Anti-Corporatism in Rural USA: ‘Native’ Progressivism?

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A short while ago, I wrote about the predilection of those in disadvantaged areas of rural America to apply for disability benefits. I also wrote about my own realization of the impact upon my life of depression. And the fact that too few people – including me – accepted that depression is itself a disability.

Well. Dozing in bed this early Sunday morning. I finally connected some dots. It isn’t quite so gray. It’s a bit more black and white. Or maybe, it’s the other way round. And it isn’t just economic. I had to come out here, and live here (er, Seneca SC) truly to understand the huge debt of gratitude we owe to folks living in disadvantaged rural America.

They are not scroungers or malingerers. They are a stubborn, stalwart group of deserving folk, who have grasped the extent to which corporate America has conned working America into believing that it is their obligation to serve America (but actually, only corporate America) by working through pain.

In the course of my life to date, with lots of forward progress, and black-sliding, sideways distraction, full conversion, followed by utter disbelief, I have come to believe in certain metaphysical aspects to our existence, which too many of us poo-poo, but which serve to help me understand.

I do believe in a before and an after, in destiny, fate and higher powers. I can’t control others. I can make choices in my life. But within the context that, if I open my heart and my soul, I can tap into a universal consciousness that, um, helps.

And so, this epiphany this morning wasn’t all my own doing. But I was the one who had to connect the dots.

It helps that I am in Seneca, SC. Surrounded by people who have first-hand experience of disability claim, corporate American greed, its ongoing and longtime battle with working America, the history of rural disadvantaged America (often and unfairly profiled as ‘white trash’ – which is a misdescription, since the put-down applies to all working folk, of whatever gender, race or religion, whether found in factory, farm, inner city or foothill).

It helps that I read the book White Trash. That I spent so much time observing and writing about the rise of Trump. That I have my own problems. And now find myself engaged in my own disability processes and fights.

All of this has helped to shine a more cultural light on what is going on. The United States, the colonies beforehand, were not founded merely by righteous Pilgrims and hard-working adventurers. Almost half, if not more, of the folk who came over on the Mayflower, and since, were the people their home countries no longer wanted.

From the very first, their snooty confreres referred to them in terms which amounted to ‘rubbish.’ And yet, the story of these good people is as American as the stories constructed to fit the utopian vision of the Founding Fathers and Mothers.

Constantly, they found themselves at the cutting edge, literally the frontier, of American expansion across the continent. Responsible for the atrocities (God forbid the Ma’s and Pa’s should get their hands dirty). But also responsible for the creation of new territory, new states. Although, as became a truism of their existence, with the credit always taken by the elite who followed in their footsteps.

Whether it was their origins, or their constant battling with and exclusion by the coastal and college-town elites, corporatized America, those intellectuals who had their hand in the writing of current affairs and later history, this ‘underclass’ has always found itself one step aside from the ‘mainstream’ gospel preached by those controlling the economic, social and cultural agenda of the United States.

And most of us have bought, and still buy, the pre-ordained stereotype. Which brings us to the recent past. Which has been puzzling me for some time. It puzzled me when I lived here seventeen years ago. And it puzzled me when I returned earlier this year.

I know the standard line. Globalism shut the mills and the mines. Folks got tossed out and left behind. They’re good-for-nothings. Know no better. Let everything go to crap. Hang around street corners. Live in filth. Claim disability. They’re just scroungers and malingerers. You know. Find solace in God, guns and whacking immigrants.

And yet. I walk into WalMart here in Seneca, SC. I drive down the streets. I take kids to school. For sure, this ain’t no fancy East Coast. It isn’t even Chapel Hill, NC. Lots of camo. A few teeth missing. Way more Trump stickers than I’d like.

But, there are new mills. New factories. For sure, a lot of Goodwill stores. Pawn shops. Payday Loan centers. But folks are happy. They shop. They laugh. Their kids are clean. And we have the same grocery stores. The same clothing stores. Not too many Saks Fifth Avenue outlets. Seen only one Land Rover.

But the point is. There is struggle. But it’s not the struggle mainstream America paints.

It is the fact that these people, always outside the ‘mainstream.’ Constantly last in line. Were the ones who suffered the latest assault on US economic fortunes (globalism) the most.

And in their struggle to survive, they latched onto a truism that the rest of us have missed, me included. That corporate America has brainwashed working America (again, not just white, rural, disadvantaged America; they are the example closest to me at the moment; but all of working America, all of America struggling to get by, whatever the race, gender, religion or social preference), brainwashed working America into accepting certain cultural and social ‘norms,’ which are, to put it simply, absolute crap.

It is not ‘normal’ for ordinary folk to have to suffer physical pain the whole time, to earn the money to put bread on the table. It is not normal to laugh at mental health problems, and dismiss them as mere excuses.

Forced to find some way to survive. The ‘rural, disadvantaged have discovered that ‘normal’ is to be healthy. To be respected. To look after oneself properly. And they have found a medical and disability process ready and eager to help.

Why have so many of us in the ‘mainstream’ missed this? It took me months of being what I thought was temporarily excused from work due to physical injury the last couple of years, before I really listened to my medical professionals, who were practically screaming at me every time I tried to refuse their medical leave notes: would you please stop trying to return to work when you are in physical or emotional pain.

Why? I might lose my job.

Because pain is not normal.

What?

Pain is not normal.

There you have it. It took me this long. A move to what mainstream America paints as ‘disadvantaged, rural’ America. Reading. Researching. Experiencing. To understand that it is ok to turn around and say, no, I’m not going to work when I am in pain.

To understand that a whole sector of our society has grasped this for itself. And now operates as a cultural phenomenon to counteract corporate America. Not as malingerers and scroungers. But as decent people, with medicine on their side, saying, the system exists to allow us not to have to work in pain, and we are taking full advantage of it.

I had no idea of the extent of the truth of this last paragraph, until I began my own process of claim. Did you know that you are ‘disabled’ if you can’t life more than ten pounds? If you can’t sit for more than two hours? Can’t stand for more than two hours? If you have panic attacks at work? If you need a couple of naps during the day?

Are you kidding me?

Nope.

Disabled?

Yup.

But. But. I’ve been like this for years.

Precisely.

Far from profiling or excoriating ‘disadvantaged, rural’ America. We should be grateful for them. And look to them to find a cultural and social standard with which to protect and advance the welfare of working Americans everywhere.

We have been taught to look down upon, to laugh at the rural disadvantaged in the US. At almost all the disadvantaged in the US. By whom? By the corporate media. The same corporations who own our places of work. And who own the medical industry that needs us in pain, so as to buy their medical product. And who need us in work, to pay for it.

Do we seriously wonder why it has been so difficult to get health reform? What would corporate America do if there were sufficient folks receiving proper medical care – medical care that was able, independently, to tell all of us that it is not right for us to have to work through pain?

Whatever else you do, do not laugh at the disadvantaged rural stereotype. They’ve found a way to combat corporate America. What you see as a malingerer, I now recognize as a form of native progressivism, in action. And that’s just disability. Next up. The right of working America to a basic income …

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