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Hello, friends

Post-rally Thoughts

Today in the East Bay nobody is dying in front of my house. Nearby, in Oakland, Richmond, Hayward and all the other rough parts, somebody is shot or stabbed or lying dead in a pool of blood on the hard street, or expiring alone in an apartment, a victim of his or her own despair. Death hangs in the air unseen on this beautiful cloudless day. In my safe suburb, I don't smell the blood unless I lift my nose real high and sniff hard. I'm wrong, nobody lies violently dead or dying now, at this exact moment, 12:51 p.m. PST according to the infallible clock in the upper righthand corner of my computerized desktop. But it's only a matter of time. 12:52. Closer. But I could have been wrong about being wrong, too, writing indoors instead of outside where it's easier to smell faraway blood. Somebody has died violently and tragically or will die that way soon.

I do not feel guilty for my safe life. I feel grateful. I live in a violent society whose boundaries include my own town, but not so terribly. I live far enough away from the hood to walk unmolested to my car in the early morning and take walks whenever I want. But America is on watch now. Deep inside ourselves, we know that nobody is safe, that the grotesque inequities producing violence are not being addressed by anybody in power; the politicians shy away from it. They live in politician land.

I just heard a gun shot. Faintly. Never heard one before except on New Years Eve when all the pent up frustration of the dispossessed class unloads into the night air. This was a different shot. This was a shot aimed at somebody. I heard it, I smell it. Blood is in the air and the sharp cracking retort of a pistol shot saluted it.

Heads must roll, people must die, the poor are getting antsy. They want better wages, better working conditions, and to be able to buy a house. You can't buy a house in the San Francisco Bay Area unless you're very, very comfortable. I am very, very comfortable, I won't lie, I bought at the right time with the right salary, simply by chance, and now own the house I'll die in.

Maybe. If I'm not shot in the street tomorrow. I drive too good a car without dents. It is an extremely modest compact, but it is shiny and kept up. I can afford the luxury of using discretionary cash on my car. When I get in a fender bender, I get it fixed.

The poor drive banged up cars because a fender is not important next to food. Next to rent. Next to clothes. Next to medicine and running electricity and flowing water. Next to real dignity, a deeper dignity that goes hand in hand with economic security, with the minimum means to survive. Next to gas, I forgot gas: If you need to get somewhere quickly, spontaneously, off the public transportation schedule, and you're lucky enough to afford a car, it's better to have gas in the tank than a straight fender in the driveway.

Maybe the shift manager at McDonald's wants you suddenly. Off you go. You enter the restaurant. You work hard. You get paid at the end of a week or two. You look down at your paycheck and laugh.

"All that for this?" you ask. And you decide, what the hell, to go to a protest in Berkeley to ask for a $15.00 minimum wage to help you live decently, with that dignity that comes from feeling truly useful and valued. And from having enough to get by without feeling beggarly.

I attended the same Fight for $15 rally yesterday. I liked standing amidst the passionate, reasonable crowd demanding change from the change-makers, the nickel-and-dimer CEO's who shave every workers paycheck as closely as possible according to cutthroat calculations done by company functionaries who get an enormous, outrageously dressed BIG MAC for making the swinging place happen and slapping together juicier, richer bonuses for all. I can see the rich wiping their mouths smugly. They deserve it, all of it.

Yesterday the poor presented a lesson on the deeper meaning of the word "deserve" all day. "We deserve it, a better life," they said, "an easier, less stressful, more fulfilling life due to a raise. We deserve it because we're hardworking human beings with the same needs as you. We deserve it because we say so, just like you do about your paychecks." That was their case to the rich.

"You've rigged the system for far too long. Let's talk about 'deservingness.' Let's continue the conversation until you hear me." I listened sympathetically. I don't have the details for the policy makers. I have the cracks of gunshots in the air, in America, echoing awfully across this deepening divide between the workers and the professional, salaried class.

How long will it be before the enraged in the hoods quit shooting each other and hunt fatter prey? How long will it be before the patient, rational, law-abiding worker gives up relying on the government to make things better and takes matters into his or her own hands? Maybe I'm just a bleak fantasist. Then again, in the time it took to write this, somebody loaded a gun, I guarantee you, in this sprawling metropolitan area with incredible wealth and comfort situated next to poverty, real poverty.

* * *

He got in a car. He put it in gear. He drove down Desperation Drive for a while, but thinking better of his prospects on Untouched Hill, he turned onto the freeway and raced over to the best neighborhood in the East Bay. He would sneak in because he knows he's a target. He's a white anarchist who is fed up with the system's inadequacy to cover the needs of everybody with a birth certificate, claiming HUMAN in the species box. He's a black man who just doesn't give a fuck anymore. He's a Latino who's tired of working himself to near death to be no closer to true life than before. He's a Filipino retail worker who dresses sharply but can't afford it, crushed by debt. They're all, all Americans tied by one thing: they make less than enough. They have little compared to others who don't seem so special, really, good manners aside, if they've got those. And she? She's a postdoc historian without a chance at gaining a tenured position because of dwindling funding, and the deep distrust of really smart people who think for a living, and share ideas as passionately as business people share quarterly reports. She's a house cleaner who can't make it anymore and whose papa taught her to shoot a gun on a ranch in bitter Mexico. She's a disenchanted activist who's heard it all but not seen enough results. She's a telemarketer for too many good causes and environmentally advanced and helpful products to list, in despair over polite refusal. She's a caretaker for the terminally ill catching a glimpse of a lazy professor's salary. He's a street person who should be put away on meds in a sheltered environment, just lucid enough to be righteously angry, in a stolen vehicle. He's chanting away behind the wheel, "Blow it up, tear it down! Kill a clown, erase a frown!" And next to him sits a vivacious blonde from the high suburbs who just doesn't believe in any of it anymore.

The gun lies on the seat between them. The exit sign says YOUR TOWN, AMERICA.

I need a rest. I need to sit in the shade. I need to recover from standing in the sun all day yesterday with the hardworking folks with enough gumption to come out and be heard. I need an ice pack to cool my melting brain.

I see a car creeping down the street. I see a hand sticking out of the window and blasting a gun in the air for fun, just for fun, it seems, the hand jerking senselessly. Nobody targeted. Yet.

* * *

First three strangers to comment on my blog get signed copies of volumes 1 and 2 of My Three Volume BOXED set. Look forward to hearing from somebody.
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