June 06, 2018

Why we can't have nice things...and how to change that

Philip of Macedon.

People in positions of wealth and power have known the secret of keeping it since ancient times: divide and rule. That statement has been attributed to Phillip of Macedon (382-336 BC), father of Alexander the Great, as well as Julius Caesar (100-44 BC), but the idea was probably already old in their day.

The saddest thing, however, isn't that the rulers do it to us. It's that we do it to ourselves.

Let's look at some real and recent examples in the wake of West Virginia's historic and successful teachers' strike:

*some advocates for the poor were perplexed at the show of support for "middle class" teachers and the apparent lack of concern for those who were worse off.

*some education workers I know have said disparaging things about low-income people who rely on SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid expansion, apparently not realizing that the same people who target poor people also target public education.

*some people who buy health coverage on the exchange at high prices or who have other poor and expensive insurance may look askance at people on PEIA, asking why tax dollars should be spent on health care for public workers.

And so it goes. Like crabs in a bucket, we pull each other down.

If you want to think of how this plays out on a grand scale over history, think about how people have been divided over race, ethnicity, religion, sex, national origin, etc. And who wins when this happens.

This is why we can't have nice things. So far. As Cassius said in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar,

 “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Getting past that will require developing a culture of solidarity rather than division. It won't be easy, but I don't think there's any other way forward.

Once again, a bright spot can be found in the nationwide teachers' uprising that began right here in WV. When teachers flooded North Carolina's capitol in protest, their demands didn't just include raises for teachers and more funding for education. They also called for expanding Medicaid for low income North Carolinians.

Todd Warren, president of the Guilford County Association of Educators, was quoted in VICE News as saying, “We think that that's not only the correct and the moral thing to do, but as educators, our students' well-being and their literal health comes first.”

That's an example of the kinds of bridging that needs to happen if we're going to get out of the mess we're in.

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