Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A tale of two cities

Every day I’m in New York City, I’m astonished that class warfare hasn’t broken out. This city is filled with places, stores, restaurants, activities – you name it – that I can’t afford. There are plenty of free things – free night at a museum, pay what you can at an event – so I am having a great old time, but the expensive things are WAY OUT OF RANGE.

Sophie, whose New York is a world I’d never find or know existed except she tells me, happened upon a trendy gathering and they took her along to a club. The cost to sit at a table was $2,000, and that was before drinks! I walked into a store and won’t even tell you what the shoes cost.
The thing about New York is that you see EVIDENCE of rich people. Somehow in Alaska, it doesn’t feel so in-my-face as it does here. I move in my own circle back home (which, granted, doesn’t mean I encounter poverty on a daily basis). Sure, there are restaurants I don’t frequent, gear I don’t own, but we all shop at Fred Meyer. Here I’m wandering around, crossing economic boundary lines every day and popping my eyes at the prices. Popping my eyes!

The Village Voice had an article about the gardeners, plumbers, and service people in Long Island’s Hamptons. How they’ve been waiting 40 years for Reagan’s trickle down, how their lives have changed over the years. One income used to support a family; now two are required. They’re fed up and see the people who hire them – and treat them poorly – getting richer and richer.

So they’re supporting Donald Trump. That confuses me. I see the things they do, and Bernie Sanders speaks to me. Like a billionaire is going to revamp the economic system that has lead to this wider and wider divergence of incomes?

But this is what worries me: the Leo Frank exhibit tied his lynching and the resurgence of the KKK to how the South felt after Civil War reconstruction. Everyone ties Hitler to the deprivation of Germany after World War I penalties. When people feel excluded from prosperity – excluded, not just passed by – they get angry. And demagogues can channel that anger better than calm explainers.

The people who are angry are not stupid. The stupid, stupid people are the ones who thought they could get away with this indefinitely, that they could keep impoverishing people while they lived higher and higher on the hog. Did they think the waitress wouldn’t notice that they were throwing down $2,000 to sit at a table? I can see why the Occupy movement began in New York. I’d be camping in a tent on Wall Street, too.

Friday is the 105th anniversary of the Triangle Factory Fire where 146 mostly young women garment workers died. 62 of them jumped to their deaths and splattered on the pavement. The owners had locked certain doors to make sure the workers didn’t take unauthorized breaks, and they made more money from insurance than they were forced to pay in compensation. No one went to jail. Banker bonuses anyone?

On Friday, I will chalk Yetta Goldstein’s name in front of the building she lived in when she died in the fire at age 20. We have to remember the price regular people pay when they’re taken advantage of, treated poorly, and seen as the means to someone else’s prosperity. I’ve met wonderful people in New York who remember this, who organize those regular people to make productive change for health, safety, and wellbeing. Who draw the community together with those goals.

There are two New York Cities, one for the Haves and one for the Have Nots. I’m worried this isn’t going to end well.


  1. I had the same sense in San Francisco. The Gucci type store fronts with homeless people outside made the contrast much more obvious than in Anchorage. In Anchorage we see the poor, but not so much the rich. But with all the tech companies in San Francisco, there is an obvious, huge gap.

  2. Well said. I am also afraid of the consequences of our country's inequities. Saturday the Dems caucus in Anchorage and I see Hillary as Business as Usual, a hawk, and giving only lip-service to climate change. Bernie speaks to me. His "anger" is really righteous indignation I share. Trump? A horror who is using people.

  3. Astute observations.


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