Dorothy Day Caucus of the American Solidarity Party A Revolution of the Heart
by Tara Ann Thieke
A fair measure of a person may be taken by how they treat those outside their milieu. Respect does not require agreement, but it certainly requires compassion and consideration.
So what do we say about those Pennsylvania House members who treat the working and middle classes as pawns to be manipulated at will? Republican lawmakers in the PA House have suggested budget cuts for Port Authority, the Pittsburgh/Allegheny County transit system, reducing weekend and evening service that tens of thousands of people depend upon every single day.
It's not enough to shout this proposal down. It must be made clear to politicians and lawmakers that millions of people are not a tool to use in negotiations. There are plenty of problems with the infrastructure development of the past century, but most of those problems are the result of self-interested, short-sighted developers and politicians who worked arm-in-arm to garner profit at the cost of healthy communities.
There are reasons why Pennsylvania has budget problems. They are the second-largest gas producers in the United States, and yet they are the only state without a tax on natural gas. The state serves as a virtual colony for the oil and gas industry, and the rationalization provided for not taxing our non-renewable resource is jobs. But when the gas is gone, then so will be the jobs. It won't matter to the crony class who profit from these lax regulations, and who then use more vulnerable populations in order to make up for their own malfeasance.
Our lawmakers should know what it is like to be fully dependent upon public transit, to work at a job that does not pay enough to allow for a car, to live in a community from which every job has been outsourced, and to thus have to commute hours to work.
While this particular budget proposal affects Pennsylvania, the failure of lawmakers to look out for millions of people is happening across the nation. The tech boom has priced out lower-income workers in the Bay Area. But tech bros still need their coffee and garbage taken out. So retail workers, housekeepers, janitors: all the people who do these absolutely necessary jobs receive wages that price them out of the cities and exile them to far suburbs or isolated housing projects. Then they are required to spend extra time commuting, dependent upon a public transportation system which is ever-more frequently used as a weapon in budget debates. Prices go up and quality of service goes down. Praise goes to companies like Uber, who offer alternatives to a middle-class that can still afford them. There is no creative energy or will left to build communities that truly benefit everyone.
So it is that the working class loses access to the city goods treated in such exalted tones by the creative class (who often prize themselves for the "authenticity" they co-opt when they drive up housing prices), then they lose precious time with their families and communities, and then they are treated as objects, as "disposable" people.
Do these lawmakers know what it is like to wake up in the morning for a two-hour commute by bus? Do they know what happens when a parent has built a fragile routine around daycares and school hours, and then suddenly the ability to keep their head above water is imperiled because everyone knows the politicians only listen to one constituency: the donor class. The poor, the college students, the vulnerable elderly: they don't offer any perks to greased hands.
People can't just "move closer" to their places of employment. It wasn't the working class which outsourced jobs, destroyed streetcar lines, or cut off once-connected neighborhoods via highways. To paraphrase St. Thomas More, first we make the poor, and then we punish them for their poverty.
It is not enough to reject this proposal and protect Port Authority. It is not enough to even stop treating those who depend upon public transport as means to an end. We must call for a renewed commitment to public transportation, a reexamination of our local economies, and a greater understanding that the community good is far more important than the wealth of our politicians and lobbyists.
Tara Ann Thieke