I've been quietly reading the essays posted on the CommonDreams website and am intrigued - and interested. However, I'd like to know how those of us who are from blue-collar backgrounds who have actually experienced homelessness, welfare, disabilities, etc. can get involved. It's always nicer to be a participant as opposed to being a subject. To be honest, I really don't come forward about my background at the very few political meetings I have attended - it not only marginalizes me, but it also makes me feel like an Emissary from Mars.
I was once disabled and homeless with 3 small children - one autistic, one a newborn - and no transportation or income of my own. I decided - against tremendous opposition and abuse from my (now ex) husband, my family and my right-wing church - to go to college, as no one would hire me. And I succeeded.
I ended up with a BA, a car and a large student loan debt. My plan did work - I got out of poverty and abuse, on the strength of grants, loans and scholarships, as my disability made me unemployable for blue collar low-skilled work - and my own anger. I got my son the early intervention he needed with his developmental disability. And once I had the education, I could get work I could physically do without damaging my body further. However, the loan debt threatens to throw me back into poverty. And it didn't have to be.
There's a reason why less than 3% of poor folk don't go to college. The Pell grant doesn't begin to cover the costs, and most people aren't desperate enough to take the chances I took to escape poverty. And most aren't desperate enough to hang in there when the Pell grant is counted as income and taken $ for $ out of the food stamps, and added $ for $ to the public housing rent (once I finally got in) - which necessitated a student loan for school and child care, which then necessitated another loan because I could no longer afford to live in the projects, due to the loans also being counted as income with both the public housing and the food stamp office. I was even told by my Housing Authority Director that I wasn't thankful to god. I was told to "be grateful and keep your place."
But no one is telling these stories - I feel like me and others like me are a dirty little secret on the American economy. Neither party could care less what I have to say. And no one wants to talk about disabilities, poverty and job issues, or early intervention for disabled children (which I ended up paying for with money I didn't have - and it paid off brilliantly for my son) or transportation issues. Or about domestic violence from the standpoint of those of us who both survived it and have worked in the shelters, or about welfare issues (I've also been on both sides of that desk) or about why the prices keep on rising while the economists say there's no inflation unless wages go up, or why the economy's "getting better" when more jobs are taking ships to China and Indonesia.
I feel like an emissary from Mars, living in a place that will not acknowledge that my planet - and aliens like me - exist. Even people who claim to speak for us.
Gloria Steinem once talked about the personal becoming political. Is it my imagination, or is admitting to the personal experiences that shaped us the thing that succeeds in marginalizing us?
Note to the Democrats - until you have people who have lived and breathed this issues addressing them, the blue collar and the underclass will not hear you and sure as hell won't vote for you. Don't you dare make me an object and expect my vote. Make me a subject, and give me my voice. Then, maybe, we can talk.
Sherry Shockley (Sherry.Shockley@ncmail.net) lives in North Carolina.