Jean Stimmell: To regain unity as a people, we must decrease inequality

  • Occupy Wall Street protesters sit in Zuccotti Park in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan on Oct. 8, 2011. Jean Stimmell

For the Monitor
Published: 9/26/2020 6:20:06 AM

I recently wrote (Sunday Monitor Forum, Sept. 13) about the human cost of growing inequality in New Hampshire, quoting a Pittsfield High School student testifying to the Legislature: “Every year, we’re set up to lose more and more, and at some point, there’s just going to be nothing left.”

That quote hit me right in the gut, along with a recent piece from the Guardian about birds “falling out of the sky,” part of a mass die-off. The birds are dying from starvation, plummeting to the earth in mid-flight, “literally just feathers and bones,” due to a combination of climate change and forest fires.

Like children in poor towns in New Hampshire, they, too, have nothing left. In both cases, the root cause is callous indifference by the power elite of our country, more concerned with profits than the welfare of our neighbors, human or otherwise.

In New Hampshire, we are faced with a test on whether we will continue to let the unfortunate among us plummet into dire straits. As it is, we have an inadequate safety net to catch those who are falling, with the situation destined to get worse because of looming revenue shortfalls, as a result of COVID-19. Already Gov. Chris Sununu is threatening budget cuts. And that’s not counting future deficits, resulting from the second wave of pandemic predicted for this winter.

We know who will pay the price: The middle class, or what’s left of it.

Economist Peter Temin argues that we are becoming a divided country where the people at the top don’t relate to the rest and don’t even care. On one side, we have the top 20% with a college education who work in finance, technology, and electronics: “Think Silicon Valley and Wall Street.”

On the other side, we have everyone else “huddled together in increasing poverty in the low-wage sector, burdened with debt, struggling to pay their home mortgage. . . . Higher education . . . is increasingly out of reach – public schools are defunded. . . . For the majority, there is no future. The middle class is hollowing out, the American Dream is dead.”

Workers understand this. That’s why they flocked to Bernie Sanders’s campaign and that of Donald Trump. Unfortunately, while Trump successfully tapped into real feelings of pain and legitimate grievance, all his promises to fix things were a con.

Several states, suffering similar shortfalls, are raising their income tax on the rich. The governor of New Jersey, a former big-shot at Goldman Sachs, affirms that he has no grudge against the rich. “But in this unprecedented time, when so many middle-class families and others have sacrificed so much, now is the time to ensure that the wealthiest among us are also called to sacrifice.”

An additional eight other states are considered proposals to increase taxes on high-income residents, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But not Chris Sununu, hopefully the last in a long line of New Hampshire governors who pledged to veto any broad-based tax.

Inequality is not a fact of life, etched from the beginning into New Hampshire granite, a point made by David Graeber, ground-breaking anthropologist, scholar, and intellectual leader of the Occupy Wall Street movement, who died unexpectedly last week at the young age of 59.

He was a scholar who taught at Yale and the London School of Economics. His research showed that egalitarian cultures – including large and sophisticated ones – were quite commonplace throughout history.⁠ Orion magazine this month features one such government, flourishing in New England when the white settlers arrived.

This was the Iroquois Confederacy, which successfully united five warring nations in an equitable peace. Our Founding Fathers were so impressed by this Native American government, they thought they could copy it.

As Benjamin Franklin remarked, “It would be a very strange thing if Six Nations of ignorant savages should be capable of forming a Scheme for such Union, and be able to execute it in such a Manner, as that it has subsisted Ages, and appears indissoluble, and yet that a like Union should be impracticable for . . . English colonies ”

But, alas, that “very strange thing” is happening: We are proving unable to measure up to those “ignorant savages.” In truth, from the beginning, we never had a perfect union. It’s next to impossible when the ruling elite is racist and patriarchal and beholden to the monied class.

Unfortunately, these old prejudices still persist, leading to the sad state we find ourselves in today. Many have recited the facts, but that’s not enough. “Old ways of seeing do not change because of evidence; they change because a new language captures the imagination,” as author Jack Turner has written.

Maybe the new language we need is the old language still spoken by our indigenous brothers and sisters, captured in this quote from the Orion article written by Sandy Bigtree of the Mohawk Nation: “As we are now confronted with environmental devastation, global pandemics, an economic system that fosters chaos in the world . . . perhaps it is time to pick up where the Founding Fathers left off and continue to learn from the [Iroquois Confederation]. What better time than now to consider the ancient wisdom of our ancestors who, for thousands of years, sustained a more equitable way of living. . . . . Who better to model a world where women reside at the center of deliberations and nature exists as our relative – not just a resource?”

Politicians of both parties, are you listening?

(Jean Stimmell is a semi-retired psychotherapist living with the two women in his life, Russet the artist and Coco the Plott hound, in Northwood. He blogs at jeanstimmell.blogspot.com.)




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