Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mama May Have, Papa May Have, But God Bless the Child Who's Got His Own

I think the link between the topic of the magazines with that of my job is what I learn of people and power from each. In this job, especially this project, which deals with income and where individuals fit in the economy, has shown me, up close and in intimate detail, how absolutely unjust our society is. I mean, I knew how it was, but the last few months I've been talking with a few of the people who have become mind-bogglingly wealthy in this economy and to some people who are at the very bottom of it.

So far, every one of the wealthy people have gotten that way by creating a business that is in the medical field (I have two interviews set up for this coming week with wealthy men; lets see if the trend follows). Several of the individuals I've interviewed, lower-class folks and some middle-class ones, do not have health insurance because they can't afford it. The wealthy people seemed like nice people, kind people. They all give a lot of money to charities and seem like they would never deliberately hurt another person but I can't imagine they would support a change in the structure of our health care system. Maybe I'm wrong, but I doubt they would willingly go from this for-profit way of providing health care to a system which allowed all citizens access to the same health care unless they could see some way to make lots of money out of it. The rich men running insurance companies are certainly never going to support those changes. Unless the wealthy back the needed change, I can't see the change ever happening. Our country is too splintered, too divided by other issues and self-satisfied individualism to unite into a grass-roots, populist movement to make any positive changes. The "I've got mine/bootstraps" mentality rules, I'm afraid.

There's that cynicism again.


Jeanne said...

"Unless the wealthy back the needed change, I can't see the change ever happening."

This is an interesting statement and goes very much against what I know of history and sociology (which, I might add, isn't a LOT, but enough for me to have hope).

Huge changes happened at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century because lots of people got together and worked across 'affinities'. That is, unions worked with the women's movement which worked with socialists to change labor laws and get the vote for women.

The wealthy wanted none of this changed and fought tooth and nail against it.

Huge changes happened in the 50's, 60's, and 70's for African Americans and women. Again these changes happened because people worked across 'affinities.'

The wealthy didn't want those changes either.

Both times, there was a considerable backlash (the anti-communist sentiment in the 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's; the 80's, 90's and now as a backlash to the civil rights and women's movements).

So if we as Friends want to make change, what do we have to do?

Figure out as Friends how to work outside of our mostly white, very middle and owning class circles and work across race and class (and citizenship) lines.

I honestly don't have hope for Friends to figure that out, though. I think we're too homogeneous for that.

What I know of sociology is this: the least among us are the ones that will rise and fight oppression.

So the massive demonstrations last year by immigrants over the anti-immigration sentiment in the US gave me hope.

Are you familiar with George Lakey or his work as a sociologist? He grew up working class and has done a lot of activist work around class. He has an interest now in class and Quakers because he believes we are going to become extinct because of our homogeneousness (if that's a word!) Check him out when you get a chance. If you go to the FGC Gathering, he offers a workshop on Quakers and Social Class, which is AMAZING. And I think you'd get something out of it.

:-) Jeanne or Jeanne

Friendly Mama said...

I wasn't meaning to say that change is impossible, only that, from my perspective, it seems unlikely in the immediate future. What I see is that, for much of our society, if an issue does not directly impact a person, they don't want to make a stand about it (with the exception of abortion rights). People may give lip service to things like "improving our nation's health care system" but when it comes down to it, it seems like we, as a culture, don't have the attention span to create positive change. If a leader comes along with a message of positive change that gets the attention of the people, there's always an opposing person to refute the good message. For goodness sake; there are still politicians in Washington saying there is no such thing as global warming and people are still supporting these guys! When I hear them speak I feel overwhelmed by the seeming insurmountability of the willful ignorance of typical North Americans (and I include some of my own extended family in this mass).

A survey I worked on last year had a series of questions about global warming. We asked which things, from a series of events, most troubled the respondent. The events included sea levels rising, extinction of polar bears, communities of native Alaskans displaced, etc. You wouldn't believe how many people said they didn't really care about any of it because none of those events impacted them.

I agree with you that those people with the most to gain will be the catalyst for the most dramatic change. I welcome and support those folks willing to stand up for human rights and shake us all up.

Chuck Fager did a workshop here about 6 months ago. He talked about how we Quakers march in all the peace rallies and sign all the petitions but don't ever really put ourselves out. (I don't necessarily agree with him on that. At least here in Nashville, I see my Quaker friends doing work that has great and profound impact through their jobs in teaching, social work, nursing, etc.) I think what he was saying relates to what you're on to about Quaker homogeneity. We're all in our happy, liberal comfort zone and don't really want to get our hands dirty. We need a revival.

I will keep my ears open for George Lakey. Sounds like I would find his work interesting. He's co-written a book I'll keep my eyes out for. Thanks!