The struggle we are presently engaged in will, I think, go on for some time; personally, I look at it as simply the latest acute phase of a very old struggle. Fatigue will set in, as it does in the later stages of a marathon. Indeed speakers have been calling it a marathon, but the marathon is, despite the crowds, a solitary struggle, and a little while ago a speaker at Tuesdays with Toomey happily pointed out that our present struggle is also a relay. A relay marathon, if you will. We carry the burden together. No one person can attend every rally; yet each of us needs to do whatever he or she can.
With that in mind, here is a story that appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News on January 15, 2014. I am no longer able to locate it online, so I post it here.
Philadelphia, January 2014. It's 13 degrees. It's 6:12 a.m. It's very dark. I'm sitting at the breakfast table with my wife.
"This is insane," I say. She doesn't say anything.
I say, "The only thing more insane is that Congress left last year and didn't renew the extended unemployment."
Lois sips her coffee.
"So I'm going," I say. To D.C., I don't say. On a bus; she knows.
She says, "Isn't it your fifth anniversary this month?'
Five years ago my life changed. My employer of 16 years decided I was excess baggage in a business downturn, and streeted me at the age of 61. Thanks for that.
No, seriously, thanks for that. Then I got to do what I really wanted to do, which was fight for healthcare reform. A whole alphabet soup: PUP (Philadelphia Unemployment Project), HCAN (Health Care for America Now), PHAN (Pennsylvania Health Access Network). Not something I could have done while working for a health insurer.
I think I helped. That's the downside to casting off people like me.
I also collected unemployment. And I looked for work. And I religiously attended the classes at the outplacement agency.
Here's a simple fact of life. When you've been working for 16 years for a company with a reputation for mindless bureaucracy, and you get streeted at 61, your career is over.
The outplacement agency pretended that wasn't true, and for a while I believed them. But in the end I came to accept the facts, even as others continued to deny them.
I collected unemployment for a year and a half, and it was important for me -- not just the money, but the validation that I was still a person. Eventually, with help from PUP, I got a part-time job. It doesn't pay much, but the people are nice, I enjoy the work, and again it's a validation.
And I've spent a lot time over the last five years sitting on buses, sitting in waiting rooms and cafeterias in D.C. and Harrisburg, spending time with people who are actually poor. And I'm here to tell you, you can learn things in your 60's.
Our Puritan forefathers bequeathed us this dichotomy between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. It's false. There are just the poor. They do what they need to do to survive. And it's not middle class, and it's not pretty. But I find myself loving every one of them, not just the lovable ones, not just the deserving.
The rich, on the other hand, have been getting away with murder in this country. We can get distracted by their demonization of the poor, but what would happen if we carried the Puritan battle to them?
How many of the rich deserve to be rich? There's a whole school of theologians who say that wealth is a signal that God likes you, but what would Jesus say to that? Or St. Francis? Or the pope?
Dear me, I'm turning into an aging radical. I got on the bus and got to sit in a room in Washington with a bunch of senators and representatives and poor people and lots and lots of cameras. And maybe it made a difference.
See also For Athena.