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

January 29th, 2011 10:20 PM

Will Attention Finally Be Paid to the Working Class?

“I don't say he's a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.”

I can never read or watch Arthur Miller’s play, “Death of a Salesman,” without thinking of my working class parents and their private terror. Attaining and holding onto even the most modest slivers of financial stability in America was not and is not an easy task, especially if one is from a lowly station.

Miller’s leading man, Willy Loman, has been disrespected, even mocked, by his son and others who see his life of struggle as a salesman as foolish and pointless. Willy’s wife, Linda, delivers the words that still call me to account whenever I think about the crushing difficulty of holding one’s head up high when playing by the societal rules and hard work have failed.

That’s the way I have been feeling. Disrespected – as if my life’s work in meaningless. And played for a fool -- as one side of the political spectrum tells me they know and own the will of the American people and the other claims victory for ending a recession still raging onward for so many millions of people.

Throughout the nation there is discomfort over the lack of attention paid to reality – to describing accurately and resolving justly the issues faced by the working class that is still suffering mightily while some gloat that the worst of the recession has passed. Around the world, there is growing unrest in places where the rights of the many have been restricted or abused by the privileged and powerful. The events unfolding in Egypt should give us all pause. People will only tolerate so much for so long.

I heard an Egyptian protestor say he has nothing left to lose – nothing at all. And millions of Americans are being pushed to that brink. Will we have a tipping point beyond which there is no turning back? Will disconnection grow into system-changing discontent?

When attention is not paid, when attention is deflected, and when attention is subverted, people find ways to reclaim the attention that gives dignity back somehow.

Attention is not being paid.

Watch our current elected officials as they pat one another on the back for all they have accomplished while simultaneously stripping away the potential for millions of us to ever claw our way back from our recessionary brinks – no matter how hard we may work. In the moments before he launched into the meat of the State of the Union address this week, President Obama grinned widely about the working class kid from Scranton (VP Joe Biden) and the young boy who started out sweeping the barroom floor for his father in Ohio (Speaker John Boehner). But I hate to tell them all, this is not post-World War II America with a boom in home building and manufacturing or other economic activity. We are not living in Ward and June Cleaver’s America. Sputnik was a long time ago.

The financial collapse that is still rubbing our faces and our hopes and dreams into the dirt is made to sound like a thing of the distant past in order to start reframing new political campaigns for 2012. Wall Street may be feeling better and inching to and fro around the 12,000 mark. But how many unemployed Americans are comforted today by the better stock performance and closer to paying their February mortgage or rent payments on Tuesday or the utility bills or buying the groceries or having real access to healthcare (not just a healthcare insurance bill waiting to be paid)?

How many times can we listen to them paint a picture of our world as they want us to see it instead of as it is? Americans know that health insurance is not healthcare. Yet we are told by both left and right, Democrat and Republican, that access to health insurance is either access to healthcare (as those who passed the recent Affordable Care Act and want to retain power want us to believe) or a government takeover of the healthcare system (as those who want to win back the White House want us to believe). Neither thing is true, and we know it.

Writing a check to Blue Cross or Humana or Aetna or Cigna or United Healthcare is not any guarantee at all of anything except that we’ve sent money to an insurance company. That’s it. Armies of administrative people make sure they guard the gates to the actual delivery of healthcare. The generals who make sure those administrative soldiers hold the line are far behind the scenes in white coats and locked offices to make sure no insurgent patients without payment in place actually get near them. In the healthcare delivery world, the disconnect between those who would give us care and those of us who need it is systemic and growing worse. Patients hear providers say they care deeply about patients when the reality is that they care deeply about profits. We know that. Yet, the fabrications continue.

Yet, they persist in lying to us as if simply telling us the lie over and over again will make it so. Healthcare isn’t the only public policy area in which the fabrications are plentiful. Let’s be more civil and non-violent, we’re told by many after a horrific shooting in Arizona. But allowing sick moms or dads or kids to die slow, suffering and lonely deaths without access to healthcare that could easily be provided in a saner and just healthcare system is a-OK. Killing innocents in war is OK even when we’re not sure the war is protecting anyone from much of anything. Very civil indeed. Choose an area of public policy and then just listen for the sales pitches.

Joe Biden isn’t terror-filled. John Boehner isn’t sweating a utility shut-off notice. Barack Obama isn’t worried for one moment that his daughters won’t be able to achieve their potential or take a school field trip or have a solid, balanced meal at least once every day. No, the folks who we elected to represent us haven’t got the capacity to pay attention to us and our reality – and it’s an equal opportunity political disconnect if we let it continue to be so.

We muddle onward like obedient and compliant millions of Willy and Linda Loman’s demanding in our living rooms to have attention paid but not yet demanding that where reality is being spun into mind-controlling, action-thwarting pabulum.

Until the truth is told widely by those of us living that truth, attention will not be finally paid to people such that we are, and we will risk a disconnect that ultimately pushes us away from any semblance of self-governance that our Constitution and our shared heritage taught us to imagine. And that disconnect will be irreparable.

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