Moment to movement
As I said last week, plus ça change, plus ça change, LOL. If you would just as soon avoid having to think about more weighty topics today, come back next time for something perhaps more lighthearted. 😉
Last weekend I had a troubling discussion with a woman I met while waiting on a long, long line of people at a super sale, buying Christmas gifts. There were at least 150 people on line and so Geoffrey and I took turns, our arms aching from holding our selections, because we didn’t feel right injecting a cart into the mix.
While there, I stood behind an elderly lady. It took us about 30 minutes to get close to check out and if it weren’t for the fact that I was a so-called “preferred elite” customer and offered an even deeper discount, I would not have endured the ordeal.
But, for whatever reason, she turned to me and began commenting on the store, how much she loves it, what great value and quality, etc., etc. I agreed with her pleasantly and tried to just lose myself again in planning, which is what I tend to do in situations like this. I am constantly planning and organizing. This is something that I actually find valuable about down time, so it isn’t wasted. Everyone else on that line was glued to their smart phones. If I wanted to, I couldn’t have even retrieved it from my purse, my arms and hands were so full of merchandise.
At some point this woman shared that she lived across the street in “senior” housing (55+) and comes to the store regularly to shop. This part of the SCV Valley is set up for convenience between residential and commercial hubs, part of the planned community feature designed and built about forty years ago. So, just by using the paseos, someone with a walker, let’s say, can safely make their way from the various senior neighborhoods to adjoining shopping centers like this one.
I told her how wonderful that was and then for some reason, asked her about how she liked living in that senior complex. She told me it was beautiful and she loved it, but she was nervous because every year, they re-up the lease and significantly increase the rent. She is paying $1600 a month for a 700 square foot, one bedroom apartment. In January, it will go up 10% and in 2016, 10% on top of that. If you do the math quickly, you will easily see that this exponential increase will within a few years put the apartment out of reach for probably 95% of seniors — the very people this was supposedly constructed to help.
In fact, the city planning and federal, state subsidies mandate that a certain amount of so-called senior services be included in the mix of zoning and development. But, that development is left to private concerns. Apparently there is no governance or oversight of how and what these private corporations (most of them nation-wide, state-wide and not local) interpret and administer that requirement. If inflation is below 3% per annum, how do they get away with 10% increases?
In places like Santa Monica here in California and New York City, there is rent control or rent stabilization. But clearly, here in Model America (see an earlier post) there is no such restriction. It appears that these entities can either set any parameters they wish, or the caps are very high.
That made me think more about an article I read that said, the problem people like me, progressives, are having getting our message across (apart from billions in dark money, pouring into contentious local elections, blatant voter suppression, attack ads, etc. — a separate subject about which there is no dispute, post Citizens United and a couple of other similar landmark decisions by our conservative Supremes) is that everyone — probably almost worldwide, save for Scandinavia — has swallowed the idea that free market capitalism is not only preferable, but the only way to organize the economics of a society and the worldwide financial infrastructure with which our countries are all intertwined.
I won’t debate capitalism here, but what that ideology does is create a mindset that we are each on our own and that if we are not tough and selfish, someone else will eat our lunch. Understanding why this is not true, takes a level of commitment, study, and perhaps even intellect that is unfortunately not available to the general populace here or anywhere else. Again, save, possibly Scandinavia where a completely different system and zeitgeist are producing a wonderful life for the most number of people.
In this country, only a very few are thriving financially. A shrinking number are living above that magical $70k yearly household income level. Life is a struggle for most people because while incomes have been flat for almost four decades, prices have continued to rise at an accelerated pace. So, more people are having to do with less, if their incomes do not change in tandem with prices. This is not just a recent phenomenon — this has been happening steadily since the end of WWII.
We happened to watch a strange movie from the ’70s last week, titled “Duel” — a kind of cult thriller. At one point the protagonist (Dennis Weaver) says in a silent sort of thought bubble, something like, ‘… in a few seconds, the entire structure of intricate lines that held my world together, and kept the jungle out there at bay, came apart, and I was living in an alien universe‘. It’s funny too, because when I was growing up and getting all kinds of advantages that seemed like luxuries to him, my grandfather repeatedly said in his no-nonsense way, “It’s a jungle out there. I didn’t make it that way, I found it that way and no one helped me survive”. It suddenly clicked. I am and always have been protected from that jungle. But, this is what is happening to so many people who thought they did everything they were supposed to do, and now find themselves literally abandoned to the remorseless forces of a harsh world. So much for our ‘Great Society’ and ‘New Deal’.
My companion went on to tell me her life’s story (omitting the mention of a spouse). She has a PhD in Economics from a UC school, was a public school history teacher for 40 years, until at some point, she was ‘forced’ (her words) to take eleven students who did not speak English. Her story is that she was instructed to bring them up to grade level, despite their having joined the class as teens and being from other countries. She chose early retirement instead. Then she went on, trying to be as fair as she could, to give me a litany of radio talking points.
Here was an elderly, retired public school teacher on a fixed income, living in a tiny apartment, facing the prospect of having to find cheaper housing and being uprooted from a place she loves by a system that takes no account of age, means, service, sacrifice, worthiness or outright decency and ethics. It is a prime example of social Darwinism at work. She doesn’t think about or blame the private corporation that developed her complex, lured people like her in with perks and amenities and the promise of a safe, cozy little enclave with like-mind mature residents, only then to jack up the rates and push them out when they can no longer afford it. She blames the Federal government and you know, that “man” in the White House.
There is no place for this woman to go in Santa Clarita — she will be priced out of living here and will be forced to move to a much less protected, less safe, less ambulatory neighborhood. This had been my same fear for my Grand Uncle until I got him into VA housing. I was worried he would end up in Koreatown and be murdered, as there is a very high crime rate there and the main victims are the poor and elderly.
Somehow, though, this 80 year old did not see that the people she voted for were the very people who champion the system that empowers her landlords to treat her this way. I call it confiscatory predation. They lure the disadvantaged into what seems like a welcoming community designed just for them and then systematically drain them of resources until they reach the limit of their capacity. Then they push them out and bring in newer, younger seniors and the process begins again. How is this any different from the infamous Jamaican telephone schemes that prey on lonely people to get them to transfer money to phony bank accounts on the promise of a large check in the mail and a brand new car? The brains of the elderly make them more vulnerable to being duped, there has been a great deal of scientific research on this fact and it is undisputed. Private corporations know exactly how to market to and use declining judgment as well as desperation, to capitalize (there’s that word again) on need and dependency.
I don’t hear anyone talking about this. Just as I don’t hear anyone really discussing gestation crates and similar atrocities. We are all busy, we have our own needs and stresses, some financial, some physical and mental or emotional. I have them myself. But, my aim is to be awake, even if it is painful. Being asleep and comfortable is a luxury no longer available to me.
How many years have I been shopping all around these senior housing developments and paying little or no attention to what is going on there? This conversation was not something I was seeking, but it came into my life just before this Thanksgiving holiday. The one where people celebrate all our good fortune, while all around us others are suffering in silence.
This is all I will have to say about the election here earlier this month. I think Americans are a basically moral, compassionate, good-hearted people. The only way I can feel better about this is what Geoffrey told me when we discussed it. In the short term, things are not improving in this regard. But, over the long term, 100 years from now, we will not be treating the elderly working poor this way. Geoffrey is philosophical about this. Not raised by empaths, as I was, he, while being a true liberal, far more progressive than even I am, takes a more long-term view of what is transpiring and so is not discouraged.
We will not subject animals to lying on their side, producing more animals to be slaughtered so people can eat them without a second thought to what happened to that animal before it landed on our tables. We will live in a world where women will be treated with respect as equals and paid the same amount of money for the same level and quality of work. We will provide universal pre-K so every child has an equal chance of succeeding in getting an education and having a comfortable life in the future. We will not try to frighten the poor, the elderly, and those of different ethnic backgrounds away from voting in elections. This country will no longer appoint ignorant oil-company flunkies in Congress to oversee our precious environment. We will no longer allow greedy unethical people to lie to us, get us into costly and devastating wars, and to use the radio or other media to penetrate the farthest reaches of our simple country with propaganda meant to keep us from thinking and acting on our own behalf. A country where the “news” isn’t based on viewer ratings and is accurate, for good or for bad, and a place where justice is meted out in blind indifference to economic status or the color of our skin. A country where lawmakers who enjoy free Cadillac health insurance on the taxpayers’ nickel don’t stoop to taking it away from millions of poor people who don’t want to be left to die because they can’t afford to pay for even a Volkswagen’s worth.
And, we will recognize exactly who is responsible for violations of conscience and stop them from taking positions of power, no matter how flawed those who mean and do better are. We will know the difference and we will act accordingly. Well and good. This helps Geoff sleep at night, but I am not sure how I feel about waiting 100 years. I would like this to be part of the so-called American dream and I want it to be in my lifetime.
I had a social psych professor who once said, no matter how people resist making these advances in our society, if we write fairness and goodness into law, these practices will eventually be accepted as the norm. Meanwhile, when crises occur, we can each take that moment and turn it into a movement. We can and have the responsibility to make this world a better place.
In that vein, I want to leave you with something utterly uplifting, thanks to my friend Susan.
Happy Thanksgiving weekend.
Images: Beth Byrnes archives; leftover random shots around Valencia and LA, processed in Topaz.