A group of traveling, nomadic families that I’m a part of undertake a writing exercise each month. This month, we’re supposed to start a post with the words:
“Once upon a time, I woke up and realized The American Dream…”
Perfect topic in the current political climate, don’t you think? The American Dream? Are you serious? The expression makes me shudder, yet I suppose that there are many things happening around the world that make it a legitimate question. Without further ado, my post…
Once upon a time, I woke up and realized that the American Dream was something that a bunch of old (dead) white dudes made up. Fortunately, a new movement is springing up that is helping me to reestablish what the dream means to me. But first, a little backstory…
When I was a little girl, I daydreamed about someday procuring a great job as an artist and/or writer. Filled with a sense of wanderlust, I was convinced that I would someday live overseas and would share life and art with people living in many different cultures.
Life has a funny way of switching things up… I became a single mother. After a brief flirtation with the idea of child support and sad, heated battles with an absent (but oh-so-commanding and self-serving) baby daddy, I decided it was better to raise my kid on my own. Unlike most single mothers in this country, I swore not to take a dime from the man who impregnated me. In my eyes, he wasn’t a father, and therefore, shouldn’t be obligated to act like one. It was my decision to keep my kid, not his. I won’t get into THAT conversation. I will say, however, that sadly, this is a country that would have single mothers kowtow to men, deeming it necessary to have a father in the picture, even if he’s a total loser.
Single Parenthood and Debt Accumulation
So, what does it mean, supporting a kid without a man in this country? I’ll tell you this much- single parenting certainly isn’t part of the “American Dream.” I swear, people, the only Prince Charming I’ve ever encountered arrived in the unexpected form of many underpaid individuals who told me that because school would open doors, student debt would be manageable, and that, as a single mother, I owed it to my kid to get an education (the whole “setting the example” sort of thing). As soon as school was over, however, Prince Charming, brandishing my student loan debt like a hot poker, strode right past me, arm-in-arm with Sallie Mae, laughing his ass off over what a dumb blonde I had been.
I went to an Ivy League school for art history. Can you guess how many art jobs are out there for a single mom like me who have to support a kid? Does it make sense that amongst the jobs I had to take, one of them was at a fund of hedge fund on Park Ave.? Yep, somehow, I had found myself thrown headlong into the boys’ club with the least artistic people I’ve ever met (unless you count coming up with a Fantasy Football team an art?). I assure you it was miserable. I could, as James Brown sang, simply cast the situation off to it being ‘A Man’s World’, but that would be an oversimplification of a larger problem.
How much does a person need to work in order to support herself in New York?
A lot. How do I know? Because I never quite have enough. Needless to say, with crushing student debt that made it impossible to go on to get my masters degree, I have, as a woman in my thirties, found it extremely frustrating over the last six years that as a full time single mother (a job that, in dollars earned for time worked, should be paying over $150,000 a year but instead only pays an upturned nose by teabaggers… Apparently, by being a single mother, I’m helping to ruin the “American Family.”). I’ve had to work between 40-70 (sometimes 80) hours a week just to get by and support my kiddo. Again, let me stress that I’m not a glutton for punishment- I’m a hard worker who largely goes by the rules. I went to college to better myself. Yet even now, as a freelancer no longer working in finance (nor education, where I also worked for a stint), the rules of the system have me working like a dog (even freelancing!). It dawns on me that the government that helped me get my school loan doesn’t at all care how I use my degree/give back to society, just as long as I give back to the bank.
I’m pissed and I’m tired.
The distribution of (inflated) wealth in this country and the amount of debt is astounding. The bubbles (yes, there are more than one- real estate, private debt, stocks/gov bonds/retirement funds/life insurance…) will burst again- but this time- and I predict that it will happen sometime late next year or early 2013, people will lose a lot more than their homes (sell your stocks and long-term bonds, people!).
So, what to do?
Here in New York, a new movement is taking the proverbial bull by the horns.
People from all walks of life have started a non-violent movement called Occupy Wall Street. Protesters have “occupied” Liberty Park for eleven days, with no signs of leaving. Dignitaries and notable guests to offer their support include Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky and even movie stars such as Susan Sarandon. As I write (Tuesday evening), Cornell West, philosopher and activist, is addressing the democratic-minded crowd. It’s big, people.
Why haven’t you heard about it and what is it?
Essentially, this group of thousands- largely ignored by large media outlets until the last day or two- is expressing outrage over the fact that 1% of U.S. citizens have created and maintained a sort of indentured servant system over the remaining 99% citizens. People like me toil in unrewarding, often terrible jobs for many years to try to make a dent in our student loan debt. Others are unemployed, homeless or on the verge of losing their homes. Many more are graduating college only to find that there are no jobs. While some people say that the people in the park are just a group of hippies and gutter punks, it just ain’t so. I met a man who was there on behalf of his parents, hard working people who had lost everything- their home and savings- in 2008 (which was, incidentally, when I lost a terrible job in finance). This man wasn’t leftist, he was just an American (although why has “leftist” become a dirty word?). And he was outraged. Indeed, Occupy Wall Street was organized by those highly educated folks over at Adbusters, with individuals such as the erudite David Graeber at the helm (at least to get things rolling- its a truly democratic movement).
Occupy New York is a call to action, a non-violent movement that charges the 1% with the crimes of oppressing the 99%. Piggybacking off of the actions in New York, “occupations” are cropping up all across the nation, from San Francisco to Los Angeles to who-knows-where in Arkansas to Boston to Lansing, Michigan to Washington, DC to Philly to Omaha to Birmingham. Some of you may remember the protests in Wisconsin that started last year when that idiot Scott Walker stripped rights away from unions? It all stems from the same thing. People are PISSED, and rightfully so, over a repeated violation of fundamental human rights. Obama has suggested a tax on millionaires. The response from Republicans has been to cry “class warfare.” The odds of a millionaire tax actually happening is slim. What will most likely happen are cuts to social security and other systems that we Americans have already paid for.
Its not just the people of U.S.A. who are up in arms (a figure of speech, as the protests/movement are peaceful, using only words as weapons). An old roommate of mine is creating a new political movement in Spain (he’s not bat-shit crazy, either- he’s actually rather brilliant), and who can forget the goings ons in London? Or the sublime uprising in Egypt? At a very base level, people from around the world are angry. While there are a million reasons, globalization has meant that the people in a country such as the U.S.A. are no longer isolated in our discontent.
Although the powers that be would have liked to see things wrapped up a few days ago, the “occupation” movement is gaining momentum. During a peaceful march this past weekend, between 80 and 120 people were wrongfully arrested, beaten up and sprayed with pepper spray by thug NYPD officers. Don’t take my word for it- check out this disturbing video with Lawrence O’Donnell. The thought of police using such tactile violence against people doing nothing wrong is part of the reason why I think, in fact, that it is important to teach my daughter about what is currently happening in the system. She needs to understand that America is swimming in a vast sea of unrest, and that, since our politicians are working against us, that it is up to simple people like us to turn the tide. There’s great strength in choosing to side with people who take action against disparity. It’s better that my kiddo learn that sooner than later.
The financial system is no longer in the process of a slow downward spiral, it is collapsing. Even if some folks ignore the protests, will they be able to ignore what could potentially be a stock market crash next year. Are the gov bonds they’re sitting on really as safe as they think? I think not.
I think reporters should be nervous as hell over their jobs– young people are increasingly becoming our new information gatekeepers. Social media gives power to the people. Hell, if Asmaa Mahfouz could help spark the pro-democracy uprising in Egypt (January 2011) via Twitter, Facebook and on this Youtube video, what do you think we can do here in the states?? Already, Yahoo and Youtube have censored the recent protests, disgusting actions that ought to be punishable by law. While I used to spend my youth reading the New York Times, you can be certain that as my kid (now ten) and her peers get older, they will have moved on.
I’ve never wanted, nor needed, the castle in the sky. I want only to raise my kid and have time to live. Make no mistake, I’m willing and able to work. But no longer for wealthy jerks and certainly not for people like this guy who have been waiting for the financial collapse so they can make money off our poor asses.
What do I want? What is my American Dream?
For starters, in my American, the government would support the right to have a one-parent household just as much as it supports (at least in ideology) a two-parent household. My America would demand companies to pay more time off for parents in general, with more time given to single parents (who are, essentially, in the current system, filling in for the ‘absent’ parent). While some countries allow time off for parents to take care of a sick child, most companies in the good ole U.S. of A. not only dock pay (it is a rule in the companies I’ve worked for that an employee cannot take a sick day for a child), but threaten job stability if a parent stays home for anything other than a personal or sick day (for one’s self, not a child).
In my America, a single mother would never have to work anywhere near the neighborhood of 70 hours a week in order to support her kid.
In my America, No Child Left Behind would be destroyed. Having worked in a school, I have seen clearly how No Child Left Behind/Title 1 funding affects children. It is criminal to see how these babies- primarily those born to immigrants or in low income families, are not afforded the same resources as their middle to upper class peers. (For a discussion about this, read a post I wrote entitled The big picture problems of No Child Left Behind / Race to the Top.)
In my America, police would be punished for their crimes against people. They wouldn’t get away with pepper spraying women in the face for taking part in a peaceful march. Actually, in my America, police would act as they ought to act- as protectors of the people, for the people. Thus, they would- as some did in Wisconsin- even march with the people.
In my America, student debt would be considered criminal. An education would be a right. People wouldn’t become, as I did for many years, indentured servants, working only for bread, trying to get ahead just enough so that they could pay back student loans. Read the sign in the picture above- why isn’t student debt “dischargable?” Only because the loans are ultimately held by the government.
In my America, every person has the same access to health care. It would be a right, not a privilege given to people with the right health insurance or the money to pay out-of-pocket expenses. People wouldn’t have to fly out of the country for affordable dental care. They wouldn’t die of cancer because their insurance companies denied them “experimental treatments.”
In my America, the country would live within its means. The idea of creating a debt system to pay for wars might have, at one point, seemed like a wise move, but it’s spiraled out of control. Why is it that corporations often are forgiven their gross debts while individuals lose their homes? Oh, perhaps its because our country has deemed corporations “people?” Yes, banks are bailed out while grandparents lose their homes. Disgusting.
In my America, reliance on oil will be a thing of the past. Decisions won’t make environmental decisions that ruin the planet so that corporations can continue stealing from tax payers. Biodiversity/environmental science will be taught to all public school kids. Understanding genetics will not be left to upper level high school level and college students, but will be incorporated into study in the elementary grades. Relationships between people and other living things are complicated- its time we inject a little science into the mix.
In my America, college students wouldn’t be targeted by credit card companies. While I’ve never had a credit card (and never will), I pity the poor souls weighed down under the crushing weight of credit card bills. In fact, in my America, there is no system of credit (oh, utopia!).
As this post will primarily be read by nomadic, traveling families, I will add one more thing to add to my American Dream… In my America, kids are taught to empower themselves. They are taught how to peacefully stand against oppressors. They are taught that one of the beautiful aspects of a democracy is the ultimate ability to try to change the status quo. Our country is built upon revolutions. Our kids need to be taught why, and they need to be taught now. They need to start learning not only the causes their parents stand behind, but how to independently decide their own causes. As parents, it is our role to let our children choose their own paths. But I think it is vital that we let them know from the get-go that they can decide to NOT become indentured servants. We need to teach them how to collaborate, demand, love, preach and fight. We need to teach them that revolution isn’t a bad word.
- Well, for starters, hurry up already and get down to join Occupy Wall Street, Boston, Chicago, Lansing, or wherever else you happen to be. Start an occupation if there isn’t one already in your area.
- Disseminate images and article. Become the media since our journalists only know how to kowtow to the powers that be.
- Sell your stocks (to protect your cash). If you have money (hell, I don’t), sit on your cash. While many investors advise buying gold or short-term bonds, do you really want to continue to inject money into that system? Be smart- if it looks like the collapse is imminent, then reassess.
- Take your money out of a big bank and put it into a local credit union. It’s one of the most powerful things you can do.
Being a part of Occupy Wall Street, I’m feeling a little more hopeful that the American Dream- MY American Dream- is fair and reasonable. Demanding it to come to fruition is exciting. Without my basic needs met, how can I really expect to write, travel and spend time with family- three of my main priorities?
I don’t want the white picket fence. I don’t need Prince Charming to come sweep me off my feet. I don’t need a two-parent household. I’m not looking for a frog to kiss. I do, however, expect to be protected by my government. I expect to have great health care, a job and support as a parent. I do require that my single parent status to be acknowledged as a norm within this society- and for adjustments to be made to enable me to live a decent life in which I don’t have to work my fingers to the bone just to pay my inflated New York rent and yes, I do also think that my decision to remain in expensive New York City should not be held against me).
Thus, the occupation! I’m going to put my hope for the future not with my politicians, but with people who are truly making a difference and who value human life over corporate greed.
To those still holding onto the old American Dream, I say only this: screw your fairy tale! Prince Charming needs to be knocked down to size.
See more of my pictures at the bottom of this page from Occupy Wall Street.
Wonder what the American Dream means to other traveling families? Want to know why they got the heck out of Dodge (AKA America)? Read their amazing stories about the American Dream, below:
Lisa Wood from New Life on the Road – Living the Australian Dream
Nancy from Family on Bikes – What is the American Dream?
Lisa from Around the World in Easy Ways – An American Dream Fairy Tale
Brandon Pearce from Fullness of Life – The Global American Dream
Talon from 1 Dad, 1 Kid, 1 Crazy Adventure – The American Dream
A King’s Life -(Her Post) Redefining an American Dream
Lainie from Raising Miro – Erosion of the American Dream
Kimberly from Fulltime Families – Trapped in the American Dream
Bohemian Mom-The Illusion of the American Dream
A King’s Life (his post) –Livin’ the not-so-American Dream
Family Travel Bucket List – Bye Bye Miss American Dream
The Great Family Escape –The Real American Dream
Livin On The Road – To dream a little dream of … travel
And want more info about Occupy Wall Street (info taken verbatim from the OWS website)?
“We are currently at Zuccotti Park come by, bring a bed. Lots of free food and good people.
upload pictures to flickr with the tag: occupywallstreet
Photos of day 1
Video from day 1
- Call (877) 881-3020 for Help & Directions (more info on Occupywallst.org)
- Occupy Wall Street: Legal Information – Download PDF flyer
- Occupy Wall Street orientation guide (PDF)
- Adbusters orientation guide
- In case of arrest, you can contact the NYC chapter of the National Lawyers Guild at (212)-679-6108 – write this down on your arm or leg!
- Tweet #dispatch917 to communicate to media committee
- Real time feeds: #sep17 / #occupywallstreet / #dispatch917 / #takewallstreet“