Category Archives: Interviews

To Stop Dreaming Would Be Folly: Inequality in America 50 Years Since MLK Jr.

My two cents – through two stories of young black people in Cleveland – on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, now up on HuffPost.

This week we are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that true equality included civil rights but also economic justice. In fact, his later writings and speeches on economic inequality and the free market are conveniently ignored by our media and education systems. He dreamt about America, after all, and criticisms of capitalism do not coincide well with the American Dream. But poverty and inequality remain the greatest demarcations of race in America today. In that vain, I am offering a snapshot of two black youths in Cleveland who embody the challenges facing blacks and lower income Americans off all colors. Read the rest at The Huffington Post!

No Other Land, No Other Life

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this, or the like of this.          – Henry David Thoreau

I have been working on my stories about farmers and the agricultural industry in Ohio. The farming experiences of the men I spoke to are quite distinct from one other; they included a medium scale corn and soybean producer, a community-supported berry and vegetable farmer, and a chestnut farmer who made a small fortune from the shale oil boom (but who would take chestnuts over oil any day). One common feature of the interviews was the gorgeous bucolic views I was treated to in the course of our conversations. I want to share some pictures of the landscapes, and of the men whose labor livens the land. I attempt to describe them in writing, of course. But my iPhone camera might be more capable of capturing the beauty.

One Hard Hat, Four Men

Some of the folks I spoke to around Ohio were natural story tellers. One of them was George, an autoworker in Toledo. For almost two hours he reveled in walking me through his three and a half decades as an employee of Chrysler. More than once, he made me laugh to tears. As I work on his story, I have to share one of his anecdotes, told to me with passion and pride.

George would not stand for being put in danger at work. That adamancy lost him his job during his first year with Chrysler, 1977. Back then he was working on Jeep Cherokee tailgates, which hung by hooks overhead the workers. Each tailgate weighed about seventy pounds, and a jerk in the line could cause the hooks to break, sending those bulks of metal tumbling down onto the men below. George, with the innocent audacity of a novice, demanded that a safety cage be put in place. Management handed over a hard hat. There were four men.  Continue reading

A Memory on Memorial Day

Memorial Day implores us to remember fallen soldiers. And we shall. Yet that remembrance will always be incomplete, because a life lost is a tragedy worsened by the silence it creates. Dead soldiers cannot tell us their stories. They cannot recount the details of their final moments, nor the thoughts that coincided. We cannot know if they sensed fear, shock, anger, surrender, loneliness, relief, all of these, none of these. Which loved ones warmed their hearts before the cold settled in? Which enemies tortured their minds before oblivion? We shall not know.

Surviving soldiers can share their stories. Death lives in these tales too. It’s depravity damages all sides in war. It can settle into the mind even when the body endures. It haunts. On Memorial Day, let us remember that.  Continue reading

Full Disclosure

I have lately been putting together the stories of the young people I have spoken with around Ohio, and wanted to share some personal reflections. 

I cannot compose this chapter without considering my own circumstances, and also feeling compelled to provide a full disclosure. I am only one year older than Meggan and Arianna. Like them, I am trying to find my way academically and professionally, and have yet to secure myself financially. I have also surpassed the average ages of marriage and childbirth, and am in no rush to catch up with my cohort. Just like Meggan, I work on a part-time basis while transitioning to graduate school and am not paying rent thanks to the hospitality of my parents. Unlike both of them, my choices have been made under privileged circumstances. Nevertheless, these choices were also intimately connected to the recession.  Continue reading

Baffled Pill: Why We Are Killing Ourselves

I published a piece on the Huffington Post that offers a glimpse into the confusion and contradictions dogging our healthcare system and how we approach it. 

Last month, Steven Brill published an article, “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” which directed national attention to our health care system in a more serious way than has been the case since the 2009 debates over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). It was a nuanced, comprehensive, and thoughtful account of a broken system. Yet unlike many political issues, health care is one that impacts all of us, all the time, whether or not politicians and pundits are addressing it. Every day, people live, suffer through, survive, and die in the health care system. Read the rest here!

Linkon: Can Working-Class Women Have It All?

I wanted to share this recent piece by Sherry Linkon, co-director of the Center for Working Class Studies at Youngstown State University (see my previous post, “Visiting Youngstown“), entitled “Can Working-Class Women Have It All?” and inspired by the now rather legendary Atlantic piece by Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” When I read Slaughter’s piece a couple of months ago, I was forced to think seriously about my own future and the limitations and challenges I would face as a professional woman if and when I choose to start a family. Slaughter’s piece spoke directly to me, because I am part of the cohort of the highly educated (soon to be) career professionals that her case relates to. Yet as Slaughter herself points out, and as Linkon eloquently expounds in her article, class privilege shapes the nature of this discussion. Linkon writes: “Gender is classed. That’s old news in Working-Class Studies, but it’s a lesson all those pundits talking about women have yet to understand.”

When talking with people in Ohio, including women, I often think of – and am in fact partially motivated by – the distance between public thinkers in Washington, DC, (and their ‘creative class’ brethren in other urban centers), and the reality being lived by average Americans in the rest of the country. I think of Lisa from Grafton, Ohio. Lisa is a nurse and is raising three children on her own, having been divorced from her husband many years ago. Lisa isn’t asking herself if she can get them to soccer practice and then to piano lessons on time, all while ensuring she is personally and professionally satisfied. She loves her kids as much as a woman from any class, but that love is in her concern with avoiding emergencies to stay afloat. As she said to me: “all my kids have always worked since they’ve been young. I taught them how to do that. I live on a budget. And then when emergencies come up, they’re not really emergencies. If the car breaks down, if you’ve got the money there, it’s not really an emergency. If you don’t, it is.” For Lisa, merely asking herself the question “can I have it all?” would be a privilege.

Every Day

Sometimes while I am transcribing interviews, I encounter a statement that hits me with renewed force upon second hearing. I wanted to share one of these exchanges from my conversation with Carl. Carl worked in a refractory plant in Negley, OH, for 38 years before contracting silicosis in his lungs. According to the American Lung Association, silicosis causes fluid buildup and scar tissue in the lungs, cutting down breathing ability. It is common among people who work in construction, mining, sandblasting, etc.

Me: Was your job ever physically risky?

Carl: Every day.

Me: But you were never affected?  Never hurt?

Carl: No. No.