My paternal Grandfather arrived home from his tour in Europe during WW2 and started an HVAC business in my hometown of Saginaw, MI. My father worked for him for a bit, and he employed a few people, some white and some black. He and my grandmother had enough money to invest in a few houses around Saginaw, and rented them out. My grandmother took care of most of the property management, and when times were tough, she told me that she would sometimes barter with people if they weren’t able to make a rent payment one month. I got the sense that my grandparents kind of saw their tenants as some sort of extended family. They were able to afford a nice home in the suburbs, and sent two daughters to nursing school, and another off to college to become a teacher. My father followed his father in the world of skilled trades, and was able to get a job at the GM Steering Gear Plant as a tinsmith. My grandparents would retire at a decent age, and move to Virginia. My Grandfather died earlier this year, and my grandmother is able to survive off of the money they saved, social security, and the fact that their house has been paid off for years. They were the 99%.
My maternal Grandfather was stationed up in Alaska during the end of WW2 and Korea, mostly helping to land planes and sitting around playing poker all day. When he was done with his service, he worked at a factory until he retired, and my grandmother would pick up an odd job here and there like housecleaning, babysitting, or selling Avon products. They raised two children, took vacations at least once a year, and cared for the many grandchildren that made their way through their home. My Grandfather passed away 2 years ago, and my grandmother never once had to worry about money thanks to the investments my grandpa was able to make. My grandmother passed away a few weeks ago, and she left her children and grandchildren with no debt. Going on camping vacations was one of my favorite childhood memories of my grandparents, and we were able to do that at least once a year. They were the 99%.
My Father literally worked hard – 50+ hours a week in a hot and noisy factory, working with his hands and machines all day long. He would go to night school at a local community college to learn different skills and trades (like autoCAD) so that he didn’t have to spend the rest of his career on the low end of the totem pole. He is now in charge of the entire plant’s CFC. He is salary, though still works his ass off (like 60+ hours a week) so that he can retire before the company fails. Because, he isn’t working at Steering Gear anymore. GM spun that factory off in the 90’s and it was Delphi. Then Delphi went under and it was sold to a (I believe) Korean company, which was then sold to who the fuck knows now. I don’t even know what the place is called anymore. But I do know that in my youth, Steering Gear made Saginaw run. In a town of 80,000-100,000 people, it employed over 20,000. Now it employs between 4,000-6,000. All of the people at that factory, including my father, are the 99%. My father busted his ass all those years to give me the things I had, pay the bills and have enough fun money that we could buy some old used snowmobiles or dirt bikes and go tear up our country lot. We’d take a vacation once a year that usually involved camping, and I was lucky enough that he could afford braces for me. He bought my first car for $600, an El Camino with the caveat that we both would fix it up a bit before I drove it. That was a big thing for my dad, to always do everything you can for yourself. I can only think of like 1 time my dad ever hired anyone to do anything. He raised me to be proud to be where I came from, to be proud of the working class values he instilled. I am.
My mother and father divorced when I was 8. My mother worked at a bank 4 days a week, and then also worked at a grocery store 3-4 days a week, both on the shitty side of town. By shitty I mean her bank was held up like 6 times, and even her grocery store was held up. Who robs a Kroger? Seriously? Eventually she became the Assistant Manager there, and then they sent her off to one of their discount chain stores as an Assistant Manager, making probably 12 bucks an hour. At this point, she was supporting herself, and had custody of my sister, and she had visitation with me on every other weekend. Not much money left over after the payments on her mobile home, the rent on the space, and the rest of the bills. Even considering this, she made it a point to take a vacation with me at least once a year. Even if it was just a trip to Toronto that included some city sight-seeing, Niagra Falls, and the zoo for 3 days, or the time we went to Sea World in Ohio. I had a blast. My mother quit her job to take care of my grandmother, but since she died earlier this month, my mother will have to go back and look for another job. She’ll be turning 50 next year, and I can’t imagine that the prospects for an out-of-work ex-retail store manager in Saginaw Michigan are going to be too bright. I’m extremely worried that she won’t be able to find anything, but my mother is humble enough that she’ll take whatever job she can get. She is the 99%.
Currently I work full time at a company that provides video relay services for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. They pay and benefits are alright. Enough to feed my family, pay the bills, and every once in a while have some fun money. My wife is a stay at home mom, and for that I am extremely grateful. We live modestly because we have to. We have internet but no cable. A home phone and my wife has a cheap pre-paid cell phone. Thankfully my work provides me with a cell phone, or else I likely wouldn’t have one. We live in an apartment because it was all we could afford, but are hoping to secure a USDA loan and purchase a cheap home next year. In addition to working full time, I’m also going to school full time. In 2014 I should be able to graduate with a BA in Environmental Policy. Right now, I’m the working poor and I’m the 99%.
But I don’t hate capitalism. I think people that earn higher wages often deserver higher wages. Not all the time, as is the case with CEO pay, but most of the time. I don’t hate Wall Street, nor do I hate banks. But I choose not to use banks. A bank’s primary incentive is to make as much profit from their customer’s money as is possible, regardless of the people involved. A credit union, on the other hand, has its primary incentive in its customers themselves; keeping them happy, and creating as little risk as possible, because there is no profit involved with a credit union.
I also happen to think competition is a good thing. Competition drives innovation, and drives people to succeed. I think communism is generally stupid, as is socialism. I think neither of these systems could ever work unless you created a small, sustainable island community with a small population. But I digress.
I also think that students that take on student loans should have to pay them back. I’m all in favor of overhauling the entire education system, but there is no reason that people that willingly took on these loans shouldn’t have to pay them back.
Why am I in support of the Occupy movement? Why am I proud to be part of the 99%? Because the lives that my grandparents lived are now something of a myth. The idealized middle-class American dream is slipping away. The idea that I could now get good job at a factory, put in my 40 hours a week, and retire at 65 with a good pension and retirement are all but dead. The idea of getting a good job at a factory and having job security is all but a myth. The very idea of a pension is all but a myth anymore. Hell, I’m not very confident that I’ll be able to retire before 70 at all.
I support the Occupy movement because of the level of greed and corruption in politics. Democracy cannot succeed when only a few powerful moneyed interests control the government. I am strongly opposed to oligarchy and plutocracy, both of which our country is heading towards.
We continue to reward companies that have sent our jobs overseas, and continue to reward a dirty energy industry that creates greater negative externalities than their value added. All because they have bought our politicians and influenced legislation in ways no ordinary American can.
We continue to spend billions and trillions on wars overseas and building an Imperialist state around the globe while we step over homeless people here at home, while Native people here in the US live in conditions as bad as they are in Haiti.
I stand with the Occupy movement because the movement is inclusive, and fits many voices within it. There is no “one” message, other than maybe that the majority of Americans have been excluded from the processes that affect our lives in the greatest ways, and we’re sick of not having a voice anymore. The institution of democracy has been stripped away from most Americans, and left in the hands of a privileged few.
I’ll likely have more posts on this topic, but right now my only thoughts on how to affect any type of change really comes down to just one word: vote. Many of the people at these protests either have never voted or don’t often vote. I know many of you feel disenfranchised by our two-party duopoly, but that is no reason to not still vote. Voting in the primaries and non-major elections is the best first step, especially if you want to advocate for “third” parties. And even when it does come down to a Democrat vs. a Republican, there is a real choice there. Yes, both parties have been bought out by powerful interests, but to compare them as apples and apples is an exercise in willful ignorance.
Anyway, I’m glad that this movement has begun. It seems to me like people are fighting for the America that my grandparents lived and thrived in, the one that they envisioned their grandchildren could do even better than they did in.