Friday, October 5, 2012

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.


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