Helpless Feelings

The thing about feeling helpless in the face of rich people’s ever-increasing influence over policy decisions in this country is that there are more of us than there are of them. I mean: they’re the 1% and we’re the 99%. But there’s another problem: the 1% are really good at spending their money on making the 99% bend to their will.

It helps to keep those 99% uninformed, uneducated, and unwilling to see itself as a single socioeconomic bloc with shared interests worth voting toward. It’s why, on this one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, I’m glad people in New York are still chanting Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out! in Zuccotti Park. Listen closely to their messages and OWS transcends left-right divides.

A little under a year ago, a friend of mine complained that OWS was so hypocritical—a lot of unemployed people spending their time protesting instead of finding jobs, much less making them. I had to explain to him that this wasn’t the point exactly, or even the case. That employed people were part of OWS. That people had left employment to join OWS. That instead the fury was over the federal government’s readiness to forgive Wall Street’s criminal activities with enormous bailout checks, while the middle-class were being asked to accept closed libraries and post offices, aggressive home foreclosures, and increasing student-loan debt without any hope of government assistance.

“Oh,” he said. “See, nobody’s really explained it like that.”

I didn’t even do a good job. Politics—particularly when it gets into fiscal policy—tends to cloud my head with abstract notions and make it tough to see the right path as a voter. I can’t be the only one. It’s why cable news and party affiliation is nice—they can do the thinking for you. But everyone knows now this is a dangerous way for a 21st-century U.S. citizen to behave. That being an informed citizen—an adult, really—takes hard work. It’s why I’ve been very happy for Left in Alabama this last week. They’ve got opposing viewpoints to weigh, for one thing, most of which with sourced links to follow. I’ve felt less alone and worried.

Most Alabamians know we’ve got a weird one-issue election Tuesday the 18th. The state is asking its citizens to vote on a new constitutional amendment[a] allowing it to take from the Alabama Trust Fund $145 million a year, for the next 3 years to spend on Medicaid, prisons, and other pressing budget needs.

I’m voting no.

Normally I’m for deficit spending, especially on social services, but Alabama has been cutting budgets to education so much that it ranks first in the nation in education cuts. Its perennial cuts of budget apportions to UA has caused repeated tuition hikes, transferring the costs of an educated public from the government we elect to students and their families.

Also, Governor Bentley has led the state to pass an expensive, unhelpful immigration law which has been more even more expensive to defend in courts. He’s OK’d billion-dollar tax breaks for companies while trying to cut public health care to children. And he’s scheduled this election—which costs us $3 million—on an errant Tuesday in September, rather than waiting 40 days to put it on the November ballot.

Which citizens share—not in theory, but in practice—these priorities? Republicans (at least in Alabama, though the case can be made) are the party of fiscal irresponsibility. And from what all I’ve read, it feels like voting yes tomorrow is a way of endorsing this irresponsibility. I don’t want to vote on a bailout for our state legislators to continue this junk budgeting.

And I don’t buy into the scare tactics.[b] If the amendment doesn’t pass, no official will want to be held responsible for closing nursing homes and freeing prisoners. They’ll be forced in a special session to rethink the budget. This is not an emergency, for which we need to draw from our trust fund. This is a manufactured political moment, where the party in power doesn’t want to work on a fair budget for the people.

Here: I’ll let this Left in Alabama post say it clearly:

If you like the way things are in Alabama, a “yes” vote probably makes sense. If you believe the people have the power to force the system to make changes, vote “no.” Left to itself, Montgomery will preserve its status quo approach forever, but the Legislature has given voters an opportunity to send them back to the drawing board and demand they find a better way next Tuesday.

Voting happens in your standard voting place. And you do not need a photo ID to vote (bank statement, utility bill, passport…click here for the full list). That nasty vote-suppression law doesn’t go into effect until 2014.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Not, in essence, a big deal. Outsiders should check out our constitution’s Wikipedia page for more.
  2. The language of the amendment calls us to vote “to prevent the mass release of prisoners from Alabama prisons, and to protect critical health services to Alabama children, elderly, and mothers”.

One thought on “Helpless Feelings”

  1. This will likely be the first time you’ll vote with the Tea Party! Welcome to Alabama, where governance is truly a hall of mirrors and nothing is what it seems.

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