The Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election is tomorrow.
In the past several weeks I’ve had conversations about the election with family and friends, some of whom agree with me. Some of whom don’t. And what I keep coming back to is fear, among the Walker supporters, among those who say things like “we can’t afford to keep paying for pensions” and “we can’t afford anything but the lowest of low taxes for corporations” and “we can’t do anything we did 40 years ago because of reasons I don’t understand but I know, in my bones, that we can’t, we just can’t.” And I’m being reminded of how radical a message it really is, how radical it always is, to say we can achieve what we want to achieve.
Because it’s not just the cavalier “I don’t wanna, I got mine, screw you,” not from all of them. Not from those who aren’t billionaires but from those who’ve listened to what the billionaires have to say. Who’ve been fed hate and fear for months now, hate and fear of their neighbors, hate and fear of their own futures, and worst of all, hate and fear of their own history.
Their parents or grandparents lived lives we now think of as anachronistic or idealized: Union jobs at a factory, pensions through retirement, health insurance, Social Security and Medicare that actually took care of them when they were very old. Schoolteacher and police officer being occupations that allowed you to own a home, a car, perhaps even send your children to nice schools if you saved very carefully. Possibly a vacation, nowhere fancy, maybe a road trip memorable for anything but the destination.
When you retired, your pension allowed you to keep spending money at the local grocery and dime stores, to stay in your house and maintain it, to enjoy your neighborhood restaurants and attend your neighborhood church and donate to your local Lions Club or VFW. You could rest easy in extreme old age knowing that even if you didn’t leave your children an inheritance, at least you wouldn’t bankrupt them with debt and thus hinder their own starts in life.
These aren’t fancy things, that we’re now told are too much for us to handle, are luxurious and out of hand. These aren’t outrageous expectations. This isn’t Free Purebred Kitten Day, or foot massages from film stars. These are reasonable rewards for living a reasonable, upright, decent life. Used to be, we could afford as a country large numbers of people living just like this if they so chose. This used to be something we could do with ease. And now we’re being told no, we can’t have that anymore, and in fact we have to make sure people don’t have that anymore, we have to make sure nobody even dreams about that anymore, because it’s too expensive and everything’s going to hell. And we’re so, so angry at anybody who tells us different, so, so afraid.
I say it’s fear because: If those things aren’t out of reach, if it isn’t true that “we” can’t afford them anymore, then we have to ask ourselves the question: Why don’t we have them? In answering that there is no earthly reason we can’t have lives just like our parents and grandparents led, but for the bastards we enable in power, we have to admit that we allowed this to be done to us, that we let hucksters and thieves turn us against each other while they ran away with the piggy bank. In really looking at how much money there is and what it goes for, we have to admit that we just didn’t want to question our politicians and fight our bosses and resist our every human urge to not make a fuss in order to get the very least of what is owed to people who teach children and put out fires and arrest that one [jerk] who keeps ripping up the library’s rhododendrons.
That’s too much to look full in the face. In answering it we have to own up to just how much of our own power we’ve been willing to give up. We have to admit that what teachers and public workers and nurses and cops are asking for isn’t some outrageous thing, not if for one second we’d stop undervaluing ourselves, and start demanding what we’ve had to demand so many times before.
We think this is some insurmountable problem, some terrible divide, that we’ve never seen before. We have always had people saying sit down, shut up, don’t rock the boat, while some slick-talking jerk in a shiny suit was pouring fire and brimstone about how the company was gonna mess you for your own damn good. We have always had the jerk, too, and his bosses, and the company will always be with us. This is how this has always worked. What we haven’t always had is an entire pseudo-middle-class establishment media, especially on 24-hour cable news, appealing to ignorant-ass ‘necks reinforcing the message to lay back and think of Wall Street, or else they’ll come for you next, but even that’s not a total excuse.
They’re always coming for you, is what I want to tell everybody who’s angry and everybody who’s scared. The jerk, the company, they’re always out there, and the only thing you can’t afford is to think they’re on your side. When they’re done with the teachers and the steelworkers and the cops, they’ll come for you, too, and no racist sign or hat with teabags glued on gonna save your soul then. The only thing to fear is fear itself, said the last person who understood this well enough to make a case, so up you get.
There’s no reason to be scared, when the scariest thing is that it’s all up to you, and you decide what “we” can and cannot do. And the things we cannot do just melt away, once we really start taking them apart, and seeing what they’re made of. We can do anything if we want it bad enough. We can afford what we want to afford.
We can afford what we can get enough votes to afford.