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Donna Smith

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

March 9th, 2011 8:06 AM

Trauma of the Working Class in America: Fray or Distraction?

All over America, working class people are trying hard just to maintain.  Jobs are not plentiful.  Good jobs are less so.  Most experts on the economy think it will be years, if ever, before the U.S. economy recovers to the point where unemployment dips much below 8 percent.
Think what you will about the will to survive and the drive to achieve, but it is not always possible for people to lift up and out fast enough to avoid horrible consequences for themselves and for their kids.
Last night, I watched a CBS News, 60 Minutes, segment on childhood poverty and homelessness in America.  Reluctant as many of us are to praise the mainstream media for doing much investigative reporting at all in recent years, this <a href="">segment</a> was astounding in its clarity and impact.
Listen to the kids in this segment.  Some go to bed hungry.  And they live in shabby motels within blocks of more touristy attractions near Disneyworld in Orlando.  Their shame is palpable.  Listen to the one young girl who says what so many of the kids feel – she believes somehow the struggles her family is having with money are her fault.

I wish CBS had gone on to contrast the piece with a swing through the bawdy and haughty neighborhoods where the wealthy Florida CEOs gate themselves off safely from the rest of us and where the recession has done a whole lot less damage to families and children, but I was thrilled to see the piece nonetheless.  Children always speak with such clarity and honesty that it’s harder to spin their messages.
I also watched in amazement this weekend as the same mainstream media continued to purposely ignore the tens of thousands of protestors still on the streets in Madison, WI, and the other growing protests by working people across the country.  It is a disgrace that we have to watch reports of what Sarah Palin is thinking about doing a few months from now with her political future while thousands of our fellow citizens fight just to make sure they have decent jobs now.  Our mainstream media’s devotion to the cult of celebrity is more than disturbing, it is self-fulfilling mass destruction of a whole class of people who are not decadent enough, wealthy enough or well-connected enough to plot the course of public discourse.
Part of me wants to believe that some of our elected officials are apart from and somehow above this cultural worship of wealth and stardom.  But in reading this week about what our President and his staff think really matters, I saw this piece by Jackie Calmes  of the New York Times:
“...Similarly, the White House mostly has sought to stay out of the fray in Madison, Wis., and other state capitals where Republican governors are battling public employee unions and Democratic lawmakers over collective bargaining rights. When West Wing officials discovered that the Democratic National Committee had mobilized Mr. Obama’s national network to support the protests, they angrily reined in the staff at the party headquarters.

“Administration officials said they saw such events beyond Washington as distractions from the optimistic ‘win the future’ message Mr. Obama introduced with his State of the Union address, exhorting the country to increase spending.”
Surely, surely, we don’t see the children CBS reported on from Central Florida as distractions, do we?  The homeless kids elsewhere in America?  The jobless?  How about the hundreds still dying every day in America who lack access to healthcare when they need it?  Distractions, one and all?
The reality is that if the mainstream media were to cover the trauma unfolding in America and cover the enormous protests on-going in Madison and beyond right here in the United States, many would be punished  by getting less access to report on and interview the President and his staff or others who might be somehow embarrassed by some real reporting work on conditions in America.  Producers and publishers know that if they show too much of the truth, it will cost them dearly in future reporting efforts.  And if the media outlets don’t get that access and those interviews, then they fear a loss of revenue that could follow if viewers sought their celebrity-fixes on other celebrity and corporately owned media outlets.  I understand the Catch-22. 
On the other hand, if reports were straightforward and done as well as the 60 Minutes segment, it would be very difficult for elected officials to run from the reality unfolding from sea to shining sea.  Then those same celebrity-hungry leaders might find it more difficult to shield themselves from distractions like pesky homeless children or unemployed citizens or sick people without healthcare and that reality or might at least seem more obvious in their self-selected oblivion.
I still recall the powerful segment 60 Minutes did some time ago about Yolanda Colemen of Las Vegas.  Yolanda was a young single-mother with cancer who became too ill to work, lost her job, then lost her insurance benefits, then lost the ability to fully cover her own treatment and finally had the hospital bed in which she was dying repossessed because she couldn’t pay for it out-of-pocket.  Creating that sort of “stardom” is what shakes people to act.
When we cannot stand to see the reality is exactly when we need to most.  We are not distractions.  The average citizens of this nation, the working class and the poor, far outnumber the wealthy and those who profit from our suffering, including the stars both in Hollywood and in Washington, DC.   But for today, I actually think I have to thank CBS for letting those beautiful children speak their truth.  It may be the only dignity they get in a very rough period of life and maybe in death which ought to be filled with joy – but for the distractions of poverty these beautiful, harmless children face in Mr. Obama’s America in 2011.

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