By Callen Harty
Time and again during the Wisconsin Uprising of this past winter and spring, and now again during the days of Occupy Madison, I have heard the retort from those on the right: “Get a job,” or “Get a life.” I have heard it from those walking by protesters in front of the Capitol. I have heard it from pundits on the conservative media (who never say such things about Tea Party activists when they take the time to rally). I have seen it written in articles and on Facebook pages, along with the idea that all the protesters are union members or people sucking off the government’s teat. Besides the fact that childish name-calling and baseless accusations do not lead to civil discourse and do not lead to a better understanding of each other’s viewpoints there is an even better reason not to say such things. They are simply not true.
I have a job, and so do most of the protesters I have met over the last eight months or so. It’s a good job. The pay isn’t great, but it’s enough to pay my share of the mortage, a car payment, monthly bills, and still leave a little bit left over to spend as I see fit. I enjoy my work, I’m good at it, and I work hard. I am not lazy and I do not belong to a union. I never have, but I fully support unions and what they have done for the working and middle classes of this country. Maybe they aren’t perfect, and maybe they could even use some reform, but they do not need to be gutted and destroyed, unless one also wants the country gutted and destroyed, as the two will go hand in hand.
I also don’t hold anything against those who don’t have a job in this economy, or who are homeless. Instead, I want to see their lives improve. I have at times lived a hard life, mostly when I was drinking heavily (which I quit 22 years ago). I once subsisted for five days on nothing but popcorn. Another time I had nowhere to go in the middle of winter and found myself sleeping behind a washing machine in the basement of an apartment building in downtown Madison. Often friends took me in and helped me out when I needed it. I took government assistance once, when I got food stamps after not eating anything but the popcorn for five days, and I am thankful that the society that I lived in then cared enough about me to allow that. I found a job and got off of them as quickly as I could because I did not want the government taking care of me, even though I had paid my share of taxes to help cover that. I also received unemployment once after losing a job and again found another as quickly as I could. Most of the people I know who have taken assistance have been the same–it was a temporary stopgap that possibly saved their lives at crucial times. I don’t want those social safety nets destroyed. I want to live in a world where as a society we take care of each other in times of need.
Everyone I know who is out there fighting against the destruction of our unions and social safety nets pretty much feels the same and they are all very similar in some key ways. There are lawyers, cooks, consultants, managers, factory workers, postal workers, firemen, the whole range of employed and unemployed, a microcosm of the country as a whole. They come before work, on lunch breaks, after work, on days off. They don’t just hang out on the streets while the government pays their way. They come when they can because they care deeply about our state, our country, and our fellow men and women. If those who would yell at us to go find a job would stop and talk about why we’re there and who we are, they might find they’re more like us than their conservative media sources would have them believe. They might find that they should stop by after work and join the march of progress instead of railing against something that they haven’t taken the time to understand.