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%.