Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

April 23rd, 2011 3:28 PM

Corporate Welfare Campaign by My Common Man

Every time my husband fills our gas tank, he believes he is giving corporate welfare to the most profitable industry on earth.  It’s hard to argue with him.  So now he has decided that he’ll just label it what it is and let the rest of the world know what he thinks.  When he met me at the commuter train on Friday evening, he proudly showed me his handiwork.  He had hand-stenciled the words “corporate welfare” just below the gas cap.

Every time he fills up that gas tank, he feels like he’s handing over more and more cash to the oil companies.  He is sick of silently supporting the system that simultaneously holds him in such disdain while being absolutely dependent upon him for its enormous profit.  So, he’ll be silent no more.

It’s my common man’s “truth in advertising” effort to let others know that he knows we working class folks provide an awful lot of our hard earned money and taxes to support huge profits and tax benefits to those who pay so very much less than we do.  My husband’s campaign isn’t showy and it isn’t well-financed – it’s just backed by a heavy dose of reality and good humor and the willingness to take a stand.

Sometimes, the best ideas are the simple ones.  Often I think we assume that it takes PhDs and MDs and CEOs and CPAs and pundits and prophets to tell us the deep and intellectually satisfying arguments about why we should or should not hold a certain opinion or what actions we should take.   Don’t get me wrong, my husband is an incredibly intelligent guy.  I’d put his ability to work through problems and do more with less up against anyone on the planet.  It takes skill and courage to go through what he has and survive.  But he isn’t the fellow many of the folks I know in political or professional circles would choose to hang out with or to learn from – and what a shame.

As a machinist during his working years, he learned to take a piece of metal and turn it into something useful – step by step, according to a plan.  His thinking is methodical and precise.  When he looks at a societal or political issue, he tends to go at it with that sort of mindset.  What is the problem?  What are the materials I have to work with?  What is the end result we need to produce?  What tolerances are acceptable in terms of errors, and how fast do we need to produce?  Then he begins his work.

When my common guy looks at the current economic crisis, he sees the broken economy that hurts the many like him while enriching the few.  He sees what we lived as a family.  The years of worry, the loss of our life savings and our home, the endless moving, the stress, facing retirement with no pension aside from Social Security and the inability to protect our access to the basics like healthcare – all of these problems he sees are in large part caused by the corporations and the wealthy who get rich due to his hard work and with his money while he struggles to make ends meet.

Then he sees those who would like to strip away the shared and hard earned benefits of Social Security and Medicare as well as the social safety nets that should be strengthened in times of economic crisis not slashed and rebuilt to funnel even more money from those who don’t have enough to those who already have more than they could ever need.  Now, says my guy, is the time when people need more help, not less.

So, he calls it like he sees it.  He hopes others will too.  Why not let each other know that we see what is happening and let those profiting while the working class suffers know that we know?  It’s his “Corporate Welfare”   campaign.  It starts with labeling the gas tank on his car and he hopes to find other ways to call out the issues with creativity.  He thinks perhaps writing on bills paid and in the memo line of checks (for those who still do that) would be good.  A couple of years ago, he took a similar stand on his own healthcare by taking his records and his future need for care (paid for in large part with Medicare dollars) away from a practice that spoke ill of government-supported healthcare.

My guy cannot travel to the next protest or afford to chase the activists and advocates around the country to protest the next assault that arises on the common folks.  His health won’t allow it.  He’ll have to let others do that, and he’ll let others grab whatever glory they wish to as leaders of movements or spokespersons for causes.  But he will take his stand in his way with his message, and maybe in the process he’ll reach another person or two or 10 who will join him.

That’s as wonderful an effort as I could ever want from this common fellow who I have been surprised and enlightened by more often than any think tank guru could ever imagine.  May each of us be lucky enough to have such an uncommon spirit that touches our lives.  And if you are so inclined, make a “corporate welfare” label of your own for something you know is part of the problem and take a picture.  Who knows, maybe just that shared knowledge will begin to strengthen the bond we have with one another that will be required to change this mess.

Happy Easter, all.

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