When the Pain Unfolds for Us All, Dreamers and Pragmatists

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CommonDreams.org

When the Pain Unfolds for Us All, Dreamers and Pragmatists

by
Donna Smith

Just yesterday, the new First Family measured the drapes in the White House just blocks from where I write this piece.  It has been but a week since we saw history as my U.S. Senator Barack Obama was elected to be our next President.  But for some of us, the joy is tempered by a reality that just won't abate.

If I heard the candidates refer to the pain on "Main Street" one more time, I thought I might explode.  While I think most Democrats come closer to "getting it" on issues of economic disparity than most right-wing Republicans, I don't really believe anyone yet is capable of embracing people who have been damaged and bruised as a part of the "change" we need in Washington. It may come, but we're not there yet or they'd be acting with appropriate haste.

Yesterday, I listened to brief media reports about DHL's layoffs of up to 9,500 people in their US operations in advance of the holiday season.  I also listened to much, much more media coverage of the White House visits.  I expected that – not surprising in light of our wonderful, national celebration of the election results and our shared hope for change – real change.

In particular, I listened yesterday for any news about what two leaders of this nation – my current President and my future President talked about in that hour together.  The economy and the international scene were their topics for discussion, I learned.  But what I really hoped to hear in this season of hope and this season of change was more direct and more substantial – from both men.

Nearly 10,000 Americans – many in that "battleground"  Ohio we loved so just one week ago – will lose their jobs in the DHL layoff alone, and do either of these fellows actually know how that will play out in the glorious season for those good and decent citizens they are elected to serve?

I can tell you that it hurts to lose one's job during the holidays in ways unspoken.  It isn't just the smaller celebrations or the scaled-back expectations.  It is the incredible disconnect somewhere in-between peace on earth and goodwill to men and the overdue gas bill, the unpaid mortgage, the late credit card payment and the impending loss of health benefits.  It just flat hurts.  And it hurts the nation too.

So, did I hear some swift and concrete plans yesterday to help those losing their jobs during this exciting time and the hundreds of thousands more that will lose their jobs in the immediate post-holiday season?  No, I did not.  Did I hear anyone say that we'd take action – let's say in this same Congress that just a month ago was so worried about the Wall Street collapse that they acted with lightning speed to commit my funds and your funds and my children's funds and my grandchildren's future funds to bailing out the big boys?  No, I did not.  I heard lots of squishy talk about how damned concerned they all are about the economy.  Really?

I have a thought.  How about making sure these families – these hard-working, good Americans – losing their jobs in this downturn and who qualify for unemployment benefits also know that the instant they are approved for those benefits they will also be eligible for Medicare coverage?  Emergency healthcare benefits along with the small weekly unemployment checks might keep some families afloat through the months ahead rather than forcing them to either pay huge COBRA benefits (often $1,000/month or more for a family) or go bare for medical coverage.  Why not start now to really put our money into shoring up some people who through no fault of their own are being raped by this downturn so fueled by the powerful who didn't care one lick about "Main Street?" 

An emergency aid package for average Americans put forward and passed as quickly as the bail-out was would send a really strong message – and it should be done now and by both parties' leadership.

That's what I wanted to hear come out of the past few days and certainly from the White House yesterday.  But I suspect those kinds of chats will plod along with no real urgency while families suffer through job and income loss, then benefit loss, then home losses and ultimately down the financial tubes to bankruptcy waiting for the polite politicians and the powerful pundits to take any real notice.  The pain is unfolding and will accelerate – on Main Street – because those on Pennsylvania and Congressional Avenues don't really get it, or worse, don't really care to get it.

Some family values, folks.  Some peace on earth, sisters and brothers.  I hope someone on the transition team and someone on the current team take note and show some leadership now – let's not wait until January 20.  Let's be humane and smart now. 

Helping America's families and hard-workers is good for us all and what a wonderful message it would send.

I am sitting in the Capital Hilton writing this.  That, in itself, is more than I could have hoped for or dreamed of just one year ago.  You see, I am one of those failed American dreams.  I am one of those dirty, awful Americans who went bankrupt.  And I don't care what reason – medical crisis or other unearned calamity – I may have suffered, we still have a bias and distrust of those individuals among us who cross that legal and financial line.  But I am blessed to have a wonderful job now working for a wonderful organization that does get it. 

But I remember.  Oh God, how I remember.  And I will work twice as hard and twice as long for the rest of my life to try to undo the image of me as a failure.

I don't want the horror I remember to be what we do to this newest batch of American economic refugees.  I'd like to see us do what is right, what is just and what lifts us all.  The big boys – and a few big girls – can still celebrate and ponder the power and bask in the moment in history.  Helping those on the brink will not burden or injure those lining up for their place in power.  In fact, I expect it would make the view from the mountaintop a bit more sweet.

Donna Smith is a community organizer for the California Nurses Association.

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