Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Hungry For Dreams

Res Publica

August 2005

by Melissa Miser

The media, in this day and age, is not considered trustworthy. The media, especially television, is accused of only showing the public pictures of death and despair. Everything reported on the nightly news should be taken with a grain of salt. The time when the headline of a newspaper was taken as the whole truth is gone. Democrats accuse the media of being too conservative, while Republicans have helped coin the phrase “liberal media.” In this time of controversy, it is remarkable for a news spot to even get a person to open their mind, let alone sway it. Yet, this is what happened to me one Sunday night.

I was sitting on our old brown and orange couch with my mother watching “60 Minutes.” On the light brown coffee table in front of us sat a bowl of popcorn, food we did not need to eat, but had made because we were bored. Besides the fact that this was our Sunday night ritual, we were watching because the episode had advertised an interview with George Clooney, one of my mother’s favorite actors. After one or two minor stories the program broke for commercial. After the four to five minutes of advertising that ensued, the famous stopwatch reappeared on the screen. This news story started out by scanning a long line of people. The people in the line looked tired and embarrassed. The narrator quickly revealed that these people were not standing in line for a concert, but were in line for food. They were not in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, but in Marietta, Ohio.

This statement caused me to gasp and my mother to look at the screen in bewilderment. I knew that times were not good in the southeastern corner of the state, but food lines are something I had only associated with the Great Depression and large cities. As the program continued, I was astonished at how many of these people were not unemployed, but were actually working. They were trying to support their families and live the American Dream, but they were struggling.

A man, about my mother’s age, appeared on the screen for a more personal interview. His face was heavy with worry and his eyes looked vacant, like he was dreaming of a place far from Marietta. The man described his job at the local home improvement warehouse. He and his wife made $7.50 an hour to support four kids and themselves. While he spoke his brown eyes became shiny and welled up. The feeling of shame that came from not being able to support his family overtook him and tears streaked across his cheeks.

There were several other more personal stories. One was about a World War II veteran and his wife who depended on the food line to eat. Another was about an employed mother whose income was dramatically cut when her boyfriend, and father of her children, was laid off only weeks earlier causing the couple to resort to feeding their toddlers diluted milk.

These were not the lazy, worthless people that I had always associated with poverty, but the working class. They were in the food line that crisp fall day because of cutbacks and inflation, not because they did not want to work. Some spent their lives in factories that are now closed. They re—emerged into a job market that was based on service and minimum wage. Some are trying to get an education, but with children and rent taking priority, college is a luxury.

Nothing is more constant than change. A couple may decide that they are financially stable enough to have children one year, only to have their job pulled out from underneath them the next. As Americans, we have the belief that anyone is capable of bettering themselves if they work hard enough. Sometimes, though, the lack of work is not what keeps people down, it is the struggle to stay afloat in an ever—changing world. Hopes and dreams can easily get lost in the day—to—day sludge of life. They do not want pity; they just want the chance to get ahead. They are trying to get ahead of inflation, ahead of medical bills, and ahead of debt. They just want an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. It’s hard to have the American Dream when you look into the eyes of your hungry child. People in these food lines are not trying to be parasites; they are just trying to survive.

Melissa Miser is a freshman from Cumberland, Ohio, majoring in Political Science.

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