Income Inequality and The American Dream

Looks like a few other people have some smart things to say rebutting the condescending Generation Y article that was my last straw. First of all, Adam Weinstein wrote this fantastic article outline how exactly the world is different than it used to be, and why the deck is stacked against people trying to build their careers.

Then, there’s the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Death of an Adjunct, describing how an 83 year old professional woman was driven into poverty by the reprehensible policies of her employer (ostensibly for a greater religious good, I might add).

And on The Daily Show this Monday, Jon Stewart interviewed former Labor Secretary Robert Reich about income inequality, the gutting of the middle class, class warfare, upward mobility, citizen activism, and his new film, Inequality For All. He argues for a living wage for full-time work, and against the idea that the working poor are taking advantage of the absurdly over-paid upper echelon.

And I’d like to add this thought to the mix: We need to do away with the idea that being rich somehow makes a person more valuable, their work more worthwhile, and their life choices more justified. Some of our most important professions are among the least compensated – teachers, social workers, firefighters and police – as well as the people who make our daily existence possible – retail workers, grocery store cashiers, restaurant servers. If a person works full time hours, they should be able to pay rent, buy food, drive a reasonably safe car, and educate their children. And I don’t think that being able to take a week off for the holidays and one in the summer is unreasonable either.

Pundits talk about how a rising tide lifts all boats, but that doesn’t matter one bit if you’re standing on the shore wishing you had a boat to begin with. Right now, we have a structure where a very small percentage of people take home more money than they could ever spend, while masses of people are struggling to meet basic human needs. And that’s something we should really be working to correct, as individuals and as a country. Think about how embarrassed we’re going to be if Doctors Without Borders becomes a primary source of medical care for rural America, or when NGO’s show up to help us dig clean wells because there’s been a cholera outbreak in a bankrupt city. And just to be absolutely clear, I’m not arguing for socialism here. I’m arguing for democracy and against plutocracy. It’s time we did more to live up to our own myth of the American Dream.

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On “Kids Today”

Ok, so I’ve just about had my fill of these “What’s Wrong With Young People Today” articles. Not only have the “kids are selfish, spoiled and entitled” sentiment been around literally since Socrates, they’re overlooking an important point: “Kids today” expect a lot because they’ve been promised a lot. Because they were raised by the adults in their lives to believe that as long as they don’t royally screw up, they will inherit a world with even more promise than the world of their parents. And I don’t say that as an indictment of our parents’ generation: that ideal was the truth they saw in their lives. But the fact is, the world changed drastically about five years ago, and what was a fair and reasonable expectation of life’s trajectory was completely transformed.

I don’t think most people in their late 20’s/early 30’s believe they are special snowflakes entitled to be rock stars by 27. Many of us, are however, disappointed by feeling like we’ve worked our asses off for ten years and aren’t very much further ahead. And frustrated and fearful that our parent’s standard of living seems increasingly out of reach for us.

Life isn’t fair and the world isn’t equal, and each of us has to put on our big girl panties and deal with that. But painting an entire generation with a belittling, condescending, self-absorbed brush is really kind of a jackass attitude.

The vast majority of us work very hard. Most of us work hard without the guarantee of job security, health insurance, upward mobility. Many of us feel like we had the rug pulled out from under us. So rather than regurgitating the “10 Things We Need To Give Up To Be Happy,” or “What’s Wrong with Generation Why-Me,” or any other variation of “Why I Think You’re Living Your Life Wrong,” can we all just take that time and energy and be supportive of one another and the work that we’re doing (or not doing) and the kids we’re trying to give a decent life to (or enjoying or work without kids) and remember that we’re all just doing the best we can?

Be loving. Be understanding. Be forgiving. Because it’s who you are, not because they deserve it. And for god’s sake, forgive yourself too.

Humanist Heroes: Jane Addams

It’s time for a new segment! In Humanist Heroes, we’ll have a look at some really important people in history who embodied Humanist values including equality, education, health care, feminism, children’s rights, reason, freethinking, and many other ways to be a positive influence on the world. Even though this blog is from a Secular Humanist point of view, not all of the Humanists featured here will be non-believers. I’ll be focusing instead on the example they set with their actions, as it’s entirely possible to be a Secular Humanist, a Christian Humanist, a Jewish Humanist, etc. As they say, it’s your behavior that makes you a good person, not your beliefs.

Our first Humanist Hero is Jane Addams. Born 153 years ago today, Jane was a pioneer in the Progressive movement of the early 1900’s. She founded Hull House in Chicago, which was a residence for around 25 women, and a community center that offered a kindergarten, music and drama classes, and continuing education for adults, as well as a gym, coffeehouse, art gallery, and services for new immigrants from Europe. They used the latest statistical methods to determine where things like overcrowding, poverty, illiteracy, infant mortality, cocaine use, and typhoid fever were at their worst. Because of their study and documentation, Hull House was able to make significant strides in the treatment and prevention of social ills. Jane was a pacifist, feminist, suffragette, and advocate for children, minorities, and immigrants. She set an example of compassionate service that had a direct impact on the lives of those she served and a legacy that would last more than 100 years, and for her efforts, she was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize.

If you’d like to read more about Jane Addams, you can scope out the above links, today’s Google Doodle or Part 1 and Part 2 of the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast.<

Edit: Here’s a fascinating article on Jane Addams, her partner Mary Rozet Smith, gender expression and sexuality during their time, and “Boston Marriages.”

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What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Two weeks ago, Ben and I got to head back home to visit my family, our friends, and see Tecumseh! Outdoor Drama, where Ben and I met two years ago. I was a cast member and assistant costumer in 2005 & 2011, and Hair & Makeup designer in 2007, and Ben was an actor from 2008 to 2011. I had come back to visit on my off years and to see the show, so the funny thing is that I’d seen him perform but we didn’t actually meet till 2011.

Tecumseh! Outdoor Drama is a completely amazing show about the life of Tecumseh, the Shawnee Indian, who attempted to unite all the Eastern tribes into one confederation to prevent the newly-formed American government from acquiring any more lands by military might or tricksy treaties. Tecumseh lost his bid for military and social equality at the Battle of Tippecanoe, and lost his life in the Battle of the Thames in 1813.

The show features horses, cannons, period weapons, giant choreographed battles, and period garments from white settlers and Shawnee Indians, along with hairstyles and war paint that are both period and culturally appropriate. It’s a big job that requires – in addition to the 75 or more actors – a team of artisans and makers well-versed both in culture and construction methods. The show is performed on the actual homeland of the Shawnee, and is blessed by the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. The Elders taught the songs and dances featured in the show to the original cast forty years ago, and preformed blessing ceremonies on the stage and the “Compound,” where the actors live all summer. Every year they’re able, the Elders come from Oklahoma to see the show, and in 2007, I was privileged to meet Chief Glenna, J. Wallace, the first female Chief of the Shawnee tribe.

The show this year was really fantastic. It had a lot of detail and nuance, the pace was excellent, and the staging and blocking (theater-speak for “where people stand”) was really innovative – which is quite an accomplishment for a show with a 41-year history. We arrived in town on Tuesday afternoon, saw the show Tuesday evening, and stuck around Wednesday to visit our friends and be all nostalgic about living in a toolshed in the woods. We even got caught in a pop-up thunderstorm, assuring that we got the full Mountain experience in our short visit.

Ben and I had a wonderful visit back to our home, the place where we met and fell in love, and where one day we plan to bring our kids to see the show – if not participate in it themselves. And for your enjoyment, here are some photos of the amazing art created there. (Check out the show’s website for photos of the show in action!)

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Our beautiful stage.

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This is a burial bier. If time and circumstance allowed, the Shawnee would place their dead on top of the scaffolding to be closer to their creator, Moneto, for the journey home. The bier would be decorated with items of importance to the decedant. After the bones were cleaned, they would be buried in the tribal cemetery. Warriors would sometimes be buried on the battlefield where they gave their lives. The items in this photo are designed and maintained by the amazing Trevyn Cunningham.

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This costumer is making a horsehair roach. A roach is a headdress that looks like a mohawk. The horsehair used in costumes and props is trimmed from the horses who perform in our show as part of their regular grooming.

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Period and modern weapons are very important parts of the show. They use reenactor’s black powder and are cleaned every day by the actor who uses it. My gun was #17, second from the left, named Wyatt.

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Of course, the best thing about the Mountain is the friends you make while living and working there. Susan Leist, an 8-season veteran, and myself.

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Ben and Holly Allen (who recently married her love, Trevyn Cunningham – they also met on the Mountain!)