Used to Be People

Falling through the universe at the speed of life

By David Glenn Cox

In 2008, I lost everything in the “Great Recession.” I hate the term “Great Recession” if it was the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression why is it called a recession? Political expediency no doubt, no one wants a depression on their watch. The Great Depression began when the stock market crashed in 1929 and the period between twenty-nine and thirty-two was known as the road to rock bottom.

Herbert Hoover was overwhelmed by the problem. His cabinet was clueless and unable to grasp the dimensions of the problem. No administration had ever been faced with a calamity such as this. The administration spoke happy talk “Two cars in every garage and a chicken in every pot.” In the past during financial downturns, you held your nose and waited it out until things got better on their own. But by 1932, it became clear that it wasn’t going to get better on their own. Their sin was not in their intransigence but in their negligence. I too have my own political philosophy and chief among my maxims is you don’t let the people starve.

Not unlike today the Great Depression was multiple in layers. You had the Dust bowl and crop failures. You had the stock market crash and bank failures and you had the over production of goods and massive unemployment. The house was on fire, and Hoover’s plan was to take a Dixie Cup and judiciously douse the flames. He wasn’t a bad man he was a bad wizard. Living in a big White House with servants bringing him three sumptuous meals each day it’s hard to relate to living in a hole in the ground under boards. Living the life, you’ve always led with tailored suits and summer vacations those hungry people were just stories in the newspaper and there was no real hard-edged reality to them.

The first time you find yourself homeless is an epiphany. It can’t happen here; it can’t happen here! Why is this happening to me? What did I do? I didn’t overleverage mortgage backed securities on the stock market, why me? Because the music stopped, and your number came up don’t take it personal. But this epiphany takes over as suddenly you begin to hear things and see things as you’ve never heard or seen before. Like combat scars you can’t unsee a man pushing an old man in a wheelchair through gravel on the shoulder of a highway headed towards a hospital two miles away. Or a mother pushing back two Happy Meals because she didn’t have the cash to cover it. Two fucking Happy Meals and two hungry little kids, this is how they grow up this is the world they know.

The Republicans in Congress want to fix the problem on the cheap unaware that they are committing suicide. I hate to mention my father again, but he once pondered that in the last Great Depression the neighbors all knew each other and had been together for years. Today we shoot each other over athletic shoes we shoot each other because the world is a cruel place and because Mary Jane wouldn’t go to the prom with us.

I’m not proud of what happened to me, but I’m not ashamed of it either. It is a rare privilege to see what the world looks like without you in it to become the invisible man. And everywhere I went and everyone I met was just like me used to be people. I used to have a painting crew, I used to own a company, I used to have a nice car and I used to live in a big fine house. I was lucky I had help and I escaped, and I don’t ever want to go back. This knowledge from this experience has refined me and damaged me. The voice in my head says, “Not again!”

I’m sixty-three and applied for my Social Security. Two more years and I could get full benefits. Eighty dollars a month more but two years? Two years in this economy is like twenty years. What will the United States look like in two years? Visions of Mad Max and Soylent Green appear. An executive branch that couldn’t fix a headache with a bottle of Quaaludes and a Republican Congress that wants to let the fire burn itself out and see what is left afterwards. As FDR said, “where there is no vision the people perish.”

At sixty-three I’ve no time to start again I’m still recovering from the last calamity. Tens of millions of Americans haven’t recovered still and now they’re going to get hit again? But at least this time they’ll have the satisfaction of calling it a Depression.  I guess the biggest lie which really galls me is “We’re all in this together.” No, we’re not. Millions couldn’t pay their rent last month and can’t pay it this month as landlords sharpen knives and get the eviction paperwork ready.

How could the media ignore millions of Americans losing their homes and being thrown out in the streets…practice? How could they ignore millions of hungry Americans, do you see them now? Obama once called them responsible borrowers meaning some people, some people up in a fluffy cloud somewhere deserved a bailout while the rest of us deserved whatever we got.

“And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed. The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies were sent to catch the murmuring of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored, plans for the change ignored; and only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the causes of revolt went on.”
― John Steinbeck

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