Class is not about money

I realized recently that I grew up on the poor side of town. I did not grow up poor, mind you. I grew up with lots of love, a wonderful family and in a safe neighborhood in a small town. But I always thought of our lifestyle as “middle class.”

My family always had enough to eat, we never went without any basic necessities, clothing, health care or even luxuries like television and eventually a microwave. My sis and I shared a bedroom until I moved to the basement in high school so I could wake up earlier to run in the early pre-dawn hours.

But social class and income class are not the same thing. Both my parents had college degrees. Mom chose to stay home and raise her daughters until we were in middle and high school, when she went back to work part-time, as a substitute teacher. I just assumed that meant we were middle class.

My Dad was a teacher and a leader in the local community. All of the parents of the students he taught in the bilingual program treated him as a respected professional in our small town. Of course, some administrators and teachers were not as respectful. He had his share of good principals and a few racist.

middle class
CNN money: what is middle class anyway?

Recently my mother-in-law called herself “working class.” I was shocked. She has a master’s degree and she and her husband bought and sold homes together a few times during their history. So I always considered her middle class. But she considered herself working class. Probably it was more about her upbringing (to her) than any type of income category.

In contrast, my parents never bought a home. Not quite enough income from a teacher’s salary. We had the advantage of summers at Grandma’s house in Bemidji. So we did not go without space to enjoy ourselves in the summer, on a lake in Minnesota, no less. It was a long drive from Southern Wisconsin, but we had the picnic lunches that my Mom made, and there were rest areas for potty breaks. It was a blessing for us. We read books all, swam in the lake nearly every day, and there was plenty of introvert re-charge time.

bucky badger.JPG
Bucky Badger

By income standards, we probably would have been considered working class, or perhaps slightly less. In comparison to families with two working parents, mine were certainly not as well-off financially. But I always had what I needed. I always had a couple of new school outfits to start the year. There were a lot of farm kids in my school, so all of us had pretty similar income, or so I imagined.

***

 

juarez
Juarez, Mexico’s Murder Valley

I relied heavily on need-based financial aid for a private college, but being 2nd in my class in high school, I qualified for it. I won’t say I didn’t work hard for that.  It may have helped that my name belied my half-Mexican origin. But I was born in Wisconsin, not Juarez. Therein, by the grace of god, lies the difference. 

Why was I born here? Because my Mom fell in love with her guitar teacher when she studied in Mexico. And he fell in love with a Minnesotan woman, despite her mother serving as a chaperone on most of their dates. Why did I have the opportunities I have today? Because my family worked hard, and made sacrifices for me, so I could grow up healthy and happy.

I started thinking about people who use racism and class-ism to divide people. Take ahem… our Harasser-in-Chief. No matter how much money he makes, or pretends to make, he will always have NO class.

You know why? Because class, true class, is about how you treat people. It is about your character.

love and money
Photo credit link – Boston Globe

My father always treated the cooks and the janitors in his school as respectfully as he treated the other teachers. I learned to treat people as equals, not as superior or inferior due to their education or social status. I am really proud that both my Mom and Dad taught me that the measure of a good person is in how kindly you treat others.

To be a classy person is to realize that it is not about what you have, or what you do. There is honor in ALL work, and there is compassion for those who may not have work right now. There is a belief that ALL people are worthy of human dignity, no matter their skin color, creed, religion, or national origin. America was founded on these principles, that all people were created equal, which is why I am still proud to call this home.

 

 

 

Why Now?

I speculated with my husband a few weeks ago about why the #MeToo campaign has really gained traction now, finally, after all these decades of bad behavior. I have a theory that so many women of my generation watched what happened to Anita Hill, and said, “shit, that is NOT worth it” and remained silent.

There are factors like “social proof” in terms of watching other women reporting harassment and abuse, and having nothing happen. Or worse, you see how coming forward hurts others careers when speak up, so you decide it will not help your career to report.

But then when the Harasser in Chief took office, there was a cascade of old trauma that came to the fore, and women started to think, why NOT now? If we cannot lash out at the most powerful predator, at least let us expose the ones that are within reach. That was my theory, anyway. I also saw a possible tipping point after the Harvey Weinstein story really took hold, an unleashing of all these incidents that could no longer be joked about or contained.

why now ashwini tambe photo.JPG
Photo credit link – article from Ashwini Tambe

When I listened to the Hidden Brain podcast entitled “Why Now?” published on February 5, 2018, I was happy to note there is an actual term for this concept from social science called “horizontal action.” It originates from the concept of “horizontal violence” where it has been found that in colonial regimes, when people cannot lash out against the ruler, they lash out against people in their own lives.

When the pressure builds up and cannot blow the top off of a problem, it comes out sideways. Feminist studies professor Ashwini Tambe explains that “the election of Trump has served as a trigger, and it has provoked a great fury and impatience because he represents for many people the ultimate unpunished predator.” Horizontal action is a way that women have channeled in their lives their anger at the misogyny that has been building for far too long.

“It is so unbelievable that we have a president, who is the leader of the free world and does not care about the rights of women” (quote from the podcast). When someone who has bragged about kissing women and touching them against their will as though he owned them becomes our leader, we find ways to bring at men to account who committed other offenses.

This totally makes sense to me.

The podcast also describes other phenomena like “preference falsification” which blinds regimes to their citizen’s growing dissatisfaction. This describes how it seems surprising that the Wall came down, even when it looked like the Soviet Union may have been strong.

Please listen to this episode of Hidden Brain. I think it really helps to explain the psychology behind the secrecy of the abuse, and the reason many women stayed silent. We should not discount the trauma that shut people down who are in vulnerable circumstances.

We also need to keep speaking up and setting new norms around behavior, even though we may be perceived as “ugly” instead of polite. Women have been held back by centuries (perhaps millennia) of intimidation, oppression and violence.

It is time to hold men accountable and call out behavior that is wrong. At least, seeing how many women are doing this around us helps us know we are not alone. It is time to stop blaming victims for their inability to speak up earlier. We can all be a part of the solution to this problem now.

 

Beatriz at dinner

I am about to write a movie review. I have not yet done this, so why not? It’s a Friday post and Fridays are for fun.

Actually the movie is fairly serious, and it explores the relationships between different cultures, classes, and the nature of healing. I watched it once on my way to Mexico this week and three days later on the way back, because I was fascinated by the Latina archetype and also the male “planet rape” archetype.

I encourage you to see this movie. It was released at Sundance and premiered in the U.S. on June 9, 2017. In November it won acclaim from the National Board of Review as a Top Ten Independent Film. It is a shorter film, only about 83 minutes, and most of it takes place on one day of Beatriz’ life.

Beatriz

Salma Hayek is of course brilliant in the role, though I kept on seeing her as “Frida Kahlo” in my mind. No harm of course. Frida was also an “old soul.” Her thesis in the movie is that “the earth is very sick and it needs old souls to help her heal.” I cannot argue with that as an apt metaphor for the kind of environmental disaster we are courting now.

I do not want to give you any spoilers, but John Lithgow plays an excellent greedy and voracious business man. He is a little reminiscent of Trump, narcissistic and self-aggrandizing. But there is a more nuanced look at what may have been pain in his past, which Beatriz can access in her very unique way. In a visceral way, this film demonstrates to us that greed is a cancer. It is a cancer that is destroying the planet.

The film was beautiful visually and the characters each played very convincingly in their roles. I am glad there are films like this being made. Though it will probably make a quiet splash, as a movie lacking in violence and sex, I hope it makes an impact. Our psyches need to be touched and healed by such films. It is how we will eventually heal the planet, by waking up to all the ways in which we have abused it.

Namaste, amigos y amigas! Enjoy your weekend!

Oh Suzy-Q

If you drive through Mason City, Iowa there is a tiny little “greasy spoon” diner called Suzy-Q Cafe. It seats only 8 people inside around a main counter, and an owner who knows the locals by name. Outside there are a few tables for the summer season, when there is more foot traffic near the shops and mall to bring people in.

SuzyQ 1
Photo taken by my husband Nov 23, 2017

My husband and I were trying to find a small non-chain cafe to stop for some brunch so we could find some decent bacon and eggs (ham for him) and we had a difficult time in some of the towns, which had only Subway, Taco Johns and McDonald’s.  Even though I occasionally spring for a happy meal when I have a hankering for a few fries, I generally avoid fast food restaurants.

The owner of the restaurant had stepped out for a few moments to run and errand, and his helper had graciously offered us the breakfast or lunch choices (it was around 10a.m.). The helper, good intentions and all, had a little trouble with the bacon, however. In a few minutes when the owner returned seeing the burned bacon, he started from scratch and made us the classic breakfast with bacon (or ham), eggs, hash browns and toast. They both apologized profusely about the delay, and we were not in a hurry so to us it was no big deal.

We talked a bit about how sad it is that most towns are not able to sustain little diners like this. The owner told us about how he wanted to price his meals reasonably, but not being able to get volume discounts on the food, like the big chains, it is difficult to do that. We talked about the fact that when big highways get build to bypass small towns, it often results in the small towns losing out on possible local business from people like us, who have no incentive to stop.

SuzyQ 2
Photo captured by my husband Nov 23, 2017

Several other diners appeared to be people he knew and/or neighbors of his. As one of his diners came in they began talking about the recent city council race in which he is running for a seat on the council. Last election cycle he had put his name on the ballot to see if name recognition would be a factor, but did not run a campaign. This year, it turned out he decided to campaign “for real” and try to get the word out among neighbors and friends, and to get them registered to vote. Since there were at least 3 people vying for each office, and none received a majority, they will have a runoff election on December 5th.

I know nothing about his politics and I did not even get his name. However, when I did a quick search of city council races in Mason City, Iowa I found an article in the Globe Gazette that cited voter turnout as being the highest in 20 years. Granted there were issues like a “River Renaissance” investment on the ballot, so that surely influenced turnout.

To me this is what our political system needs: people like this small business owner, who talk with people every day about their concerns and issues. Whatever the party, and some city council elections do not even list party affiliation (I have not looked into this, since I am not voting).

What if more people like this became a part of our political landscape? I think it would alter our democracy for the better. Granted, running for the highest office in the land without so much a stint on a city council is not something I believe is fruitful. But when you start with grassroots democracy, I think people can win. Public service is an honorable responsibility. More honorable people need to consider getting involved.

 

On grief and elections

It has now been a year since that strange and surreal day, the confirmation of my suspicions that we are deeply divided people in this nation. In the weeks leading up to the election, I began to volunteer for my candidate, Hillary Clinton, hoping she would make history and become the first woman President of the United States. After nearly 100 years with the right to vote, women were poised to break that final glass ceiling in the political realm.

 

Donald and Hillary
Photo from Wikipedia entry on 2016 Presidential Election

But as I got out door-knocking and visiting with people who had been identified as “registered Democrats” or “leaning Democrats” I was surprised to find that the support was lukewarm at best. Almost all of the women I spoke with were enthusiastic and exciting to vote for Hillary. But many of the men who would talk with me were not happy about their choices. One man, returning from home after work, perhaps, saw me leave some literature near the door after I had door-knocked and nobody was home asked me angrily: “What are you doing at my house?”  When I explained to him that I was door-knocking to ask people to get out to vote, he told me he had already voted.

In Minnesota we have early absentee voting, which allows you to vote by mail prior to the election day. It makes things much more convenient, especially for working people who find it harder to visit the polls on a work day. So he probably had already voted. I am fairly certain his aggressive tone indicated that he had not voted for my candidate.

It was a shock for many people, including the news media who seemed fairly amazed and shocked that the Republican candidate with no experience actually pulled it off, a victory with no political experience. But for me, that week before the election, I had been growing increasingly alarmed with the response I was getting from registered or leaning Democrats in St. Paul. Granted, I had not taken the “temperature” on the Republican side, but I had thought Republicans would be as appalled and angry with the sexist and racist remarks that they might defect, or at the very least, vote Independent.

So my reaction on election night was not one of shock, but actually one of grief. I felt deep grief for the direction of our country, for the state of consciousness that had brought us to this outcome. But oddly, I got very curious instead of getting angry. Don’t get me wrong. The anger was there, of course. It was just that I really wanted to understand how we got here, how we had all missed it. I ordered JD Vance’ Hillbilly Elegy and I started talking with a few people with whom I disagreed about the political situation.

I began to realize that my echo chambers were not the same as “their” echo chambers. We had been inhabiting different worlds all along. But as my conversations deepened, I kept realizing that our values were not all that different.

There is so much more I will write about on this topic, but for today, I will need to prepare for meetings with my team during this work trip. Suffice it to say that I am still grieving one year later, for the loss of civility that our country has suffered. I grieve for those who do not have agency and who’s lives are deeply affected by policies that will continue to push them into poverty and struggle. I grieve for the families of Latinos living in this country, including native born citizens and immigrants, documented and undocumented. I grieve for the ideal of America, which has been tarnished worldwide, and damaged by someone who is thoughtless with his words, and callous in his feelings.

Grief takes time and distance to process. And it is hard work, but it is necessary. We must allow ourselves the time and space for this, or we cannot get back to the hard work of repairing the rifts of this country, and the world. We are all connected to each other as people by a power greater than ourselves. Call it god, nature, or chi, it will always call us back. That is the faith I have, that we can somehow return. In this “death” of the ideal I thought we embodied as a country, I have a deep belief that we can be re-born into something greater. 

 

Stop Feeding the Troll

When it comes to internet trolls, and we might define “the Donald” as one of them, I keep wondering why we continue to pay attention to them. They use their outrageous statements to get a “rise’ out of people and sadly, it so often succeeds. I ran across a funny story yesterday regarding the temporary disappearance of a certain twitter account and I could not help but be amazed by our addiction to the tweet stream.

I tend to avoid most news media these days (except in carefully measured doses, to be an informed citizen). I do not follow the daily tweets of the president. To me, giving any attention at all to his declarations is the way we give our power away. What if we ignored what he had to say, and just focused on solving problems that need our collective attention?

My prediction is that, by ignoring the troll and not feeding him with attention, his power will wither eventually and die. Paradoxically, regular public outcry over his Twitter feed is what allows it to gain momentum. That seems exactly the wrong strategy to me. My suggestion is that people resist being drawn into that vortex. It is not a dialogue, it is merely declarative in nature, and it only serves one purpose: to upset people and to gain attention.

Troll

Instead let us engage in planning for the midterm elections and finding leaders that can speak for us, that can represent us. Let us engage in active dialogue about the values that matter to us, and in creative pursuit of how to achieve those goals. Let us turn away from the perpetual distraction of these inflammatory remarks, and go back to the more productive work of following leaders who actually make a difference. We may need to do more research on these folks.

They are the ones doing the diligent work of making change in the world, and not always tooting their own horns, and bragging about their achievements. But they are out there, and though they may not actively use Twitter to broadcast their every thought, they are among us. I gave it up Twitter years ago when I realized it distracted this already ADD-oid person far too much, and would interrupt my work unnecessarily. In some ways I wonder: why is Twitter still a thing? Why have we not outgrown it? Some of us have, I suppose, but the attention span we cultivate in this culture is the one of 140 characters, sadly. I do not actually believe we are this small, as a culture.

Here is my suggestion and maybe a challenge to you: notice what happens when you ignore the latest tweet by a notable person. Here’s what I notice: absolutely nothing. There is peace, there is tranquility, there is energy for me to pursue the things that matter to me. May you, my dear readers, ignore the internet Trolls, live your lives and spend your time in ways that nourish and sustain you.