I had a powerful week and have been spending most of this morning trying to sort it all out – thinking maybe there was some way I could write about the thoughts spinning around in my head. And just now the thought came to me that the theme going on is related to class struggles in the US. I can’t really pull any other theme together, so I thought I’d write about my week chronologically and maybe that act, or discussion that follows, will help calm down some of this noise in my head. So, here’s my week:
I’m watching c-span book tv and Lewis Lapham is being interviewed. They show a clip from a documentary he made a few years ago titled The American Ruling Class. It looks real interesting so I go to look for more information about it and find a clip on youtube from the movie.
In the clip, Barbara Ehrenreich (author of “Nickled and Dimed”) schools a young Yale grad about the reality of the lives of those in the “other America.” When he talks about the philanthropy of the ruling class, she responds by saying:
Philanthropy…Don’t tell me about philanthropy Jack. The real philanthropists in our society are the people who work for less than they can actually live on. Because they are giving of their time and energy and talents all the time so that people like you can be dressed well and fed cheaply and so on. They’re giving to you.
I work for a small non-profit that is in the midst of a $1.8 million capital campaign. This means occassionally having meetings with the “urber wealthy” in this community to ask for donations. I always leave those meetings feeling conflicted. In order to do my job and support the work we are trying to do in the community – I need to ask for this funding. But meeting with these people and keeping my mouth shut about what I REALLY want to say leaves me feeling tainted.
On Monday we met with a man who is one of the most wealthy people in the state. He is also one of the most self-centered arrogant people I have met in my life. He doesn’t know if he’ll make enough money from his hedge funds this year to be able to make a donation. We all know its these types that control things in this country – but it feels like a kick in the gut to actually meet one of them – much less to have to grovel and ask for his spare change.
What’s going on back at the office is that a few staff worked late last night taking a couple of kids to an auction so that maybe they could find a bicycle they could afford for them. And then there’s the kid whose mom is drug addicted so he lives with his grandmother on her social security. He was offered an internship with our City Attorney this summer because he worked himself out of special ed, was mainstreamed and got straight A’s. But he doesn’t have any clothes to wear for the internship. So a couple of days ago our staff person took him shopping.
My book group has its monthly meeting and we’re talking about Where We Stand: Class Matters by bell hooks (is your head spinning yet???) We had a discussion about our unconscious forms of classism and how we might go about deciding “what is enough” so that we can get out of the greed game.
Ever since I read an article about a speech that David Simon (creator of the HBO series “The Wire”) gave a few weeks ago, I’ve been watching season two being replayed on BET on Thursday nights. As I was watching this week, I looked for clips of Simon on youtube and found the whole speech in three segments. I think this man is a true prophet of the 21st century. Here is the first segment of his speech and I’ll give links for the next two below for those that have 25-30 minutes to watch the whole thing:
Here’s clip two
Here’s clip three
I highly recommend watching the whole thing. I credit David Simon with helping me integrate what I do professionally (working with kids and families in an urban area) with my broader interest in public affairs. I know there are huge issues facing this country. But for me, nothing is more important than his assertion that in our post-industrial economy, our elevation of capitalism to a sacred position, means that every day “human beings are worth less.” (his words) The effect this has on our urban areas and the kids and families who live in them is one of the great challenges of our time.
Here’s a clip from the 4th season of “The Wire,” which focuses on kids in middle school. It could be some of our staff at work – I’ve been part of these kinds of conversations with them:
So, that’s my week and here I sit trying to make sense of it all. David Simon admits he doesn’t have answers – he’s just trying to wake us all up to what is happening. I don’t have any answers either. I’ll just keep trying to help a few kids in St. Paul have a chance. But I think we need to do better than that – somehow.