I Am The 99%

This post was inspired by We Are the 99%

2008 is a year that I will never forget. First, I lost $50,000 in value from my 401K which was 1/3rd of the value of my portfolio and had taken me 14 arduous years to save. I thought that was the worst.

Then, October came along and I lost my eleven year job as a Telecommunications Engineer/Project Manager. I was one of three laid off with whom I shared tenure as we all had been with the firm for over a decade. Not surprisingly, two of us were POC. Too boot, I was the only female technologist. I did have a sneaking suspicion but that did not really prepare me. As I was to discover, what we imagine rarely holds up against the implacableness of stark reality.

I remember what I wore that day, red and gold. I was attired as a warrior goddess, ready for battle and was already packed, just in case. My motto, never let them see you sweat held firm – for a minute.

I made it home fueled on rage and then went grocery shopping. In aisle 11 of Costco, the dam burst and I dissolved in tears. I was hit by a mix of emotions, best summarized as disbelief and fear.

Anyone who works in Corporate America is intimate with the knowledge that anyone is dispensable. That is doubly true for POC and triple enforced with superglue for those of the fairer sex. Even so, I had great difficulty getting my mind around how I suddenly lacked value with 22 years of experience. It took a lot of stripping away to face the ugly reality that I had NEVER been valued and it was the thing that sat on my chest at night, indigestible and spirit stealing. Honestly, I merely stomached it in exchange for my piece of the American dream. It kept me up at nights but I always put on my game face because the ends justifies the means. How wrong and horribly naive of me.

I could not belive how wrong I was and I can’t tell you how many hours I spent grappling with the truth that was entrenched in my spirit and the deconstruction of my carefully constructed reality. I wonder even now where I would be today had I not been so eager to buy into what I was told and invested more in my dreams.

I could only sit still so long though. In the background, was an ever increasing death knell of friends who were let go, one after another, and others who spent fruitless hours job searching. I told myself it wasn’t THAT bad but the unanswered query letters, calls to industry friends and mounting resume submissions kept climbing right alongside my mortgage, my credit card bills and all that I needed to live.

November came and just as I had predicted Obama won. His victory shook me out of my stupor and propelled me forward to start a business. Finally, due to unforeseen circumstances, I could take all the energy I put into someone elses business and do something that I loved. 12/31/08 was the date of my incorporation and that day changed my life forever. It realigned my personal beliefs with my reality and I changed. An unfolding which will always be incredibly precious and beautiful to me.

I’d rather be naked in the light of truth than bask in the falsehoods designed to keep us compliant and satisfied. Not a lot of people feel that way, sadly.

Do I have to say that I was told that I was crazy? A Black female entrepreneur in the landscaping business in NEW JERSEY?! I pressed on anyway because of all the things around me in that I no longer believed in – I still believed in myself. It is the one thing they could not take away from me.

I withdrew what remained of my 401K savings and invested it in – me. Fuck a stock. Banks weren’t lending at the time either. Who better to gamble on? I thought for sure then everything would be alright. WRONG. In hindsight, I realize that I had merely bought into the mindset that I could “Pull myself up by my bootstraps.” You can only do that if the system isn’t rigged. It didn’t take long for my severance package to run out, followed by unemployment. Unemployment is the new welfare, quiet as it’s kept. In NJ, you can only get $320 a week. Try having a mortgage and a car and kids etc. and living off that amount. Good luck! Not to mention the indignity of filing reports, being called down to the office for mandated workshops and certifying continuously so they won’t cut you off. Amazing, since I paid for insurance for 22 years. It took me ONE week to even get through to the office since the lines were flooded and they now only have one office to walk in – located in Albany – for New York.

It seemed that there was no other choice than to supplement my income with what was left of my 401K savings. My health insurance went by the wayside. COBRA was approx. $500 a month after the government subsidies expired in 2010. Who needs to be healthy anyway?

To add to my delight, there is the conundrum of my taxes. For the first time in my life, I owe the IRS a double-digit figure because I had the gall to LIVE off my savings. There were claims that there would be dispensation for such circumstances during the election but my accountant laughed when I mentioned it. His laughter still rings in my ears as I go about the daily business of survival.

Now, foreclosure looms. Chase (aka Cheat)continues to play with me, 120 pages of documentation and 3 applications later, my modification app. is still amongst the thousands pending. Yet, they keep asking for MORE information, 99% of which they already have, as one friendly rep told me. Is there oversight – NO.

I am not alone. Many of my friends face the same struggles and the reality of panic attacks, poor health, depression and ongoing stress, as they try to cope with the mounting waves of economic fallout. They too, did what they were told and their worthless degrees and professional accolades mock them. They too have had to face that their reality was ALWAYS tenuous and that the angry rhetoric we spouted about the system being stacked against us was a pale shadow of what could come. When shit gets real, that’s when you find out what you are made of.

My mother was on welfare when I was a child and I remember thinking that I would NEVER be in such a position. I would NEVER ask for anyone’s help after the way I saw her treated by so called social workers and professionals who were there to help. At 9, I could tell that was a JOKE. Yet, no one could be more amazed than I that when I finally had no choice but to ask for help, from a system which I have spent my life upholding and following inside the lines, there would be roadblocks, penalties and misdirection at EVERY turn. The banks are good though. Who will bailout faltering Americans?

Are you feeling worthless yet?

The closest articulation of truth that I have found, outside my own heart, is the cry that arises from Occupy Wall Street. I wouldn’t have believed it but the camaraderie, tons of information that I have gotten thanks to Twitter and the people/organizations which I have found through them has empowered me to continue fighting when I was just about to give up. Now I fight for more than my survival, I fight for CHANGE.

We are the 99%. 

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11 thoughts on “I Am The 99%”

  1. You’ve shared bits and pieces of this story along the way, but reading it here all at once really hit home with me. I first began feeling the effects of the economy in 2003 or so, as healthcare and real estate inflation raced by my meager salary like a jackass in a pickup truck. For several years, I worked as hard as I could to stay afloat, all the while wondering what the fuck was happening to the American Dream. You and I come from about as different backgrounds as you can get, yet we share the same experience at this point it our nation’s history.

    What really pisses me off is hearing conservatives repeat their same old tired bullshit, “If you don’t like your current situation, get a better job.” Where are those better jobs? Where are the opportunities to better ourselves and provide for our families?

    Great post. I truly loved reading it!

    1. Thanks for sharing that. It took alot of courage to share it in its entirety but it felt great releasing it. The commonality of experience is irregardless of background speaks to the globalness of it. That’s why I like the 99% slogan because it is so apt.

      I always smile when I recall our earlier comments/conversations about this very subject and how a reckoning would come. 🙂

  2. Reposting. Phone was on the fritz! Lo siento! LOL!
    —-

    Buenos Dias Coco,
    I began reading this when it was initially written, but quickly realized that it deserved more than the on-the-run attention that I had at that moment. So I set it aside with every intention of returning to it. Returned, I did.

    It was very courageous of you to share the painful truth of the circumstances that cause you to feel such angst and rage. You managed to craft that in a very sincere way, while still expressing the range of emotions that you felt as the system/ dream/ design unravelled.

    Unfortunately, there are too many others feeling the same betrayal and financial sting right now, because they believed and invested in themselves against a backdrop of systems snd organizations that were supposedly designed to facilitate their attainment of the American dream. Bullshit!

    I have colleagues from my MBA program that are freaking grinding every day, pounding the pavement (some for well over 2 years) looking for work, and dealing with folk telling them they’re overqualified! I can only imagine if they had house notes to pay, and multiple mouths to feed. I help out financially and emotionally where I can, without question, because I’ve become so aware of how delicate one’s financial situation is given this economic climate. Moreover, I think that this is a time, where those of us who are in
    a position to help our friends, should and must. The fact that we’re all in this shit together rings truer for me now, more than ever!

    Damn right, we’re the 99%! You better f***ing believe it! Our vulnerability is a commonality that finally defines us all. Every day that my husband is away from us, working in PA (we live outside Chicago) is a reminder that things are different, and that we are engaged (by design or default) in unorthodox ways just to make it and keep our families afloat!

    We have to be Love in Action! First, Love of Self is critical. Don’t let them strip away at your worth. You are indeed valuable…priceless in fact!

    Fuck the American Pie, I want Creme Brûlée…Redefining…yes!

  3. Buenos Dias Coco,
    I began reading this when it was initially written, but quickly realized that it deserved more than the on-the-run attention that I had at that moment. So I set it aside with every intention of returning to it. Returned, I did.

    It was very courageous of you to share the painful truth of the circumstances that cause you to feel such angst and rage. You managed to craft that in a very sincere way, while still expressing the range of emotions that you felt as the system/ dream/ design unravelled.

    Unfortunately, there are too many others feeling the same betrayal and financial sting right now, because they believed and invested in themselves against a backdrop of systems snd organizations that were supposedly designed to facilitate their attainment of the American dream. Bullshit!

    I have colleagues from my MBA program that are freaking grinding every day, pounding the pavement (some for well over 2 years) looking for work, and dealing with folk telling them they’re overqualified! I can only imagine if they had house notes to pay, and multiple mouths to feed. I help out financially and emotionally where I can, without question, because I’ve become so aware of how delicate one’s financial situation is given this economic climate. Moreover, I think that this is a time, where those of us who are in
    a position to help our friends, should and must.
    The fact that we’re all in this shit together rings truer for me now, more than ever!

    We have to be Love in Action! First, Love of Self is critical. Don’t let them strip away at your worth. You are indeed valuable…priceless in
    fact!

    Fuck the American Pie, I want Creme Brûlée…Redefining…yes!

    Damn right, we’re the 99%! You better f***ing believe it! Our vulnerability is a commonality that finally defines us all. Every day that my husband is away from us, working in PA (we live outside Chicago) is a reminder that things are different, and that we are engaged (by design or default) in unorthodox ways just to make it and keep our families afloat!

    I apologize for the occasional cuss word (nothing that you haven’t heard before), but

    1. Empress,

      You don’t have to apologize to me, I am constantly told I have a potty mouth by my SO lmao. I think he finds that very amusing by contrast with my love of language. 🙂

      Some of my friends have been a light to me during this time and I thank God for them. Thank you for being a light. I caught that right away from your blog. We have precious need of one another, especially now, so we do not give in to despair and are reminded that the world contains MORE.

      The realization of our economic frailty and the changes folks have made just to get by is sobering and scary.

      I’m taking a page from Obama & MLK, “I’m fighting for what ought to be.” I am moving on faith and it has never failed me yet. Failure is not an option.

  4. Oh my god. Coco, I had tears in my eyes as I read this. I almost put it off because I’m suppposed to be pursuing a writing project that my daughter (my most brutally honest critic) says is so good that I have to send her chapters as I write them. But I’m glad I put it off and read the words of one more friend today. My desparate push to use the only possibly marketable talent I know I have, can wait a few more minutes.

    My sister’s story is similar to yours. The depression, the wondering how to make ends meet now that she knows her good work was never valued by her company the way they said it was.

    The minute she got the job she has now (totally nothing to do with the field she was educated in) she told me she was working my job. She’s right. My skills aren’t good enough for a job like that anymore, because they have so many highly educated people now vying for low skilled, very low paying positions.

    I never wanted to see a “welfare” office again either. But many of us, who are being financially assaulted after working hard, saving our money and “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps,” have found out that the system is rigged just as you said, to suck in your savings and rob you of your livelihood. It’s as if we’re being weeded out. But why? Life is beginning to feel like a scary sci-fi flick.

    It’s funny to me that the old ways of getting a job — proving that you’re a hard worker and a fast learner — are actually turn-offs for potential employers now. You have to be sexy now, have management skills, and excel at sales to get a job that is three jobs compressed into one at little more than minimum wage. And of course I could go on and on.

    I’m so close to feeling worthless that I can smell its foul breath. The only thing that keeps me from accepting it so far, is the hoarse yell from my heart. “Don’t let them win! They’re wrong!”

    Hell yeah, we are the 99%!

    1. Re,

      Thank you, as always, for your heartfelt reply, sounds so formal but please don’t doubt my sincerity. This has been a hard time without question but I hang onto the realization that I have found a truer reflection of self that is PRICELESS. I don’t wish to lose sight of that when grappling with the weight of so many issues. I believe in something higher than myself and so I venture to say that some of these trials were required, if only to force me to face unpleasant truths.

      My job was so encompassing that I had no time to reflect, had no time to write and had no idea how to get closer to a life with meaning. Many people feel this way and do nothing about it. The jobmarket is a CESSPOOL lol. I say that because employers are capitalizing off the current environment by working people to death for a pittance. The same job I had took a 30K drop and yet they want you to do MORE. What’s next blood donations?

      So, I push on, just as you have. If from this time you actualize your dream of becoming a writer you will look back and see this as what it was, a turning point in your life. I am SO happy to hear about what you’re doing and am cheering you on.

      One of the things that has helped me stay the course has been my blog. Through it, I have reached both inwards and outwards.

      Keep yelling. The squeaky wheel gets the grease 🙂

  5. Excellent post! I am so sorry for your struggles. This is heart wrenching to read, but because you believe in yourself, you will not fail. Yes, Occupy Wall Street is what most of us need. Finally a voice! Hang in there. Beautifully written. This should be read by many as your story is one for all. If someone does not relate, they are in for the shock of their life. No one is immune. Thank you for sharing.

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