By Loren Niemi
Loren Niemi is a storyteller. He teaches storytelling in Metro State University's theater program and is executive director of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet & Mask Theatre.
In this dark season I have been thinking about the fact that I've always been part of the 99 percent. I see no recourse to being what I am, especially given my chosen artistic profession. Still, it is worth considering what it means to be part of a class at risk, and let's be truthful: These days, both the middle and the working class are under assault.
I get the anger and disappointment of the Tea Party. This was not what we were promised, and someone must be to blame. I get the anger and the disappointment of Occupy. This is not the tide that would lift all boats.
Of the two I lean toward the latter because I understand that greed is not good. Government is not the problem. What the Tea Party and Occupy have in common is that they've decided to act. They are voting their vision of the way things should be.
I cannot afford to retire. Don't want to but can't, even if I did. That alone puts me squarely with the growing underclass. I arrived here by a series of choices about making art and doing work that had more interest than salary. My entire working life is a testimony to the tension between living well and having no recourse.
Many of my generation believed that hard work and playing by the rules would be rewarded. For some, it has been. Congratulations to them on their good fortune. For others, downsizing, cancer, the second mortgage that's gone to foreclosure have brought an abrupt end to the American Dream. Horatio Alger has left the building.
They can't afford to retire. They're too busy looking for or working the first or second job. They're trying to pay the bills, keep a roof over their head and food on the table. They wake up in the middle of the night wondering, how the hell did this happen? The answers are many but the reality is singular — the fact of the last 30 years is that the rich few have gotten richer and all the rest of us have gotten poorer, whether we admit it or not.
This cold dread and dark economy will continue until we change the conditions that have brought us to this. Greed is not good. Corporations are not people. Government is not the problem. Taxes are an investment in the commons.
When I look to the Solstice, I see in every culture at every time the celebration of the return of light in the dark and cold. So I put a match to the crumpled balls of failed poems that have left my desk. They catch the spark and my words burn, as they should. Heat and light, heat and light blazing though the pine boughs, embracing the oak logs that will hold the flame to embers all through the night.
The long arc of history bends toward justice, and the best of humanity to compassion and cooperation. When we share, when we do unto others as we want to have done to us, when we pay it forward, the world is made a better place.