Our American Odyssey

Those of us either approaching or recently having slipped past our seventh decade can readily recall the sixties. This was an era in conflict with one that had preceded it. It was a rejection of the accepted norms. Young people were motivated by the times as much as trying to create the times. Our hair was too long, our pants were bell bottoms and bras were tossed. The attitude toward other people was also changing with the recognition that African-Americans and women deserved better treatment. Of course there was the war and the conflict it created between young people and veterans among others. We were the new generation standing up for a better life and environment for all. We didn’t all march in the streets but recognized these changes and the need for change. As a group we believed that the intentions were good.

Many older people including our parents couldn’t comprehend why we would behave as we did. Afterall our parents generally had reached middle class with a house in the suburbs, television and cars. Many of us even had cars. College was actually possible for many of us and potentially good jobs were available without a college degree. The specter of Vietnam hung over us for those who served and those who suffered with the tragedy of a loss. Drugs were a growing problem with all the misery and pain these caused for families.

As the sixties and the seventies faded our lives reverted to more traditional styles. We had jobs, got married and divorced, owned houses, two cars, decent incomes and an eight to five life style became prominent. The eighties brought us computers, Reagan politics, dot-com incomes with new growing companies. If we worked for a solid company then pensions and 401K’s were out there for a more secure retirement. Somewhere in that mix our views of life were changing. Our concern for other people diminished and in some cases was lost. The world around us was changing as well. Our futures and that of our children were not looking quite so rosy. College was becoming far more expensive and our incomes were not growing with annual increases. The cost of things was increasing. Jobs were not as plentiful with factories relocating to areas where lower wages were being paid or being shipped overseas. Large companies began reducing staff and farming out work to smaller firms in order to avoid paying benefits. These new consultants would have been employees in prior years but were now operating on their own. The implication was that more small businesses are good but in essence corporate America was saying maximizing profits is better. Perhaps in the eighties and nineties this subconscious anxiety was being born. The most severely hurt were the factory and industry working class jobs. The loss of jobs also saw companies closing out pension plans and jeopardizing our retirement. Gradually our view of ourselves as middle class was changing to working class to under or unemployed. For many of us the odyssey was heart wrenching. We followed the rules, paid our taxes, served our country when called but we were still being left behind. The road back to middle class for ourselves, middle age workers, and our children seemed to be cul-de-sac, ending in a circle. Anxiety had grown to outright worry and ultimately fear. The belief in the America of Horatio Alger was being viewed as a myth. The rich keep getting richer while we stagnate and fall behind. The best we can afford to buy are products which are now made in some foreign country or a place where wages are lower because the whipping boy, collective bargaining, has been eliminated.

What do we do? We stood so tall and optimistic in the sixties. Where do we find help? Unfortunately what we have is a people living in fear. Historically people in this condition look for a scapegoat, a cause or someone to blame. There are legitimate causes which could be addressed through government action. Government can and often is a way to a solution. The current elected officials who claim that lower or no taxes on businesses will solve the problem are preaching nonsense. Training for unemployed and underemployed workers can help. Check which of our elected leaders support these efforts. A situation like this is ripe for a demagogue to come forward. He need not offer any specific ways to help or even intend to help. His claim is that he knows who to blame and that if we vote for him then our world will be better.

Now is the time for us to remember some of those sixties and seventies moments. We believed that we were better and had time to help each other. If we were knocked down we got back on our feet and stood tall. We knew what it meant to say I am an American. We can stand tall again. We can begin on November 8th and reject hypocrisy and demagoguery.


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