We Got Exploited – AGAIN, But Maybe We Deserve It.

My reaction was likely the same as yours. . . what the hell?

The recent Senate bill supporting our American society after a global economic and health crisis was nothing less than a corporate frenzy feeding by our politicians. This should be a dire wake up call right now for “we, the people.”

We have not been heard. It took Bernie Sanders screaming for four years and beyond to wake us up. And without a penny from a corporation or billionaire, it may be evident that they did their fancy foot work AGAIN and squashed him quietly so we would forget what it means for the working class and the working poor to stand on our own two feet and scream as loud as Bernie.

But, I ponder if we are truly ready for this act, when “we, the people” are not living into the integrity we so demand of others. Over the last few years I’ve had enough examples in my life to show that it’s not the politicians who are corrupt and exploitative – it’s everywhere in our society, even in my own neighborhood against the most vulnerable people, including my eight year old son.

I think the moment hit me hard as I sat in the driveway one sunny afternoon. My  eight year old son wanted to have a garage sale and he was determined to do it all by himself, including signage and him choosing which possessions of his to sell. I loved his determination. I chose not to tell him his signage was barely legible. I smiled when he hung it upside down on the curbside post. He grabbed his big collection of hot wheels which he rarely used and laid them out on a blanket on the driveway, waiting patiently for his first customer who turned out to be his only customer – a passerby. An older woman out on her walk greeted my son and my son worked hard to be the professional. He greeted her and showed her all he had to sell. She especially liked the cars, and he offered each one for 5 cents. She gave him three dollars for the entire collection. He packaged them up in a bag with a big thank you. He turned to me and smiled. “See mom, I can do it.”

My jaw had dropped. The woman walked away with an extra skip to her walk as if she was happy to get the deal of a lifetime, for her own grandkids, as she had told me. Any other garage sale would have had a sticker price of at least 30 dollars for my son’s collection.

My jaw was still dangling, but I put myself together for my son. I wanted him to own this feeling of accomplishing something himself, and I resisted the urge to tell him that he was robbed blind. That woman completely exploited an eight year old boy and she felt good about it.

Now, my own mother, a generous sort, would have entertained the young boy, understanding his age and ability. She would have spotted him a good $20 bill at least and given him a pat on the head. My mother’s view of the world is how I grew up, believing we help each and neighbors are honest with one another. Her rearing did not prepare me for our world today.

About five years ago I went through a divorce and lost pretty much everything. I had to struggle back into the “game” realizing wages in my own Marin County, California were literally slave wages for the working class. I started to accrue debt rapidly, just to survive, believing that I’d soon find a job to make a decent living. However, after four years I found myself in $40,000 in debt which kept me awake at night. I had never experienced such debt in my life.

I kept getting letters in the mail about loans to eliminate my credit card debts, so I decided to check one out, feeling a bit uncertain given that many such “deals” are often scams. I made the call. The nice man Michael talked me through the process which sounded like a great deal. I was enormously stressed given I had been working as a substitute teacher and I found myself telling him some of these woes and how criminal it is that teachers make such low wages. He really listened and played into the “friend” role. I began to trust him. He’d call just to check in, understanding I was stressed and he genuinely sounded like this method could help me get over the financial hump. Like my mother, my innocence goes deep. I found it difficult to question the integrity of a professional and could not imagine one exploiting a single mother in debt and working the way I was.

Michael wouldn’t send me the full documentation over email, saying at the time it wasn’t complete but he’d have it complete the night I’d meet his notary (anywhere and anytime), so then I could read the contract. It was in the dark of night, at a local cafe, where I sat down with a woman whom I had never met before and she presented me the financial contract. My jaw dropped again though I didn’t reveal my shock right away. Did they really suspect I was THIS STUPID? The idea was they’d give me a lump sum, make a deal with my bank, screwing them (and I liked my bank – a community credit union) and ruin my credit for years. But there was more. If the bank sued the company for the bully deal they were preparing the bank,  I would be responsible for all litigation and lawyer fees!

I realized the notary kept looking at her phone. Michael had been texting her and it was completely evident to me that I was set up for a complete scam. I looked at her hard and then started to laugh uncontrollably. There was pure humor in this moment. “Did you really think that I was THIS STUPID!” She got very quiet and actually, in the end, sided with me and said  “we women really need to stick together, don’t we?” She felt bad. At least, I think she did. I even told her I’d pay her notary fee for the evening. She declined and disappeared into the night. I never heard from Michael or the company again.

Tonight, days after the Senate bill sold the people out,  I sat down with my son again. He’s now almost 14 years old and continues to have a strong independent nature. He had wanted a “credit card” to use for online purchases. So, together we went to our local CVS store where he picked out a card and added a value of $20 to it, money which he had earned. I pointed out to him that he was also spending $3.95 simply for buying the card. He didn’t care and made the purchase. Later he made a few online purchases until he discovered this: for every purchase, the credit card company takes a dollar. A full dollar!

Now, you could think that I’m stupid for not reading the small print or teaching my son to read the small print. You could say I’m naive and should have researched these contracts or at least have stood up to that woman who jipped my son over the hotwheel set. That’s right, I could have. But, my point here is how do we even question our government and their exploitation when our entire culture operates in a predatory and exploitative approach. It’s everywhere! How can one develop trust in a system when one has to question everything. What has happened to honesty and making an honest living?

It’s not the government that needs to be reworked. It’s not even about newly elected officials representing us. We, the people need to step up integrity and stop pointing fingers at others until we face ourselves. We need a system to call out those who continue to exploit us and we need to stand up for one another.

As we experience lockdown, and dwell on our own mortality, let us also think about life and what we want out of life, community and society. Let us go deep with a cleansing of our entire culture of the exploitation and be prepared to stand up for the vulnerable and call out those who are robbing us blind.

We are better than this. And we deserve better.

If it’s not a revolution we undertake, let’s make it a cleansing and create a just world for ourselves. I, for one, would love to see my children grow up and look back at our current generation and be inspired by our power of honesty, integrity and justice and accept nothing less. Listen to my mother.

My suggestion: No more profit for the corporations.
Buy second hand only
Buy from small businesses
Create community gardens, own local food sources
Share, barter and trade goods
Get creative and never give them a penny more.

What are your ideas?

-Barbara McVeigh

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