On the Front Lines of the Wage War: Stopping the Wal-Martization of Mind and Matter

Another in the Series on Amazon.com and that Bezos Billionaire Cyber-Smile

It would be absurd if we did not understand both angels and devils, since we invented them.

— John Steinbeck (1902-1968), East of Eden

I’ve been thinking about those angels/devils after contemplating the death of Carlos Fuentes. I spent time with him in El Paso, Juarez and Las Cruces. I’ve been thinking about my years in Latin America; thinking about those international bridge blockades against wars in Central America, against NAFTA, against the first Iraq oil war. What Fuentes said above and all that he has been oft-quoted tying to some of the same political things Octavio Paz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Pablo Neruda and others have said over time about the United States: What the United States does best is to understand itself. What it does worst is understand others.

That’s what I am thinking now – how my fellow Seattlites have spent countless billions knowing themselves as giant wind bags of consumption and self-actualization and highly self-regarded as masters of their digital universe.

I’m also thinking about this high-tech town, the new provisos at the federal level to allow the cops here to deploy unmanned drones, the obsession with Facebook going public, the constant silly treadmill of the next generation iPad, the next new digital thing that ramps up the paranoia complex that is tied to almost anything around digital commerce, digital thinking, digital systems and digital organization.

People in Seattle have contorted nature and used nano-technology to insert silicon skin cells and digitized eyes into their offspring.

I can think of other things apropos now, things that Fuentes said a long time ago; in an 1998 interview, Fuentes may have been lambasting Ronald Reagan, but the caricature  still fits so many white politicians and military men:

While Fuentes toured Nicaragua, President Reagan asked Congress to approve increased  military aid to his freedom fighters. “There is an obsessive old man in Washington, dreaming of  movie scripts which never happened actually, looking for lost lines, consumed by his personal  fears,” Fuentes fumed when we finally caught up with him for an interview. “I hope that when he leaves, his fears and obsessions and paranoia will leave with him, too.” ((1998 Mother  Jones interview.))

It’s a town of Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, unending biotechnology innovations (sic) and “knowledge” services tied to surveillance, micro-processing, and academia. It’s white and full of guys and gals with graduate degrees and PhD’s; one of  the highest college-educated cities in the nation, per capita. People in gated communities in Bellevue seemingly “know themselves” (as Fuentes said of all Americans) but know very few others in the 3.3 million Puget Sound area.

People running the tax-dodging Boeing and running the military servicing contracts know nothing about the places that pay for those bombs and tools of repression with the death of citizens and cultures.

People on the West side of the Cascades don’t even know their fellow Washingtonians on the East Side of the state, deferring to the epithets “rural bumpkins” and “red side of the state voters” (we’re not talking commies).

This Fuentes observation has become a truism for the US in general – we love those iPads, but never mind the suicide prevention nets around those Chinese factories. We love instantaneous Google searches producing a million hits on how to breed Peruvian hairless dogs, but screw the environmental impact of all those servers. It’s the delusion of our times – disconnecting commerce, oil, food, consumption, capitalism to anything other than “externalities, necessary means of doing business, collateral damage, unintended negative consequences … etc.”

Slow Food, Fast Money, Sloppy Thinking

Consumerism is king in Seattle; it’s just packaged differently. Shop at REI, that’s cool. End up at a Wal-Mart in one of those outlier suburbs, that’s wrong. Hand-crafted chocolate from Theo’s, that’s great; KFC, that’s for Somalis. The height of reverse snobbery are those $4.50 PBRs in chic pubs where you can bring your German-command-trained Belgium shepherds for burgers and fries (and maybe a Pabst Blue Ribbon, too).

Slow food, lots of non-profits looking for walkable and bike-able communities, even some dealing with poverty and public education — that’s another Seattle. Endless discussion about marriage equality. Obama’s many trips to the Emerald City (he’s here all the time, pocketing millions each trip). Seattle is all those “We Love Obama . . . Yes We Can” signs lining the streets when Secret Service and Homeland Security close the links to Capitol Hill when Obama and Michelle hang with Bill and Melinda.

It’s the city that called the young Frances Farmer a “heathen” when she won a high school award for her essay, “God Dies.” Four years later, at U of Washington, Farmer won a trip to the Soviet Union by out-selling everyone hawking a leftist newspaper.

During that time time, 1931, many Seattle  churches held special meetings to confront “rampant atheism” in the public schools. “If the young people of this city are going to hell,” one Baptist minister reportedly told his congregation, “Frances Farmer is surely leading them there.”

Like the tens of thousands of techies [knowledge workers, AKA “creative class” (sic)] who come from mostly states where land-grant schools provided them with those opportunities to start and finish degrees in economics, engineering, IT management, Farmer stayed for a while, and then left.

She had a storied career, but at the peak of her film career, Farmer told tabloids that the Seattle reaction to her high school essay became a major turning point in her life. “It was pretty sad,” she said, “because for the first time I found how stupid people could be. It sort of made me feel alone in the world. The more people pointed at me in scorn the more stubborn I got and when they began calling me the Bad Girl of West Seattle High, I tried to live up to it.”

The Insipid Space Needle and the Half Century Party Recognizing the World’s Fair, 1962

Luckily, Seattle’s small black community also gained the same sort of “turning points” the Hollywood start got from the Emerald City’s oppression.

That was forty-four years ago when Judge James Dore sentenced Aaron Dixon, Larry Gossett, and Carl Miller to six months in jail for unlawful assembly during a March 29, 1968 sit-in at Franklin High School. The newspapers call what followed, “… riots in Seattle’s Central Area.” But, hundreds of young African Americans gathered at Garfield High School for a protest rally. Rock throwing in Seattle is more than just protest – like this 2012 May Day, when the airwaves were full of bubble brain TV reporters  (sic) screaming about three or six Black Bloc anarchists smashing in a few bank windows and another few vehicle windows. The city goes crazy. The planned march for Trayvon Martin was charged with hundreds of cops with their grizzly-bear pepper spray canisters strapped to their Volcano mountain bikes. Helicopters, paddy wagons, huge military police presence. For a few windows busted.

The mayor – Sierra Club liberal – says the cops have the power on May Day 2012 to arrest anyone they deem carrying anything that might be used for a weapon. That new Canon Rebel my fiance just got for her birthday? My motorcycle “murse?” Heavy anatomy and physiology college books? Weapons … right! Private protection agencies – Seattle Police Department – guarding Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Gucci.

Seattle Police gave their orders to disperse then arrested six people during five hours of protest July 1, 1968. But now, every day, the airwaves are abuzz about how Seattle brought the world into the 21st Century during the 1962 World’s Fair. The entire city is washing that event in a glow of nostalgia rarely seen in this moody city.

We’re a city that will tear down a viaduct that moves hundreds of thousands of cars a week to be replaced by a tunnel, the $4.3 billion deep bore project, whereby the prime property near Pike Place and Pioneer Square will be open again for those multimillion dollar views of the Sound and Olympics. Yet school lunch programs and child care services are being axed.

This a city where the very rich have 20,000 square foot bungalows spreading out to their private boat docks where multimillion dollar yachts shine in that every-rare afternoon glint. A city where ancient Chinese grannies shuttle in the International District wearing black pajamas and conical hats while hoisting shoulder poles (bi?ndans) chok full of tin cans.

Six thousand dollar bicycles and a continuous parade of chugging vehicles gridlocked on Seattle’s freeways. The new toll bridge that goes into Bellevue (think Microsoft and Gates-people) is an excuse to keep poor, riff-raff out of that city where big homes and big yachts grow like cancer along the edge of Lake Washington.

This is a city that has so many poor people living paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet. Garbage collection runs around $150 a month. Electricity bills run $150 in the winter. Natural gas costs for small old rentals go as high as $500 a month.

It’s a city of schizophrenia, in a state that is in the Paul Ryan “cut, cut, cut and fire, fire, fire teachers and public workers mode.”

Homelessness in One of USA’s Most Expensive Cities

There’s also the old issue of Nickelsville – An encampment of pink tents created during Mayor Greg Nickels mayoralship in 2008;  it’s been forced to move more than 15 times, forced by city “fathers” and the cops. It’s right back to where it started out, though. Hundreds live there. Thousands of homeless  battle that Amazon.com smile ethos – lots of $120 K a year jobs right out of graduate school, and $9 an hour barrista jobs pulling shots. There have been several weddings held at Nickelsville.

How is it 103 million Americans are living double below the federal poverty wage of $36,000 a year for a family of four? Or that the medium wealth of Hispanics and blacks dropped 66 percent and 53 percent respectively over the past decade? Yet, in Seattle, people talk about their weekly trips to Silver Mountain ski resort and hitting the beaches of Hawaii once a month?

We Are Being Told that Poverty is Our Fault, That We Spend too Much on Junk, On Homes, on Education Loans to Buy Big Screen TVs and Brand New Ford Mustangs

Maybe the other pithy thing Steinbeck said – man is the only varmint that sets his own trap, baits it and steps right on it – is more apropos in Seattle since we never learn from history; corporations are disempowering us all with the junk it carts out each year and the political power it purchases through trillions in bribes; and how basically humanity has evolved from “apes with sticks and termites” into “apes with nuclear warheads, dildos and high fructose corn syrup.”

You know, much of the crap on-line retailer Amazon.com sells at Christmas time is that sex toy stuff, not just electronics, books, and personal savior exercise equipment.

My intersection with Amazon.com happened in 1994 when the company came about. I never bought into monopolies then or now, and I already had down pat “the planning and economic development thing/angle” of supporting mom and pops and small businesses.  Never bought anything from Amazon, and I never will.

But, I have that one stock – purchased with union organizing money – so I can bang on the stockholders’ meeting Thursday, May 24. The past year, I’ve been in contact with unions and organizers who are protesting the company. I know that pie cutter they sell at Amazon – one big radial cutter with all those even piece pieces – is symbolic of the lack of evenness in Bezos’ business plan, all those  millions spent on fighting fair sales taxation in states where bricks and mortar shops pay for each commercial-retail exchange while Amazon skirts its duty to pay its fair share. I know that a company that pays 2.5 percent in taxes is on the same level as those other 265 corporations bilking the taxpayer and US safety nets.

I have friends of friends who have been to my house who think Amazon.com is the model of the century, who think corporations have already won, that revolution will never happen, and who call the Occupy Movement “a bunch of flea-baggers.”

These Amazon-techies are wielding their electrical engineering and MBA certificates from state schools, many back east and in the south, and point blank they defend Bezos for taking over retail, taking over publishing and for having warehouses with wage slaves in them. They believe the world has always been feudal, and that Bezos is not evil, just a good businessman.

They think youth with education loans averaging $25,000 are chumps, and they can’t wait for Humanities teachers (and the like) to shrivel up and die.

These kids, or twenty-somethings, rather,  laugh that some fifty-something is an out of work humanities-English teacher with all those writing clips and stories of adventure in Latin America. They actually think the job market is theirs to manipulate, and that fifty- and sixty-somethings without a chance for a living wage is part of the deal.

It makes sense to them that the few haves have a lot and the haves not are the new majority.

They actually think writers and authors groups are dead wrong about publishing’s demise and the affects that Amazon has on the publishing world. They are arrogant because they got out of rust belt Pennsylvania or Bubba-land Alabama and have that oh-so hip Seattle townhouse and the endless junk and the stock options that define success, minimal power and the straight and narrow way toward early retirement.

Funny thing is, even those $120 TO $200 K a year wunderkinds burn out after 10 years, 15 years,  end up buying some hobby farm in the area raising fungi and blueberries.

Alas, they are the products of the schools I taught at, and they are contemptuous of liberals, humanities teachers, anything to do with ethics or social justice, and they have all the information at their Google fingertips, so they are the ones “in” on the real climate change story, the real “financial disaster” story, the real story on Bradley Manning, Wiki-leaks and how the world runs, will run and will never run.

Arrogance isn’t a Strong Enough Word to Characterize Them when Schlepping for a Job

I know why Scott Turow and other writers are mad as hell at Amazon for what it’s doing to the publishing-writing worlds.  Just listen to the best-selling author and President of the Authors Guild:

Salon.com:  So what’s the problem?

Scott Turow:  The concern is that they are getting so large and they compete so ruthlessly that there’s a lot of fear for what the world with Amazon in charge is going to look like.

The Guild’s beefs with Amazon became pronounced over the issue of the resale of new titles some years ago. This was something that Amazon pioneered. They would sell you a [just-released] book on Day One, buy it back from you on Day Two, and then resell it to another customer on Day Three. This was legal, but certainly not what anybody ever intended.

Traditionally, in hardcover, that’s been basically a split of the proceeds between the author and publisher. (An aside: That’s something we’re fighting with publishers about in the digital world.) So Amazon decides to go into competition with the publishers by reselling the book they just bought. The publisher gets paid nothing, and neither does the author. It’s a pure profit for Amazon.

Now, the reason you don’t see used bookstores within new bookstores is that the used books compete with the new books and the publishers supplying the new books would object. Either you’re doing business with me or you’re competing with me. I’m not going to sell you books so you can take some percentage of sales.

The problem, of course, was the Amazon had gotten so big that publishers were afraid to resist that. It’s not the mere fact that they’re competing [with their own suppliers]. I can certainly understand that it’s good for consumers to be able to buy a book two days later at a lower price. It’s the fact that the publishers were afraid to dismiss Amazon.

So, where is this going, this ode to joy about American-Seattle values and lack thereof?

The job market? Partly. I started off writing this essay with these questions in mind:

• What do you do when you feel like the world is dumping on you at age 55 while humping it on the job market in a town like Seattle, where happy couples spend a thousand a month on cooking lessons teaching them how to cure Berkshire heritage pig meat and then dump $5000 for a week in Paris to learn the art of truffles?

• Faced with temporary work hell – adjunct faculty countrywide teach 70 percent of all higher education classes, with a whopping 535,000 as PT and another 235,000 as non-vetted, non-tenure track full time wage slaves working one, two and three year contracts with no guarantees of returning –  the job search becomes surreal so should I give up?

• After applying to dozens of places, many non-profits, some education-centered jobs — places looking for what I would have thought would be a gifted teacher, one with outdoor education and teaching, a writer, journalist, planner, someone with curriculum development, world travel, event planning, multi-project facilitation, coaching, four college degrees, and a lot of independent journalism, both for print venues like dailies and slick magazines and radio – is there some Seattle curse put upon blokes like me?

• I’ve got letters of recommendation from executive directors of environmental groups who tout my organizing skills on environmental issues, yet, why do Seattle non-profits never bother to even acknowledge applications?

• When the unions start stringing me along for a job, is it time for Plan B, Plan C (more on these later)?

Those bullet points are entirely whole other essays in the works. Again, though, I keep telling myself that all of those laments are really not the stuff of real legitimate whining when I’ve already had the chance to go at it in higher education, had my $10 dollar a day in Europe fun, and all those travels in Latin America and abroad to Vietnam.

Stop complaining, I hear that Steinbeck voice inside. Give it a rest, I hear from the ghosts of Jack Nicholson playing Frances Phelan in Ironweed. I hear the last words of a former student and friend – that 26-year-old who went into 36 firefights in Fallujah, Iraq, at age 18; who later had to recover three KIA-ed buddies on Thanksgiving Day. You think he’s got it good now that he’s serving four months in lock up (out in August) for four DUI’s and resisting arrest?

The voices, doubts and real world examples just keep me awake at night, knowing they got it rough and I am going through a rough stretch. I run 8 miles a day, write daily, do what I can to carry forth with whatever it is the man doesn’t expect of me.

But that Amazon smile wears on us.

You put in 10 years in Spokane – develop a sustainability initiative at the community college; bring famous thinkers to campuses and the city like David Suzuki, Winona LaDuke, James Howard Kunstler, Sonia Shah; do major planning of earth day celebrations for the city; develop and write a column on sustainability for the middle of the road weekly; create and host a weekly hour FM Radio show on climate change and social justice with such folk like Bill McKibben, Amy Goodman, Jeremy Scahill, Naomi Wolf and others; help the city get Beaming Bioneers in town several years in a row; write for the daily newspaper with his own sustainability column and create a special two-year project covering the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster; get a master’s in urban planning and work on major planning issues within the city, including the mayor’s task force on sustainability; and, oh yeah, teach several thousand students how to think for themselves and think outside the box.

You get the ten-year pin for working the temporary teaching gig, and then, the last straw – your teaching is outside the political, philosophical, prudent lines of a conservative college in a conservative town. You are told that there are no more classes.

The tsunami of budget cuts (sic) and cuts to classes, firing adjunct teachers, ending programs and killing student aid and wiping student services hit Washington State hard. Several billion in cuts for all state supported schools came down from our legislature in just three years, while politicians glad-hand the tax evaders and all those tax loophole whores that make Washington State one of the most backward, regressive taxation-wise states in the US of A.

Should you whine? Lash out? Act out? What is it, this idea of putting decades in as a radical worker while temping or part-timing in quasi “normal” places like academia (mostly making FT living as adjunct) and in journalism (corporate and outside that box), somehow slave-like compared to Foxconn workers or sulfur harvesters slogging in the crater of the Kawah Ijen volcano in East Java, Indonesia? ((See more on the Apple/Steve Jobs/Jeff Bezos/Amazon paradigm.))

What is Seattle without Amazon.com? Some get it, others never will …

Here I am, in Seattle less than a year, and I see what we should be whining about – taxi drivers from India and the African continent who have to lease their cabs and push 12, 14, and 16 hour days to make ends meet (read – break even). What about Somali women working as day care and personal care workers for $8 an hour while spouses sling baggage at Sea-Tac for $10 an hour, urine breaks not included? Alaska Airlines boasting profits and on-time customer service, yet these workers – African Americans, Latino/a and from all parts east and west of Turtle Island – are hired by contractors, agencies that offer zero benefits, and worse, complete anti-worker rules and regs that make a grown grandpa cry. (No, I am not a grandpa, and, no, I don’t cry.)

But get this: These immigrants and Seattle working class blacks, Asians, Latinos, the lower economic  rung whites are getting it, so to speak. What’s it they are getting in happy, sappy, moldy, Techie, Obama-y Seattle?

That Amazon smile ain’t for them. That fancy “community engagement” rhetoric from developers and so-called Sierra Club liberals is the same old empty song. They see that the Seattle Police Department under investigation for abuse of authority, and for criminal assault, battery and homicide is not the police force for, by and with the people.

This is a town where a 1906 run-down house goes for $350,000. Where 700 square foot townhouses rent for $3000 a month, with just the right view and gentrification. Sea planes fly overhead on sunny days, yachts pull into slips where waiting SUVs are all new and shiny; Tesla sports cars zoom through downtown against the roar of 1800-cc custom bikes; affordable matching Smart cars in those special driveways up near where Bill and Melinda “slum it” in their 25,000 square foot symbol of Gandhi’s seven sins of man.

Meanwhile, suburban ghettoization – Everett, Kent, Auburn, Rainer Beach, Whites Center – runs rampant as people of color-poverty-immigration status find fix-it-up ranchers and sprawling multiple-story single family homes and hunker down, sometimes with two or three families throwing in.

It’s a city that threatens to cut curbside garbage pick-up to twice a month. A city where the rats get bigger each six months. It’s a city where transit is under constant attack in the media by tea party armchair quarterbacks. Bus routes are dropped and bus tickets go up.

Does anyone outside the Puget Sound remember the stories of an 84-year-old retired nurse pepper sprayed – all four-foot-eight of her – for marching last November in Occupy Seattle? Do any readers remember a woodcarver – John Williams –  a mainstay of the Pike Place Market, being plugged several times until his last gasp of air probably mouthed why a fully decked out Seattle Police officer would be screaming “put the knife down” when he was deaf and the knife was his work’s tool.

The Demands of the King of Knowledge Workers

Just being here for almost a year has sparked my confidence that working class people are getting it, up against the constant drone of delusional liberals and basically “rednecks in Subarus and Beamers.” That great army of knowledge workers and IT wunderkinds has a collective zero interest in ethnic neighborhoods or people of color-poverty. Pad Thai and Naan and Sopapillas are about as close as these almost-millionaires will ever get close to that great dripping pot that Seattle should be (it’s still the whitest city in America for it’s size).

Yet, just a few weeks ago, Filipino women, Ethiopian students, African-American activists, day care workers, Port of Seattle drivers and young and old unionists and supporters and organizers were out there at the Amazon campus, staring dozens of cops and private security types in the eyes while delivering Jeff Bezos our demands:

• get out of ALEC – you know, voter repression, school privatizing, stand your ground laws by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a, what, 501(c) 3 non-profit (sic);

• stop the sweatshops in Pennsylvania, Nevada and elsewhere, so-called Fulfillment Centers, where $12 an hour is supreme, and working conditions are embarrassing for the richest country in the world, under the stewardship of a guy worth $19.3 billion;

• pay taxes – the corporate tax rate should be 37 percent, no loopholes, but Amazon got off with 5.6 percent two years ago, 2.6 percent this past tax cycle;

• give to your community, Seattle – Amazon is notorious for not having some charitable presence in Seattle; and,

• stop killing independent bookstores, book publishers and authors’ opportunities – 30 percent of all books sold anywhere, e-books, used books, etc. Think monopoly, think underselling e-books to keep other competitors out of the business , think anti-trust.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its offshoot, Working Washington, and others flew out two former Amazon warehouse workers from Pennsylvania to speak to the crowd at noon while those techies ate lunch in the quasi public stage-table seating area and while video taping us from the cantilevered windows above enveloping us.

I counted 75, including Paul Loeb, author of several books, including, Soul of a Citizen who spoke at the noontime event, framed by the TechFlash Seattle Technology News Source as “more Amazon.com employees waiting in line at nearby food trucks Thursday than there were noon-time protesters outside Amazon’s headquarters in South Lake Union.”

Cute and vapid, and typical of the tongue in cheek sarcasm of some in the Seattle techie/knowledge worker scene where everything to do with cyberspace, on-line technology and “computing for a better you” is A-okay by them, as long as their fancy food trucks aren’t blocked off or anything.

Loeb reiterated how bullet number five above links directly to him as a writer and how books are sold – those by lesser known writers, up-and-coming authors, and outside the box thinkers.

“Amazon wants to create a dominance of ideas … it’s not just selling shoes,” Loeb told me. “From a writer’s standpoint, it harder for writer to write books because Amazon puts a bottom line on what publishers have to sell books for. This company is not benevolent. They aren’t the writer’s friend. This idea of getting people to use phones to get it cheaper, that’s part of the Amazon growth model. Amazon is dragging us to the bottom because they are not promoting middle class jobs.”

He called it blackmail, saying how Amazon forces his own books to be sold for $9.99, or else. His voice seems lost in the valley of the working class, but at least he understands the larger issues around why Trayvon Martin’s death is on the hands of all ALEC supporters, including Jeff Bezos and Amazon sending ALEC bucks for political shenanigans, or worse, unethical leveraging.

Two of those at the rally were hard-pressed to look kindly upon the techies coming out in the sun to eat their power bars and handmade kettle potato chips. Jim Herbold, who worked in an Amazon warehouse for five months when he was 61 years old , said the Amazon way is the temporary and you are out way: “Very few people work there past three months,” he said.

Karen Salasky, who also worked in the Pennsylvania warehouse for nine months, also came out to Seattle, and she experienced the dreaded six-point system and the 115 degree warehouse conditions while being forced outside in 20 degree weather for three hours sometimes while the Amazon warehouse honchos checked the fingers of every employee after a fire alarm was pulled.

Purple fingers isn’t about voting, but they symbolize theft of Amazon’s time, so everyone is suspected.

Creeps recruited from the ranks of the US military manage (sic) those warehouses, and the result is that you’ve got a temporary worker assembly line; point demerits against you if you encounter a foot of snow coming to work; forced evacuations from 115 degree warehouses into 20 degree Pennsylvania chill for three hours.

Workers slogging away putting down 8 to 12 miles a day in warehouses that literally rip the knee joints from old timers. The stories go on and on, and DV readers got a taste of them here – with former Lehigh FC employee Nichole Gracely submitting to interviews and her own essay. ((Where Santa’s Helpers Work 247-365 Days a Year; Jeff Bezos Free-shipping and Forty-percent of online Retail Sales; Inside a Dot.com Warehouse.))

So, here we are, in Seattle, around 75 of us, and then the other 75 or so Amazon employees rubber necking or actually sticking it out and listening. I wander around with camera, notepad and that confident look of reporter who takes no prisoners.

I overhear two techie metro-sexual types eating something I do not recognize from some boutique lunch shop located around the headquarters “campus” (sic). It’s the clear delineation I’ve had all through my life, before college in 1975 and through all those years teaching, traveling, writing, reporting, and in the bustle of activism.

“Dog eat dog America, ya gotta love it or leave it.” These two fellows munching on probably arugula chips dipped in the juices from bacon made on an island in the Straights of Juan de Fuca sort of went dark: “I guess they should have just gone to college and got the hell out of that hell hole. What do they expect? The same pay we get? Right.”

I didn’t get their names as they palmed their Amazon badges on my approach. You have to imagine these fellows and gals running around Seattle with caffeine buzzes, inside Whole Foods and Starbucks and everywhere with their company-mandated ID swipe cards dangling and company-provided backpacks.

But I ask them:

Look, you both went to college, maybe somewhere other than here, right? So, those schools need groundskeepers, building engineers, cooks, all those clerical people, the works, including faculty. Some of those jobs are harder, to be sure, but you are not expecting that some of the profits and profit sharing and benefits scheduling and some sort of safety nets – let’s see, you all get moving expenses, health and dental, stocks, retirement plans, travel and per deim and time off, paternity – so, what’s the problem with others in society, within your own corporate structure and mission, getting something more than this? You really think these very two people – a younger woman from another country and a white older American guy – deserved the harsh conditions you just heard them describe?

The two just smirk and wander off.

Hell, I don’t need to ask questions anymore because I’ve been asking questions since I was age 12 and living in Europe while my old man prepared to jump into the Vietnam War in his Army cryptography specialty. I’ve been asking city officials, cops, honchos, everyone questions as a journalist since 1975. I’ve been asking questions of students since 1977 (as a dive master instructor) and since 1983 (as an English-Literature-Writing professor) to help students, sources, anyone them find their voices, their intellectual strides.

Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.