We The People brought an end to the Vietnam War. It was a heady time. My government worked; it was responsive — eventually.
I marched on Washington twice. I stood near the arch in Washington Square (NYC) waving my sign and chanting. And I grieved along with the rest of the country when National Guard troops opened fire on students at Kent State and later, Jackson State. Here’s the link to a recent blog post on the anniversary of Kent State.
From our own Boston Tea Party in 1773, the United States has been grounded in the premise that unarmed protest is a natural right. Indeed, our founding fathers guaranteed the right to “assemble in peaceful protest” by including it in our Constitution. It is one of the founding principles of our democracy, along with Freedom of Religion, Speech, the Press, and to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
These “Five Great Freedoms” were contained in the First Amendment and are considered the pillars of our democracy. Of course there are others. But this is not a post on our American system of government. It’s a post on how I came to believe what I believe. So, let’s get back to that.
With Watergate, I lost my idealism. I forgot about We The People and turned my attention to my growing family in front of me.
I married two years after Richard Nixon was first inaugurated and settled into a comfortable midwestern suburb. Our first house, in a Ryan Homes development on a quarter of an acre, cost the equivalent of one year of my husband’s salary. We sold it seven years later for three times what we paid and rolled the profit into our second home, this one on seven acres. It seemed things could only go up, up, up.
And, with the inflation that grew, everything did go up. Except salaries. Prior to the start of the decade, middle class Americans numbered 71% of the population. Just 20 years later — one generation — that figure had dropped to 63%. Reagan’s “trickle down economics” was supposed to pull us back up, but it never did.
This article from the Baltimore Sun, 1992, describes that decline more fully.
An NPR story of research from Pew, tells us that “2015 was the first year on record when Americans in the middle-income bracket did not make up the majority of the country.” In fact, “since economists first began keeping track in 1970, every decade has ended with fewer people in the middle class than at the start.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself again.
During the 1970s, politics was feeling farther and farther away from what was important to me. [click to tweet]
During the 1970s, it was relatively easy (for a white, college educated male) to get into the housing market and we took full advantage of that in 1973. My college debt my husband inherited when we married was issued at 3% through The National Defense Student Loan, a federally supported college loan program first begun under Dwight Eisenhower and eliminated under Ronald Reagan. In 1973, the new car we bought me cost $2,400.
I nursed my first child while watching the Watergate hearings. And I stopped caring about needing to change anything beyond my baby’s diapers. Soon enough I’d have the classic two kids, station wagon, and dog. In the early 1970s, my world was working for me just fine, thank you. Why rock the boat? [Click to Tweet]
The 1970s was the decade when the middle class began its steady decline. My husband lost his job as the company he’d been with for over ten years “downsized” and I went back to school to get a graduate degree, supported by the state of Ohio. By 1983 I had my master’s degree and had began my career as a professional development officer (a fundraiser, to be clear).
The ’80s brought us Ronald Reagan and the euphemistic “Reaganomics.” When he decimated the National Endowment for the Arts, I thought only of how it provided me job security as an arts organization fund raiser. I turned a blind eye when he destroyed the labor movement I had known as a kid. And when the Iran-Contra Affair hit the news, I merely tsk tsked. That he also did away with federal support for higher education (like that 3% bank loan that got me through NYU), went unnoticed by me until my boys were looking at college. I had taken those loans totally for granted.
My memory for the 1980s works a bit like a disco ball: in and out, on and off. Here are the pertinent highlights:
I did professional fund raising during the 1980s starting at a battered woman’s shelter part time, then moving into full time jobs as Development Director first at our local Symphony Orchestra, then at the area’s Contemporary Art Museum. By the end of the decade, I was working as Finance Director for my local Congressman (yes; fundraising). I remember conversations in his office, of life in Washington DC, but the only topic I can recall is of him complaining about the vitriol he felt there, the lack of statesmanship throughout Congress.
At the time Bill Clinton first ran for President, I was teaching American National Government as part of the PhD program in Political Science at Kent State University, around the corner from my home. I’d gone back to graduate school a second time for a number of reasons not important for this post. And, rather than choosing my field of sociology, I chose political science; in hindsight, not one of my smarter moves. Had I stayed in sociology, I’d have been out and done in two years, with that PhD I so coveted.
Be that as it may, as a political science student, I learned I was part of a “politically sophisticated elite,” a somewhat amorphous collection of people who paid attention to politics, who understood its workings and could effect change for themselves. I wasn’t certain I liked that characterization. In fact, later research held that political elites tend to be more ideological compared to “the masses.”
I knew I was not a single issue voter. I believed in a government of imperfect people, just like me, but one that still strived to create a society that did the greatest good for the greatest number. I didn’t want my government, my We The People, to be run by a group of insiders; even one I was part of.
Tomorrow: Part III