I leave this town of Washington as I have found it…exhausted. I first arrived worn out from a thirty hour bus trip and I now return to my undisclosed location weary and worn from a wonderfully moving experience. My first impression of Washington was of a cold and sterile city and for the buildings, at least, that remains true. But the people of D.C. whom I have met are warm and friendly. The type “A” personalities still roam the streets with their faux Secret Service stone faces and they do look and dress an awful lot like Karl Rove and David Gergan, but to the real people in Washington D.C. they are largely ignored.
The “Stop the Machine” rally was for me a huge success; it has restored my faith in the general goodness and wisdom of the people of this nation. I have met Americans of every age, race and station and they are good. They have put down the tools of their lives; they have left their jobs and their loved ones and traveled thousands of miles to come here to address their government. Yet even more so, they had come here to share their experiences of this American life in twenty first century America.
Most vividly, I will remember the mothers who have lost their children needlessly and senselessly, either through insurance executive’s greedy ineptitude or Pentagon general’s deadly incompetence. How carelessly they throw away a mother’s child for transient or illusionary gain, “The generals sat as the lines on the map they moved from side to side.”
Freedom Plaza was filled with stories, American stories, stories that could be told nowhere else or in no other land. These stories were ironically framed for me because while I lived in Freedom Plaza by day I stayed in a hostel filled with European travelers by night. These visitors to America were perplexed and confused and were unable to wrap their minds around and understand; why do we have a health care crisis, why do we have a home foreclosure crisis? A young woman from Scotland who had just graduated from law school and owed nothing in student loans asked, “What do you do if you get very sick?”
“You die,” I explained,
“No really,” she answered,
“Really,” I repeated.
I could tell from her face that either she really didn’t understand or she just did not believe me. I contrast that with our waitress at the Hard Rock Café who came to Washington D.C. from South Carolina with her degree in international studies and a $100,000 in student loan debt tucked under her arm. I met another woman named Colleen in the plaza the next day; she had recently been laid off from her job at a photography company. As I related to her the story of our waitress, Colleen answered, “110,000.”
“Pardon me?” I asked,
She repeated, “110,000 I have $110,000 in student loan debt and my monthly unemployment benefit is $800 per month and my student loan payment is $400 per month.” These American stories make you understand that this event isn’t a joke or a game but a life and death blood struggle. We must reform Wall Street and reform our government for there is no other option. We cannot live as wage slaves or peons. We cannot continue to punish the best and brightest of our young with crushing debt, we cannot allow them to be punished for trying to improve themselves and in the process trying to improve America.
One of the chants we recited as we marched through the streets of Washington went like this: “How do we end the deficit?” – “End the wars, tax the rich!” it was true because it points out the waste but it is false because it misses the human point entirely. Our military men and women took an oath to defend this country and not to assault other countries. Many were lured into the military with promises of career training and educational opportunities. They found themselves instead trapped and used, exploited and redeployed again and again. Even if these adventures did not cost our treasury a single dime the cost to our young people is still too high.
These stories change you forever, they are not drops of ink on a page but real flesh and blood people who you have touched and hugged. They are real, they exist, they suffer and they cry real tears of real loss. They don’t have lobbyists, influence or pull, they only have us. They only have you and me and we must not let them down. If there is an occupy demonstration in your town or near you, try to participate. If you can’t participate then donate. If you can do nothing else but cheer them on, then cheer them on. As I marched through the streets of Washington D.C. a thumbs up from a spectator or a car horn blown in support lifted the spirits of the demonstrators and cheered them on.
There is more at stake here than mere political ideas or causes, there are lives in the balance, yours and mine, your children’s and my children’s and the very idea of representative government itself.
Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people.
The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism —ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.
The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.
Both lessons hit home.
Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is
growing. This concentration is seriously impairing the economic effectiveness of private enterprise as a way of providing employment for labor and capital and as a way of assuring a more equitable distribution of income and earnings among the people of the nation as a whole.”
– Franklin Delano Roosevelt
David Glenn Cox is a senior staff writer for The Leftist Review. He has just returned from the protests in Freedom Plaza, Washington D.C.