As voting day arrives for the 2012 elections and we worry about outcomes and how they will affect our lives, the reality is, for many of us, that the choices we make will have only limited or marginal effects on our lives.
There are many of our neighbors, though, who live in what has become an economic war zone. This zone exists in a kind of valley of despair where the unemployed scramble for low-paying jobs and those employed struggle to live on what they earn. For some, each day is a fight for survival. For others, a battle to create and sustain a family in what must often feel like an irrational, unforgiving and uncaring world.
Although there are well off people who care enough about the elections to contribute vast sums of money to their candidates of choice, ironically, most who do so will be largely unaffected, at least directly, by the results. But in the war zone, increases or reductions in taxes, changes in health care coverage, reductions in government services, changes in student loan requirements, new fees, definitions of the poverty line, weakening or strengthening of Medicaid and Medicare will be felt directly.
Of the 55,000 to 65,000 people who live in Western Nevada County, 40 percent or more live in this war zone, just above, at or below the poverty line, unemployed, desperate for work, increasingly hopeless about their chances in life or the prospects for their children, while the rest of us anxiously noodle the political ads and arguments that are supposed to inform our votes.
Consider our local farmers, for example. None are getting rich, many barely subsist, and all struggle to find a business model that works in a community that wants cheap food at any cost. Most of us who can afford food, import a substantial share or all of it from elsewhere in the country (average distance traveled from producer to Safeway’s or Raley’s shelves: 1,500 miles). It is within our local, individual power to change the “market” in which our farmers operate by simply buying more of our produce and meat locally. We consume, for example, approximately 55,000 chickens a month. Farmers in this area raise, at most, 25,000 chickens a year (approximately 2,000 a month). Yet, some share, even of these few, doesn’t find a market here and is exported to the Bay Area.
But they are too expensive, you say. Maybe, but what is the cost to our community in lives and despair of our own, local “Valley of Want?”
Pause a minute as election season comes to a close and consider the practical realities of those for whom each day is a fight to put food on the table, to keep their kids in school, to pay the bills that must be paid, to stave off despair. It is within our power to change this reality, to pull people permanently out of this valley, this war zone, but we will have to both think and do differently. We have it within our direct power to change the economics of the economic war zone. Meanwhile, these elections in which we take so much interest, I am sad to say, are unlikely to provide any meaningful answers or substantive change for those who truly need it.
Phil Turner lives in Lake Wildwood.
This zone exists in a kind of valley of despair where the unemployed scramble for low-paying jobs …