“If middle-class Americans do not feel threatened by the slow encroachment of the police state or the Patriot Act, it is because they live comfortably enough and exercise their liberties very lightly, never testing the boundaries. You never know you are in a prison unless you try the door.” ― Joe Bageant, Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War
“I spent Thanksgiving Day in Central Lock-up!”
Waiting for keys to be cut in the local hardware store this week, I was completely drawn into the generously shared story of another customer with the shop’s owner. “Pulled over for not coming to a complete stop.” An initial infraction, no grace from those in power, a questionable ensuing search of the vehicle, an old open beer can giving the opportunity to turn a citation into a charge that was later thrown out by a judge as having no merit – later. After spending Thanksgiving in jail. And missing a day of work for court. Which cost him. Literally.
Living one infraction away from lock-up is a situation that is truer for more people in this country than we care to admit. Living paycheck to paycheck is a situation that is truer for more people in this country than we care to admit.
One in three Americans who grew up middle-class has slipped down the income ladder as an adult, according to a 2011 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts.*
One in three Americans who grew up middle-class has slipped down the income ladder.
Others are clinging desperately to the rung they are on.
Upward mobility, the American holy grail, is not guaranteed.
Neither is physical freedom, when prisons are a national industry, investments that can be found in a market prospectus.
Beloveds, if this sounds irrelevant to your life, try the door a bit. See how far your liberties can be exercised if you challenge an economic system that gives 50% of the American population less than 2.5% of the national wealth. See how far your liberties can be exercised if you challenge one of the thousands of ordinances, rules, and laws wrapped around your neighborhood, your state, your country.
The myth of pulling oneself up by one’s own boot straps, the myth of prisons existing only to house bad guys – slowly these are proven to be falsehoods, lies that have been used to justify closing our eyes to the human costs of comfort for a few.
Let us name the house we live in. Let us recognize that in working for the common good, we make a good life more possible for ourselves, our family, our beloveds. This is faithful work. Dear ones, we are all in this together. May we build beloved community together. For everyone.
* Drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (a group of 12,000 interviews that researchers have followed since 1979), the report “focused on people who were middle-class teenagers in 1979 and who were between 39 and 44 years old in 2004 and 2006. It defines people as middle-class if they fall between the 30th and 70th percentiles in income distribution, which for a family of four is between $32,900 and $64,000 a year in 2010 dollars. People were deemed downwardly mobile if they fell below the 30th percentile in income, if their income rank was 20 or more percentiles below their parents’ rank, or if they earn at least 20 percent less than their parents.”