It was a rosy sort of morning when Koko and I went walking on streets devoid of people and cars, save for one truck driven by a hunter with his dogs in the back that got Koko all whirling and twirling and excited. We passed a house with an inflatable hybrid Pilgrim-turkey out front and it gave me a flashback to all those turkeys I made in elementary school while learning a highly romanticized version of the first Thanksgiving that reinforced the notion of white superiority.
I imagine kids are still making their turkey art projects in class, but I wonder if what they’re being taught has changed, now that we have a much better sense of what really went down.
Meanwhile, the news is full of talk about the other thing that's down, and that's the economy, but it’s harder to assess exactly how the shake up is playing out. The other day I was talking to a man who runs a jewelry store, and he said a lot of folks had been turning in their gold Hawaiian heirloom jewelry for scrap value, just to get by. But on the other hand, although tourist traffic has slowed, those who do stop by the shop aren’t holding back on spending money.
So clearly some folks still have, and others who did, now do not.
Democracy Now! recently had an interesting interview with Stephen Pimpare, author of “A People’s History of Poverty in America.” In his book, Pimpare asked: “How has the experience of being poor and in need changed over time?”
And what he found is that even though we like to tell ourselves that things have gotten better for poor people because they now have TV sets and in some cases, access to government and nonprofit aid programs, the “experience of poverty over the course of American history has changed much less than we might like to believe.”
We have historically understood poverty as a moral failure. In fact, we have a whole architecture of language we use to talk about this, the culture of poverty. The notion that there is either something inherent in individuals that leads them to be poor, some sort of moral emotional, intellectual failing, or some sort of collective culture that is born and bred in poor communities, in which we pass poverty around, almost as if it is some sort of disease.
The interview was intriguing because it juxtaposed this view with the prevailing attitude that has driven the massive handouts to corporate America and Wall Street: they’re too big, vital and important to fail. Yet we know that some of them are tanking because of moral failures, in the form of excessive greed, selfishness and disregard for the shareholders, and that some of their actions stem from a collective culture that is born and bred in the communities of the nation’s elite.
Why is it OK to give them the big handout, with few or no questions asked, while the average folks who are down on their luck are treated like losers, dirt bags and scum who must fill out long forms and undergo close scrutiny and evaluation before they government kicks down some food stamps, subsidized housing or cash?
And that’s caused me to wonder, what if we gave all those billions to the people, rather than the corporations, brokerage houses and banks? What kind of nation and economy would be created if people who have spent their lives struggling — the poor and middle class — suddenly had the capital to start a small business or join with others to form a manufacturing cooperative? What if they could attend a college or trade school to improve their skills? What if they were able to pay off their mortgage and their credit cards and live without that crippling, stifling debt?
In short, what if the people, rather than the power brokers, were given the big bail out, the sudden windfall that allows them to dig themselves out of a hole and move ahead?
After all, it is our money.