This is my Sunday column for the Nov. 13, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. I’ll be discussing this and other Iron Range news, including mining project updates (hot hot!), on 91.7 KAXE’s Morning Show at 7:20 a.m. Monday. Listen live or pick up the archive later at www.kaxe.org.
Whether you’re talking about the Iron Range, Minnesota or even America as whole, it feels like we have been climbing a mountain for generations and now have tumbled forward onto some kind of plateau. We’re not to the top of the mountain yet; but this flat land is serviceable, despite the wind and hard winters. Moments like this give people the chance to fight and divide over every little thing.
Last year the Tea Party united fiscal conservatives over the largess of government. This year Occupy Wall Street protests the growing divide between rich and poor, the mounting power of corporations in our lives. Several versions of a cartoon have been circulating online that shows the overlap of these two movements, one being deeply relevant and the other full of miscreants (which is which is a matter of your politics). But our problem is not government or corporations, per se. It’s that government and corporations have a cozy relationship with each other and a distant relationship with us, the voter and/or customer.
This would normally be a great recipe for a new political party or a great reform movement, but the divides in our country are not really just about politics. There are many things Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street supporters could find in common, if it weren’t for the fact that they so viscerally despise one another on a cultural level.
Combined with the previously mentioned marriage between government and corporate interests, this brings us the sad fact that President Obama and his Republican opponent will spend a combined $1 billion on political advertising next year, mostly on emotional appeals that feed on our fear and hatred of the other side. The Citizens United Supreme court decision ensures that another billion in soft corporate and union (but mostly corporate) money is poured into the ruckus. Another billion bucks will be spent getting Americans to hate one or more people running for Congress. And then there’s the local races!
Meantime, back in the real world, a story by Kathryn Kohlhase in last Sunday’s edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune detailed the crisis situation faced by the Hibbing Food Shelf. Food Shelf director Carol Voss describes having $12,000 in the bank to pay for food through March 2012. More than 900 families remain on the food shelf’s computer list of clients, which are now entirely based in the relatively small city of Hibbing.
Quoting the story, “Last year, we had 700 a month during the holidays,” [Voss] said. “No way could I touch that now.”
Voss even cut her own wages in half to pay the bills. Despite all of it, money is only trickling in.
Another quote, “The money’s not coming in like usual,” she said. “It always has come before at the last minute, but this time it’s not.” … “A lot of people who donated money before, we’re now helping,” she said. “And we have new people coming in every day.”
We shouldn’t rest easy in a society that spends $2 billion on soul-sucking political garbage TV and can’t even figure out how to get people in poverty through transitions, educate them and get them into the workforce so they can help the next generation.
The real divide in this country is not between Democrats and Republicans. The divide is between the out-of-touch power structure, including leadership in both parties, and the apolitical, struggling lower and working classes. These are the people working nights at the gas station or nursing home, going home tired to kids that need help with their homework. These are the grandparents raising small children. These are the people watching their pay hold steady or drop while food, gas and insurance prices rise.
Right now these folks are on or near that food shelf database. If things get worse they’ll be in the street. I don’t mean living on the street. I mean banging on the doors of the kind of people who think our problems can be summed up by political invective and useless sound bites. I can’t wait. Maybe when this is settled we can go back to climbing that mountain, together.