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ON THE SCENE: Charlottesville conjures up disparity among classes

August 25, 2017
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

The North Country is connected with Charlottesville, Virginia, in a variety of ways, not the least of which is that a Canton woman's grandfather created the sculpture of Robert E. Lee astride a horse at the center of the demonstration turned violent.

While several long-time seasonal residents have homes in Charlottesville, the bigger connection for many people living in the Piedmont region of Virginia and the Adirondacks is the growing divide between the haves and have-nots.

Many people, in these regions and throughout the United States feel they simply do not have the same advantages and opportunities as other people. For them, the American dream is becoming a fainter and fainter star on the horizon. And they are right.

Article Photos

Sandra Weber, Lorraine Duvall, Wendy Block
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Some people feel that immigrants, Jews, women, members of the LBGTQ communities, people of color or some other group are unfairly getting ahead at their expense. Some have expressed those feelings in racially charged violent actions and hateful rhetoric as was amply displayed in the media. They came to Charlottesville to verbally and physically hurt others and did so causing the death of a young woman and two police officers.

"Charlottesville made unavoidable and unmistakable deep-seated white racism and misogyny, these terrible blights that have caused so much harm, out of the closet," said Martha Swan, director/founder of John Brown Lives! following a prayer service held at the Keene Valley Congregational Church on Monday, Aug. 14. "For many people of color, this is not a distant reality. It's not a distant experience. That it is so out in the open, so virulent, is truly astonishing."

While racism and bigotry are horrific and cannot be justified or tolerated, there is a built-in unfairness to the system that no amount of lashing out or heated rhetoric will solve. Rather, doing so enables those in power and with the ability to take advantage of the system to continue to increase opportunities that benefit themselves at the expense of others. They do violence as cruel as anything seen in Charlottesville, but their tools are voter suppression, denying people access to education and capital for starting a business, inequities in the justice system, and a grid-locked Congress.

"We should never turn to violence," said Essex County Board Chair Randy Preston. "We need to move forward, not backward, as in my mind, that's what we've been doing of late. We need unity. Violence is not the way to address the challenges we face."

"Knowing what is factual is also essential for a democracy to work well," said state Sen. Betty Little. "I think one of the challenges we face in politics today is that the voices on the far ends of the spectrum are much more amplified by social media and access to the 24-hour news cycle. The messages we see and hear most are the ones meant to elicit a strong reaction, which agitates people to the point of them doing something irrational while others simply disengage. The ideas of those standing somewhere closer to the middle of the political spectrum aren't being heard over the din of the constant bickering."

Yes, we've lost jobs to China, India, Mexico and elsewhere, but even so, the productive output of Americans and the total amount of manufacturing has increased. What's taking jobs from the lower and middle class is the outsourcing, robotics, a failure of the government to reinvest, and selling goods over the internet, which is hammering local businesses such as clothing and sporting goods stores, bookstores and shopping centers. Buying into the mindset that cheaper is better fosters waste, environmental pollution and not paying people a living wage.

Advocates for cutting taxes for the wealthy have sold the idea that rising tides raise all boats. They do if you have a boat, but many do not.

During the 1950s and 1960s, we had a graduated income tax that did not hold back successful people from getting rich but did enable the government to invest in all manner of public works, schools, infrastructure, research and other projects that resulted in an expanded middle class and a booming society.

In 1965, the CEO to average worker compensation ratio was 20 to 1. Now executives earn more than 400 times the median salary of their employees and short-term stockholder gain has taken precedent over serving customers. The top 1 percent hold about 38 percent of the wealth and control a third of our nation's financial assets. This shift in compensation priorities represents a staggering amount of money going to benefit the few over employee salaries and benefits, reinvesting in the business and the communities served, or paid in taxes.

Added to that, 25 percent of our health dollars go to administrative costs compared to Canada, England, and Europe where it's less than half because they have a single-payer system instead of our a la carte approach.

Immigrants aren't the problem; they create jobs at a rate of 1.2 per person. Plus, they are willing to take on work that most Americans shun, such a picking fruit, milking cows, making beds in hotels, washing dishes, yard work and so on and so forth. Keeping them out results in high grocery bills, fewer new businesses, and a higher cost of living.

"There is enough to go around if people at the top were willing to share," said Jane Haugh on Saturday morning, Aug. 19, participating in a protest against racism at the bottom of Spruce Hill in Keene. "My healthcare is going through the roof. I have a $13,000 deductible while the CEO of Aetna walked away with $17 million last year, a single human being, That's just wrong. The ruling class has done a disservice to people in this country, whites, blacks and everybody in between."

"We need fairness in the system," said fellow protester Xenia Von Lilien of Keene. "This country could use a more honest dialogue about its past but also its current state of affairs about the inequalities and unfairness that allows some people to get ahead very fast while others are left behind."

These are scary times. Climate change is real, severe weather is becoming common place, few jobs have the kind of long-term security that was the norm, the refugee crisis is growing, and the 1 percent are vacuuming up the money. A big part of the solution is on us. We have to be willing to learn new skills, establish non-traditional partnerships, be open to new ideas, and lobby for policies like profit sharing that benefit the majority over the few.

"Immediately following the tragedy of September 11th, I saw a remarkable yet not unexpected change in the dialogue in Albany," said Sen. Little. "Suddenly, we got along. The differences that divided paled in comparison to what we had in common in the face of crisis. In politics and governing, as in our personal lives, it shouldn't take a crisis to wake us up and remind us what is important and what we can achieve by working together and being respectful of others."



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