I’m not someone who would claim to be terribly politically astute. Some might say I even stick my head in the sand from time-to-time. This isn’t out of a desire for ignorance, though. In truth, if I pay too close of attention to the details of the state of our current government, I can get pretty upset. There’s just a lot of…mess…and it seems insurmountable, so I focus on my more immediate personal stresses which I can potentially control rather than those I feel I have no power over. Probably a pretty common American state-of-mind.
Because of that, I don’t watch the news religiously. However, I have picked up a few reports over the last year which have caught my eye regarding fast food workers throughout the country who are staging protests to try and increase minimum wage to $15.00/hour.
My first reaction was, “woah, there, kids! That’s a pretty lofty request!” In truth, I don’t personally currently make as much as they’re asking for, and I work as a freelance writer which could be considered more of a “skilled” position.
Watching the picketers on the news this morning, after my initial “say what?” reaction to their financial goals, I thought, “ya know what? They work hard! They put up with a lot of stuff between corporate nonsense and entitled customers. And most of us rely on them for at least a few meals a month when we’re in a rush.” I could go off on a tangent about the health pitfalls of fast food, but I think we’re all pretty aware of that fact. However, there are families who can’t afford more than fast food when they go out to eat. It’s a part of our culture, and a service is, indeed, provided.
This all got my mind spinning. Fast food workers are the wait staff and the cooks and the cleaning crew. Some of them do their jobs really well, too. Not a skilled position? I don’t know if I could do it, day in and day out, yet we want them to survive working crappy shifts and weekends on $8/hour?
Mr. Ronald Octavius McDonald’s yellow jumpsuit is probably actually plated in gold. When’s the last time he dealt with a grease burn in order to get the fries out on time? Perhaps life in these United States would be better if businesses were forced to pay employees based on profit margins instead of minimum wages.
Which made me realize, again, how lacking in knowledge I am about both politics and economics. There’s a name for that very thing, right? I probably put it my short term memory at some point in order to pass a big test, or something.
Socialism. Is that what I’m looking for? I had to hit the internet to confirm, and of course, all web info should be thoroughly vetted before stated as fact, but thanks to “Simple English Wikipedia” (i.e. Wikipedia for dummies) I got a good refresher on Marixism, Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism.
And how about that Communism? My early exposure to this label were those black-and-white film clips of the McCarthy trials and thinking how awful blacklisting must have been. However, I still also took from those images that “Communism is bad” (mmm’kay). As I read more about Communism today I’m realizing, “isn’t that what we call ‘cooperatives’ or ‘co-ops’ in American society?”
So think about that for a second. “Cooperative.” That’s a good word, right? When you have cooperation, you have a well-oiled, drama free machine, where everyone is getting their due, no? Is such a thing possible in a fair and just way as a societal whole?
But that is what’s great about America, right? We have that choice. We can go join a cooperative and be a thinly veiled Communist. We can own a business, underpay our workers, and be a wealthy Capitalist. And yes, these opportunities are available to everyone. You can always find that person who says, “I had no one and nothing and I was out on the street, and now I own this amazingly successful business and I’m giving back to my community by hiring homeless people.” Ya know, stuff like that there. It’s out there. And it’s good. It’s America.
But good gravy do we Americanos like to complain a lot. Why? Because all of that choice means that many people don’t make the best choices. And the people who are restrained with their choices get pissed at the idea of picking up the tab for the ones who don’t give a hang.
This is where I don’t see eye-to-eye with some of my more right-wing brethren. I have friends who consider themselves Republican for one reason – they don’t want their pay docked so that some crack addict gets welfare and food stamps and healthcare on their dime. They don’t care about gay marriage and abortion – live and let live. They want their money from their job to go in their wallets and no one else’s. And that makes sense, right?
The problem that I have buying into this focus is that there are people taking advantage of the “system” on the top and bottom. Those wealthy business owners so poorly paying the sore-footed fast food workers who allow them to jet-set around and buy what they want when they want it without having to have a nervous breakdown over finding the best deal on a winter coat for their sons (yeah…that was me last year) are truly taking advantage of “the system” for selfish reasons which do not better our society. That is just too “me-me-me” for me.
However, I get the other concern. I also know (boy do I know!) people who milk disability and unemployment and government programs and still have their expensive cell phones and Starbucks coffee every day and it’s like, “come on. Get a job. Tighten your belt. At least do as much as I’m doing if you want help from me. Make an effort!”
I just think it’s important to realize that fat-cat advantage-taking business owners and low-life, lazy advantage taking unemployed people are extremes. In the middle are the majority of people just trying to make it. Some of them have the means to own their own businesses or go to school for high paying careers. Some have to temporarily take advantage of government assistance so they can feed and clothe their families while they diligently search for gainful employment.
We are not a perfect country. We’re young. We’re like teenagers who project that they’re cooler than they are but yet deep down we have really low self-esteem and poor confidence. We get caught up in a “we’re number one” mentality, some of us, rather than learning from the world around us and the history behind us. Yet, we sit back and grumble all the while when things don’t go the way we personally believe they should.
Many of us are much like Waldorf and Statler on the muppets. We sit in the balcony and pass judgment on our collective culture but we aren’t in there doing anything to change it. If you want a better show, get in there and get involved, right? Putting others down and cynically laughing at the negatives like Waldorf and Statler separates us rather than uniting us. Isn’t it supposed to be the United States.
So, I say the fast food workers deserve more, for sure. I think every person who sets an alarm, does what they can to get to their job on time, works hard, and provides a service to our collective society deserves to not struggle just to pay rent or live in places that make it dangerous for their children to go outside. However, no matter what situation we are born into, this amazing country does provide each and every one of us with as many doors to walk through as the climax scene in “Monsters, Inc.”
Just a few days ago, I was at the Salvation Army looking for clothes for my kids. I’m not destitute, but I like taking advantage of hand-me-downs. Kids grow so fast, I’ve got access to a washer and dryer, and I’ve paid $2 for something nicer than I can get for $20 at Target or the mall. Choice. America.
While I was browsing the hoodies and thermals and pants for my boys, I was eavesdropping on a conversation between two employees of the Salvation Army. They were talking as fast as they were stocking and organizing. My first thought was how amusing it was to hear people using the term “baby daddy” in a non-satirical way. However, as I listened more closely, I was impressed.
These two women were from a different life than mine – a completely unique culture to the one I have always experienced. They were of two different generations, but both of them were clearly used to seeing young girls get pregnant, and then pregnant, and then pregnant again, sometimes with multiple “baby daddies” (that’s a quote – not a Waldorf and Statler judgment, I swear! “Did she just say ‘baby daddy??!’ Bwa ha ha ha ha ha!”
They were vibing. They saw eye-to-eye and their passionate conversation centered on one main point for the young girl who was probably about 18. It would be absolutely foolish for her to follow in her friend’s footsteps and keep having kids. She had one son, and that had taken so much of her time and energy already. If she had more, it would take her away from her main goal which was to finish school and make a decent life for herself and her little man.
Yes! I wanted to high five her or something but I just listened while pretending to be focused on the Shaun White hoodies I was scoring for $1.25 a pop. Their conversation style was more cyclical than linear. The same thing was said over and over, and they “mmm-hmmm’d” each other and repeated one another’s sentiments in a way that was clearly culturally appropriate for them.
It was refreshing, though, because this is an example of someone who I wouldn’t mind having a bit of my tax money for help. This girl was working, she had a good head on her shoulders, she was abstaining from unprotected pre-marital relations with any potential “baby daddies” because she recognized the dead end that would be for her at this point in her life. And she was going to get her degree, no matter how many shifts she had to work at the Salvation Army.
And while a part of me pompously though, “oh, this girl…she just didn’t have the opportunities like I had at her age. She deserves a break!” maybe we’re not so different after all. You can make an argument that I, at 40, am shopping at the Salvation Army and facing a big fat student loan of my own. These are sacrifices I’m making to better mine and my children’s lives. My country makes it possible to do all of these things no matter what family or city or culture you are born into.
Point being, a whole lot of us use the system to be a better part of the system. The ones that abuse things at the top and the bottom are easy targets. They stand out. They’re offensive. But they aren’t the majority. So perhaps rather than getting all politically kafuffled about the system or the abuse of the system, we should focus on the democracy that is our country: choice. Without it, there could be a very stifling structure and a potentially boring existence – cogs in a wheel. With it, most of us still feel like cogs in a wheel, but at least we have a lot of wheels to choose from.