When I woke up from the American Dream, and why you should too…
Around the time I made my legal status from ‘minor’ to full adult, I suffered an inflamed appendix. At the time I was fully employed yet destitute and living out of my car. Like many Americans, I did not have insurance through my job and could not afford health care to fix the problem. Eventually it got so bad I could barely walk and I knew I’d be fired from my job unless I fixed it, so I showed up at an ER. At the time I believed they could not turn me away, as doing so might kill me. But I was wrong.
When the desk person at the emergency room told me that that I could not see a doctor because I was uninsured, I couldn’t believe my ears. I fought the pain and tears long enough to demand a second opinion, and it was then they threatened to call the police, and assured me that the best for me to do was leave quietly. I pleaded with anyone that would listen, explaining that if I didn’t get care I could die. To my surprise, they stopped arguing with me and agreed, offering me some grim advice tens of millions of uninsured and many more underinsured live with every day: They told me if my appendix burst, then they would have to give me medical aid, but not until then, and only if I lived through my appendix bursting. Obviously my appendix didn’t burst that night, and by hook or by crook I did get insurance and enough health care to survive. Since then I’ve been doing everything I can to ensure health care is a right not a privilege, but I also learned that health care was just the tip of the iceberg.
That was over a decade ago, and since then I’ve done everything American kids are raised to believe will lead them to the American Dream. Despite being a high school drop-out, I earned two college degrees with scholarships and minimal student debt, eventually landing a great job that I love doing scientific research. But, I learned long ago (and if you’re reading this you probably have too) that the game is fixed. In our world, basic human rights are not a given for anyone but the rich and powerful, and despite what we’ve been told, the poor cannot earn them with hard work and intelligence.
My generation is starting to open its eyes to the injustices of the world. Inequities between the ruling class and the working class have always existed, but each generation has a unique view on this struggle. The injustices that shape their time will influence their path, and for many will be a clarion call to action. My generation has seen the idea of health care as a human right crumble before the power of lobbyists and special interest groups simply to swell the unprecedented profits of health insurance companies. My generation has seen tuition rates rise so high that the majority of those seeking higher education cannot afford to do so without incurring decades of debt. For young people that pursue a college education, they will also learn how poorly their K-12 schools have prepared them, and see that a college degree is no longer a guarantee of a better life or even a job. For those in my generation that do get jobs they will be unlikely to be represented by a labor union, and will be paid less then their parents were paid to do the same work decades ago , with less job security as well as little hope of meaningful benefits or pension. Most of the working class in my generation will either be forced to stay in a job that can freely exploit them because of the constant threat of unemployment hanging over their heads, or risk losing everything they’ve worked so hard for. Many will be forced to move back with their parents at some point in their life, whether they ‘play by the rules’ or not.
In addition, we are much less likely to become home owners than our parents or grandparents. For those who are home owners, they are less likely to ever pay off their homes and much more likely to face foreclosure. My generation witnessed the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, caused by reckless financial institutions that broke the law with impunity and were rewarded with huge government bailouts even as they repossessed countless homes from American families. My generation is shackled with much less savings and far more debt, often to these very same banks or the federal government itself. I have experienced many of these things personally, as I am not set to pay off my student loans until I am in my 50s, and because of this home ownership and retirement is a pipe dream for me unless things drastically change. Like many generations before us, we have been told these things are entirely our fault. We have no one but ourselves to blame, because we are spoiled or simply not as industrious as the previous generation, and that we ‘expect too much’, or that loving our country involves accepting as it is, not trying to change it for the better. Unlike previous generations, I hope we can see through these convenient excuses and instigate meaningful, lasting change.
My generation has also seen advances in science and technology that were impossible a few decades ago. We are more connected and global than ever, and have immediate access to an unprecedented amount of information and guerilla journalism that governments struggle to censor and control. Despite the cries of the far right to revitalize the demonization of socialism, the majority of younger people view socialism in a positive light, and do not see it as a ‘un-American’ or ‘foreign’ influence. My generation has seen Americans move away from the two ruling parties, such that ‘independents’ outnumber registered Democrats and Republicans in many areas. My generation is not ‘lazy’ as much as it is disenchanted with the status quo and the false hope and change promised to them by the politicians that are increasingly unable to speak to them because of their track record of not speaking for them.
George Carlin once said that they call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. It’s a stunning realization to make, but I’ve made it, you’ve made it, and until many more of us make it, people will keep putting gas in a broken machine and nothing will change. Though we may get frustrated and even feel powerless to change it sometimes, so many of my generation are thoroughly aware of the ways the system they once had faith in has failed and are demanding a new way. It is for this reason that I think my generation offers a great opportunity to build a brighter future, where the rights and well being of all people are considered and everyone has an equal voice under democratic socialism.
Socialist Party USA member Stephanie Cholensky