...I'm okay with being REALITY-based.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003
      ( 3:24 PM )
Nickel and Dimed All Over Again

A big thanks to Emily at Strangechord for posting the news that Barbara Ehrenreich's fabulous book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America is facing a huge uproar in North Carolina.

First of all, if you haven't read it, go right now, do not pass Go, do not collect your $200 and get it immediately and read it. It is not only brilliantly written but mind-boggling revealing about the day to day lives of Americans who are struggling just to simply make it. In a nutshell, she traveled to three different states (Florida, Maine and Minnesota) and took on four different minimum wage jobs to see how she might live on those wages. The book is an indictment of the generally-held expectation that "anyone can make it in America." So many Americans and immigrants are struggling with jobs like this, and Ehrenreich reveals the truth of the living conditions that are faced by so many families. Please read it.

Anyway, it seems that "The Committee for a Better Carolina" a group of conservatives dead set against the books assigned by UNC for summer reading has raised a full-on protest that Nickel and Dimed was one of the assignments. Declaring it to be "not academically or intellectually useful," the group thinks UNC should also assign the biograph of Sam Walton to balance things out.

Ms. Ehrenreich has written a fabulous response in September's issue of the Progressive: The Antichrist of North Carolina:

But when I read the full page ad the Committee for a Better
Carolina had taken out in the Raleigh News and Observer, I
saw that this controversy was less about the book than it
was about me.

The ad charged me with being a Marxist, a socialist, an atheist,
and a dedicated enemy of the American family--this last confirmed
by a citation from the Heritage Foundation on my longstanding conviction
that families headed by single mothers are as deserving of support
as those headed by married couples. I was greeted on North Carolina
radio talk shows by hosts asking, "What does it feel like to be the
Antichrist in North Carolina?" and similarly challenging inquiries.


I was getting into my new role as North Carolina's premier amateur
philosopher and religious studies scholar, and hoping for some in-depth
discussion of my own "anti-Christian bigotry," as one of the state
legislators put it, no doubt referring to my description, in Nickel and
Dimed, of Jesus as a "wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist."
On the "vagrant" part, there can be no debate, and, although
"guzzling" may be a bit overstated, Jesus was sufficiently associated
with wine ("I am the true vine," etc.) to be confused with the Greek wine
god Dionysus in the Hellenistic world--a subject I have yearned to
expound on for years.

As for Jesus being a socialist, I take it back. He was actually a little to
the left of that, judging from his instruction to the rich man to sell all that
he had and give to the poor. If that's what it takes to be a true Christian,
believe me, it's a hell of a lot easier to be a socialist: You have to dedicate
yourself to working for the poor, just as a Christian should, but at least
you get to keep your stuff. The topic of Christian altruism v. socialist
pragmatism could, I thought, entertain the rightwing radio talk show
audiences for weeks.

And now she gets to the real issue:

But I was being distracted and diverted. The real issue, I've decided,
isn't just the campus and its workers, but the state. According to
the North Carolina Justice and Economic Development Center, 60
percent of North Carolina families with children do not earn enough
to meet basic, bare-bone, needs. Nationwide, when last measured
in 2000, 29 percent of families were in the same straits, giving North
Carolina twice the level of economic misery as the country as a whole.

My former husband, who was a union organizer in the state for
several years, said he'd never seen such poverty anywhere. At a
union organizing meeting held in a motel meeting room, for example,
he noticed the workers covertly pocketing packets of Saltines left
from a previous event.

It's not a pretty picture: Well-fed suits engaging in chest-thumping
attacks on an exposé about poverty while at least some of their
constituents are basing their meal plans around soda crackers. I don't
know much about pornography--and am eager to hear from any reader
who has detected it in Nickel and Dimed--but I do know obscenity when I see it.

Besides giving a good whack to the conservative wankers who want to keep the students from reading this important book, she gets right to the heart of the matter. It's the name of the game these days: distracting the masses with hububs about non-issues so that no one realizes how bad off the working poor of America truly are.

Just like the new "growth" statistics they're giving us in Oregon these days. "Look! The Jobless Rolls (code for unemployed and outaluck) went down from 8.5 to 8.1! Yippee!" The statistics don't tell the truth. We all know that the jobs they are counting are not only not including the people who've gone off the rolls, but they are also pretending that the total jobs available right now are the same amount of jobs that were available 18 months ago, which is a total lie. In truth, the unemployment rate in this state is closer to 10 or 12% (if not higher). How is that possible, you ask? Well, because people are doing whatever they can to get by - which is working two or three minimum wage jobs, visiting food banks when they used to donate to them, and hoping as hard as they can that our numbskull legislature, the only one in the country that can't come up with a budget (but still has time to talk about baseball stadiums), will come up with the funds to provide the regular free school breakfasts and lunches this year for their children who otherwise won't eat.

What is wrong with this picture? Anyone, Anyone?

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