When you go to work, if your name is on the building, you’re rich. If your name is on your desk, you’re middle-class. If your name is on your shirt, you’re poor.
As long as there are some people who wish to believe . . . that they are too good to do their own work and clean up after themselves, then somebody else is going to have to do the work and the cleaning up. . . . If some people grow rich by making things to throw away, then many other people will have to empty the garbage cans and make the trip to the dump.
Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.
If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man’s shoulders.
There are very few people who are going to look into the mirror and say, “That person I see is a savage monster”; instead, they make up some construction that justifies what they do. If you ask the CEO of some major corporation what he does, he will say, in all honesty, that he is slaving twenty hours a day to provide his customers with the best goods or services he can and creating the best possible working conditions for his employees. But then you take a look at what the corporation does, the effect of its legal structure, the vast inequalities in pay and conditions, and you see the reality is something far different.
In my experience, middle-class Americans do not feel at ease around poor people. Even people of high ideals who care about the needy experience discomfort in the presence of the needy themselves.
If rich, it is easy enough to conceal our wealth; but if poor, it is not quite so easy to conceal our poverty. . . . It is less difficult to hide a thousand guineas than one hole in our coat.
The rich are never threatened by the poor — they do not notice them.
In Japan, the highest-paid executive earns only fifteen times what the average worker does. Here, CEOs earn five hundred times more. That’s supposed to motivate the American worker. To do what, kidnap his boss?
I walk past a little gangbanger, I don’t even flinch. But I see a white dude with a Wall Street Journal, I haul ass. . . . Cutting through the projects, you might just lose what you have on you that day, but I ain’t never been mugged of my future. No thug ever ran up on me: “Give me your 401(k). . . . I want your college fund, your IRA. I want it all.”
A thousand influences constantly press a working man down into a passive role. He does not act; he is acted upon. He feels himself the slave of mysterious authority and has a firm conviction that “they” will never allow him to do this, that, and the other. Once when I was hop-picking I asked the sweated pickers (they earn something under sixpence an hour) why they did not form a union. I was told immediately that “they” would never allow it. Who were “they”? I asked. Nobody seemed to know, but evidently “they” were omnipotent.
During the contest for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, John F. Kennedy visited a mine in West Virginia. “Is it true you’re the son of one of our wealthiest men?” asked one of the miners there. Kennedy admitted that this was true. “Is it true that you’ve never wanted for anything and had everything you wanted?” “I guess so,” Kennedy replied. “Is it true you’ve never done a day’s work with your hands all your life?” Kennedy nodded. “Well, let me tell you this,” said the miner. “You haven’t missed a thing.”
All the laws made for the betterment of workers’ lives have their origin with the workers. Hours are shortened, wages go up, conditions are better — only if the workers protest.
Is it altogether a Utopian dream that once in history a ruling class might be willing to make the great surrender and permit social change to come about without hatred, turmoil, and waste of human life?
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed.