My dad was one of the air traffic controllers fired in the wake of the PATCO strike, and my mom has always worked in medical records. I grew up in a middle class family – at times less than middle class – but I never went hungry. I always had clothes that fit. I had a roof over my head. When I was sick, I went to the doctor. If there was something I really wanted to do, my mom made certain I got to do it. But somehow I knew if something was really expensive, I shouldn’t ask for it. That’s why I never told my mom about the 8th grade trip to Washington D.C. or the high school trip to Europe – because I knew she’d try to find a way for me to go, and I knew we didn’t have the money.
My father was an alcoholic and a compulsive spender. By the time I was a teenager, he was a successful small business owner, but his dependency and habits always had my mom scraping to get by. When I was 15 years old, my dad blew his brains out on Christmas Day. There was no life insurance to pay for the funeral, no savings, nothing – only a mountain of bills. My mom went into debt trying to take care of everything on her own, and I knew at that point that I had to grow up very quickly. I also stopped liking Christmas. I bet your Christmases as a kid were different from mine.
Through academic scholarships, Pell grants, a part-time job, and Stafford loans, I managed to graduate college and start a career – a career that ended up not being very lucrative, but I made ends meet. I got married. We bought a house. I was living the American dream, right? What is your version of the American dream, Mitt?
A few years later, we took a loss on our home and relocated to a small town in Northeast Georgia for my husband’s dream-job. I, however, was underemployed, but like a good wife often does, I made sacrifices for my husband. One day, I came home to find that my husband had left me for another woman and had overdrawn our joint bank account. I moved back to my hometown where I had a small support system of family and friends. I subsequently went through a divorce and got stuck with a lot of debt. During that transitional period, I took a job waiting tables and tried to put some semblance of plan together to get another degree and start over in a new career. For one six-month cycle, I received food stamps, which was just what I needed to avoid moving back home and burdening my mother – what I needed to get back on my feet. I am no welfare queen.
Perhaps at my lowest, I met my current husband - a former Marine who is now employed full-time on a one-year contract with the Tennessee Army National Guard. I should mention that he was deployed to Iraq for 12 months, and because of my low income and his commitment to serving in a combat zone – a service which exempts his income from being taxed – we both owed no income tax for 2010. You called us “victims.”
As you can see, Mitt, no matter to whom you were referring in your remarks – whether it was the population who are receiving or have received federal benefits (and I have) or the population who have not paid income tax (and at times I have not) – I am part of the 47%.
Today, I am blissfully married, own a home, and am active in my community and the political process. I may have a mountain of student loans, but I currently hold a master’s degree in public administration and graduate certificate in nonprofit management. I have a promising position with a nonprofit organization and am committed to effecting change in my time here in this world. With help, I changed my life, and I feel an obligation to help others change their lives, as well. I get it -- you're not interested. And I'm not interested in voting for you, either.
Sarah Martin is from Nashville, Tennessee and works for a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women. She strives to be a voice for those whose voices are not heard loudest.