to stay on track was 85 hrs. every two weeks. To get paid $1500/month which was more money than I had made up to that point. To graduate the program. To receive the $5,000 Education Award. To help your community and give yourself a career boost if needed.
Of course, there were periods you worked less than 85 hours. Often times, you worked more. I remember working 110+ hours in one week. I took many Epsom salt baths that year, easing into the warm water, hoping my muscles would stop aching enough to get up the next day and do it all over again.
Many of us have been trained by life to both never complain about your job and prepare for the inevitable day when you just don’t have one. We’ve all been in the same spot before: little to no money, creatively engineering meals, baking bread out of necessity, sewing buttons back on clothes, crocheting/knitting hats, scarves, gloves, and blankets, etc……. Our idea of rainy-day savings is a little different because we’ve had rainy days before, and we know no-one is coming to help us. We can take care of ourselves.
Maybe there’s always stew meat in your freezer, rice & beans in your pantry, or ramen and canned veggies hidden somewhere because your stomach remembers the last time you lost your job more than your mind ever will. Maybe you reuse teabags until there’s no taste and wash out your sandwich bags like my grandparents and me because you’ve got to use everything until it’s all used up. Maybe you prioritize your car payments, so you always have a place to live because that eviction notice is burned into your memory.
Maybe you hide away personal hygiene items for years because you remember having no deodorant for a job interview. Maybe you don’t get rid of anything useful because you remember when you did and then desperately needed it a year later. (Examples: I hadn’t used my blender in three years but I kept it in my basement just in case. This past month, I’ve used it to make smoothies, vegetable stock, and homemade whipped cream for a pie. Yesterday, I opened a bottle of cocoa butter lotion that had been chilling under my sink for almost two years.)
In 2007, the United States spent about 16 percent of its gross domestic product on the social safety net. That expanded to about 19 percent by 2014, though that was mostly a temporary bulge thanks to the recession. Meanwhile, Norway’s 2007 spending was 20 percent, Finland’s was 23 percent, Sweden’s 27 percent, France’s 28 percent, and Germany’s 25 percent.-America’s Social Safety Net is Way Too Skimpy
The answer “just because” is becoming more and more unacceptable to many of us. We see other industrialized countries and the question of ‘why’ keeps tickling at the back of our throats. We’ve been told we’re the greatest country on Earth all our lives, and we can’t comprehend this daily grinding punch in the face that’s showing us we’ve been lied to all these years in no uncertain terms. We’re trying to hold onto an imaginary title that’s already turned to dust and started frittering away through our fingers.
So what do we do? We keep selling our essential oils instead of advocating for healthcare. We keep sharing conspiracy theories that this virus must have been created to scare people, force Trump out of office, microchip us through enforced global vaccinations, and give us the mark of the beast/anti-Christ instead of acknowledging that we just weren’t ready for a pandemic. We protest our loss of employment instead of examining why we’re all two paychecks away from financial ruin in the first place. We keep making ads like this.
We’re angry, we’re sad, we’re worried, but we can’t just stop hustling.
We can take care of ourselves.
“In a time of disruption, disrupt.”
This email from a random marketing company had me doing a double take. Not just because disrupt means throwing things into confusion and disorder, which is already pretty damn par for the course for 2020, but it shows a horrible lack of awareness. Why would you want more chaos in an inherently chaotic time?
I’m constantly asking myself “what’s the catch?” Jobs, people, social systems; they don’t tend to let you know that. It’s not until you’re in it for a few weeks (or months) that it hits you.
Oh! No-one takes breaks here…….or
Oh! You emotionally manipulate your partners……..or
Oh! Our value lies in what we produce so we can’t stop producing. Ever.
During this time, the ads have slightly changed. They’re still trying to sell us everything under the sun, but they’re marketing it with a slick, slimy version of “heart”. When you hear an advertiser say, “This is the best time ever to write your book, start your own company, become your own boss, stream Disney +, binge-watch random documentaries, begin a podcast, and on and on and on”, ask yourself why all of the advertising centers around either branding yourself as more productive in many different ways or numbing yourself with entertainment.
If you’re not constantly going, you tend to start thinking. You start asking questions. Questions like……
1. Who told us receiving our own money was a despised handout?
2. How many of us are going to die because we’re forced to play Russian Roulette with our health?
3. Can we take the money from all those “Thank You” commercials and pay essential workers a living wage with hazard pay?
4. Why don’t we have social safety nets (UBI, Paid Sick Leave, Healthcare for All, Livable Minimum Wage, Paid Paternity Leave) so we wouldn’t have to sacrifice ourselves to feed our children?
5. Why are we closing down nurseries/garden centers and banning the sale of vegetable seeds in urban areas if we truly want people to be self-sufficient?
6. Why is a community taking care of each other such a despised idea to us?
7. Why are we advocating for and willing to sacrifice 2–5% of our population for money?
8. Why do we feel like awful people if we aren’t insanely productive and creatively focused during a period of global trauma?
9. Why do we feel like horrible human beings if we haven’t found a partner willing to live with us and be our buffer against isolation insanity?
10. How come asking these questions out loud gets us called a socialist in an attempt to shut us down?
Even now, I know we’re not going to stop. We’ll insist that the system works and tell ourselves we just need to work harder next time. Next time, we’ll start that side business. Next time, we’ll take that MLM plunge. Next time, we’ll squirrel away a little more money or food. We’ll go back to “normal”, give or take a few million lives. Listen to the insanity in our statements. Next time there’s a global pandemic, I’m going to be ready.
We’ll keep going, but what if we didn’t? What if we collectively valued squirming, breathing, messy life over money? We’ve made our earth a horrifying place to live. Wars, climate change, oppression: humans have mastered how to die but not how to live.
Our emphasis on individual choice was never about us. Our insistence on personal responsibility for circumstances far outside our control has never looked hollower and lacking. Our current system has lead us to simultaneous overwork and deprivation. We can’t take care of ourselves. We need to take care of each other. This is the most devastating hamster-wheel rat race, and it doesn’t even stop when it completely breaks down.