October 20, 2016
Car is the New Dorm
By Sharon McElhone
The campaign rages on even while middle Americans struggle to keep up in this new century. A Pew Research Center analysis found “ because of the housing market crisis and the Great Recession of 2007-09, their median wealth (assets minus debts) fell by 28% from 2001-2013.” No matter how we slice it, there is a problem with what is happening to the middle class.
One morning, while I waited in line to speak with Senator Jim Beall, an older woman, turned grey, stood in front of me and asked him to please do something about the students living in their cars in parking lots around the San Jose City College campus. “You can see them climbing out of the cars in the morning,” she said. I could hear the sound of her heart breaking as she spoke. It was the first I’d heard about the issue. According to a study commissioned by Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White, one in five CSU students are going hungry and one in ten are homeless. The high cost of living is to blame and some colleges, like San Jose State, have been prompted to make food pantries available so students can eat before going class. When it was my turn to speak to the Senator, I simply asked for an interview, the questions still unknown. But after I left the “Game Changers” Conference that day, a new awareness had come to me only because I happened to be behind this particular woman talking to the Senator.
The bridge that connects Washington to what is happening on the ground has grown harder to cross. With each Donald Trump and/or Hillary Clinton scandal, political figures that may or may never have experienced hunger or the threat of losing their home, have delved into harsh rhetoric and low blows, leaving the American people negatively affected. Perhaps that’s why Bernie Sanders was so appealing. His way out there suggestions of making college tuition free and debt free and promotion of campaign finance reform took hold. They didn’t seem like pie in the sky proposals so much rather than they guided enough Americans to look ahead and with what is real. His concrete proposals, which meant a lot of change and work, were more palpable than the two Delphic slogans we hear today “Make America Great Again” and “Stronger Together.” One harkens back to the past—a time when women wouldn’t dare to aspire to be much more than a housewife or a secretary and African-Americans as well as Latinos believed they were in the minority. The other slogan keeps us anchored to the present—a time when the American middle class has been stripped of its wealth through years of paying for war with their taxes and by horrendous manipulations by the banking industry. One slogan suggests going in reverse and the other slogan suggests status quo.
My mother calls the 2016 presidential race “worse than watching a Spanish novela.” And who isn’t disappointed with this circus? With all the mudslinging? It seems there are those who are running and there is a majority who are struggling to maintain what they have after opportunistic policies and reckless expenditures has left the country without a clear direction. We are a country in desperate need of a leader who can take us safely into the future. A future where American women and men have access to free or affordable childcare and affordable housing; where American college students aren’t sinking into debt, living in cars or going hungry; where attacking climate change supplants spying, bombing, bullying, and deceit; where authentic whistle blowing is de-stigmatized; where the next great industries and creation of jobs are tied to sustainability and outer space. Where the original power is restored to the will of the every day American who believes that this country belongs to her or him because she or he contributes to its greatness via hard work, pays taxes and votes.
The quality of the world we leave behind for those who come after us is so much more important than any fame we could take for our individual selves. We have been sold on the idea that it’s ok to pollute our own yard as long as we make money and remain in power. That ideology is why we are now facing such critical issues like climate change, high student debt, a dwindling middle class, a housing crisis and a lack of affordable childcare in our country. That ideology is also spreading to other countries via capitalism. It is not sustainable for us nor the rest of the world. Tax money paid by mostly the middle class exists to keep our country safe and functional for Americans. Tax money needs to be conserved and used to build and maintain infrastructures at home. Also, the money that the middle class pour into the economy should not be horded, so that it cannot flow back into the economy as a means of keeping it healthy.
We have allowed Washington to spend our last dimes on wars and prisons instead of spending that money at home on our roads, parks, bridges, schools, businesses and childcare programs. Our young innovators, who seek higher education and who are our future, now are without enough financial stability or job security. And with this new awareness regarding a student’s plight, I’m left to wonder if either candidate fully grasps what is happening on the ground in America while the mud flies and the next dark scandal looms.
That future leader who will lead Americans safely over the bridge to a place of rationality, who will close again the divide and grow the middle class once more, because it is what is sustainable and healthy for this country has yet to apply for the job of the most powerful person in the world. Maybe it’s time to open up the field to a third party candidate and keep her or him in until the end of a Presidential race, to revamp the ballot access rules that exclude a third party well before the final votes are cast. No one knows what any outcome will be until the end of a race and yet the access rules in a way pre-determining who will win. According to an October 2013 Gallup poll sixty percent of American people feel a third major party is needed in order for them to be represented fairly again. Time ticks and America waits. In November we go to the polls to select the next president, and yet it may be four more years until we have a candidate who fully understands how essential it is to start rebuilding our infrastructure at home.