In Defense of Mass Demonstrations

Courtesy nydailynews.com

Courtesy nydailynews.com

Mass protests continue to rage in cities across the U.S. after grand juries neglected to indict the police officers responsible for the killings of unarmed men Michael Brown and Eric Garner, in Ferguson, MO and New York city, respectively. But it remains to be seen if the outrage and demands for justice and accountability will coalesce into something truly resembling a sustained social movement. The protests, which remain largely peaceful, have been rightfully focused on the extra-judicial killings of unarmed black men by police. But what if this issue, and many others that have surfaced recently in the American psyche, are symptomatic of a larger problem? An economic problem.

Poverty; the elephant in the room. Certainly race and poverty are closely interlinked. In a society where people of color have historically been marginalized time and again, at every turn, it makes sense that the poor will disproportionately be the non-whites. Therefore, wouldn’t it stand to reason that non-whites are also disproportionately victimized in a society which has left its poor behind? While the inherent racism in the structure of our society is a major factor, all who are excluded from the miniscule ranks of the extremely wealthy are at risk as the gap between poor and rich continues to widen. Injustice and exploitation are not simply racial issues. They are the manifestations of an unjust and vicious economic reality. They are human issues.

The utter impunity granted to police in these extrajudicial killings, only two of a myriad in 2014 alone, is symptomatic of a larger systemic problem. At a Dec. 4 summit of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, hosted in the unlikely choice of Monroe Township, a relatively affluent Middlesex County municipality known for its open space holdings and agricultural roots, speakers repeatedly cautioned that “poverty in a nation of plenty degrades everyone.” Georgian Court Professor Katsuri Dasgupta sought to hammer that idea home as she delivered a scathing critique of American society’s apparent inability or total unwillingness to address the structural underpinnings of poverty. Without true reforms to the institutions that perpetuate social inequality, she told the crowd of more than 200 attendees, even a tidal wave of government services, non-profit and grassroots efforts to eradicate poverty could only amount to spitting into the wind,

“The problem of poverty and inequality is ultimately a problem of insufficient jobs. Not just any jobs, but jobs that pay adequately so that people can live with dignity and their well-being intact. But the system of Capitalism is not in the business of providing jobs; at least, not the kind of jobs which allow people to realize their inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Not because Capitalism has necessarily failed, but because it simply cannot.

            … Capitalism is an economic system which has to continuously increase its profit margin if it is to survive; if it is to compete; if it is to drive its competitors out of market. Wages and salaries drain the profit margin more than anything. In its simple-minded drive to garner increasing levels of profit; finding cheap regions of labor, mechanizing work, diverting more and more capital to financial speculation; [Capitalism will do] anything that minimizes labor costs –and even eliminates the need for labor … But that leaves people and communities empty handed. People need work to survive; to flourish; to get ahead in life.” – Dasgupta, Dec. 4

Courtesy motherjones.com

Courtesy motherjones.com

According to a 2013 report from the non-partisan Pew Research Center, income inequality in the U.S. is at its highest levels since 1928, right before the stock market crash that lead to the Great Depression. Since the early 1970s, income has overwhelmingly gone to the top one percent of American earners. Shocking, I know. Well recently, Fortune reported that wealth inequality, or the actual value of all assets owned, is ten times worse than income inequality. Meanwhile, U.S. household debt has continued to increase, and national student debt easily sailed past the $1 trillion mark in 2013. It’s hardly a stretch to say that minorities have borne the brunt of this consolidation of wealth, but middle class Americans of all ethnicities and backgrounds have suffered from this trend. And they stand to suffer more.

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Halloween Shorts 2014: “Grade School History Assignment” by Adam C. Uzialko

picture008By Adam C. Uzialko

“What number was that?” Larry asked as we crawled past a house nestled between the dense forests of Route 34.

“I think it was 1165,” I mumbled, absolutely certain that it was, indeed, 1165.

“What number are we looking for again?” the photographer asked, fiddling with his camera as he spoke.

“1163.” This was a problem, because we were on one of those painfully long and empty stretches of highway. If we passed it, we probably passed it a long time ago and I hadn’t seen shit in almost 15 minutes.

“So, we passed it?” Larry was a big fan of stating the obvious. It was starting to piss me off.

“Yeah. But there was no 1163.” I pulled off to the side of the road, looked over my left shoulder, and then whipped the car around and slammed the accelerator to the floor. My car was getting old, I could feel it in the engine. It still revved as loud as the day I had bought the damn thing, but now the car took much longer to actually get anywhere. It pushed forward, coughing and sputtering as if it were a veteran chain-smoker. Then something would catch, the front end would lurch forward, and the tiny, dinged sedan’s speedometer would skyrocket. You’d be thrown back in your seat as the speed jumped from around 20 miles-per-hour to something like 45. Larry seemed to hate this, so I continued to do it at every opportunity.

“Dammit, dude,” he spat. “Do you have to keep flooring it every time? If I hit my head on this headrest one more time I’m going to get a fucking concussion!”

“We’re on deadline,” I muttered. I ripped the car around a bend in the road, topping out at about 62 miles per hour, right at the peak of the turn. The tires squealed a bit and Larry gave a shriek of fright. I looked over toward the passenger’s seat for a moment and saw that his face was contorted in horror. His head was jerked back against the same headrest he’d just complained about, his hands were up to shield himself, and his eyelids were impenetrably sealed against whatever terrors must lay ahead. He looked ridiculous.

When I turned front again, my amusement was cut short by a blinding flash of cold fluorescent light. Beneath it, I could barely make out a sign that read ‘Pinecrest State Park Entrance.’ A little green arrow directed the visitor down a gravel road that trailed off into the darkness of the lush forest. The address on the sign-post was 1163.

I slammed the brakes.

The car slid to a stop just before the entrance and I sat bolt upright, heart pounding and mouth agape. White smoke and the smell of burning rubber reached my nostrils as everything settled. My hands were locked onto the steering wheel and my eyes were transfixed on the sign. I would’ve remembered passing this, I thought.

“What the hell was that? Are you high?!” Larry was rubbing the back of his neck. “I think I got whiplash!” I ignored him. I was still trying to figure out how we had missed such a remarkably glaring sign. This was not here before, I thought.

“This was not here before,” I said, feeling quite as if someone had knocked the wind out of me. A subtle tingle registered in the base of my spine. It seemed irrational, but a wave of dread rocked me to my core.

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Halloween Shorts 2014: “I Got You, Terry Buddy” by Tom Castles

Tom Castles

Tom Castles

By Tom Castles

Terrence Torrents pulled the key from the ignition of his Nissan Altima, shoved open the driver’s side door and stepped out onto the wet pavement. The sudden lurch from a seated to a standing position drained the blood from his brain and he nearly blacked out. He rested his weight on his car and took a few deep breaths, but after six years of chain smoking his lungs were too shallow to summon the oxygen he needed to set his head straight.

The near-blackout left Terrence’s senses reeling – his ears were ringing and all he could see was a smeared gray mosaic. A minute of deep, even breathing lifted the fog and helped silence the noise. He tuned in to the scene before him.

He was standing on weak legs at the outermost limit of a parking lot brimming over with three thousand cars, each indistinguishable from the last. At the center of the lot a low, unremitting hum echoed from the electric bowels of a supermassive, six-story corporate edifice. Terrence had spent approximately 3,510 hours of his life in this edifice in the past year and a half. He grabbed his briefcase, which was empty except for a paperback copy of Jared Diamond’s Collapse and a Tupperware of cold spaghetti, and began his daily march into oblivion.

Bulbous gray clouds hung low in the sky and excreted moisture that wasn’t quite rain or mist –it accumulated as dew on his freshly shampooed hair and dampened his starched collared shirt. Grayness was everywhere and it sucked color from the world around him with remarkable efficiency. Life was pallid and sallow this morning, he thought.

With each step toward the edifice Terrence’s black leather Johnston & Murphy dress shoes sent deafening clicks and clacks reverberating through the dense, humid air. The only other noise was the electric hum of consumption in the distance, droning incessantly from within the edifice. As he drew closer to it, the edifice grew larger, hummed louder and loomed more sinister.

He was four hundred feet from the entrance when he noticed in his peripheral vision that he wasn’t the only wet worker bee heading toward the hive. The glass entry doors in front of him reflected cloud-filtered sunlight into his eyes, and he could add up the reflections of one, two, three, four workers, all following closely behind him. This circumstance had enormous and undesirable implications.

He reached out his hand and grabbed the silver handle on the glass door in front of him, opened it and rather than continuing on through it, stepped aside and glared at the workers behind him. Seeing Terrence standing there, each worker broke into a run using only their arms – their legs kept right on walking at the same pace. Terrence tried to smile as they passed but he’d only got out of the shower 30 minutes before and the skin on his face was still taut and dry from the bar soap he used to wash it. When his cheek muscles pulled at the corners of his mouth, his lips cracked and began to bleed. He immediately swore off smiling for the rest of the day.

He climbed the stairs up to the second floor. As he pushed open the door, Terrence was bombarded by the soft, maddening noise of three hundred workers tapping on their keyboards, their mouses, their phones. The smell of a hundred different types of microwavable foods poured forth from the kitchen – someone was nuking hot dogs for breakfast. The sight of three hundred cubicles, gray as the world outside, savagely murdered any dying embers of nostalgia he may have held in his heart for a childhood spent outdoors. The cubes divided one worker from the next, on and on, ostensibly to the horizon.

Terrence stared in sheer horror at the cataloged madness. He was half a man, in a quarter of a cube, in one room, on one floor, in one wing of a living, breathing, malevolent corporate machine. He poured himself a cup of tea, sat down at his desk and slipped into a coma.

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My Best Friend is Dead, and I Will Never Forget Him

Check out that mustache!

Check out that mustache!

Fawkes the Anonymous Maestro’s almost exactly two years of life made my home a vibrant, warm place. It was all in the little things: the pitter patter of kitten feet on the ground while I tried to fall asleep; how he jumped up on the sink and waited for you to turn the faucet on; and especially in the way he would stride around the house meowing aloud for seemingly no reason at all. Everyone says their pets are special, but Maestro was truly unique. Anyone who came into our house would tell you the same.

When I found his body on the morning of Oct. 26 a big piece of myself died along with him. It’s like a big hollow spot in my chest, or being hit square on the sternum with a big fucking hammer. I remember it all so perfectly from a third person perspective, as if I had watched it on television. In the past when Maestro had gotten out (this was the fourth time he had) he always returned the next morning and I had found him each time under the hood of my car. All it took was a quick kitten whisper and a shake of a bag of treats, and he would meow from his hiding place, ready to be rescued and brought back inside to his family, food, and comfort.

My two little nuggets.

My two little nuggets.

This time, the same approach elicited no response. I had been optimistic until then, even though we hadn’t found him the day before; but when this tried and true tactic failed to yield our missing friend, something sank inside of me. I had my dog, Thor, sniff a blanket ‘Stro had once sprayed with urine (yes, I’m serious) in hopes that he would track him down, but it would turn out that it was unnecessary.

Little kitten bros.

Little kitten bros.

As I walked through my yard I caught the glimpse of a black and white cat laying on the ground, motionless in my neighbor’s driveway. Of course I knew instantly the fucked up reality into which I had just stepped – he had made it home, past all of the dangers that a night out in New Brunswick pose to a house cat, and he had simply picked the wrong car in the wrong driveway. As he crouched under the hood of someone else’s car, he was waiting for my whisper; he had made it home after all, and he died expecting me to come pick him up and bring him back inside.

Thor ran towards him, but I stepped between them and told him to back up. He did. I scooped up the cat and looked into his face, confirming my already certain horror that it was indeed my best friend. The only way to describe the feeling of his body, cradled in my arms, is dead weight. A trail of blood ran across the white fur of his jaw, his eyes were half-closed and rolled back into his head, and his tongue poked out of the side of his mouth. I had no illusions that I might be able to save him. He was so cold and stiff. Continue reading

The Vultures are Still Circling the Skies Over Sayreville

Image Courtesy of http://www.gmchoops.com

Sayreville, NJ — Another night, another feeding frenzy. It was after the meeting, and the Board of Education had just upheld Superintendent Richard Labbe’s decision to suspend five football coaches, including the renowned and beloved head coach George Najjar.

The alleged hazing-ritual-turned-sexual-assault among players on the football team had already been ravaging the borough for weeks. Seven players had been charged and arrested during the course of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s investigation, and now the culpability of the coaching staff was unclear. Why had these indefinite suspensions, with pay, been handed down so suddenly? The board president had insisted that no discussion regarding the termination of their employment had taken place, but a unanimous decision to dock their annual stipends seemed to be an ill omen.

Labbe, for his part, was preparing to issue a short statement to the dozens of wild-eyed, frantic journalists that were now encircling him like a group of sharks, each one more desperate than the next to devour the prey. Giant camera lenses were thrust into the superintendent’s face from all angles and, even as he spoke, questions were thrown at him in rapid succession.

When he finished giving some innocuous statement – something like, “we will be beginning our investigation shortly” – a final question came from somewhere within the throng: “Will you comment on rumors that you were overheard celebrating the coaches’ suspensions behind closed doors?”

Labbe shook his head and began to back away. When the group lurched forward and a few cameramen broke ranks to follow him, he finally realized just what sort of grave danger he was in. He turned around entirely and looked as if he were prepared to sprint off in any direction, but in an instant he was surrounded. A few school officials managed to help shepherd him out into the parking lot, where he threw terse and ambiguous responses and ‘no comments’ to the oncoming horde.

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