Thursday, September 27, 2012

Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum's Voice

So, I’m one of them too, one of the 47%, though you’d hardly guess it to look at me. I should, by political logic anyway, be on your side. I was raised in a small, rural town in the American west. My grandfather was a rancher, a GMC auto salesman, and rodeo president. My father is a minister. I am a wife, a mother, and—yes—a Christian. And I have always been a rule-follower, up-by-my-own-bootstraps, A-student type. But people can’t really be reduced to types, can they?

That same grandfather knew the importance of valuing the land that had given him a start in life and a home to tend, and that’s why he was among Washington State’s conservationists; he knew the efforts his neighbors and friends in that rural town put into their labor, and that’s why he was a union organizer; he recognized as his equal the woman who worked and lived by his side for over fifty years, and that’s why he was a feminist. And my father, the minister? Why he’s the most liberal Liberal I know. He and my mother—a nurse—were the ones to teach me that real faith calls one to real stewardship. It means taking responsibility for the welfare of others, believing in the worth and dignity and equality of every member of society, no matter his tax bracket or race, or her religion or sexual identity. As I see it, being on your side would be a betrayal of these good-hearted American ancestors of mine; it would mean forgetting everything they worked so hard to give me.

In my own adult life, I have chosen to become, among other things, a teacher. My husband is also a teacher. For the last decade we have primarily worked as part-time faculty members at public colleges. Because we have two young children in need of our attention, one of us most often teaches daytime classes, the other night-classes. We both take freelance projects as well to add to our income. Many nights, after we eat a family dinner and read our children their bedtime stories, we stay up well past midnight getting work done; then we get up with the kids at six a.m. and start all over again. In the summers, when school is not in session, my husband paints other people’s houses. We do not own a home. We do not take vacations. We share a single car to save on gas. Still, money is generally tight. Most years our family of four does not owe income tax. We’re trying to save what we have, but we are also still paying off the student loans (both federal and private) that we, as the children of public servants ourselves, needed to use to fund our own educations. Because we believe in social responsibility, we also tithe to our church, and when we can we donate to the arts foundations (many of them the beneficiaries of federal grants) that have supported our own creative work. We coupon-clip to pay for groceries and the clothes we put on our children’s backs before we send them out for their day at the public elementary. We do what we can with what we have, and we’ve honestly never considered ourselves “moochers.”

The truth, however, is that I do believe I was entitled to the government support from which I’ve benefited over the years. In fact, I’m raising my children to believe that they are entitled too. Because a good society is one that cares about its members. In a good society, people work together to ensure that schools are accessible and well funded, that infrastructure is built and safety personnel hired, that the average family does not have to face financial ruin because of illness or the cost of education. I believe we’re all entitled to live in a society that guarantees us those few but necessary privileges. And while I understand that you and I disagree there, I think you’re missing something. I think you’re overlooking the return. What America gets today from the 47% is that same promise of hard work and service my grandparents made sixty years ago. We promise our labor on behalf of the next generation’s dreams. We promise to use our lives as stewards of our time and talents for the betterment of a society we still believe can be great. Or, as my Sunday School teacher once told me, we promise to keep believing that from those to whom much is given, much can be expected.


Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum

Kirsten Lundstrum is a fiction writer, author of two collections of short stories (This Life She's Chosen, published by Chronicle Books in 2005; Swimming With Strangers, Chronicle Books, 2008), and was from 2008-2012 a member of the faculty at Purchase College, SUNY in creative writing. She now lives in Seattle with her family. She can also be found at