When They Go, Turn Out the Lights
Here it is, nearly the end of June, and I haven't written about this year's Memorial Day. Instead of navel-gazing, though, I would like to focus on "shared sacrifice."
When I was a very little girl, I went to many Memorial Day celebrations. I can remember row upon row of WWII veterans marching together, in straight lines. They were men in the prime of life, and there were lots of them -- even in small towns, like where I grew up.
In those days, a family could live comfortably on one earner's salary. Many workers belonged to labor unions. The wealthiest Americans paid more taxes than the middle or lower levels of society. It was the era of The Greatest Generation.
When we think of The Greatest Generation, we think of the soldiers who kicked Hitler's ass. What we've forgotten is that everyone fought that war. Women at home grew victory gardens and knitted socks. Kids rolled bandages. Men who were too old to fight organized scrap iron drives. Everything was rationed, from sugar to heating fuel. There was a sense of union.
Talk about shared sacrifice! The Great Depression, followed by World War II. Those people knew sacrifice.
Today the members of The Greatest Generation are in nursing homes, mostly, or they're barely ambulatory, or they're dead. When they go, the ideals of the United States of America will go with them.
Fifty years ago, school teachers were an underpaid lot. Nevertheless, teachers were respected, and it was understood as part of the social contract that teachers should make up for their small salaries with quality health care and comfortable retirements. After all, America was trusting its public school teachers to prepare a new generation to take the country onward. Half the population was in a labor union, and teachers weren't allowed to strike (at least where I grew up), so taxpayers tried to be generous.
The days of collective bargaining are drawing to a close, and teachers are still underpaid. Now, at least here in New Jersey (but everywhere else eventually), they stand to lose the cost-of-living increases in their pensions and the pay scales and job security that reward their lifetime commitment to their profession. Not only that, but here in New Jersey we are about to get two new laws lobbed at us. One, anyone who teaches in New Jersey will have to live in New Jersey. Two, any public employee who gets sick in New Jersey will have to seek health care in New Jersey.
You see, there's a powerful political boss here in South Jersey who owns a number of for-profit hospitals. When people seek the highly-trained specialists in Philadelphia, at Children's Hospital or the University of Pennsylvania, or the Crozier-Chester Burn Center, or Wills Eye Clinic, that's money off a billionaire's profit margin.
Welcome to a brave new world that would have been unthinkable to The Greatest Generation. By the time the so-called "free trade" agreements sent all our blue collar jobs overseas, members of The Greatest Generation had pretty much retired. They've been the beneficiaries of the world they created, where no one minded offering help to anyone else, because we were all in it together.
We're not in it together anymore. It's everyone for themselves. It's, "I don't have good health care, so you shouldn't either," instead of, "Hey, why don't we work together to get health care for everyone?"
Our country is more concerned about what women do with their wombs than whether or not living children get a good education.
Our country is more concerned with buying goods at the cheapest prices than supporting our citizen workers.
Our country places a reduced tax burden on people who live behind gates with paid security staff, sending their children to private schools, and paying for the best health care out of pocket.
Our country is asking people who struggle to make ends meet to pay more taxes, pay more toward their health care, lose the social safety nets that keep them solvent, and get by with reductions in the numbers of police officers, firefighters, and school teachers.
Don't blame the Republicans. Who is presiding over the decimation of collective bargaining? That would be Barack Obama.
As we bid farewell to The Greatest Generation, we are also bidding farewell to the America they knew. It was segregated (which we still are), it was Christian (which we still are), and it was informed by collective bargaining (which we are not) and a sense that those who had more money should help more with taxes (most emphatically this is not us).