Thursday, October 25, 2012

Gabrielle Calvocoressi's Voice


Dear Governor Romney,

Hi from Marfa, TX. My name is Gabrielle Calvocoressi. I'm a poet and an educator. I'm writing this from my desk in Marfa, where I'm lucky enough to be spending six weeks writing because the Lannan Foundation has faith in me and my writing and has made it financially possible for me to be here. I'm very grateful. Very few people get anyone to take care of them this well for any amount of time.

It's been a tough morning, though. For about the first two weeks I really forgot my worries about money and making it all work. I forgot about the thousands of dollars I owe in taxes because I made money on readings and certain kinds of teaching and taxes weren't taken out. And even though I should have been putting that money away, we were so broke, my partner and I, that I couldn't figure out how to pay all the taxes I owed and also eat and keep traveling to give readings and teach so I could get grants like the one I'm on now that will help me write the books that will get me a teaching job that will take taxes out and also help me pay off the taxes I owe and my student loans. If I could figure out how to pay those bills then I could start thinking about how to get affordable health care.

I guess what I want to say is I'm one of the people you were talking about. I feel really embarrassed and ashamed that I can't pay all of my debts. I also feel scared most of the time. I do this thing where I add numbers to calm myself: how much will I make this year, how much could I make if I worked more, if I added a few more students I could pay off my debt in ______ many years. And the thing is I know that I am incredibly privileged. I have a great friends, I am by any stretch of the imagination very successful in my field, I have been with the same woman for 17 years (this October!!), I think that if I lost everything, I would still have family who would take me in. I think it would take a lot for me to be homeless, though I think the likelihood of being homeless is actually greater for me than it was a decade ago due to the decline of the financial health of my entire family.

I grew up in a very financially comfortable family. I went to an elite prep school. A lot of that good fortune came from not living with my mother, who was mentally ill. I lived with my grandparents and then with my father, all of whom were very well off. My mother came from an upper middle-class family too but by the time I remember her she was not doing so well. And by the time she took her life when I was thirteen, she didn't have much. I remember being really scared and upset that she didn't have any of her own teeth. She must have been about 37 when she had most of them removed. Anyway, it really terrified me. That could happen to someone. After she died, I kept getting her disability payments and those helped put me through school. I imagine she didn't pay taxes. She couldn't work or really take care of herself very well. She's also one of the people you were talking about, I think. Sick people who don't have access to decent mental health services that might help them lead rewarding and productive lives. I'm sure you've probably had people like that in your family. I mean, everyone has, I think. I feel like I never did enough to help her.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I've been thinking about David Brookes saying you are a nice man who is making terrible decisions and pretending to be something he's not. One time when my mom came to pick me up from Catholic school, I pretended I didn't know her. I was so scared the other kids would see her in her broken-down brown car and her funny way of talking (now I think it was probably from the medication) and they'd think I was just like her. Among the things I've done in my life that I can't seem to forget, that ranks really high. I doubt you and I have much in common in terms of our beliefs, but if David Brookes is right and you're saying things like this when you don't even believe them then I really wish you'd stop. It makes people feel terrible. It makes me feel terrible to think I might have a president who hates me so much. And I bet it makes soldiers and their partners feel terrible. And all the people who are trying to make lives for themselves in this world. And aren't you supposed to love the least among us?

Okay, I'm going to try and write now. Does a poetry fellowship seem stupid to you? Sometimes I feel dumb complaining. Like I chose to be an artist and aren't artists supposed to be broke? But I don't think anyone is supposed to be broke. I was raised to believe that you made a life by working hard at what you love and giving back to your community in all of the ways you can. I'm doing my best at both of those things. I'm the 47%

Looking forward,

Gabrielle Calvocoressi


Gabrielle Calvocoressi is the author of The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart and Apocalyptic Swing, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. She has been the recipient of fellowships and residencies from The Stegner Program at Stanford University, The Rona Jaffe Foundation, Civitella di Ranieri and The Lannan Foundation, among others. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Washington Post, Garrison Keillor's Poet's Almanac, The Boston Review and Gulf Coast. She is the Poetry Editor for The Los Angeles Review of Books. She's owes over $6000 in taxes that she is desperately trying to pay off. She has $38,000 in student loan debt. 
She cannot afford health insurance at this time.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cathy Coone-McCrary's Voice

Dear Governor Romney,

I didn’t have my father’s stocks to sell in order to pay for college. But I still paid my own way, working as a waitress, among other jobs, in addition to being awarded numerous scholarships. In less than four years, I graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and was accepted into a straight-PhD-track program in English at the University of Georgia. While there, I won a teaching award, mentored new teaching assistants, and passed my oral exams with distinction. By age 29, I had earned my PhD.

Surely by now you have concluded that I cannot possibly be one of the 47%, that I could not possibly be a victim who takes no responsibility for her life. Well, people are not percentages, and the truth is always infinitely more complicated. 

At age 13, I considered suicide for the first time. When I was sixteen, I looked very seriously at a bottle of Drano and considered drinking it—a death, I recently learned, that would have been excruciating. In college and graduate school and then throughout my thirties and into my forties, I continued seeing suicide as the ultimate escape route: an ejection from a burning ship into outermost darkness. I do not exaggerate when I say that over the past 32 years of my life I have considered suicide thousands—yes, thousands—of times. 

Have you ever considered suicide, Governor Romney? If so, then you know all too well what suicidal depression feels like, its fingernails-being-ripped-out-of-their beds agony. But if you don’t know what it’s like, Governor Romney, please allow me to explain. It begins like an avalanche, without warning. You’ll wake up one day terrified of the world, galled by its white bright light and its sound of emptiness. You’ll lose twenty pounds, the weight will just fall off you, and you won’t be able to find where it went, or why, except that food will be tasteless and you just won’t care. You’ll hear death in the next room shuffling his papers and you’ll wonder when he’ll come in the bathroom for you; you’ll think it’s all your fault, if you would just try hard enough, if you would just stop being a victim and, for God’s sake, take some responsibility, stop being one of “those” people, buck up, stop being so damned lazy when the rest of the world has it way worse. 

Eventually you’ll go from wanting to die to thinking about how to. You will weigh the advantages and disadvantages of how to kill yourself, because you will not want to come back, you will not want to fail. Somewhere in the darkness you will wonder how you will look when you're found in your bath tub, and whether your face will be so swollen and disfigured that the one who finds you will not be able to recognize you, but at the moment you ask that question, you will have concluded that those you leave behind will be better off without you, that your death will destroy those you love but that they will move on and live happily ever after with another. A state like that is not exactly conducive to paying one’s federal income taxes, Governor Romney.

For the last fifteen years I have been in treatment. For the first ten of those fifteen years, I was not diagnosed correctly; it wasn’t until 2008 that I learned I have Bipolar II, a mood disorder characterized mostly by depression, but also by other mood irregularities called hypomanias and mixed states. To this day I am still working on finding the right cocktail of medications (yes, a full fifteen years after starting treatment), all the while dutifully going to therapy, week after week, trying to clean my head out, trying to let the light in. I wish I could have been treated overnight in an ER, Governor Romney, but Bipolar II just isn’t that easy to fix.

And yet I’m one of the lucky ones: my husband has always had health insurance, and he is a very good man. Even so, my thirties, when I first started getting treatment, were the lost years, in which I could never feel safe, could never know for sure if I was going to stay alive or not, whether there was anywhere in the world for me. Still I managed to continue pursuing my passion for writing, while working at a series of low-paying jobs (for which, you may suspect, I paid little in the way of federal income taxes). I so desperately wanted to do something, wanted to make some kind of contribution—and yet I still continued to struggle with the constant water boarding of depression, the old demon of suicide. My biggest fear? That my husband would die or leave me and I would end up homeless, forever condemned, forgotten, a victim, lazy, irresponsible, for whom the solution was to just get a job and pay my federal income taxes. And my plan, such as it was? I decided I would somehow get to Hawaii and survive on the beaches there. I knew that at least I wouldn’t freeze to death there.

But this isn’t a story that ends in despair. It is a story that rises. It is a story that rises because I have refused to give up, Governor Romney—I have always said that I will take down this disease before it takes me down, and I have always felt that there was a reason for my existence in this world. What is that reason, you may ask? Well, it’s pretty basic: to help others. My job in life is to educate the public about serious mental illness, so I tell my story to anyone who will listen and I teach others like me how to tell their own stories. Yes, it isn’t the kind of work that will ever, very likely, allow me to build elevators for my numerous cars, not the kind of work for which I will pay much in the way of federal income taxes, but at least I know what it is to see people as people, not numbers, and to elevate them.

Cathy Coone-McCrary


Cathy Coone-McCrary earned a PhD in English from the University of Georgia in 1997; her dissertation, a collection of poetry, is entitled Counting Down Our Small Time. She has been published in national magazines, including The Greensboro Review and The Southern Poetry Review. Since 2007, she has worked with the National Alliance on Mental Illness as a speaker in NAMI’s program In Our Own Voice. NAMI was started in 1979, with the mission of providing education, support, research, and advocacy to individuals with serious mental illnesses and their family members. NAMI’s website is nami.org, where there is a listing of state affiliates as well. The hotline number there is 1-800- 950-NAMI (6264).

Melissa Wiley's Voice

Dear Mitt Romney,

A few months before her second birthday, my oldest daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. One minute, a Saturday afternoon in March, she was climbing on the chairs in a hospital waiting room, and the next minute she was being rushed into an exam room, quarantined for her own safety--her immune system shot, her platelets dangerously low, the situation so grave that if she'd bumped her head, she could have suffered intracranial bleeding. My husband and I were in our twenties, married three years. Kate had enjoyed a glowingly healthy infancy, and when the bruises blossomed all over her arms and legs, leading to a nightmarish day of testing and waiting and somber-faced doctors using words like "pluripotent stem cells" and "complete blood exchange," we could hardly believe it was real. Cancer.

It could have been worse. Scott had a good job at DC Comics in New York City, a job with a modest salary but (as a subsidiary of Time Warner) excellent medical benefits. It can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to wipe cancer out of a toddler's bloodstream. During the next nine months, Kate's (and therefore my) longest consecutive stay at home was ten days. The leukemia was quite advanced at diagnosis; she was deemed 'high risk' and put on a high-dose chemotherapy protocol, the kind that, if it doesn't kill you, gives you a good fighting chance of permanent remission. There were times it seemed it really might kill her. Her Broviac catheter went septic and had to be replaced in a rush surgery. Once, a bacterial infection ate away at a sore on her back. Before the doctors finally figured out what it was, they told us they thought it was a fungal infection and there might be similar lesions all over her internal organs. That was a bad day. Again: we got lucky. The bacteria was vanquished by I.V. antibiotics. She still has a crater-shaped scar there--"the divot," we call it.


Can you imagine it?--Scott, in his Manhattan office, editing comic books while his heart was in a hospital at the far edge of Queens. He'd take the subway home to our apartment in Queens, then drive out to the hospital to see us, bringing dinner, fresh laundry, sitting with Kate while I dashed to the Ronald McDonald House for a shower. Then he'd make the long, lonely drive back, late at night, up early for the next morning's subway commute to work. After he left, I'd sit by Kate's hospital bed, her I.V. beeping, and work. I wrote my first historical novel in that series of hospital rooms. My publishers loaned me a laptop.

(A writer friend of mine, herself a cancer survivor, once pointed out that I talk an awful lot about hair in that novel--my main character, a young girl, is always running around with her hair streaming in the wind--all those scenes written during the months when my little girl was bald. I didn't realize.)


Kate survived. Her hair grew back. She's seventeen now and a marvel. We feel lucky every day, just looking at her. After the worst of her chemo was over and she'd moved to the low-dose, outpatient, maintenance phase, Scott left his job at DC Comics to stay home and write fulltime. By then both of us were doing well as freelancers, writing children's books and comics. We had just had our second baby, another little girl, and after all those days Scott had spent apart from us, he wanted to be with his family as much as possible. Cancer does that to you. Kate's divot isn't the only scar. But that one's a good scar--a deep gratitude, a joy in being with your family, an awareness that every day you spend together is a gift.


Of course, leaving the job meant our healthcare costs went way up. We were on COBRA for a few months, but it was crushingly expensive. We shifted to an individual, direct-pay plan: also very expensive, especially factoring in the higher copays, lab fees, and prescription prices. In late 2001, when Kate was cleared to travel, we moved to Virginia where the cost of living was considerably lower. But the interstate move resulted in Kate being dropped from our family medical plan; we had to take out a separate policy for her: an extra $600 a month. Being self-employed is expensive. No employer to kick in for healthcare, dental, vision, or even to pay part of your FICA.

That was part of what staggered me about your 47% remarks, Mr. Romney--how unaware you seemed of the reality of the self-employed, the low-income earners, the struggling middle class--and how contemptuous. That and the complete lack of logic. You took two separate circles in a Venn diagram--in one circle, people likely to vote for President Obama; in another circle, people who because of low income and the Bush-era child tax credits, do not owe federal income taxes--and conflated them as if they consist of identical sets of people. Surely you realize that they're different circles, only partly overlapping. In the "didn't owe income taxes" circle, the 47% of the American public you characterized as people you'll never "convince they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," are retirees, students, disabled people, and low-income earners. Hardworking, honorable people--a lot of whom happen to be Republican, by the way. Most adults occupy that circle at some point in their lives--during college, for example, or after retirement. And of course, the "Obama voters" circle contains large numbers of people who do pay federal income taxes--in fact, many of those folks pay a higher percentage of their income than you do, yourself. The careless way you conflated those circles was astonishing.

(Not to mention the way you turned "people don't OWE federal income tax" into "people don't PAY federal income tax." As you yourself have stated, "I don't pay more [in taxes] than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don't think I'd be qualified to become president. I'd think people would want me to follow the law and pay only what the tax code requires." Should that 47% you deplore pay more than they legally owe?)

In 2003, our fourth child was born, our first son. Barely an hour after his birth, he was rushed away from me to a different hospital for emergency NICU treatment--born with a coil of intestine in his umbilical cord. No one was expecting it; I'd had a perfectly normal pregnancy. I left the maternity hospital six hours after delivery to be with him in the NICU. He had his first surgery at two days old; others followed. Every day that first week, something new was diagnosed--with more diagnoses to follow in the next few years. He is hard of hearing, cognitively disabled, developmentally delayed. He began receiving physical and occupational therapy at four months of age; for a while the doctors told us it was possible he would never walk. Scott and I worked with him for hours a day--especially Scott, working Stevie's hands, his arms, his legs; doing the massage and stretching exercises the therapists taught us. Steven runs around now with a somewhat awkward gait--but he runs. He's been in hearing aids since before his first birthday. We've spent more hours than I can count in speech therapy, PT, OT, hospital labs, specialists' exam rooms.

Gov. Romney, you've vowed that if you are elected President, you'll repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act. In the first debate, you said "preexisting conditions are covered under my plan." But that's not entirely true. What you're referring to is a law that already exists--HIPAA, which says that if you lose your coverage you can continue to purchase it, as long as there's no break in coverage longer than 63 days. It might be expensive, but you can't be denied for preexisting conditions. But what if you didn't have any coverage to begin with? Or what if you can't afford the expensive premiums?

Look, I get it. Preexisting conditions mean risk. Insurance companies are in business to make money. Without provisions to ensure coverage for people with preexisting conditions, people like Kate and Steven are going to find it difficult to buy health insurance as adults, plain and simple. There was a heartbreaking number of children on that cancer ward at Schneider Children's Hospital in 1997. Some of them died--children we knew, children we lived with for months, children we loved. Most of the patients we knew, thanks to excellent and timely medical treatment, survived both the disease and the toxic drugs that destroy it. All of those kids, those survivors who fought so hard and endured so much pain, now have "preexisting conditions." Some of them are adults now. Because of the Affordable Care Act, they can stay on their parents' insurance through age 26. After they age out, if they can't find jobs that provide medical benefits, will you dismiss them as people you "don't have to worry about," shirkers who don't "take personal responsibility and care for their lives"?

Or what about those who want to become, say, a writer or an artist or an inventor or who have the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that leads someone to take a chance and start a new business---all life plans that don't come with employer-provided health insurance. Are they irresponsible too?

Sincerely,
Melissa Wiley 


Melissa Wiley is the author of more than a dozen books for kids and teens, including The Prairie Thief, Inch and Roly Make a Wish, Fox and Crow Are Not Friends, and two series of novels about the ancestors of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She lives in San Diego with her husband, Scott Peterson, and their six children, whose antics are the inspiration for their webcomic, Into the Thicklebit, illustrated by Chris Gugliotti. Melissa is a contributing writer at Wired.com's GeekMom and blogs about her family's love affair with books at Here in the Bonny Glen.

Tara Masih's Voice

Dear Mitt Romney,

As a young girl with a bicultural heritage, I grew up between three worlds: the world of my wealthy maternal grandparents in New Jersey, the world of my paternal grandparents who lived in a small village in Northern India, and the world of my middle-income parents in a community near New York City. I was comfortable in all places: at the country club, at the bazaar, and at the town’s harbor park.
I learned that there are many ways to live. And they all have honor. And even though my parents sometimes struggled to make ends meet, the ends were always met.

But when I reached adulthood, life took me to a place where I didn’t think I would ever go—to the divorce court. And I had a three-year-old and no one to help out. I think people with privilege like to think that they can control all—their lives, their income, their families, their environment, their fellow beings—but they can’t. And life can take anyone to unexpected places in a second—into a hospital, into debt, into bankruptcy. Or just hovering above the poverty line, as I was, part of the dire national statistics for single women heading the household. I made juuuust enough to not qualify for government programs, but too little to pay government and state taxes. And I was grateful the government protected me and my son in that way.

But even though I was not paying those taxes, I was paying the state sales tax every time I bought something. I contributed to other people paying taxes, as I worked for companies that did, enabling them to make their bottom line. So you see, Mr. Romney, the 47% is still contributing to the economy and helping to keep others afloat (like yourself) so that they can pay their taxes. And believe me, we are more than happy to get to a place where we are making enough to contribute on our own. I don’t know anyone who says I’ll work for less so I can owe less. Owing less, for the lower-income class, means you have less. Everyone wants more.

I once spoke to a woman living on the streets. She had no job, begged for money, but was adamant that she still helped the economy every time she went into McDonald’s to buy her cup of coffee. She felt a sense of pride when she went into the store with her hard-earned cash (yes, what some have to do for spare change can be harder than what some do for millions in investments). She felt like she was contributing something. She wanted to contribute something. 

We can’t get away from taxes, even on the streets.

Thanks for listening to this story, just one of millions.

Tara L. Masih

Tara L. Masih is editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (a ForeWord Book of the Year), The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays (a Skipping Stones Honor Book), and author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows (a National Best Books Award finalist). She has published fiction, poetry, and essays in numerous anthologies and literary magazines (including Confrontation, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Natural Bridge, The Pedestal, Night Train, and The Caribbean Writer), and several limited edition illustrated chapbooks featuring her flash fiction have been published by The Feral Press. Awards for her work include first place in The Ledge Magazine’s fiction contest and Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best of the Web nominations. www.taramasih.com.

Monday, October 8, 2012

From We Represent the 47 Percent.

Last Monday, I had a seven-hour train ride. For most of it, a nun was seated across the aisle. Probably in her eighties, she wore an all-white habit and was blind. She carried a heavy yellow cassette recorder on her lap, but still people walked up to her and told her their life stories.

In front of me for the first two hours, there was a man trying to start a wealth management company. He talked of one hundred million dollars of investments. He placed call after call on his cell phone. 


It just dawned on me -- what with this site being on my mind -- that all the Catholic clergy are part of the 47 percent. Anyone who's taken a vow of poverty has to be, by definition. I was seated between the extremes of the 47 percent and the 53 percent.

And I thought a minute about those words: A vow of poverty. And, for the first time in my life, I thought of them in light of Mitt Romney's private comments to wealthy donors and suddenly I saw how -- in this money-driven culture -- those words could seem unAmerican.

I've written before about how nuns have played a huge role in the survival of my mother's family. Here's one that I think of now. When my mother was in college, her father got very sick and could no longer pay her tuition. She was going to have to drop out. Except there was a nun -- Sister Rita Estelle -- who'd been raised in extreme wealth in Texas. Although she'd given it all up and taken a vow of poverty, she managed to get someone in her family to pay for my mother's education. Tough and smart, Sister Rita Estelle rarely spoke of God. Like the nun I sat across from on the train, people talked to her everywhere she went. "They think they know me," she told my mother.

I went to Catholic schools from 6th grade through college. Some of my most influential teachers were those who'd taken vows of poverty. At my middle school, I remember the nuns driving tractors in their full habits, black veils flipping in the wind.

In the religion that helped shape me, the people who are the most revered, who are the most faithful, who have dedicated themselves to Christ have taken vows of poverty. Although their food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare are covered by the Church, they don't make enough to trigger those federal income tax payments and therefore they are part of Mitt Romney's 47 percent -- those who he defines seeing themselves as victims; the people I was taught to most admire, he called "those people."

This realization was a relief. Not only was I taught that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven, not only was I taught to revere people like Mother Theresa who lived in service of the poor -- I was taught these things by those who had rejected not only wealth, but who had rejected even being middle class.

Now, I am painfully aware of the hypocrisies of the Catholic Church. I was with my mother when she made it to Rome -- only to be anguished by the incredible displays of wealth. I have written about how difficult it has been to leave the Catholic Church, for many tragic reasons, but I've also written that Catholicism has formed me as a writer, as a human being -- irrevocably -- and I'm thankful for it.

And I also know that it doesn't take a Catholic upbringing to find Mitt Romney's private comments about nearly half our nation deeply chilling and disturbing. His comments shook many of us -- from all walks of faith, including those of his own faith, as well as atheists -- indelibly, to our cores. 

Perhaps it was even worse when, after Mitt Romney's conversation with wealthy donors was released, he stood by his comments and therefore his depiction of the 47 percent as those who he "could never convince to take personal responsibility for their lives". When he came out on Fox News nearly three weeks later to reverse his comments, it felt like it was far too little and far too late. He also didn't say that his depiction of nearly half of the country was wrong. He did nothing to counter this horribly divided view of our nation.

I have had the honor of reading the stories collected here, this gathering of voices. I have had the privilege to read about the lives of "those people" -- 47 percenters who've worked three and four jobs to make ends meet, who served their country in times of war, who've lost the person they love and rely on, who've lost their jobs, who've paid into the system and now live on Social Security.

I've read about those who were new to this country and poured love into their children, those who were the first in their families to graduate from college, even high school. I've read about those who grew up in poverty and, with help, have become teachers, writers, parents themselves. I've read letters by those who have sacrificed financially to go back to school, to go into a lower-paying job where one serves others, to have one partner at home with the kids even though other options would raise their annual income -- letters from those who've made deep personal sacrifices.

I've read letters from a Purple Heart recipient, a paratrooper, and Pulitzer prize winners. I've read and read and read.

I love these voices. I admire these Americans. They remind me that money isn't what makes an American. These voices humanize a statistic, one voice at a time, proving that we aren't statistics at all. We are human beings, each with our own story. 

The American Dream is far more diverse, far more interesting, far more complex than the accumulation of wealth -- and sometimes it's far more gritty, determined, and inspiring; sometimes it's soulful and full of grace. Sometimes it's not a dream just for America, but the world -- and, for some, it's about this world and the next. 

For now, we have decided to let this collection of voices stand. We may add more occasionally and the site may take shape in new ways in the future. But, for now, We Represent the 47 Percent.


-- Julianna Baggott


Julianna Baggott along with her husband, David G.W. Scott started We Represent the 47 Percent. Baggott is the author of 18 books, under her own name and two pen names. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and on NPR's Talk of the Nation, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. www.juliannabaggott.com 

Chris Cutler's Voice

Governor Romney, I rarely pay attention to campaign commercials. Frankly, I have better things to do that listen to politicians toss vitriolic comments at their opponents and promise things they’ll never attempt.  But I’ve been listening a lot lately. I could not avoid hearing your surreptitiously recorded comments about 47% of the citizens of this country. Your insensitive and rash judgement both incensed and insulted me.

Technically, I am not one of the 47%.  My husband and I live a comfortable life. We always had good jobs and have not wanted for much. We raised one son, paid the college expenses his scholarship did not cover. We also were lucky enough to help my mother, dead now seven years, because she was one of the 47%. All of her life. So were her parents, immigrants who helped make this country what it is today.

Let me tell you about them, Governor. My grandparents left a tiny village in Italy in search of a better life in America, the land of opportunity. Life was not much better once they arrived in this foreign-of foreign places.  They didn’t speak the language.  They had little money.  They lived in cramped quarters, working 12-15 hour days while dealing with the prejudices and abuses of their bosses and neighbors. They put up with the indignities, though, because they had dreams, desires and drive to better their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren.

They settled in Youngstown, Ohio, because the steel mills provided more opportunity for immigrants.  Like all foreign laborers, my grandfather worked 12-hour shifts in inhumane conditions to earn barely enough money to feed and house his growing family.  My grandmother built a large, stone oven in her garden and baked bread that she would sell to neighbors to supplement what money she culled from Grandpa’s pay.

“You grandpa work hard-a for nothin’,’” my grandmother often told me.  “No money.  I sell bread to feed-a da kids.”  Eight kids.  My grandparents raised them in a two-bedroom house with no indoor plumbing. They received no help from anyone other than each other, but they made sure the kids went to school, graduated and got good jobs.

My mother, Mary, was the youngest of five girls. She wanted to be a nurse, Governor, but the family couldn’t afford the tuition.  Mom got a job as a secretary and put herself through business school. After she married my father, she became a full-time mom.

Our life was not easy. My father, a milkman who had dreamed of being a doctor, suffered a disabling heart attack when my brother and I were still in grade school. Because my parents were frugal, we were able to survive on their savings and Social Security payments.  You know about Social Security, don’t you?  It’s that so-called entitlement program that my parents paid into for years.

I’ll let you in on a secret, Governor.  Our parents always told my brother and me that we weren’t really poor, that there were others worse off than we. I resented that because I didn’t have what my friends had.  I couldn’t buy new records or clothes or shoes like my friends did.  I wore my cousin’s hand-me-downs or clothes that Mom sewed. I was embarrassed.  Now, though, I realize they were teaching us to appreciate what we could do with the little we had.  They taught us that the most important things in life were determination, education, independence and responsibility. Responsibility. To ourselves and to others. As poor as we were, we still donated what we could – clothes, food from our garden, a few pennies – to those who were suffering more than we were. 

I’m not going to bore you with everything, Governor, but let me tell you one last thing about my mother’s life. She survived my father by 36 years. And for those 36 years, she lived in fear because her “notch baby” Social Security payments barely paid for her medications and monthly bills. My brother and I and our spouses helped her so she could remain in her house.  I can’t imagine much it embarrassed my mother to accept money from her children.  She was a proud woman, though, and she refused to file for food stamps or other governmental aid because others needed it more.

My mother, though, continued to help others.  She still bled for those who hurt more than she. Two weeks before she died, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. The day before my mother passed, she sent a $10 check to a Hurricane Katrina fund set up by her church.

I’m glad my mother was not alive to hear your comments about the 47%, Governor.  I’m glad my grandparents and millions of other immigrants who built this country are not alive to hear your comments, Governor.  They did a lot more than pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  They gave blood and sweat and life to these United States and took little but what they deserved. They were not freeloaders.

Because of their great sacrifices, I slipped over the line, Governor.  According to your reasoning, I’m one of the 53%.  I’m well-educated, Governor. I work hard.  I pay taxes. I take my job as a voter very seriously. I research issues. I listen to all sides before I make a decision.  I think for myself.

And I’m voting for Barack Obama. 

He is one of us, Governor.  He grew up like most of us did.  He understands that those of us who have much have a responsibility to others.  He knows that by giving children hot meals, medical attention, a good education and exposure to the arts, we are teaching them that they can better themselves and the lives of others around them.  He understands that compassion goes a lot farther than contempt.

He understands that our country is a blend of many nationalities, races, religions, beliefs. He also knows that everyone in this country needs to work together to pull ourselves out of the mess he inherited.  He recognizes the fact that we are individuals,  that we each should have the right to decide what we do with our own bodies. He’s not perfect, Governor, but he gives us hope that maybe we can survive and become a great country again.

He gets it, Governor.  He understands.  I don’t think you do or ever will.

And that, Governor, is why I’m voting for Barack Obama.

Christine Cutler


Chris Cutler is the founder and executive director of The Las Vegas Memoir Project.  A writer, she received her MFA in creative writing from Murray State University.  Chris is on the editorial board of and writes for BLVDS magazine and teaches memoir and business writing through the Division of Educational Outreach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  Several journals have published her work, and she’s currently writing a memoir about her Italian grandmother’s journey to America.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Denise DuVernay's Voice

Dear Mitt,

Although my parents are not, I am part of the 47% of the population who will vote for President Obama without considering you for a split second. Although I do pay taxes (don’t tell Illinois, but I still owe them a couple hundred for 2011), I am part of a disturbing trend: Like many of my peers, I am more educated than my parents yet doing much, much worse financially than they are. When they were my age, my parents had four children (two of whom were in private school), two cars, a lovely four-bedroom house on two rolling acres in the exurbs --but just one job and one bachelor’s degree between the two of them. I have a master’s degree, a 1999 Honda Civic, a part-time job, and $15,000 in medical and credit card debt. (Children? Oh, I’ll never be able to afford those. I do have a cat.)

I inherited my dad’s work ethic, sense of humor, and integrity but not his entrepreneurial spirit. As a kid, I had a Kool-Aid stand, but it didn’t occur to me to charge for it. I didn’t have it in me to put it all on the line to make some scratch the way my father did. (And frankly, I don’t think he would have lent me money to start a business, anyway.) Instead, I channeled my energy toward education, earning my master’s degree with the idealistic goal of teaching English for an urban community college. I started at community college, Mitt, and I believe in them. They’re wonderful places for the 47% who don’t have the standardized test scores, relatives, or money to secure places in prestigious universities.

Unfortunately, the United States was not the same place when I finished grad school in 2002 as it was when I devised my plan in 1999. Now, ten years later, and even with twelve years’ teaching experience and several publications, I’m still continuously looking for work. I had a full time job for a while outside of academia, but I was laid off in 2009 after fourteen months. I collected unemployment for a while, too, Mitt. It wasn’t nearly what I earned at my job, and I preferred working, but I was able to keep up with important payments and COBRA, and I’m grateful for that. I’m lucky now to have health insurance through my domestic partner’s employer, but when I wasn’t insured, I needed an ankle x-ray that took me nearly three years to pay off. Can you imagine that, Mitt? I had three jobs at the time. Can you imagine having three jobs but still not being able to afford health insurance? After putting two more doctor visits and antibiotic prescriptions on my credit card to cover two bouts of strep that same winter, I cut off my phone (although, I admit, I still had a refrigerator) and found an HMO.  It was overpriced, had an enormous deductable, and didn’t cover pre-existing conditions, gynecological exams, pregnancy, or birth control. In fact, in the two years I paid for that policy, I never submitted a claim. Luckily, Planned Parenthood was there for me. Can you imagine waiting for almost five hours in a crowded waiting room at Planned Parenthood for a pap smear because, of your city’s almost 600,000 people, a full fourth were living in poverty? Can you imagine being sent away at 5:00 without ever seeing the doctor, frustrated because you could have used that time to pick up a shift at one of the restaurants you work for?

Can you imagine waiting tables with a graduate degree, Mitt? Scratch that—can you imagine waiting tables?

I’m not sure if you’re capable of empathy, Mitt, but your actions and words suggest you aren’t.  I don’t begrudge anyone for their success. Your money has nothing to do with why I’m voting for President Obama. I’m voting for the President because when I hear him speak, I can feel that he became a lawyer and chose to run for office because he genuinely loves this country and its people. When I see you speak, I see a man whose first thought upon waking up is “Me” and whose last thought upon going to sleep is “Me.”

You don’t represent people like me, Mitt, and you never will.

Sincerely,

Denise Du Vernay

Denise Du Vernay is adjunct professor of English at St. Xavier University in Chicago. She is the co-author of The Simpsons in the Classroom: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield (McFarland, 2010) and has contributed to SpongeBob SquarePants and Philosophy, Breaking Bad and Philosophy, and the forthcoming anthology Homer Simpson and the Promise of Politics: Popular Culture as Political Theory (University Press of Kentucky, 2013).

Jackson Connor's Voice

[To protect the privacy of others, names and details have been changed in the following letter.] 

Hello Mr. Romney,

What you said recently about the 47 % of American citizens that you don’t represent got me thinking about some family who lived upcounty from me as a kid. Stay-at-home Patty who foraged the local woods in the fall for groundpine to make wreathes – that was her holiday present money. And Big Tall  Daniel who worked forever at the refinery in Warren, PA – well, not forever exactly, but already at the plant within a week of graduating high school and still there until the company relocated to Texas in 2001.

Anyway, I was thinking about their kids, too. Ronnie, who used to bodyslam me and Johnnie off the back of the Lazyboy, all elbows and BMX muscles, a big brother roughhousing a couple kids, always saving the roughest noogie for his younger brother. Each boy so much like his father, you’d think a crossover dribble and a reverse layup are hereditary (or maybe they are). Hard workers both, Ronnie a mechanic who’s doing fine as far as it goes, Johnnie a high school chemistry teacher; each with their own pasts and futures; debts and worries; a shop that almost made it or student loans to a real fine university and both hoping to someday own a boat.

There have been years when one or both of those boys has not made enough money to pay his taxes – I know this from them first hand – but during those years they did not travel to the beach or even the water park; they did not make it to a Steelers game or even the Pirates; those years they wouldn’t even play in the YMCA rec league for want of new shoes; times like that, they asked for and received help from the government, but they did not milk the system or even bend the rules a bit; rather, they worked each day and ran their furnaces gently in the evenings, building decks on the weekends and roofing when they could make time each summer.
Neither of them complains about their lack or envies the folks whose plumbing company really took off, the folks who already have their Skidos and who find two weeks each summer to ski Lake Tionesta. They never whine or ill-wish others; they simply hunker down and hope, rather than worry their wives and kids as they themselves are worried. 

But, fair weather or famine, they always worry about Pete, the youngest of the kids. We all heard a number of regrettable names for folks like him when we were little, but, long story short, he’ll never age mentally beyond twelve. Pete can’t make the connections between March Madness and the history of competitive athletics in the U.S.; he can’t distinguish between Kentucky’s 2012 eight-point victory over Kansas and an iconic sixteen-foot UNC jumpshot over Georgetown from 1982. Still, he watches the games, and he reacts passionately as his brothers react passionately and eats pepperoni pizza and drinks way too much Pepsi.

Pete is as human as me or my own kids, each uniquely talented, but, unlike me and my kids, no matter how much Pete wants to, he will never be able to earn enough money to contribute to the well-being of our nation through income tax. He will always need help, sometimes receiving government aid and sometimes relying on the generosity of his family: a brother who might go without an anniversary date but always find a way to get Pete to a birthday dinner at the inflatable gym, his father who has picked up piecemeal work since his thirty-year career went South, and his mother who drags a grocery bag full of carefully trimmed clubmoss through the woods out back on breathy November mornings.

Meanwhile, there’s no need to tell you about my own years of sixty-hour weeks in the steel mills, machine shops, and Big Tall Daniel’s refinery or to talk about the eleven years of college that have buried me so deeply in debt I won’t even be able to own my own mind for another six digits, or the classes I teach, the construction I do during the summers, the fact that though I’m their college instructor, I still clean my students’ apartments to make ends meet each spring.

What I’m writing to tell you, rather, is this: I don’t mind chipping in what I can for folks like Ronnie and Johnnie and Pete. I have been part of the 47% of the people you don’t want to represent. (And let me be clear about this, despite my degrees, the manager at the local Starbucks still makes more than twice as much as I do, but I’m getting by.) That 47% of the population might not concern you; they might not vote for you; they might not be your constituents, but they’re still my neighbors. My kids might be part of them some day. 

As a teacher who has no promise of next year’s employment, I might fall into that category soon, though I desperately want to work, to earn an income, to give to the system that has given to me.
And maybe you could be more elegantly unconcerned about those folks, but I think, rather, you should be concerned about all of our citizens. There are many many people on your list of the naughty, no-account, entitled, and desperate (47%) who work hard and work hard and work hard and find themselves at the end of the day with nothing to show but worry lines, some flat Pepsi, and a cold slice of pepperoni pizza. But if you are going to be our president, Mr. Romney, you’re going to be president to all of us.

You might not want to represent this family and their son, Pete, or, for that matter, me. You might find them distasteful, kicking away crusts of ice and leaves from the ground pine; you might find me disgusting, too. Heck, for all I know, you might not even want folks such as ourselves to vote at all. But, as a government leader, you do represent your citizens, all of them – your representation is promised to us by our shared Constitution: even mechanics and teachers and steel mill workers, even folks who will never advance mentally beyond the age of twelve and those whose I.Q. earns them a genius grant, even returned soldiers who are too damaged to work, even widows and orphans and entrepreneurs who lost it all to a tornado, even the minimum wage-earners and the folks whose factory shut down because VHS tapes just aren’t hip anymore, even the tired wretched refuse of the teeming shore, yes, that is, even the poets – in short, each of us, humans, citizens, Americans need a candidate who will represent them, who is concerned about them. Otherwise, Ronnie, Johnnie, Pete, and I have no American Dream, no hope of someday giving back to this great democracy some of the greatness that sustains us in times of need.

Sincerely,

Jackson Connor


 
Jackson Connor lives with his spouse -- the writer Traci O Connor -- and their four kickass kids in Southeastern Ohio where he writes and teaches and runs and remodels. He's had work in some lit mags and anthologies and has additional writings at five or so mostly defunct blogs beginning with daddyorsomething.blogspot.com.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Marcia Liss's Voice

Dear Mr. Romney,

I have been watching your campaign for months now. and now I have reached the point where I feel the need to respond to something directly. I have chosen to write to you now, because with that particular statement at the political fundraiser, your campaign became more personal for me.

I am a psychologist in private practice, and have been practicing psychology for the past twenty years.  My area of specialty is rehabilitation: specifically, my clients are coping with the ramification of disability, medical illness and injury.  In addition to that, I also work with clients who are facing depression, anxiety and difficulties in their relationships with others.  I am very blessed to be able to practice the profession that I have loved for years.

Mr. Romney, I need to tell you that the vast, vast majority of my clients who are not employed would like nothing more than to be employed. The idea of needing to take a “handout” is anathema to my clients.  Employment is not simply about the money.  It is about identity and self-respect.  My clients do not expect the government to solve all their problems, and they do not blame their difficulties on the federal government.  To say that half of my clients wish to be seen as victims, or not paying taxes - is not only grossly untrue, but it is very insulting.

The comments that you made also struck me within my own home.  Six and a half years ago my husband sustained a disabling injury which necessitated multiple surgical interventions, and more than a year of rehabilitation.  My husband’s story is one of success.  He is a professor, loves being a professor, and works for an institution of higher education that values him and his contribution.  Because of the length of time of his illness, he did receive Social Security.  But, he, and his employer, were able to benefit from programs within Social Security, designed to provide a benefit cushion while the person is trying to reintegrate into the work environment.  Simply put – he, his employer, their long term disability company, and yes, the federal government, all came together to give my husband the best chance that he had to returning to gainful employment (and of course, pay our fair share of taxes).  I am proud to say that he has returned to full time employment, and as a family, we are proud of the people and the programs that were part of the support system that helped to make this happen.

Mr. Romney, I encourage you to see individuals for who they are; as opposed to Democrats and Republicans: with me or against me.  Black and white thinking rarely serves as a benefit.  In my personal politics I am not afraid of looking beyond party label to consider the entire candidate.  Perhaps you might consider that, as you move forward in your campaign.

Sincerely,

Marcia Liss, Ph.D.

Dr. Liss is a psychologist in private practice in Rhode Island, and has been practicing psychology for the past twenty years.  Her specialty includes working with individuals who have experienced disability and medical illness.  In addition to her practice, she enjoys spending time with her husband, children and their two dogs, and is an avid quilter.  She and her family are proud members of the 47%.

Leah Cassorla's Voice


Dear Mitt,
I am one of the “lesser half.” Let’s face it, that’s what you mean by 47 percent, isn’t it? Not quite half of the country. The lesser of a bisection? I’m there. I want you to know you are absolutely right. I do feel entitled! I know, I’m supposed to hide behind pretty words, but let’s get to the nitty-gritty, shall we? I AM entitled to food, shelter, and basic health-care. I am not entitled to these things because I am a victim (maybe that’s what got you in trouble?), but because I am HUMAN.

I know it’s a lot to ask, and I’m sure I don’t make enough to buy the off-the-shelf version, much less have it tailored for me, but I was raised to know that human dignity is my birthright. My birthright comes with the understanding that I can only be part of this culture that claims to value each individual merely for his or her being and not skin color, religion, or even income, if I make it mine. I must pay in it to own it. I have been, since I was 14 and was allowed to work. Before that age I helped wrap Penny Savers in the living room of our falling down house in the “barrio” part of Sunnyslope, a neighborhood in Phoenix, Az. I was 18 before I knew my parents went hungry so I could eat. I was raised believing I would grow to be better and better off than those on whose shoulders I stand. My family was one that valued education above all else. Education was the metaphoric bootstrap that lifted my family into the lower middle class.

My parents believe fox and news go in the same sentence, but I always found that an oddity. Now, thanks to you, I understand. See, you count on people like my parents who have pride in their hard work, who at 67 are not looking at retirement because they need food and shelter and all those basic rights of healthy living that keep our collective society from paying for them through backdoor handouts and indigent care. You say you don’t need to worry about the 47 percent, but the sad truth is your statement will spur some of them to vote for you, because they know deep down you can’t have meant them. They know they do not see themselves as victims. They have not been irresponsible. They have not assumed they were owed anything. But there they are. Accepting social security and medicare and working besides to make ends look at each other from across the room—and occasionally meet, even. My parents are wealthy by the standard they lived when they had four young kids at home. They now have space to spread their legs at the end of a long day on their feet. They can kick back in their fully paid for sofa and watch you talk on Fox news about all those reprehensible souls who would wish us into caring about the lesser half.

For your next attack, I suggest you mention that the lesser half of this country procreates far too much. It is, after all, a standard argument of the right that “those people” have too many kids, that they have them only in order to stay on welfare, that having a family is irresponsible. But, I know you can’t do that. Yours is also the party that condemns any attempt to help poor and middle class women gain access to health care and birth control. I know that your party is far too busy attempting to legislate my use of my vagina to notice I exist (except when I have the gall to use the word vagina, or to expect that you stay out of its business). I know you don’t have to worry about me! I am of the lesser half: Both ways! But you do worry about me, Mitt. Your people keep calling. See, I’m a swing voter in a swing state, and that makes me dangerous, because I am of the lesser half. I am that most dangerous of beings, Mitt, the educated, independent kind. Worry, Mitt. Worry. I am the lesser half and I am independent and I am dangerous to you and your kind. And you just insulted me for simply being. And then you insulted my intelligence by attempting to back-pedal.

I think the only thing you got wrong in Boca Raton was the first part. You failed to worry about the lesser half. Oh, I know that it’s a great way to get the better part of the 99 percent to see themselves as being on your side. But then, that’s an insult to the greater half, too, isn’t it? Where would you be today if your father hadn’t worked all night long sewing straps on your boots Mitt? Where would you be if, in a rush to deny you, the very shoulders you stand upon shrugged? Don’t worry. My community feeds at the homeless shelter every fifth Sunday a month. We even bring home-made food. And we don’t ask for tax returns.

Leah Cassorla


Leah F. Cassorla is a 47-percenter residing in Tallahassee, Florida, where she dares to try to earn a PhD, though it will mean she will earn little from her hard work for the rest of her life. She believes in the inherent right of all living things to food, shelter and medical care and has had the privilege of living in countries that respect such a right. She is currently a bottom-feeder of the lowest order, and has mountains of student loan debt she looks forward to writing off from her taxes in the future. Her writing may or may not lead her to become a proud payer of high taxes one day, but she's hopeful nonetheless.

Jason Glaser's Voice

Greetings, Mr. Romney, 

I’m writing to you from my office. Well, not so much an office as a really nice chair. Before this chair, I had a really nice computer desk in one corner of the dining room where the kids now do homework. Before that, I had a really nice office. That room is the sleeping room now. That’s what we call it since we only have one bedroom for all our children to sleep in, like a barracks. But the girls love it, and every now and then they get giddy because everyone has agreed to trade beds for a night, and everyone gets a new responsibility, a new opportunity – to turn off the light, to pick the station on the radio, to set the alarm clock for school and shut it off in the morning. 

I hope you don’t mind if I talk on and on about my kids, Mitt. But, you see, my joy comes from my family more so than my work. It’ll never be a high paying investment, unless someone pays out what the bushel and a peck of love from that song I sing to my kids was really worth. I’ve chosen family over work multiple times. When my first daughter was born in 2004, I knew immediately that I wanted to give her the sense of security and closeness that having a stay-at-home parent had brought me. So I quit my job and began writing freelance from home, where I could be with my children all day long, writing children’s books and classroom curriculum materials, first from my office, then my desk, and now my chair. 

My wife continued to work in part because she made more than I did, but mainly because she had great medical benefits, critical for infertility treatments to have our first child to begin with. And when she left that job for a new one, at a smaller business with no health insurance, we kept it by using COBRA to get pregnant again. We had to go on COBRA because new policies don’t cover that for the first eighteen months. Call it a pre-pre-existing condition, a condition that already exists in the minds of insurance companies who, like you, see those of us who might need help to pay for $20,000 pregnancies as moochers trying to game the system. Perhaps they suspect that women such as my wife are so committed to their “gimme gimmie gimmie” attitude that those same psychically intuitive reproductive systems that your colleague suggested would shut down in the case of “legitimate rape” would also exert themselves as necessary to extend a gestation period to twelve or fourteen months if need be if it meant getting someone else to pay for it. Eighteen months then. 

Fortunately we able to at last conceive and deliver an even more difficult to conceive child just under the wire of COBRA eligibility. I imagined the hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth on the part of the insurance company when they indeed had to follow through on covering a straightforward, thank goodness, pregnancy and delivery and send back almost seventy-five percent of the eighteen thousand dollars we’d paid them in premiums. 

Of course, those were the good old days. Trying to take responsibility for ourselves, just like you want, we took an HSA account plan, to save and pay for our own way. Keeping anything remotely like the coverage we had before would have meant paying ridiculously more today as premiums shot up double-digit percents year after year, despite the assertion that HSA plans were styled to avoid exactly that. But alas, to stay within our meager budget, to pay as we could afford, we’ve raised our annual deductible over, and over, and over again. 

We have “catastrophic” level coverage now, meaning we’ll only reach our deductible if one of us gets hit by a truck, or worse. Even at that level, health insurance premiums still eclipse every other bill we have: our house payments, car payments, student loans, and utilities. Beyond that, we’d be hurting beyond the physical pain caused by said truck because the level of our annual deductible is now higher than what we are allowed to contribute to our HSA in any given year. If we reached the deductible next year, we’d already be broke. 

 Thank goodness the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare, if you will, although that exempts yourself from credit for any good things in that legislation – forces a limit of a nine percent increase in premiums in any given year. I’ll give you three guesses how much they’ve gone up annually since going in effect, but you probably won’t need them. 

Depressing, isn’t it? So let’s get to daughter number three. After soul-crushing infertility washed away by successful pregnancies, a miracle surprise. A gift, so kind and empathetic that she would melt your heart if you met her, which I imagine you never will. I can’t imagine a person like her would ever travel in your circles or work for any of your companies. She cares too much about people to ever make money at their expense as you do. 

Her name is Kirsten, but you would probably call her “victim.” You see, her unexpected and joyous birth placed us among the 47%. Her one added child deduction brought our federal tax liability to zero, even though we’ve never quite managed to mooch off government so effectively as to stop paying state, county, city, or property taxes. 

By now I imagine you’ve determined that I’m one who would vote for Obama “no matter what,” whether because of this letter or because you have detected my government addiction to Stafford loans, energy saving tax credits, and 529 matching plans that I might never escape from. And yes, I’m not voting for you. But I’m not voting for Obama, either. I’m actually one of those independents you were talking about how important it is to court, and have voted across parties, ALL parties, since 1988. 

My candidates will lose, but I’ll vote for them because they come closest to the candidates I’m waiting for: who say what they mean and mean what they say. Whose strength comes in admitting weaknesses so they can grow through it. Someone who knows what it’s like to lend a hand when that hand is tired. Someone who might give someone a bill from their wallet when that bill is the only one in there, and is marked “for emergencies.” Someone who would not write off huge swaths of their country because of economic status, political party, nationality, or gender. 

Someone like my daughters. 

Sincerely, 

Jason Glaser

By day, Jason Glaser is a stay-at-home father with three young daughters.  By night, Jason is the author of over sixty nonfiction books for children and has collaborated on numerous standardized test preparation and classroom language arts materials. His first fiction book, "The Prospect," was released in March 2012 by Darby Creek. Jason has a B.A. in English from Augustana College with minors in Gender Studies and Classical Studies and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato. He can be found online at jasonglaser.com.
 

Cassie Dutton's Voice

Dear Mitt Romney,

I find myself struggling a bit with exactly what to say to you. And, anyone who has known me for more than five minutes knows that this is a very rare occurrence. Yet, I feel I must say something after your remarks about the 47%, even if you will never read this letter.

I am a first-generation college graduate from a family of modest means. I am in no way implying that we are poor. In fact, I find myself feeling quite grateful for all that we do have. I was lucky enough to be raised by both parents, in a good home, in a safe neighborhood. And these wonderful parents of mine encouraged me to study hard, and work harder, so that I could get a college education. They never doubted my abilities and never questioned my goals. 

That is why I started simultaneously working and going to school at the age of sixteen. For six years, even though I was working hard, I always got my tax returns. And, every year, I waited anxiously for them, because I used that money to pay for things that I needed, such as textbooks for college. I learned this strong work ethic from my father, who works like nobody I have ever met. He sometimes works twelve, thirteen, or fourteen hour days to make sure that my two sisters and I have never wanted for anything. He made many sacrifices over the years so that we would be able to live a comfortable life. My father, nor anyone in my family for that matter, has ever considered himself a victim. But, when it was time for me to go to college, we relied heavily on low-interest government loans and Pell Grants. Higher education is an enormous financial burden, and without this government assistance, it would have been impossible for me to get the quality education that I had worked so hard for. Without these programs, I would have never been able to graduate from one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country. And, when I graduated four months ago, I saw my father cry for the second time in my entire life. 

But, it is not just about my future, or the future of my own family, it is also about the future of millions of Americans. One of the most valuable lessons that I learned from my college education is that in the United States exists this ‘myth of meritocracy,’ this belief that you earn what you work for. It is this idea that merit and hard work are directly related to the success you will have in your life. But, what many people fail to recognize is that huge discrepancies exist between distributions of wealth in the United States. And, that the differences are often based on factors which we cannot control; race, gender, or the economic success of one’s family. An absence of social welfare programs makes it even more impossible for individuals born into unfavorable circumstances to change their lives. I cannot begin to understand their burden or struggle, as I am privileged even more than I can understand, simply because I have white skin. I cannot imagine what it is like to live in a society which subconsciously discriminates against them, a society which works harder to disadvantage them than it does to help them. 

And when I finally earn enough money, I will gladly pay my taxes. I will pay my taxes so that high school students can dream about going to college, so that hard-working people like my father can actually retire comfortably, so that people living in our country can have basic human rights, such as healthcare, so that struggling families do not go hungry. 

I am part of the 47% and I believe not in the government’s responsibility to help me, but in my responsibility to help those in need, and to care for my fellow Americans. 

Sincerely,

Cassie Dutton

Cassie Dutton is a recent graduate of The College of Wooster, where she earned her bachelor's degree in Anthropology. She is currently spending a year as a volunteer English teacher for high school students in Northern Thailand. When she moves back to the United States, she plans to pursue higher education so that she can spend the rest of her life using her resources and talents to help others.