This story from Yes! Magazine about how ordinary Americans are getting around an unfair economy, which is based on a new book by Lisa Dodson called The Moral Underground.
Andrew, a manager in a large food business in the Midwest, told me about the moral dilemma of employing people who can’t take care of their families even though they are working hard. This was something that he couldn’t pretend was okay. He came to the decision to “do what [he] can” even at the risk of being accused of stealing. “I pad their paychecks because you can’t live on what they make. I punch them out after they have left for a doctor’s appointment or to take care of someone … And I give them food to take home….”
I spoke to many people who, like other regular Americans in the past, decided that when you see people being treated unfairly and, worse still, you realize you play a direct role in that unfairness, the right thing to do is to act against it. In the tradition of civil disobedience that marks the nation’s history, often unassuming but morally clear-eyed people refuse, every day, to go along with the economic mistreatment of other people. Andrew, Ned, and Bea were some of the people who showed me how profound unfairness will give rise to a people’s moral underground, but they were certainly not alone…
The talk about the economy is now very different from when I began this research years ago. The malignant effects of unregulated market rule are being exposed as economic damage spreads beyond millions of working poor families. But I found that long before the press and politicians became riveted by an economic “meltdown,” plenty of ordinary people had been grappling with an unjust economy. Far away fromdebates about Wall Street and Main Street, in the side streets, byways, and common corners of the nation, where most Americans live, some have been staking out different moral terrain.
There is a tale that has always emerged in America when business has free rein, can freely undermine the public good, and can freely buy and sell political will. Today’s is a contemporary version, but it is one that recalls a history when market rule could justify almost anything—buying and selling human beings, sending children into coal mines, denying people the right to organize, gutting whole communities to take jobs to a cheaper elsewhere, or leaving people who have labored their long lives without a pension or a home.
But there is also a parallel story, the one about resistance. It is a new chapter in the proud history of how people will refuse to go along with economic abuse—and not just the few heroes we recall. Heroes alone don’t shift the ground. Deep change comes only when regular people start naming what is happening, talking to one another, and, inevitably, some of them decide that they can’t accept such injustice. Occasionally, they move a nation.
The parallel story that Lisa talks about, the one about resistance, lies along the same lines as the parallel structures talked about in Monoculture. Finding out more about how those parallel structures work for people in real life is one of my next book projects. Stay tuned!