Thursday, June 23, 2011

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).

Goodbye, Greatest Generation. Someone turn out the lights when the last of you leaves the planet.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

I just received sad news today that a friend's father died last night. He was a WWII vet and served in the Canadian navy. He was a feisty old bird right til the end. There are increasingly fewer vets left from that war all the time. And you're right, the world they knew (for good and bad) has gone with them.

Alex Pendragon said...

Yea, and I really pity the Iraq and Afghanistan generation when they limp home and discover how we support our veterans now. You're on your own, bud, thanks for losing you leg for......we're not actually sure why you lost that leg but thanks anyway.

Linda's Dad said...

Best comment on the way things are and the way things were that I have read in ages. I guess, in a way, we're all to blame in one way or another.

The Kitchen Witch said...

I just love this post. It's all true, we are losing what made America great. A sense of shared sacrifice, pride in all that we have accomplished, and most of all the gratitude to those who risked everything so we could keep it. The Founding Fathers tried to protect the minority from the majority but now big business has co-opted our security, they pay the least while the underpaid and over worked get their taxes raised. Our bridges and roads fall into disrepair while they fly on private jets everywhere. Our kids schools fail them while they ensure that their offspring go to the finest private schools so they too can become on of the "haves". It makes me so angry that we have advanced so little from the days of the nobility and serfdom. I wish you had a share button so I could post this to my facebook page.

The Traveler said...

We are no where near the people, or the country, they were. If the events that transpired in their lifetime had transpired now we would lose. America as a society has become self involved for too long. The majority of people don't vote except for presidential elections and would rather watch reality tv than political commentary. We gave our country away because we were too busy, or lazy, or just didn't care enough to actually pay attention to it.

Anonymous said...

Go ahead, blame the Republicans. There's plenty of blame to go around.

Davoh said...

Turn out the lights?? No way. Turn more on ..


I don't think this is what they fought for.

Anne Johnson said...

Excuse me. Who am I blaming in this post?

Intense Guy said...

Bravo! This is very well written - and should be published in the newspaper.... too bad they don't publish news or quality anymore.

I was a bit stunned when I heard that bullbleep about having to get healthcare within the state... NJ politicians are really full of "it."

Unfortunately a lot of the other states are getting to be as bad.

kimc said...

I agree with this except blaming it on Obama. The system, as it stands, is inherently corrupting. When it takes lots of money to get into office, the people with the money really rule. also, our system is set up so the President doesn't really have that much power. Now, because of a couple of things, it's really the Supreme Court who are kings of this country.
We're hoping to turn some new lights on: solar powered. But, it's not looking good.