by Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt
Depending on your point of reference—political affiliation, employment status and maybe ethnicity—you probably look at the episodic real life soap opera playing itself out between the unions/Democratic Party and the Republicans through prisms that distinguish the conflict as left versus right, unappreciated public employees versus demagogic political masters, or maybe as over compensated public workers versus struggling, overburdened and overtaxed citizens.
Most people have taken one side or the other, a fact that was very evident in yesterday’s elections, which were as much about Governor Scott Walker as they were about county executive or a Supreme Court justice. Even school board races carried the scent of the recently awakened giant.
If you voted, that is.
As the voting tally indicated, not everybody was caught up in the hype, and for many it wasn’t about apathy or political ignorance. Instead, they represent a large segment of folks who looked on the events of the past two months with awe, envy, frustration, jealousy and maybe a tinge of anger. For they make up the ‘Tweeners’, forever caught between a rock and a hard place, used as statistics, making poverty pimps secure, often talked about by politicians when seeking election, but ignored, even now by union organizers and Democrats as they fight to maintain their seats at the table, pushing past the Tweeners who have never been allowed to get past the doorman.
Many of you see this historic battle between the Left and Right (that’s putting it simplistically) through philosophical lens, both sides assuming they are in the right. But the Tweeners peer through totally different prisms, glasses smeared by years of apathy and maybe disdain by some of the same folks who are making national headlines for their activities of the last two months, demonstrations and campaigns organized in the name of ‘workers’ and the downtrodden.
The Tweeners’ bifocals are fogged by their history of struggle to provide food on a irregular basic for children failed by the pubic schools, churches that are too exclusive to accept a less fortunate member, and social services offered by suburbanites who can’t relate to your condition, but don’t hesitate to make a living based on your poverty.
Indeed, after two months of tumultuous demonstrations generated by Governor Scott Walker’s legislation to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees, the nation seems fixated on Madison and Wisconsin. The televisions and social media bring into people’s homes images that make it easy to take sides. They showcase the different opinions based on the station’s political positioning. But none of the stations, or the Facebook or Twitters sees things through the eyes of Tweeners. As usual, they are the invisible people, the voiceless who should have been center stage and would have been had they not been an embarrassment to both sides.
As such, this battle of the biggies means little to the Tweeners. They were unemployed and ignored before this civil war; they are the slaves, the mass of bodies cast aside to make room for placards and marching routes.
The Tweeners were ignored when the stimulus billions were handed out. Instead, they watched in awe as those dollars were divided up among those at war today. The Tweeners cried in the wilderness for a share, even a few crumbs to improve their lives, but no, no one listened, even as the Tweeners’ misery was the reason for the political season.
The Tweeners, often referred to as the rock bottom, the chronic unemployed, the welfare queens and kings, the at risk children and the homeless vagabonds, just watched recently as Democrats and Republican debated how much to cut energy assistance and Pell grants out of the federal budget. Two more lifelines to a life of normalcy severed.
Obviously, the politicians in Washington, care as much—or little– for the plight of the Tweeners as do those in Madison who callously cut W-2’s miniscule benefits by $20 (that’s food for a week if you play it right), education by $75 million, (wasn’t it supposed to be our passport?) and summer youth jobs by millions, dimming any hope that the offspring of Tweeners can bring extra income into the rat holes…er excuse me…households when school is out and free breakfasts and lunches are no longer offered.
Several Tweeners I hang out with laughed when we were sitting at a lunch counter watching on television the events playing out during the three-week long Madison Meltdown. One brother, in particular, ecstatic that I agreed to buy his lunch was loose lipped when he mocked both sides in the civil war. “They are fighting over ‘lective bargaining? What’s that?
“They are fighting over paying a few bucks on health insurance, and pensions. Hell, what’s dat? I ain’t had no insurance since ’78. My doctor name is ‘Dr. Walgreen’s.’ Pension? Ain’t no part time job giving benefits, much less a pension. I don’t remember no politicians or union person fighting for me to get a decent job. Hell, we outnumber dem people 10 to one. Tell Jesse Jackson to come speak for us.”
I’ve talked to several Tweeners in the last week, including some who looked at me as if I had open sores on my face when I asked if they were going to participate in the King Day march, travel to Madison, or vote. And Jesse? He was called everything from a poverty pimp to an adjective I can’t repeat. (I admit feeling insulted by Jesse’s commercial equating King’s assassination to the cruxifiction, and Election Day to the resurrection. That’s going too far in the name of political expediency.)
The Tweeners are the true victims of America’s double standard and rancid hypocrisy. Ignored by whoever is in power (Democrat or Republican), sweep under the rug, the invisible people.
Even the civil rights community ignore them as they talk—just talk—about education, jobs, and social justice. To those Tweeners I linked with Jesse’s two-week appearances in Milwaukee was an insult. One sister asked who paid for him to be here. After that, I left it alone.
I ran into a Tweener at the gas station around the corner from my voting place Tuesday and asked if he had, or was going to vote? As he carefully slowed the pump to stop at $7 (which is less than two gallons of gasoline) he gave me one of those interpreted smirks before saying, “for who, for what? Ain’t going to make no difference. Never has.”
To an extent, he was right. Local elections have minuscule impact on people’s lives, but the truth is that if you ask a Tweener, it’s like adding water to corn flakes. The brother essentially believed what I’ve been saying for years, ‘we elect Black politicians based on their ability to articulate the problem versus offer solutions.’
Last time the brother voted was for Barack Obama. Felt good, but he’s still struggling. Voting for Chris Abele to hurt Scott Walker may be a noble venture, but it costs to get to the polls, and in the final analysis, there won’t be a job, or training or a reduction in the bus fare because of it, he said.
Can’t argue with the brother. I served on the County Executive’s Transition Team, so I know firsthand what’s ahead of us. Unless Abele has a magic wand, things are going to get worse before they get better. If they get better. And the Tweeners will suffer disproportionately.
The truth of the matter is, nobody’s really concerned about the Tweeners, so why should they care about those who say they are sooooo concerned. From their perspective, the new civil war is against the haves and the want to haves; the have not are not part of the equation.
I can relate to an extent. My wife lost here job four months ago. And with it went my insurance. We applied for insurance through the state’s Cobra program, it’s supposed to be comprehensive but affordable. It’s also impacted by what many have called Obamacare. The state plan for the two of us is—put on your rose covered glasses now—$3,861… A MONTH!
Guess what? No insurance for my family, even though I have pre-existing conditions. I can relate more to the Tweeners than I can anyone with lifelong benefits.
I wrote Rep. Gwen Moore about this dichotomy. Her aide said I was contributing to the Democratic process by writing. Guess that means I’m an honorary member of the Tweeners.
People lucky enough to wake up to a warm house and have a newspaper on their doorsteps Wednesday paid witness to the by product of the awakening sleeping giant, as I noted a month ago.
The Republican agenda sparked a response and movement unseen in Wisconsin in many a year. Make no mistake; it wasn’t about the poor, or civil rights in a historical context, but about a threatened shift in the economic order.
From my perspective, having witnessed, participated and organized civil rights campaigns over the last 30 years, I have to applaud the organizers; it was impressive.
But for the Tweeners, it was meaningless. And many of them are asking today, when will they support us? When will our issues be prioritized? Who cares about us?
August 19, 2012 //
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