I am not a wealthy woman. I work for a non-profit, so by choosing to work for cause over commerce I already accept a reduction of my earning potential by accepting that any discretionary dollars in our organization are deeded to mission rather than paychecks. It is also a fairly well-known fact that women take on average a 30% earning hit just because of their gender. Still, when it comes to hard times, I look at my community: our schools, the services that we may not use every day like the firefighters, police and emergency response, health care, resources for the unfortunate and the needy, and the public library; and wonder how at least half of this country think they shouldn’t have to pay for anything they don’t use? How did we as a country become so selfish?
I believe that even though I’ve taken pay cuts and a voluntary freeze to my salary, the current budget balancing strategies facing local, state and federal government look as if they will create an even wider divide between the haves and the have-nots. Is the “no tax increase” lobby so powerful that it can ignore the voices in our cities that are chanting much like Dr. Seuss’s Whos from Whoville “We’re here, we’re here, we’re here!” Prior to the “occupy” movement, I was one of the invisible tax payers that was willing to pay more and sacrifice more to have what I believe is a civil society. I believed that intelligence would prevail and that we would do what all families teach their children to do: sharing, exercise the golden rule, and make decisions based on the good of the whole. I belived that we would cinch our belt, make some temporary sacrifices, and take steps to make sure we got through this rough patch together. That was before we found out the banks that we thought too big to fail, flaunted their profits and showered their leaders with compensation nothing short of obscene. It was before the greed of the financial sector was exposed as people lost their jobs and their homes. If even a tenth of the creative enterprise that was used to help squeeze another one-tenth of a percent of profit from all of us unsuspecting “customers” had been redirected into solutions that would allow people to keep their jobs and their homes, this country would be in a far better place.
This summer I had a taste of the disdain and arrogance of both the banking system and the insurance sector (two sectors now raking in the profits). After a water break in our kitchen, it took every ounce of diligence, tough talking, and doggedness to get the insurance company to release funds to have the repairs done (we had complete replacement insurance). Remember, this is money that we as customers paid to the company giving them the opportunity to earn interest on, and they act as if we are the conniving enemy trying to bilk them out of “their” precious assets. Our mortgage company insisted on being co-signers on the insurance check and then proceeded to hold the funds until we could prove the repairs were completed. You see they had a “vested interest.” Let me know if you know anyone who will work without getting paid? After three months of circular arguing, I finally said (well maybe yelled) “Shame on you! You should be embarrassed to look yourself in the mirror everyday based on your policies which are designed to hold customers funds in order to earn profit." It made no difference to their policymakers that we were left with no water, no appliances, and no resources to get repairs underway. I finally had to take out a personal line of credit to get the repair work done (yet again giving banks another opportunity to earn interest). I threatened that I would be moving my business, and I will make good on that promise once they release our insurance funds that they haven’t paid one red cent for.
Do I understand the anger from the “Occupy” protests? You bet I do. Am I going to pitch a tent and take up residence in a town center anytime soon? Probably not. But here’s what I am doing. I am listening intently to the elected officials and seeing who “gets it” as they craft their budget proposals and their campaign promises. I’m tallying who understands sharing, the golden rule, and the good of the whole. I’m looking at the vendors that I do business with. What are their values? Are they willing to go the extra mile for the rest of us? I’m paying attention where my food comes from and I support my local farmer and I'm willing to pay a bit more to support sustainable business practices. For the holiday season, I’m going to seek out individual artists, craftspeople, and businesses (like our local performing arts institutions) that are privately held or community supported to do my shopping. I know both government and business are necessities for a healthy society. But there are people like me that will vow to hold them up to a higher standard.
So consider me pre-occupied. Even though I don’t carry a sign or chant a slogan, there are a few things that I guarantee you that I do: I vote, I read, I advocate to my friends and acquaintances, I support those who have the greater good in mind, and I keep my promises. And I look for businesses and elected officials that do the same.