Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

June 10, 2014

We the People: Huddled masses

CROSSVILLE — This USA was founded by old white guys with money. They were the people who could afford to travel 400 miles or so on horseback and by carriage to Philadelphia to argue about the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. “All men are created equal” meant just that. Women and children were property, as were African Americans. Some of the founding fathers were slave holding landowners. Treaties with Native Americans were made and broken as the nation’s borders were expanded.

In the 19th century, waves of immigrants began arriving to seek their fortunes in the new land. Irish, Italian, Chinese and Eastern European Jews were all 19th century and early 20th century immigrants. The French gave us the Statue of Liberty to stand in the New York Harbor as greeting for the arriving “masses” of tired and poor. In the late 20th century we devised refugee programs to bring in folks from places like Cambodia and Vietnam and resettle them in a politically safe haven. Cubans came in boats to escape the tyranny of their island 90 miles away and form an influential group of Floridians. And now the Latinos from Mexico southward have established a major wave of immigration, both documented and undocumented, seeking a better life for their families.

No one will deny that these waves of immigration have had a major impact on our culture. All you need to do is to look at our food and listen to our music to begin to understand that impact. We should be proud of our diverse country and the cultural wealth that is the USA today.

Congress can no longer represent only the wealthy white guys, although they continue to be those most likely to be sent to Congress because of the ever increasing costs of campaigning for seats. Through most of the last half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, most white guys in Congress realized they were there to represent ALL of their constituents, not just those with lots of money, property and industrial complexes. Women won the right to vote after over a century of struggle. African Americans won that right over a much longer period of disenfranchisement — some 400 years or so.

After World War II, this country saw the growth of a huge middle class made up of the descendants of all those waves of early immigrants. Generous veterans benefits for those returning from the war in Europe and the Pacific and a vibrant labor union movement, begun in the '20s and '30s, assured factory workers pay and benefits that swept them from poverty and long workweeks into the middle class and economic security.

And now the Republican Party, pushed and prodded by its Tea Party wing, is doing its best to maintain the old white guy foothold by catering to those who can buy them a seat in Congress. They want to return to the size of the federal government as it was in the 19th century. They want to do away with the programs that made this country great. Their narrow minded policies are dangerous. The country is beginning to wake up. Listen carefully. You can hear the discontent rising in the now-diminished middle class as those who became so successful after WWII sink back into poverty, thanks to big-money greed and anti-union politics.

 

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