October 18, 2011

Op Ed in Press Citizen/Occupied by 99% of us and proving it

The following account is embarrassing to share, but I feel there is something instructive in it. About three years ago, I was laid off from my $65,000 a year job. At the time, my wife and I had credit card and other debts approaching $48,000, this in addition to a home mortgage of $151,000. In the eight months that it took me to find a new job, we went through most of our liquid assets to pay off many of our debts and to stay afloat while foregoing personal bankruptcy.

We cut every corner that we could and we availed ourselves of the Crisis Center's food bank because we literally didn't have grocery money. Unemployment compensation helped us too, but at about a third of my then normal take home, it was barely paying the mortgage. I'm not going to lie, it was a dark time for my wife and I, but not without moments of grace from caring friends and the gift of shared time together while I interviewed for jobs.
When I found a new job in town, it was nearly $30,000 less than what I was being paid and with less benefits. But I was (and am) grateful to have a job, to be able to continue living in Iowa City, and to keep our home.

Since then, I very much enjoy my job in that I can assist others in their job search and career planning, And believe me when I say that I have a lot of empathy for the people I have a chance to help. Also, I have been able to take on part-time work and our income is back up to 80% of what we used to bring home. Most recently though, I've seen the money in our retirement account decrease by 14% while witnessing corporate profits skyrocketing.

I support the College Green campers and other protesters across the state and the US because there is something fundamentally wrong with the way that unscrupulous organizations are able to continue to profit astronomically on people who play by the rules, try to be personally responsible, and still find themselves barely making ends meet.

Beyond Wall Street, state and national politicians who supposedly represent us on Main Street, have let us down. Too many people I know are also trying hard to keep it all together. I regret to say that I do not trust most politicians to make a difference for me, not when they benefit from corporate underwriting to win and keep office and allow those interests to write the rules that we have to live by. On the other hand, I trust that things can change through people paying attention and protesting in their way.

In the past, I have put a lot of energy into actively changing politics, but find that I have so little left in the tank because of the day-to-day worries of paying the bills and meeting obligations. To those who are camping out and marching, I hope you can understand why I'm not out there with you. My wife and I thank you for your sacrifice. To those of you who don't think that this occupying movement is the right course of action, what are you doing?

Garry Klein is a current board member of PEACE Iowa, and an Independent voter.

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