Well its been another long stretch since I posted. This open letter to my family seems so related to the topic of this blog, that I decided to make an internet home for it here. Feel free to post and forward this link to anyone and everyone. If however you want to reprint it on your own site, please e-mail me at honestlivingproject (at) gmail.com to ask for permission, which I will most likely give you! I just want to know where its going up if its getting passed around. I also really welcome respectful comments and feedback!
October 7, 2011
Dear [Paternal, Maternal & In-Law] Extended Families,
As many of you may know (or may have noticed on Facebook!) I’ve been getting really super excited about all this “We Are the 99%” and “Occupy Wall Street” stuff. Coincidentally as these protests have been spreading, it’s been at the same time that we’re covering the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution and all of the incomplete uprisings before and after each one in the community college history classes I teach. Its making me remember that no one knew the Storming of the Bastille was going to happen a week or even a day before it did. Of course during the French Rev, few people were talking about slavery in French colonies, the French role in taking Native lands and women were written out of the Declaration of the Rights of Man. And the French Revolution began and ended in terrible violence, which is something I don’t want to see again.
But none-the-less, examining past revolutions has inspired me to remember that the “arc of history is long” as Dr. Martin Luther King said, and that things can and have changed rapidly and even recently. The time of agriculture (rather than the hunter-gatherer way of life) is a small blip on the radar screen of human history. The time the US has existed is an even tinier miniscule speck. Things can and do change. Things will change. The main question is how they will change.
A lot of the mainstream US media has been painting the protesters on Wall St. as misguided wing-nuts (though it seems lately there are more and more favorable stories). But if you look at international media, independent media and social media, you can get a different picture. I’m so inspired by most of what they’ve been doing (even while I have some concerns and issues with some of it), that I’ve joined a local “Occupy Greensboro” group and we’re planning for an action here on Saturday October 15th. We’re hoping to draw on the inspiration of what’s been happening in NY, but also do it in a way connected to our local issues, and with more attention to diversity and inclusion from the get go.
So since I love you all and care about you all, I wanted to share why I’m supporting and joining this movement, and how I think it connects to our experiences as a family. (As you may remember in 2000, after I was arrested at the Republican National Convention protests in Philly, I wrote a similar open letter, so you can think of this as “Volume 2” ).
Why I’m Supporting the 99% Movement:
• Because I truly deeply love you all. Some of you have second (even third) homes, and some of you are struggling to keep the lights on and food on the table. Some of you have had to come out of retirement and go back to work to make ends meet. Some of you don’t have health insurance. Some of you are in massive debt. Some of you have millions in the bank and investments. But ALL of you are hard workers and good people. I don’t think its fair that some of you in my extended family have so much, and others have so little. I want to see a more fair global and national system where we can be unified, not divided into haves and have-nots, even in one extended family.** (see below for more info on where you may fall)
• Because I’m working two part-time teaching jobs and don’t have sight of a full-time teaching job any time soon. My boss recently told me that five years ago I would have had a full time job by now but because of budget cuts, there’s very few positions and hundreds of people competing for each one. Nego (my partner) and I struggle to make ends meet at the end of very month. Last week we had no money for groceries for several days but luckily had cans and stuff in the freezer to eat until I got paid. We budget really carefully. And we’re having an easier time that many.
• Because I only have health insurance for the first time since graduating college through Nego’s nursing job. But if the NC Marriage Amendment to the state constitution passes, I might not have health insurance again. After a major health scare at the beginning of the summer (that thankfully amounted to nothing), I realize how important this is.
• Because I have over $40,000 in student loan debt. I’m the oldest of all of my cousins on both sides of my family. Some of you will have no debt when you graduate and will even have a trust fund and major inheritance. Some of you will have even more massive debt than me. And some of you haven’t even been able to consider college because of the cost. I think it’s not right or fair because you are all wonderful people.
• Because last month Nego (my partner) had to choose between paying for a doctor’s visit for her ongoing digestive issues and making her student loan payment. And she’s a nurse who is supposed to be “middle class.” But we’re still having to make these kind of hard choices. And we’re not even having to choose between food for a child and the water bill, like some of our friends and neighbors.
• Because I have been thinking and talking with a lot of friends about how the stresses of our everyday lives — money, health, bills, debt, etc — seem so personal and individual, but when you really start talking to folks its clear its a major pattern and we are not alone. We are the 99%, we are the majority.
• Because poverty didn’t start in 2008. Many of my close friends, people who I consider to be family type of friends, have been struggling and struggling since long before 2008. Because just because more white and formerly middle class people are feeling the crunch now doesn’t mean poverty started with the financial crisis. Because even though I’m struggling, too I know I’m also privileged.
• Because most of my amazing inspiring students are struggling more than any human being should have to struggle. Two semesters ago, a straight-A student dropped off the map, stopped turning work in, and missed a bunch of class. She finally came to me and told me that she and her adorable 3-year-old were living in their car and struggling to eat each meal. And that’s just one story. Many many students are carrying so much stress in their bodies because they can barely put food on the table. They are hard workers and sweet people. It is a moral outrage that we allow people to go hungry, to live with that kind of stress. I am part of the 99%, but I am also very lucky compared to many of my students, who have been struggling since long before 2008.
• Because I want one of my best friend’s four-year old daughter to grow up in a world where her spirit can blossom. She is an African American girl who is one of the people I most enjoy spending time with in the world. She makes me laugh. She’s so kind. And I am so afraid of what this world may do to her. I don’t want to be scared. I want everything for her.
• Because many of the most inspiring leaders of our human race have already warned us. In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered. A nation can flounder as readily in the face of moral and spiritual bankruptcy as it can through financial bankruptcy.” It’s high time that we answer this call. We all have so much to gain!
• Because I believe this financial crisis is not our faults. But I do I believe actual people, banks and corporations, the 1%, made it happen because of their obsession with a “thing-oriented society,” as said by Dr. King. They have gotten richer during this whole thing while most of the rest of us have gotten poorer. This is the way capitalism works and I don’t like it one bit. We will all benefit from a shift to a “person-oriented society.”
• Because it’s been a long time since I could say “Another World Is Possible” and actually mean it. But right now I really mean it and I really believe it and I don’t want to let go of that.
• Because I believe our country has not dealt with its legacy of slavery and racism and Native land theft and genocide. To feel spiritually whole, I believe those of us whose ancestors were not the targets need to deal with that history. I believe we can heal.
• Because I believe the lives of my younger cousins, my four-year-old friend, my nieces and nephew and all of my family are just as valuable as the lives of people in Afghanistan, prison, Iraq, death row, Mexico, immigrant detention centers, Sudan, Guatemala and everywhere around the world. I believe we are all human and I want a system that treats us all that way, that doesn’t kill us either quickly or slowly.
• Because I believe those of us/you with more privilege (white, middle and owning class, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, able-bodied, citizenship etc) have so much to gain from this movement, so much to gain from change. Even in the 1%, we worry about money, about security, about the future. Wealth and privilege are not actually reducing our anxiety. Its possible to have fulfilled, secure, joyful life with out all the stuff.
• Because the situation we’re in is both new and not new. There have been haves and have-nots for a long time – bit the wealth divide is greater now than it has been for a very long time (if not ever) in the history of the US. This economic direction is not sustainable. My mom and I were talking about this the other days. She said, “It’s like we’re all sitting on a runaway train. Some of us may be sitting in first class and some of us are in coach (and some are squeezed in to the baggage compartment). But regardless of where we’re seated the train is on a collision course unless we make some major changes soon.” I think we ALL have an interest in making a change!
• Because we either already have or soon will have reached peak oil. We are experiencing climate change. And we are killing this earth. The earth is the runaway train. Unless we make a big change now, it doesn’t matter how much stuff we have. Eventually this planet will not be able to sustain our children and their children.
• Because what could be worth more than our humanity? Our spirits? We have the chance to come out of the places where we feel isolated and alone. We now have a chance to join with the 99%. We have the opportunity to ignore the 1% voices in our head – the fear, the doubt, the scarcity, the idea that there’s not enough to go around, the idea that we have to do it alone and have to get ours and just take care of our the people we know. We will be better for it.
• Because I yearn for a spiritually whole life, and I feel like standing up now is key to that being possible. By recognizing each others’ full humanity, we step in to our full humanity.
• Because I have a feeling that all of you smart thoughtful people have your own ideas about how this world could be better for all of us, your own reasons to get involved. What do you have to gain? How could this movement lead to a better and more fulfilling life for you and your family? I think this magical moment gives us a chance to hear each other, to dialog. I want to know what you think!
• “Because it’s not right,” in the words of the young African American law student in the video linked below. Its just not right how things are set up right now.
These are just some of the reasons why I’m passionate about this movement. Capitalism, and particularly the latest form that’s been accelerating since 2008, reminds me of a cruel game of musical chairs — the people at the top keep taking away more and more chairs, so there’s more and more of us fighting to sit down in fewer and fewer chairs — but we just end up mad at each other because that’s who we see in front of our faces. We have a chance now to join together, for the good of us all.
I woke up the other morning with a feeling in my heart. A light feeling of hope. Do you remember that scene at the end of the last Harry Potter movie? When they are all grown up and standing on the platform, helping their kids get on the train for the first time? And you realize that it’s a new day. That Voldemort is gone. And even some of Voldemort’s former supporters are there with their kids, and they’re all smiling at each other. And that terrible time of fear, division, chaos and violence is in the past. That’s the feeling I had when I woke up the other morning. I am filled with a desire for the day when all of us in my mixed-class extended family can stand together with all the other families around the world and look back at these terrible hundreds of years of human history, roll our eyes, breathe a sigh of relief and say “I sure am glad that’s over. What were we all fighting about any way?” And like children after a playground scuffle, move on and get back to the work of building relationships and connections and a positive future for us all.
Yes, I’m idealistic. If you look at any positive change that has happened in the past, it was usually led by idealists with big imaginations. It was fierce hope that gave people the bravery to take the risks that brought about change. The people a few years younger than me who kicked this movement off have reignited my hope and I’m so thankful for it. I don’t know what comes next or what the solution is, but I have a deep faith that dialogue and democratic process can help us figure it out. And that not knowing all the answers is not a good reason to not start trying to shift things. As the Zapatistas in Mexico say “We walk while questioning.”
This open letter is an explanation so you’ll know what your daughter/cousin/niece/grand-daughter/aunt/sister-in-law is up to.
This letter is also an invitation to join us, the 99% – whether you’re already a member and just need to take the step of joining the movement and standing up for yourself and this world, or whether you’re in the 1% and see that you have much to gain from joining everyone else.
Here’s some things you can do, if you feel moved to support the movement or get involved:
• Sign the MoveOn.org petition in support of the protesters: http://www.civic.moveon.org/joinvirtualwallstreet/?rc=%2Fc4%2Fjoinvirtualwallstreet.fb.v1.g0
• Donate money or your talents to “Occupy Greensboro.” We’re in the process of forming working-groups (Logistics, Media, Fundraising, Alliance Building, Research, Legal) so feel free to donate, time money or supplies in any of these areas. We know we’re marching then occupying on Oct 15 and will need support after then! Let me know what you can offer.
• If you’re particularly upset about the anti-gay marriage amendment in North Carolina, donate to Southerners on New Ground, an LGBTQ organization that is active in NC and that I’m a member of: http://www.southernersonnewground.org/become-a-member/
• If you’re a struggling member of the 99%, tell your story on the blog: http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/archive
• If you think you might be part of the 1% (or even 5%): Check out:
- Resource Generation (for young people): http://www.resourcegeneration.org/
- Making Money Make Change (retreat for progressive young people with wealth): http://www.makingmoneymakechange.org/
- Responsible Wealth (for everyone): http://faireconomy.org/responsible_wealth
- Bolder Giving (for everyone): http://www.boldergiving.org/
• Look for “Occupy” movements springing up in your town or area and support them.
• Talk to people you know about other perspectives besides the idea that the protesters are ridiculous and misguided. Look at alternative, independent, international and social media to get more info, then share with friends and family, repost on Facebook, etc.
I would love to hear your thoughts on all of this! I am more than open for dialogue, critique, questions about my ideas, anything!
Much Love to ALL of you,
**If your annual income (or your parents) is $150,000 or more, you’re in the top 5% for income. If your net worth is $2,453,000 or more, you’re in the top 5% for wealth.
See http://www.classmatters.org/reality_check.php or do your own internet research.
If you’re interested in learning more about the 99% Movement, check out these videos and links:
We are the 99% (people’s stories of financial struggle):
Law Student Protests Parent’s Foreclosed Home (5 mins)
Video Overview, positive news story (3 mins):
Democracy Now has great and extensive coverage:
Prof. Cornel West’s Inverview & Speech at the occupation (9 mins):
The Declaration of the Occupation of New York:
If you want more info on class and wealth distribution:
Isabell Moore is an adjunct professor in Greensboro, NC who teaches history part-time at the local community college and Women and Gender Studies part-time at a local university. She is a member of Southerners On New Ground and Project South, serves on the National Committee of the War Resisters’ League, and has worked with Resource Generation. She is honored to be a part of the recently formed Occupy Greensboro group. For more on Occupy Greensboro, see our newly started website and/or our Facbeook page and group:
Feel free to post and forward this link to anyone and everyone. If, however, you want to reprint it on your own site, please e-mail me at honestlivingproject (at) gmail.com