Tuesday, October 4

I AM the 99%

cross posted from ascentionist.blogspot.com

NOTE: I was not going to post this here, as this blog is transportation and cycling related, but I think now is the time to express support for change. I can't avoid posting this here as I feel this place is my strongest voice.

I did not create this country. I have inherited it from my parents, who inherited it from their parents, who inherited it from their parents who inherited it from their parents who stole it from the natives. In my bloodline also flows native blood, though much diluted and long forgotten by the rest of the world. While I did not create the world I've come to inhabit, I will affect change when I can to make it a better place. While I cannot undo the injustices of the past, I can do my best to make up for them by creating positive externalities.

Back when I was racking up student loan debt pursuing a college degree I heard all about externalities in my Eco 120 class. There are positive and negative externalities. Negative externalities are things like pollution, fraud and robbery, while positive externalities are things that tend to build community and harmony with our fellow man.

While I see those in power creating a host of negative externalities I find myself increasingly apt to create positive externalities as I mature and as I grow as a citizen and good neighbor.

If I have time, energy and material resources I can give much back to my community, to those in need and I can feel good about it. But our current economic climate demands more of my resources, time and energy and leaves me with little left over, and hardly enough for my own needs.

I labored through college for seven years to obtain a piece of paper. That piece of paper cost me years of my life and somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 of debt. I'd love to return it at this point for a full refund. It did absolutely nothing for me. My time there was filled with attempts to indoctrinate me to leftist propaganda and useless banter about meaningless topics.

I needed the paper to get a job. But once I had the job I discovered that absolutely nothing I learned in those hallowed halls of knowledge translated to my chosen profession. Everything I learned about my job I learned...on the job. I didn't need the piece of paper, other than to show that I was part of the club of dupes that fell for the swindle.

I've gotten a much better education through my own efforts at the local library since I graduated than I ever could have in an institution.

So for a nifty pricetag of approximately $35k I wasted seven years of my life and all I have to show for it is this lousy college hoodie that I had to pay $50 for in the campus bookstore.

After I was a couple of years into my undergraduate sentence tuition went up. 23%. I had already invested too much time and money to quit in protest. My choices were that or continue in pursuit of the piece of paper. I chose...poorly. But I chose in the way I was expected to choose. And the next year tuition went up again. Double digits.

I was scammed. In all fairness, I chose to go to college. I mean, this is a free country. I could have chosen not to go to college and throw my money away. Right? Nobody made me rack up all that debt. Right?

Sure, and then my only career prospects involved greasy food stains and garbled drive-thru speakers. You can't raise a family on minimum wage, and you can't feel like a human being flipping burgers as a CAREER. In my hometown you can't even afford a cheap apartment on minimum wage. Wage slaves are dependent on the mercy of others for shelter and long term financial support.

I did make the choice not to go to college at first. In 1993, after a year of college, after seeing only a small amount of debt racking up I decided I'd be better off to drop out, save my money and just go to work. I didn't want to be rich after all. I just wanted to make enough money to satisfy my modest needs.

That didn't work out so well. A series of factory jobs schooled me in the fine art of wage slavery. My rights as a human being were taken away in exchange for the meagerest of paychecks. Now, when I was young I believed in hard work. I wanted to exhibit a fine work ethic, but after a few jobs of beating my head against a wall trying to increase my purchasing power that resolve was slowly worn away. No amount of hard work would change the fact that the American working class is at the mercy of their corporate masters. Those corporate masters do not value hard work and loyalty, only profit.

First I was fed up with the expense of education so escaped into the workforce, then I was fed up with the costs associated with the lack of education and escaped back into university. Both were bad choices.

About the time we were moving west my parents were losing everything. They (we) lost the outdoor recreation business we tried to build up as a family, but that faltered in the summer after 9/11 and declined each season after that. They were losing their house because they had an overwhelming amount of monthly debt. My mother sold cookware and my father had previously lost his job with the Federal Government (about ten years prior) and was unable to find a decent paying job that he was qualified for.

We couldn't sell the house we had bought from them a few years prior so we let them move in when they had to leave what they thought would be the last house they would ever live in. They went to debt counseling and started the long slog back to normality.

We tried to sell the house, in which we had $26,000 of equity in 2006 when we refinanced, but we were unable after the collapse of '08. I doubt we have any equity now. And I believe the equity we had then was just a mirage.

They've struggled for almost four years just to come up with the $400 we asked them for to cover the mortgage payment. Two years ago my mother fell down the basement steps. They had no health insurance at the time. I don't want to think about what would have happened to them if I had not been able to cover when they couldn't.

Our mortgage there has been held by at least four different lenders in seven years. The current lender, CitiMortgage, tried to force us to get floodplain insurance last year. The house is absolutely not in a floodplain. They told me I was going to have to hire a surveyor. Fortunately we had already had the property surveyed and I finally convinced them we didn't need the floodplain insurance. But by then they had already started paying for the insurance to "protect their investment." And they charged us for it. If my parents hadn't needed a place, if I hadn't been doing my best to care for them through these hard times I would have told Citi: "The keys are under the mat. Enjoy your waterfront property." But I didn't have that luxury.

I have two mortgages in my name totaling $210,000 in liabilities. We have one car we own outright. I have no retirement. I have at least $30,000 in student loan debt and my wife has slightly less. In ten years our oldest son will be ready to go off to college. My parents will be 67 and 65 and they have little to no retirement built up. In ten years I need to come up with a strategy to pay for two kids to go to college, my own retirement and come up with plan for taking care of my aging parents. I have one sister in a similar situation. Even between the two of us I'm not sure if we can do what must be done. It is a frightening and overwhelming prospect.

The saving grace is that my in-laws are in much better financial shape than my own parents, so at least the burden isn't doubled automatically. At least for now. Life happens.

These things have weighed on my mind for a few years now. I still don't have an answer or a strategy. So when my boss says "don't expect a raise before 2014" I get angry. I start looking for other jobs. Of course there are none. I can move neither upward or laterally to improve my situation. We've cut everything out of our lives we can without giving up simple comforts. We don't have basic cable. We don't go on vacations.

If I hadn't finished college and gotten the cubicle trap job I have now I would not have had the means to help my parents in their time of direst need. If I hadn't finished college against my better judgment at the time I wouldn't even have the hope of improving my situation to the point where I could save for my children's future.

I used to think my "failures" were due to poor choices on my part. I've come to realize that not only is the playing field unlevel, the rules are unclear and change frequently. Every time we make a hard decision based on what is best for our family, creating a small buffer to increase our ability to provide the things we need then something on the other end changes and we go back to having just enough to make it from paycheck to paycheck. While I tried to make the best decisions the game was rigged against me. And the rest of the 99%.

Here are MY demands:

1) I want the opportunity to earn a fair wage. I'm not lazy. I'm perfectly willing to work hard for my money. I want the opportunity to choose my profession and I want the chance to see the fruits of my labor.
2) I do not want to sink the majority of my earnings into health care, insurance, taxes or unfair fees or hidden costs associated with the use of my own money.
3) I AM the market and I'm tired of being told what I want and what I need. I will not accept goods that are second rate, unsustainable and detrimental to the public good any longer.
4) Take the profit out of health care. My health is not for sale. Privatization only benefits those who seek profit. Healthy people are not profitable to the health care industry or the drug companies.
5) Stop degrading my food with unsustainable agricultural practices. I should not have to fear that the food I eat is slowly killing me and my family and destroying the environment.
6) Do not take away my freedom to choose what is best for me and my family. I am a law abiding citizen, with no desire to defraud or harm my neighbors or the government.
7) STOP predatory lending forever. Don't give credit to those who are not qualified for it.

Do not weep for me. Do not assume I'm looking for sympathy. I am an intelligent and strong person. I have a wonderful family and I will do whatever I must to care for them. The past couple of years I've come to realize that I need to better prepare myself to transition to a different kind of life. I need to be more resilient. I need to stop assuming the system is designed to HELP me.

Trust in that system is gone. It will never be restored. And if a new system is put in its place I will be there to help craft it, to help mold it into something that will benefit my children and their children so this never happens again. But I will caution them not to trust too deeply in any new system either. Trust in God. Trust in your own abilities. Do not trust in the institutions of man. They're too easily corrupted. Watch them closely. Tear them down when they cease to benefit all.

Occupy Wall Street. We ARE the 99%


  1. While I could go on about how I can identify with most of what you've encountered in life, and have had very similar experiences, I will simply say, very powerful post. I hope many are able to read it and understand that we must always question what is happening around us.

  2. Thanks so much for the feedback. We all have our stories and we have all been affected by the economic climate that's been changing the past few years. For so long I think many of us thought we were making the wrong decisions but I think its becoming clearer and clearer that we made the RIGHT decisions but got the wrong outcome because the game has been rigged.

    Keep reading and PLEASE, keep up the feedback.