The Occupy Movement has got me thinking about we, the little people, those who drudge out our days to pay the bills, with very little extra and sometimes having to choose if it will be getting a tooth fixed or getting tires on the car. How voiceless are we in how things run? Well, we vote in our representatives, if we vote, but many of us know that you can’t represent all of the people all of the time. In fact, most political systems break down after one-two hundred people. We have no true democracy and while we all have a vote we are definitely not heard nor represented equally.
One example of being the voiceless 99% was when I ran up against bureaucracy while trying to be trained in a presumably more lucrative position. I had a three-month full-time course in an apprenticeship program to be a script supervisor in the movie industry (that’s overall continuity and more). Apprenticeship programs were paid for by the government so I had no course costs. However, I couldn’t really work during that time. All of the other people in the course (around 16) had either a spouse to support them or they could get unemployment. I couldn’t because I’d been freelancing for years, where the federal government doesn’t let you pay into unemployment insurance. My freelance income just paid my monthly bills; hence why I was taking this course.
I had very little saved money but as a freelance copyeditor there were two publishers in New York for which I would edit one to two manuscripts a month for them. With one from each of them I would have just enough money to get by while I finished the course.
Three months doesn’t seem a long time but halfway through the first month, the first publisher changed their focus and went into videos. The second publisher went into receivership at the end of that month. Suddenly I had two months to go and no money. I scraped through the second month but December was coming and I had no way to pay rent, let alone buy much food. I instituted the end-of-the-world diet. I didn’t buy any food at all and used up the stores in my place. In a way it was interesting to see how long could I survive on fresh produce, then frozen foods, then canned and dried goods.
But I still couldn’t pay the rent. So I went to Welfare. Now I had once before in my early 20s been on welfare when the economy dived, I couldn’t find work and times were dire (and I had roommates). It was no fun whatsoever, and slim pickings. So here I went, down to the office, filling in forms galore to see if I could get $300 to pay my rent (my rent was more but that was what I needed to pay the rent). It turns out, because I had about $3,000 in retirement savings plans I was not allowed even $300 that I said I would repay. Instead, the brilliant of our government is to have you use up al of your retirement savings now so that when you hit old age, you can go live under a bridge, become ill and run up more costs for the government.
Not only is there no such thing as a free lunch but there’s no help for the self-employed. I’d have to be a full-on welfare recipient, unable to work and possibly dealing with addictions to get the money. So what could I do? I had no money to pay my bills, my car payment, my rent or for food. I was trying to finish the course and not drop it. I was desperate and seriously thought of prostitution as the only way I could make ends meet. I had no job, no recourse. I determined where I could stand; I wasn’t far from the area where they stand, I could dress badly and where little. I could charge…something. Maybe I could be a call girl, have them pick me up, place an ad in the paper. I imagined scenarios in cars and back alleys. And…I just couldn’t do it.
Lucky for me I had good friends and family. Without ask, people sent me money and my landlords gave me a half month’s rent as a Christmas gift. I bought no one a present that year, but somehow I made it through. And no help to a bureaucratic government that sees everyone on welfare as a welfare bum and if they’re not, then they will be by the time they’re completely destitute and degraded. It was humiliating.
I can see why the 99% (through really it’s probably 20%) are complaining about the 1%. Government and corporations, more than individuals, are the 1%. And we hear over and over again of the plights of the common people, denied this or that, dying in the streets, succumbing to illness, being humiliated because they just don’t have a voice made of money. Do I trust my government? No. And it’s too bad but I need to see more faith in helping humanity first. In the meantime I remain wary.