Open letter to the 1%.

May 7, 2015 § 6 Comments

Prosperous Workers.

I know you won’t read this.

You have made yourselves as remote and inscrutable as God, and yet as a member of the earthbound 99% I am compelled to shake a fist and shout, “Unfair!” into the wind.

Born in 1951, I remember a time when the middle class held the bulk of America’s wealth. Oh you were rich even then, but you still breathed the same air, walked the same earth as the rest of us.

It was still possible for one of us to become one of you.

In those days the American Dream was so solid it could have been called the American Plan. Work hard, practice thrift, raise a family and pass your gains on. Play by the rules and the opportunity to have a decent life was within reach for almost everyone.

Not anymore.

Little by little you have rigged the game.

Our aspirations remain along with the illusion that prosperity is possible but nothing is what it appears to be beginning with the wayward behavior of gravity.

We, at the bottom are told wealth trickles down, which, even if it worked, is insulting. You get to have it all, and we get to live the adage “one man gathers what another man spills.”

In reality, wealth rushes up.  And you make sure it does.

You have subverted the language, reshaping its meaning to suit your own ends.

Three examples:

Right to work. Of course we want the right to work (and buy groceries and have a roof over our heads) but this appealing phrase is really a legal tool meant to weaken labor unions and diffuse our strength-in-numbers, which is all we have against your overwhelming financial superiority.

Citizen’s United. This is not about a group of citizens coming together to support a worthy cause. This is about giving a collective form of humanity known as a corporation the same rights as genuine individual citizens (that would be us). This collective form of humanity (you) can now buy the government it wants.

Fair and balanced. News used to be “just the facts.” Now opinions are given equal time in the name of being fair and balanced. “Just the facts” was the way to go, but today’s “news” is designed to elicit an emotional response. Leaving the emotional response up to the recipient of that news would be too chancy for you. Keep us riled up and we’re not very effective.

It is to your advantage that we remain ill-informed, pliable, and mad as spit—at each other.

I used to have a neighbor with two small dogs. They would lunge at my dog when we passed in the street, but because their leashes kept them from reaching my dog they’d tear into each other.

Because we cannot reach you with our anger and our frustration we tear into each other.

And you make sure we do. You work our loyalties and turn them against those who are not like us. You know our prejudices and exploit them. You magnify our differences, discount all we have in common because if we pulled together we might look up and see that you (not folks with different religious beliefs, sexual preferences, or political leanings) are the ones who empty our pockets, hold us down.

You do not believe in government of, by, and for the people. You believe in capitalism, and then only with the understanding that the phrase “free market economy” is accompanied by a wink and a nudge.

Over time you take more, and more, and more. You could not possibly need more so it must be a game to you. To us less, and less, and less is a source of daily struggle.

It’s true that some of you give away big chunks of your wealth. For that you are lauded as philanthropists. But in order to qualify for your largess we must first be appealing in our need, and then grateful for your generosity.

There would be so much more dignity in earning a decent wage and being a member of a solid and thriving middle class, independent and self-sufficient, our hats on our heads, not in our hands.

I wish my memory of a thriving middle class were universal. Among the young it isn’t, so let me tell you how it looks to them. The American Plan is gone as if it never was.

And the American Dream? Today’s American Dream is a scratch-off lottery ticket picked up at the local convenience store, a momentary hope that luck will strike right here, right now.

It won’t surprise you one bit that it never does. How could it? It’s a rigged game.

But you know that. The game is yours.

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§ 6 Responses to Open letter to the 1%.

  • Barb says:

    Well said. And the truth is painful to those of us that fall into this “middle class” – Both my husband and I are college graduates, hold professional jobs & live paycheck to paycheck. I would love nothing more than to be able to get a bill in the mail and not have to stress about how I am going to pay it. I imagine our lifespan will be cut short due to all the illnesses caused by living in constant financial stress & not being able to afford going to the doctor. Thank you for an honest article. Hopefully, the masses will rise up and rebel. It’s all we got.


  • Thanks for the comment Barb. It is as if the middle class has been pulled out from under us. As you point out, even educated, responsible people live month to month. I know we do. It takes vigilance and frequent changes in strategy to stay in the black. As you say, that can’t be good for our health. I wonder if we have it in us to rise up we are so factionalized–not to mention stressed, and focused on that next bill.


  • Chris Fogelin says:

    Amy, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, but I think there’s something else, something insidious and pervasive at play here, which may be blamable on the 1%, I don’t know. People seem to need more than they use to to do what they do daily. It’s like we’ve been taught that meals need all the fixin’s for it to be a normal meal. In the past the meal with all the fixin’s was something special, a Sunday dinner, but now it’s “everyday” and that’s a strain. Yes, more and more folks live paycheck to paycheck, but if you compare their lifestyle to the previous generation’s lifestyle, you can see the difference. We’re told this is good, but is it? I wonder who decided this was the answer…


    • Yes, American poverty looks a bit different from poverty in other places, the expectations are higher, so what is considered normal includes lots of stuff. It is an odd paradox. Those who sell have to create urgent demand so some spend money foolishly on things that are not necessary, but I see in my neighborhood, hunger among the kids and turned off power, basics that no one would leave unaddressed if they had any way to avoid it.


  • Paul of Flowerland Mountains says:

    Hey, Mom & Dad:
    Can I come home?
    It’s cold and lonely out here in the low paying world;
    nobody likes me because they don’t know me and I don’t know them,
    and I have to work so hard just get thru the day,

    Can I come home?
    I’m tired of watching MTV with all those commercials,
    and being without all my buddies I used to hang out with all the time before I left home and had to get a job,
    …because I was tired of living under your roof and all your rules,
    … like having to dress for dinner,
    … like not taking myself seriously,
    … and having to marry into the families that you wanted me to marry into because “it is just done that way…”

    but no one out here is any fun,
    they just sit in front of the TV after work in the bar or at home,
    we don’t have anything in common anyway;

    So can I come home?
    I promise not to laugh at your lame jokes anymore,
    and to treat the servants like you do — even more if you want it;
    and even get into the family business of making $….

    Can I come home?
    Please me come home?

    Your prodigal daughter — tired of tending the swine – wants to come home, where it’s safe, I don’t have to talk to anyone who is beneath me, and no one looks at me strange…

    (written by a prodigal great-great-grand-son,
    whose family lost their $ during the Civil war – being on the wrong side …)


    • Nice Paul. Maybe not so much anymore, but when the European immigrant generation, of which my grandparents were a part, told their stories there was always a lost grandeur they longed for, a sense that they had come from better stock. It was as if they hadn’t taken a chance on America because they were so hard-pressed at home. After all, my grandfather’s brother owned a Caravaggio….


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