Dear Mitt, I feel entitled to call you Mitt.
I understand last year you made 14 million dollars (according to your just-released tax returns) on investment income. Needless to say, like most Americans, I made significantly less. I have been fortunate enough to get assistance throughout my life, assistance I needed and still, sometimes, need. Sometimes that assistance came from friends and family; sometimes it came from the government. Did I feel entitled to the assistance? No. Am I grateful for it? Yes. How do I show that gratitude: I pay it forward, gladly.
I was raised by a single mother who only graduated college when she was 69. My father never graduated high school. My mother worked three jobs. Sometimes four. I went to Catholic Schools with scholarship assistance until I went to public schools. I was taught to work hard. That if you worked hard people noticed it and helped you out. Hard work is a good thing. I still work hard, and as an associate professor, as the author of multiple books that have received some acclaim, one would think, maybe -- just maybe-- I wouldn't have to worry about my bills.
Nope. I still do.
And the fact is, even though I sometimes still struggle to pay my bills, I still pay my taxes without complaint because I want teachers teaching, construction crews working, police policing, mailmen delivering the mail, etc -- I want the government to pay my neighbors to work at these jobs. And if they can't work, whether disabled or elderly or unemployed because their mill closed to ship jobs overseas, or their company was taken over by Bain Capital and restructured and leveraged, and in the restructuring and leveraging, many people were pink-slipped, because -- let's face it -- cutting jobs saves money, I want them to not be hungry, I want them to have a place to live.
You see, Mitt, I've been hungry. And growing up, I lived in a different address every 2 years or so because rent was hard to make. I know what it's like to be a kid worrying about where I'll be sleeping. I realize you and your rich donor friends at that fundraiser don't have that background. I get it.
I don't think people are entitled to help. I think people are entitled to help each other. It's called empathy. It's called compassion. It's why, even though I still struggle to pay my bills (and I should mention -- I don't own a house, my car is 7 years old, I'm still paying off federal student loans that allowed me to get to this high life I have), I give money to students when I know they're struggling. It's why I give money to homeless people. In a democracy all citizens have dignity, and the government needs to help maintain the dignity of the least of its citizens.
I'm sure you're not reading this. I'm sure you just think here's another guy whining. I'm not whining. I accept that struggling is a part of living. More importantly, struggling keeps me in touch with my roots and in touch with many of my neighbors and students who are also struggling. None of these struggling individuals I know feel entitled to a hand out. They feel entitled to hope, and to sustenance enough to recognize whatever chance tomorrow might present.
And I get it, Mitt. You and your donors you don't recognize real struggle. And that's the sad thing. It's the thing that disqualifies you from being president in this democracy because you can't recognize the dignity in the 47% you so readily dismiss.
Gerry LaFemina is the author of five previous collections of poetry, including Graffiti Heart (winner of the Anthony Piccione Prize in Poetry), The Window Facing Winter and The Parakeets of Brooklyn (winner of the Bordighera Prize); two collections of prose poems; and Wish List, a collection of short stories. A former punk musician and a former member of the Associated Writing Programs Board of Directors, he directs the Frostburg Center for Creative Writing at Frostburg State University, where he also teaches. He divides his time between Maryland and New York.