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They, Too, Sing America…

July 19, 2011

Charles Blow at the New York Times has an opinion piece out titled: They, Too, Sing America.  I recommend everyone either read it here or take the link to the article to read it.

Blow borrowed the title from the poem by Langston Hughes titled: I, Too, Sing America.  I read this poem in an American Literature class I was taking when I was pursuing my undergraduate degree at the University of Washington, Seattle.  I found it to be poignant, and worthy of thought as it was written in 1925.

Here is the text of: I, Too, Sing, America

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.

Charles Blow’s piece: They, Too, Sing America is as follows:

Last week I spent a few days in the Deep South — a thousand miles from the moneyed canyons of Manhattan and the prattle of Washington politics — talking to everyday people, blue-collar workers, people not trying to win the future so much as survive the present.

They do hard jobs and odd jobs — any work they can find to keep the lights on and the children fed.

No one mentioned the asinine argument about the debt ceiling. No one. Life is pressing down on them so hard that they can barely breathe. They just want Washington to work, the way they do.

They are honest people who do honest work — crack-the-bones work; lift-it, chop-it, empty-it, glide-it-in-smooth work; feel-the-flames-up-close work; crawl-down-in-there work — things that no one wants to do but that someone must.

They are women whose skin glistens from steam and sweat, whose hands stay damp from being dipped in buckets and dried on aprons. They are men who work in boots with steel toes, the kind that don’t take shining, the kind that lean over and tell stories when you take them off.

They are people whose bodies melt every night in a hot bath, then stiffen by sunrise, so much so that it takes pills for them to get out of bed without pain.

They, too, sing America. But they’re the ones less talked about — either not glamorous enough or rancorous enough. They are the ones without champions, waiting for Democrats to gather the gumption to defend the working poor with the same ferocity with which Republicans protect the filthy rich, waiting for a tomorrow that never comes.

The reason that I chose to post the poem by Langston Hughes, and the opinion piece by Charles Blow is because I think both articles are indicative of a problem that we have in society today, this same problem was evident back in Langston Hughes’s day as well.

As a nation we were supposed to have overcome policies that defend the indefensible, but that is not what has happened.  As Mr. Blow succinctly points out: “They are the ones without champions, waiting for Democrats to gather the gumption to defend the working poor with the same ferocity with which the Republicans protect the filthy rich, waiting for a tomorrow that never comes.”

I fear that our body politic is so bought and paid for by deep-pocketed interests that Mr. Blow is correct and that the tomorrow which the poor and middle class is waiting for, will never come.  The only idea that I can come up with for why the Republicans so strongly defend the filthy rich, and that Democrats are now shying away from defending the middle class is that our politicians are so corrupted with money, fund-raising, and trying to stay in office that they are legislating for the wealthy, so naturally, the wealthy are the people who the laws are written to protect.

People think of them as somehow part of America’s past. But not so. No, most aren’t STEM workers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers), who grow up high where all can see. But they are the root, underfoot and out of sight, growing just the same.

The Economics and Statistics Administration of the Department of Commerce issued a report this week that touted STEM jobs as “driving our nation’s innovation and competitiveness,” having higher wages, and projected to grow “by 17 percent from 2008 to 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations.”

But there’s another side to that story.

As the Bureau of Labor Statistics points out, half of the top 30 occupations expected to see the largest job growth over the same period, and seven of the top 10, are low-wage or very low-wage jobs. Only eight even require a degree. Most simply require on-the-job training.

The people who work these jobs are the backbone of this country, and will continue to be. In fact, Washington could learn a lot about backbone from listening to them. We would all be better served by politicians who work as they do — willing to do the things that no one wants to do but that someone must.

I think this nation needs very strong populist candidates in all upcoming local, state, and federal elections.  Candidates are needed who can strongly articulate the message that is being lost on our current crop of politicians.  The message is: We in the middle class are tired of policies that have gutted our futures!  We are tired of union busting while tax breaks are handed out to the uber-wealthy.  We are tired of laws which protect hedge funds and multi-national corporations.  We are tired of being demonized because state and local budgets have been decimated by a housing bust that was fomented by Wall Street millionaires.  Lastly, we are tired of feeling like we have been had – we need to fight, we need to fight now, we need to be active, and we need strong leaders who understand this message.


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