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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Communist from the bottom: I tried to claw my way out of poverty

The following is an article from Kasama Project, a reconstruction of a communist organization. Rosa Harris is a founding member of Kasama. This is a good example of a slice of life here in the US from someone on the bottom of the economic ladder. Along with statistics and analysis of US class structure, we need these kinds of first hand accounts of what it really means to be a member of the proletariat or the semi-proletariat;
- សតិវ​ អតុ

By Rosa Harris

The corporate American Dream?
Not once. Not ever. Not that I did not want to.
Honestly, I tried. I just could not manage it. I could not get past the interview. I could not get the stiffness down along with the half-hearted lipstick smile. My legs just don't cross and that is a birth defect and walking in heels is an instant sprained ankle. Stockings seem to run before I can get out of the car no matter how much I invest in them. My older brother even once blurted out that I was more of a boy than him. I could not get in the corporate box. I could not land THE job.
And that sux, because I did everything right. I did everything you are supposed to. Now, I didn’t graduate High School. I dropped out in the 9th grade and got my GED the same year with special permission to test early. It actually was not much of a choice, but that is another story. When my class was graduating high school I was graduating with an Associates of Applied Science in Electronics specializing in computer systems. Not only did I graduate, I graduated with a 3.98 GPA. I got my FCC certification, too and that is considered pretty hard.
It's not that those grades came easy. I busted my ass for two years while holding down a minimum wage job.I had to make up own my own for all those Algebra and science classes I missed leaving High School early. I spent every spare minute in the books working problems back and forth. That is what I wanted desperately out of.
I'd had my fill of poverty. I'd had one too many nights with nothing but baked taters on the table. I'd spent too many summers chucking water melons to the next poor soul in dusty sweltering South Georgia fields for next to nothing. I wanted to live somewhere that had a real heater and the wind did not blow through at night chilling you to the bone.
It was not that I wanted to live rich, I just wanted to live dignified. I wanted to really taste what it felt like to be respected. And I just wanted the fuck out of hell.
And I wanted to prove I was not the broken waste and social trash society made me out to be. I wanted to prove I could 'do it' and that I had 'value'. But all that did not matter. It did not count one iota.It also did not matter that it was 1998. Computers were just breaking. The field was wide open. I was there as we all sat jaw-dropped in the lab around a desktop and watched it load up DOS all by itself from this new thing called a hard-drive.
That should have been enough. I should have been in on the ground floor. I should have been able to ride the fricken computer wave into history. I should have been 'somebody' – even if a little 'somebody' in a neon-lit back room of o-scopes and soldering irons. Nope. That is not what happened. No, I missed some details. First of all in 1989 the field was not open to women. I got bizarre comments from interviewers.
"Aren't you worried you will get your pretty little dress dirty?'

Or "I'm afraid you would complain about our tech guy's Playboy calendar"

and "well, you scored higher on our test than even engineers have but we hire women in product assembly" basically he was offering me a minimum wage sweat shop job instead of the tech job I applied for. 
It was fail after fail. Most of the time I just could not comprehend where I went wrong while all my classmates landed their jobs. Somehow I was not 'right for the job'. It left me feeling lower than when I had started. It seemed something was terribly wrong with me after all. There was something that I just could not bypass. I could not get around.So, the geek dream never happened for me. I could land a low wage job like cake. I did it many times. It never took me more than a week to come up with one. I ended up working at McDonald's. I eventually made it to shift manager which does not pay like it sounds.
It still seems something about me marked me with this 'caste'. Was it the way I talked Was it my personality? Was it where I came from? And I still can't figure out how to break through from the working poor. I was more qualified than most. I did it all right. I've got nothing to show for it. I never even got a new car. But now I'm wanted less.
Now I'm disabled. Not throw away but already thrown away. I'm not profitable to hire – especially for the low wage jobs which are very mentally, emotionally and physically intense. It's too uncertain if I will be at work this week, or next week or be able to maintain. And it sucks, because I don't like not working. I loved working. I love being around people. I miss people. Being disabled is a lonely world. I'd go back to McDonald's if I could.
And despite what is said in this society, people love to work. It not uncommon at all for a retiree to go back to work somewhere because she misses being out and at work. Unfortunately its becoming more common that the must go back because they can't make it on retirement. At a deep level humans like to DO. That is what made humans what we are – our dive to DO shit.
We are not inherently lazy. Think about little kids there for a second with no responsibilities – they are constantly doing and trying to learn to the point it often annoys adults. But as much as I want to be 'a valuable part of society' capital has no place for me. It has no value for me. I'm a social liability not an asset and that message is sent over and over again.
They want me to just disappear. They wish I would just die.
There have been times I have considered it.
The message is that strong. And although I have done nothing wrong this system leaves me in a financial mess where I can't feel 'self-sufficient' or have any basic dignity. There is no dignity in going to the welfare office to get food stamps or picking up free groceries at a food bank.
There is no dignity in the constant message that your life is a burden on society. Now, I have too many tears to speak for it. No failure of my own cursed my son to be homeless as a kid and then be raised in a housing project. He went to a school that did not teach. This was not what I wanted for him. It was not what I planned for him. I did not plan for the police to treat him like the suspect when out apartment got robbed and follow him for two weeks.
I did not plan to have to worry that he just might not come home every day – because it did happen – and three people were shot on my block on my street while we lived there and another was stabbed to death. I am treated, was treated as if this is exactly what I desired all long – to live off the system. It takes a lot of effort at times to remind myself that every human, even me, has value.
Communist don't judge people by their work output or profitability. I do have meaning. I do have a history and a story. I fight for a society that will the people the way my comrades do. It is one thing that makes communists so special and needed - that they see something besides use value in humanity.

For the rest click here.

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