By David Glenn Cox
There is a war going on our there, a war without and the war within, a war for the soul of America. For three years now, I have lived on its society’s lowest wrung. I pay the tax rate of “zero” percent, which so many Republicans dream of paying. I sit here and I do what I do and I love what I do. I just hate the reason that I must do it. It is neither cute nor amusing to me. I am neither boastful nor proud about it. I am a war correspondent, and I will continue to report the crimes against the people, until the end, because it is all that I have. It is my only tool.
Throughout these three years lost, I have talked with literally hundreds of people in various states, regions, occupations and situations across this country. We have 6.8 million American seniors living in poverty; those over forty struggle to find work. We have over twelve million officially unemployed, but unofficially, it’s many more. Their stories are all similar and yet individualized. There is an underlying theme to them all, of a people struggling just to get by and of a government which ignores their plight.
We live in fear for each day, locked outside of this economy, despite a resume filled with a twenty-year career of successful sales and management. I have been forced into day labor just to survive. I’ve shoveled rock and built fences, I’ve stained decks and torn out dirty carpet trying to keep this dream of mine alive. I began writing in my spare time not long before the world caved in. The ability to write
had helped me to get through school and had assisted me in my business career. However, writing for a living is far different proposition than writing a business report or a term paper.
The decision to take up this strange craft did not come easily, but was instead, a decision made for me. It was the inability to find conventional work which motivated me. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t see or hear something which reminds me that I am living out a modern-day version of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.” When I question my own sanity and self-worth, I hear Steinbeck’s character, Muley Graves, “Do you think I’m touched? Cause if I’m touched, I’m touched and that all there is to it.”
That is a part of this experience which is repeated in each of these individual stories; people who have become invalidated, people having lost their self-worth and who are trying desperately to get reconnected with it. The Preacher Casey answered, “You ain’t touched, you’re lonely, but you ain’t touched.” I read the story the other day of another young woman, and she told her own tale of descent from prosperity into poverty. She lives in a tent now, in a campground in California and sells her belongings from a storage building to get by. She had inherited millions and she also had a fine education and yet in this country, she is homeless.
I identified with her immediately, because her story is so similar to all of our stories. That is why I do this, to tell these stories. This woman’s story was filled with rage and animosity, she’s been robbed and pilfered by the system and I understand that, I was robbed and pilfered by them as well; only, she has not yet come to grips with where she is now, the new world in which she occupies space.
Al Joad: Ain’t you gonna look back, Ma? Give the ol’ place a last look?
Ma Joad: We’re going’ to California, ain’t we? All right then let’s go to California.
Al Joad: That don’t sound like you, Ma. You never was like that before.
Ma Joad: I never had my house pushed over before. Never had my family stuck out on the road. Never had to lose everything I had in life. – (Grapes of Wrath)
To me at least, these stories are valuable. When stacked together they are news and these are the stories of real people whose miseries, by their preponderance, defeat any political spin or arguments of right and wrong. Because these people are our own people. They might have been rich or affluent a while back, but now they live here with us, with you and me.
Tom Joad: That ain’t it. It’s just, well as long as I’m an outlaw anyways… maybe I can do somethin’… maybe I can just find out something,’ just scrounge around and maybe find out what it is that’s wrong and see if they ain’t somethin’ that can be done about it. I ain’t thought it out all clear, Ma. I can’t. I don’t know enough. – (Grapes of Wrath)
There is no other in this thing, no purpose in writing other than to tell a human story which is both true, tragic and needing to be told. Apparently, that concept has grown quaint in modern media circles. For seven years before the outbreak of WW2, Ernie Pyle traveled the United States telling the stories of average Americans for the Scripps-Howard news service. During those days, Ernie lived in relative obscurity with few newspapers showing any interest his columns.
At the outbreak of the war, Ernie went overseas and wrote the stories of the GI’s far from home. He wasn’t doing anything that he hadn’t been doing all along. He was telling the stories of the common people. His dispatches weren’t filled with facts and figures or the fluff reports released by headquarters, Ernie’s dispatches were about the people.
“A narrow path comes like a ribbon over a hill miles away, down a long slope, across a creek, up a slope and over another hill.
All along the length of this ribbon there is now a thin line of men. For four days and nights they have fought hard, eaten little, washed none, and slept hardly at all. Their nights have been violent with attack, fright, butchery, and their days sleepless and miserable with the crash of artillery.
The men are walking. They are fifty feet apart, for dispersal. Their walk is slow, for they are dead weary, as you can tell even when looking at them from behind. Every line and sag of their bodies speaks
their inhuman exhaustion.
On their shoulders and backs they carry heavy steel tripods, machine-gun barrels, leaden boxes of ammunition. Their feet seem to sink into the ground from the overload they are bearing.
They don’t slouch. It is the terrible deliberation of each step that spells out their appalling tiredness. Their faces are black and unshaven. They are young men, but the grime and whiskers and exhaustion make them look middle-aged.
In their eyes as they pass is not hatred, not excitement, not despair, not the tonic of their victory — there is just the simple expression of being here as though they had been here doing this forever, and nothing else. The line moves on, but it never ends. All afternoon men keep coming round the hill and vanishing eventually over the horizon. It is one long tired line of ant-like men.” – Ernie Pyle
On D-day, Pyle could have gone ashore with the first wave in Normandy, but instead he wrote about laborers unloading hundred pound ammunition cases in eighteen hour shifts. They were men assigned a thankless, mundane and repetitive task. But these common laborers knew that their task was not only necessary, but vital and Ernie knew it too. He knew that all of us matter and that there are no stragglers in this long line. When the war ended in Europe, Ernie reluctantly went on to the Pacific theater. Not because he wanted to go, but because he was expected to go.
He felt that he owed it to the mothers and fathers to tell the stories of their boys so far from home in the Pacific. Ernie lived with the soldiers and eventually he died like one of them. He was killed by a burst of machine gun fire on Ie Island just to the west of Okinawa. The lesson Ernie Pyle teaches is that it isn’t how we die, but how we live. It is what we live for and what we are willing to fight for.
As we waited at the bus stop this morning, a man held his bicycle. His hair was greasy and his pants unwashed. He is one of the multitude, one of the millions and one of the lost. As the bus rumbles along through working class neighborhoods I see the legal notices pinned, taped and stuck to the front door glass. During a fifteen minute bus ride I see three such notices. It is the announcement of three more households joining the society of the dispossessed, announcing three more households who are joining the ten million households who have gone before them into the road.
I watched a program on Public Television the other night about FDR’s tree army the CCC and fought back tears. I fought back tears because of the simplicity of the program, The simplicity of answers which could easily be implemented if only, if only, someone really gave a shit about the well-being of our people. Our long line grows, but it does not move.