By NATE MALACHOWSKI
As a senior graduating at the close of this semester, my ongoing search for employment has left me pondering the state of the world that I am graduating into soon. Childish political aggravations over an essentially homogenous, corporate, two party system and sweeping rates of poverty and unemployment are coupled with blatant political insurrections against the working class. The end of unemployment benefits, disregarded calls to raise minimum wage above starvation levels, and heinous cuts to the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program, represent the most obvious impediments to the wellbeing and happiness of working class folks. All while the wallets of the rich elite continue to grow thick off an economic system that serves their interests. Allegheny has attempted to prepare me for a future of meaningful employment where I can work toward amending these issues, but isn’t the system working against me? Aren’t there hurdles, further heightened by the burden of student debt, that are potentially insurmountable?
These are questions that I struggle with on a daily basis. I see my peers confronting them beside me. When asked about their career plans and aspirations, anger and uncertainties permeate the tone of seniors and recent graduates. In spite of this, on-campus discussions about struggles related to class are minimally supported.
As students, we join a campus environment assuming that we are engaging on a level playing field. I maintain that this is entirely fictitious. We are classed, and our futures, opportunities and aspirations are limited on an individual basis as a result. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that serious discussions about class don’t take place. It is a difficult conversation to initiate, especially on a campus run rampant with privilege. By remaining silent however, we are passively reinforcing a campus environment that functions as a breeding ground for ignorance about class issues. As consequence of this, Allegheny College is lulled into a state of quiet division. I invest hope in the notion that this is all subject to change and that as interested students we can organize to break the silence.
As consequence of these thoughts, I suspect there is a myth at Allegheny College that I see reflected in dominant culture and politics. President Obama loves to fall back on the rhetoric that embodies this myth in his speeches. The American people must pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Through hard work and determination we can ascend the social ladder into rich lives of comfort.
But isn’t this just a lie constructed to placate or invalidate the fears and desires of those that are exploited by the system? The unemployment rate is on the decline, but still elevated; the poverty rate has maintained itself at 15 percent for many years; 1 percent of America holds 40 percent of nation’s wealth (Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Poverty Center, and ThinkProgress).
According to Rolling Stone’s article in response to this week’s State of the Union Address, 95 percent of new income generated since 2009 has gone to the top 1 percent, and only 2.3 percent of financial wealth is controlled by the bottom 60 percent. The material concerns of the working class and the poor are not being addressed by the dominant political system. Economic inequality is more pervasive than ever, and the consequential health, social, and economic impacts represent some of the greatest issues that we will face in our futures as millennials.
All of these concerns have led me to the question of class warfare. My imagination jumps around erratically when I consider the historical implications of this term. Generally, my mind is drawn to the idea of a working class revolt against the rich elite. More pressing however, is the realization that class warfare has been waged all throughout my life. The wealthy have asserted their power and are economically, politically, and culturally slicing away at the societal welfare systems that support the working class and the poor. We are trained to think we’ve said something wrong when we talk about the welfare state, or challenge the notion that our economic system isn’t fundamentally broken. If this has been class warfare, then the battles have been rigged and one-sided.