Sunday, December 11, 2011

Senator Skedaddle

Last Tuesday I was down in Washington, D.C., visiting Senator Toomey's office. Sitting in actually. Take Back the Capitol was a big, multi-day event with a lot of help from SEIU, but I just got on the bus with my pals from the Philadelphia Unemployment Project and went down for the one day.

And we were a bit late, so I missed the story. Pittsburgh got there before Philly, and here's what they told us when we got there. The nice person in the front office said that Senator Toomey couldn't meet with them because he was over in the Senate chamber casting a vote.

But while that was happening in the front office, the people out in the hallway - did I mention that we had a lot of people on Capitol Hill that day? - saw an unmarked door open. And out walked Senator Toomey and two Capitol policemen.

Our guys called out to him. I imagine them saying, "Senator Toomey, we are your constituents, and we are assembled here to seek redress of our grievances." I suspect their actual words may have varied from this.

But it doesn't matter. Toomey pretended he didn't see his constituents or hear them. He pretended he wasn't there. He pretended he didn't exist. And he scuttled away.

Senator Skedaddle. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Later on, I had a nice chat with an SEIU organizer from Pittsburgh or thereabouts named Julia. She was a good listener, and punched the appropriate buttons, and I found myself telling her what I'm actually thinking.

Much too late in life, I'm finally reading Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States. Towards the end there's a chapter on "The Coming Revolt of the Guards." The guards are essentially the middle class, and, in Zinn's view, they have served to protect the wealthy from the poor.

As I was reading this, I flashed back to a very interesting moment in my life at Cigna. Let me set the stage. Cigna's headquarters in Philadelphia was in two large buildings near City Hall - One and Two Liberty Place. One Liberty was the mansion, and Two Liberty was the village. At the top of One Liberty were the seniors executives, their secretaries, and a highly efficient security detail. On the two floors just below them were the lawyers and a few other people - including me, briefly.

I wish I could remember the year, but I believe it was in the late nineties. I'd long been shunted off to the village, but I wasn't prepared for what happened, and neither were the lawyers. The executives decided they could make some money by subletting the two lawyer floors in the mansion, so they sent the lawyers to the village.

"But we're special! We're your palace guard!" You could almost hear the lawyers say this as they carried their cardboard boxes of desk items through the mall that connected the two buildings, followed by carts full of files. (Fictional visual provided for didactic purposes.)

Well, maybe the lawyers weren't so special. By the way, I think Howard Zinn may be the person who coined the phrase "the 99 percent." It's in the book, which has been around for a while.

If lawyers decide they're part of the 99 percent, it's only because their masters pushed them over into the village, where they have to hang out with the clerks.

I do think something happened, sometime between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11. I think the 1 percent decided they didn't have to put up with Roosevelt's New Deal any more, and they could actually dial things back to the 1890's.

Will they succeed? I don't know. Will the lawyers actually line up with the 99 percent? I don't know. But I do know this. The 1 percent can't do anything without lawyers.

As for Senator Toomey, he probably imagines that he's part of the 1 percent, but he's not. He's just a tool. Maybe one day even he will figure it out.

And really, it's okay that he skedaddled. (I do believe the story. I heard it quite a few times, from different people. Sit-ins can be boring, except when they're not.)

I believe the Senator ran away because he is afraid of us. I hope he doesn't think we're going to hurt him - if he'd just look at us he'd know that was ridiculous. But maybe, just maybe, he's afraid because, on some very deep level, he knows we're right.

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