She’s gone now—back home, maybe, though with college graduates one cannot be too sure—so since I cannot obtain the necessary permissions, I’ll call her Kim. And I’ll say that Kim is a nice girl (because she really is), though one whose world is covered with that tinge of rose common to most her age. I’ve always found it strange that it’s the young who speak in absolutes and the old who tend to preface their declarations with words like “Maybe.”
Kim, she was always an absolute gal.
Into the whole college experience, too. By which I mean that studying often came after other, more important things. Like protests. Kim was a huge protestor. She told me once that she’d gotten that from her mother, who once burned her bras and marched with the blacks and staged sit-ins to bring the boys back from Vietnam.
Kim had a busy four years. There was the war to protest (both of them, Iraq and Afghanistan, plus she threw in Libya just in case). Darfur. Gay and lesbian rights. Kim went to town on the Trayvon Martin case. That whole thing really made her mad.
But for the past year or so, it’s been this whole Occupy thing. Kim doesn’t like rich people much, doesn’t care for the “privileged” or the “elite,” and I know this for a fact because she told me that, too. She said the banks were ruining this country, and we were all serfs and pawns and slaves to The Man, and she said all of these things while waving her arms wildly at me, and then I quit paying attention to her words because I saw that her armpits had more hair than my own. When a guy like me sees something like that on a girl, focusing on anything else becomes a major problem.
Always one to put actions to her words, Kim went on a humanitarian trip this spring. Three weeks, all of which was spent in Haiti, rebuilding schools and churches and helping to feed and clothe. I was really proud of her for doing that.
I saw Kim last week, three days after she’d gotten back. Our conversation was short (she had a final to take, I had mail to deliver) but informative. She said she had a wonderful time, but it had also been a hard one. Heartbreaking, really. She’d never seen so many people in so much want, never seen such squalor or such pain. And yet she said that the Haitian people are a happy people, quick to smile and slow to anger, and their hospitality was abundant.
She had so many stories to tell, but time enough to only tell me one:
They had spent all day rebuilding the home of a single mother and her five children. The father had lost his life in the earthquake, the mother could not find work, and so the family was forced to scavenge for food and water to sustain them. She had, though, managed to secure a chicken to fix them all supper. She gathered Kim and the people she was with around a barely-there wooden table fed them, then collected the scraps and chicken bones that were left behind.
These, she gave to her children.
Kim said she’d felt sick after, knowing that she’d been fed while her children hadn’t, sick enough that she thought she’d throw up. Her nausea only went away when she realized doing so would be even worse. It would mean that the family’s sacrifice would have gone to waste.
I don’t know what Kim thinks now. Maybe nothing—she’s a college graduate about to enter the real world, so I figure her plate’s pretty full. But I hope she understands now what I think a whole lot of people don’t. There’s a lot of talk about the 99 and the 1 percent in this country, about a yawning gap between the haves and have nots, the middle class getting stymied and the lower class being held down.
But ask Kim now, and I think she’d tell you the truth about all of that. She’s seen want. She’s been around hunger. She understands better what it means to be oppressed. And I bet she’d say that if you call this great land your own, then you have it better than almost anyone else in this world.
You are an American.
You are the 1 percent.