I’m going to tell you a true story* about one man and then I’m going to tell you how I feel this story is basically a micro version of what is happening in the United States to anyone who isn’t a millionaire.
Dave is a handyman in his 60s. He lives in a shop in Kent. It’s pretty much just a garage. It has no running water. It has no electricity. His landlord, Matt charges him $350 a month. He works for landlords fixing up their properties when they need it. He built my front and back porches. He is currently fixing a wall that had some water damage. He is a likable guy with solid skills. He’s getting old and can’t do as much as he used to, but he’s still working and typically charges about $12 an hour plus material costs. (Charging more has historically resulted in less work.)
One of the landlords he works for happens to be Matt, his own landlord. Dave has been living in his shop for the last four years. In that time he has done dozens of jobs for Matt. One time last year Matt asked him to spray some mold killer and paint over some black mold in an apartment that Matt owned. Dave arrived and found that a family was living there. The room with the black mold was the baby’s room. And the black mold wasn’t isolated to one small spot. It practically covered the ceiling.
Dave called Matt and told him that this was a much bigger job than simply spraying some mold killer and painting over it. This stuff was clearly in the attic as well on the surface of the ceiling. Matt told him that replacing the ceiling and getting into the attic was going to be ‘too expensive’ and demanded that Dave paint over it as requested. Dave refused. Dave then warned the family about the dangers of the mold and how the spores get into the air and cause all sorts of health problems especially for children.
A few months ago Dave was called to that same apartment to fix a leaking toilet. The same family was there. He took a look at the baby’s room and saw that Matt had found someone to paint over the mold and now it was growing through the latest paint job. He again talked to the family but the man he talked to said he was afraid to confront the landlord because he didn’t want to get kicked out and he couldn’t afford to move.
In January Dave did some work for Matt. The work totaled about $1600. When Dave was finished with the work, Matt said that he would pay him soon but that he couldn’t pay him at that time. A month later, Matt had property Tumwater that had been burglarized. He asked Dave if he could stay at the house a few nights until he had it rented out. Dave and his grandson drove from Kent to Tumwater and back for nine days. Shortly after that, Dave’s truck broke down. The transmission had gone out in it.
A week later Matt called him and asked him to do some work on a property in Bremerton. Dave said, “I can’t do it. My truck’s broken down.”
Matt said, “I can drive you there.”
Dave responded, “What you can do is pay me the $1600 you owe me so I can fix my truck.”
“You’ll get your money, but I need this done today. I’ll just pick you up.”
“And where in your Tesla will we put my saw? Where will you put my ladder? How will I get to the hardware store to get supplies?”
By late April he had still not been paid one dime from Matt. Eventually Dave was able to get his truck fixed using money he made from other handyman jobs. (Like the ones my landlord has him do.)
One day just before May 1st, Dave and Matt ran into each other at the grocery store. Dave said, “You owe me rent for the last few months.”
Dave said, “I don’t owe you rent. Rent is $350 a month. That’s $1400 rent for January through April. You still haven’t paid me the $1600 you owe me. By my count you owe me $200.”
Matt got angry and said, “I’m not paying you any money. And your rent just went up to $500 a month which I know you can’t afford so I’ll start eviction proceedings.”
Tomorrow Dave is talking to a lawyer to get this settled. I talked to him today. He said, “I’ll get this sorted out. Until then I’m gonna work. It’s all I’m good for.”
As I said at the beginning, Dave’s story has a lot of things that I believe apply to those of us who aren’t lucky enough to be in the top 1%. He’s paid below a living wage when he gets paid at all. His employer cares only for profits and nothing for the safety or welfare of those who help him make those profits. When someone becomes undesirable, they increase costs to price those people out of the market.
While not everything below applies to Dave’s specific situation, much of it does and the things that don’t apply to many people who are in similar circumstances as Dave. There is a concentrated effort on the part of the 1% to drain whatever power the rest of us have to nothing.
Here is the one and only conspiracy theory I truly believe in because the evidence is everywhere and it requires no collusion or secrecy on anyone’s part. Their attacks are overt. And they do it with impunity because they know we’re as afraid as the guy in the apartment with the black mold who is literally forced to choose between living somewhere unhealthy or not having a place for his family to live at all.
Here are some of the things that get legislated to make sure the poor don’t only stay poor but get poorer.
– Keep cutting funding to public education
– Keep wages low
– Increase cost of living expenses
– Restrict access to health care
– Restrict access to birth control
– Restrict access to abortion services
– Cut public assistance
– Increase taxes on the poor
– Increase college tuition to unaffordable levels
– Replace affordable housing with smaller more expensive ‘luxury housing’
– Give tax breaks to millionaires
– Eliminate restrictions on guns
– Implement mandatory minimum sentencing
– Privatize prisons so they are for-profit
Each of these things has been championed by prominent Republicans across the country over the last thirty years. The result is fairly simple. If you are not rich, you will be working harder and for more hours and less pay in order to simply maintain the lifestyle that previous generations could attain by simply working one full time job. If you fail to work hard enough, there will be no social safety net to save you. One of the few things you can get your hands on is a gun. Two out of three gun deaths are suicides. So maybe you decide to take yourself out after all of society has deemed you a failure for not playing along.
Or maybe you are desperate enough to commit crimes at which point, you end up in prison. Thanks to the for-profit prison system you’ll be able to make corporations money in the same way you would have working a dead-end below-living-wage job. Either way, you’ll be doing your part to make the rich richer. This is the system that is in place at this time and Republicans are only making it worse.
And I haven’t even mentioned the part where if you’re female or not white, your options and advantages are even worse than that. As a woman you’ll make 70% what men make in the same job. As an African American you’ll deal with systemic racism on all levels of society that make getting that job more difficult and authorities more likely to treat you violently.
I don’t have a solution for this. Voting for Democrats might not make things worse, but I don’t think they’re going to necessarily make things better in any real sense regardless of how progressive they claim to be if only because they can’t negotiate with the terrorists the Republican Party has become.
For a long while I wondered what it was going to take before things got violent. Then I realized things have been violent for a while now. It’s just that we aren’t even coming close to being what might be called a Resistance. Instead we’re being slaughtered in the street by militarized police forces and anyone who steps out of line can simply be labeled a terrorist. When someone within the government decided that the government having access to every phone call, email, and cellphone in the country was not okay, he had to go to Russia to avoid prosecution and is labelled a traitor.
I have asked myself what I should do about this and the truth is I can’t do much and neither can most of you because you’re like me just struggling the best you can to pay bills so you can make rent. It’s kind of difficult to make a concentrated effort at resistance when you’re spending all of your energy just trying to make enough money to survive.
As I said, I do not have a solution for you, me, or Dave. My solution for myself has been to enroll in college in the Human Services program. I did this both because I genuinely want to help people and because given all of the things I mentioned, there are going to be millions of people who need professional help. I figure one of the handful of growth industries in this culture is going to be counseling people who are trying to cope with a world so wildly out of balance that the richest country in the world also happens to have some of the highest child poverty in the world. I won’t be able to change the world, but I might make some people’s worlds better. Maybe I’ll find I can do more. Maybe it won’t make a lick of good. But I cannot look at what’s going on and do nothing.
– Jack Cameron
*Names and specific details have been altered to protect identities.