Okay – I know I’m going to offend a lot of people here – not the least of whom is my daughter who, I know, will strongly disagree with me. We need to stop using the “R” word here – you know the one I mean – the one that refers to Obama’s skin color. Is it it there? Of course it is – but the Republican party is not campaigning to keep a black man out of the White House. They are campaigning to keep a “socialist” out of the White House and racists are only one of the groups they are trying to incite. By responding to the race-baiting with accusations of race-baiting (I know – twisted and convoluted), we are allowing the Republican party to continue a division that keeps us from working together effectively.

Us. Let me tell you who “US” should be –

US is every single person who has ever had to put something back at the checkout register because we were five dollars short.

US is every single person who has ever gone out and picked up the trash collecting on the streets while the city pays public works employees to mow the lawns on the medians in the rich neighborhoods

US is every single mother or father who skipped dinner so that their kids would have a full meal.

Who has ever had to decide between buying a piece of project board for a kid’s school project and a gallon of milk for the family.

Who has had to pay 2-5% of their paycheck to get it cashed because they don’t have a bank account and can’t afford to let their paycheck sit in a bank account for five days to ‘clear’ before they can use their money.

Whose kids don’t get to play Pop Warner football or take dancing lessons because they can’t afford to pay for lessons, transportation and equipment.

Whose kids go to schools where they have to share textbooks with each other because there isn’t enough money to buy enough to go around. Whose kids aren’t allowed to bring textbooks home to do homework because there aren’t enough books for every kid to bring the book home. Who has been asked by teachers to contribute a ream of paper to the classroom because the school is so underfunded they don’t have enough paper for kids to do tests. Whose kids don’t get to play with high-tech equipment in school because the highest tech the school can afford is a television and a DVD player. Whose kids bring home homework that requires the use of a computer and the internet when they can’t afford to pay for an internet connection. Who has ever scrimped and saved to HAVE an internet connection and opened their home to other neighborhood kids so they can do their homework.

We are the people who don’t shop at thrift shops for the cool retro fashions but because we can’t afford to buy new. We can’t afford NOT to shop at Walmart as a political statement because we NEED those lower prices.

We are the fathers and mothers who get up at 4 AM to go down to the place where they hire day laborers to pick orders and unload trucks so that they don’t have to pay benefits or taxes on our wages.

We are the ones who aren’t ‘two paychecks away from being poor’ – we ARE poor.

This is not about race. It is about a political ideology that believes people are poor because they DESERVE to be poor. It is about American Exceptionalism

Dorothy Ross, in Origins of American Social Science (1991), argued that there are three generic varieties of American exceptionalism:

1. supernaturalist explanations which emphasize the causal potency of God in selecting America as a “city on a hill” to serve as an example for the rest of the world,
2. genetic interpretations which emphasize racial traits, ethnicity, or gender, and
3. environmental explanations such as geography, climate, availability of natural resources, social structure, and type of political economy.

This is about the big spooky S word – you know, the one that has been demonized by connection with the Evil Power of Communism. It is the ideology of Horatio Alger – a poor boy can become a rich boy by being clever and industrious. It is about preserving capitalism as it is, for the benefit of those who are already rich. This IS a battle of the rich against the poor, with the beleaguered shrinking middle class – in the middle. Both parties – the left-leaning pro-labor pro-working class Democratic Party and the hard right, pro-business, pro-capitalist Republicans are battling to draw those middle class people into their camp.

In trying to mobilize that middle class, the Republican party has a long history of branding its opponents as un-American, and they do it by appealing to as many fears as possible. The big boogeyman is always the same – Socialism. Communism. It’s always about money, folks – the rallying cry for the longest time has been “They want to take your money and give it to —–” and that —- varies from election to election. In this case, it’s easy – Barack Obama wears a name and a skin color that makes it easy for them to nudge the fires and the fears. Ayers was a plum pick for them – a violent left-wing reformer who has moved into the halls of Academia where he can spread his poisonous ideas. THAT is his true crime in their eyes. He has been associated with ACORN, been called a “community organizer” in the most contemptuous voice possible.

Why the heavy hit on ACORN and community organizing? Because when we organize as communities to benefit all the people, it threatens the profits of the wealthy who own 7 houses and 13 cars. It threatens the comfort of those who can believe with moral certitude that they will never go hungry because they do not make poor decisions and they do good works. It threatens the dearly held resentments of those who believe that their failures are not their own fault – they are the fault of those affirmative action programs that take away jobs that are theirs by right.

Organizations like ACORN who are working to educate the poor and working class about their rights, speaking to them about dignity and charging them with the responsibility to educate themselves and make changes in their lives and in our country are a huge danger to the Republican vision of the “American Way of Life” – a way of life that depends on the myth that anyone who is poor in our great country is poor through their own fault, not through the denial of the right to education, safe housing, healthy neighborhoods and health care.

When we let the rhetoric of race divide us from each other – and I am speaking to ALL of us now – we become fragmented and miss the message. This campaign is not targeted at keeping a black man out of office. It is targeted at keeping a voice for the working class and the poor out of our government in order to preserve laws and policies that help the rich get richer and push more and more people into the ranks of the poor.

As a white woman, I recognize that I have benefited both from the color of my skin and from my parents’ easier access to the path to the middle class. I recognize that it is difficult for those of other races to view me as having many of the same problems and being honestly engaged and honestly enraged at the racist slurs that have been directed at a good man, especially when I’m sitting here saying that we cannot allow ourselves to be this distracted by race baiting. There is far more to it than race-baiting. It is a war on the working class and as long as they can keep us focused on what divides us rather than what unites us, it is far too easy for them to knock us all down.

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