In the spirit of the coming new year, and inspired by Joe Bageant’s riotous Deer Hunting with Jesus, I’d like to suggest a holiday resolution: Let’s disabuse ourselves of one big myth that’s bedeviled us for too long, one whopper that divides our communities and threatens our children’s educations.
The myth I have in mind is that property taxes are the primary culprit for home foreclosures. This is false, and accomplishes nothing more than playing the foil for those who’d put an end to that bulwark of democracy, publicly funded education. Proposals like the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007 are designed to under-fund public education, the consequences of which would be felt most painfully by those who can least afford them. Districts like Benton whose teachers offer high quality education at bargain basement prices would be among the first to feel the fallout of such ill-advised and unnecessary measures—ill-advised because a boon for big business is hardly relief for the working poor; unnecessary because the more responsible culprits are not hard to find. They’re just not folks we can point to—like our neighbors.
It doesn’t take the rocket scientist to see that corporations like Exxon, Walmart, the HMOs, and the big pharmaceuticals have an open hand in our wallets. We blame the unions for demanding the expensive stuff we all want—livable wages, decent working conditions, health insurance—because the costs encourage the outsourcing of labor to places like Mexico and India. But then we resent what’s in fact the direct consequence of our failure to organize for better, namely, the very wages that insure we’ll never be more than a paycheck away from foreclosure—God forbid we get sick. We’re walking contradictions looking for someone to blame—and who better than teachers? Those unionized state employees who get to enjoy the suspicion meted out against the “book smart”? To the rejoinder that Exxon is just how free enterprise works, no it isn’t. They and others enjoy substantial government subsidies and tax breaks—all at our expense.
It’s not surprising that nationalist hate groups gain a foothold on our frazzled nerves; when your among the 47 million Americans without access to healthcare, living on the minimum wage, driving a “POS,” and working night shift for the pay differential, it’s got to be a comfort to think it’s someone else’s fault. And in some important ways, it is. The trick is to see that the fault is not your neighbor’s (unless your neighbor’s Exxon/Monsanto/Blue Cross), and that the enemies those fear-mongering “patriots” make up for you—“leftists,” liberals,” “feminists,” “gays,” “democrats,” “atheists,”—are intended to convert you from being your neighbor’s neighbor into being the neighbor whose righteous anger needs a target. Still, the property tax myth only works when it’s all stirred up by an equally mythical nostalgia, you know, the chicken-in-every-pot story. Never mind that this America never existed for many citizens. It’s still the story that makes the “haves” cling ever more tightly onto what they know they could lose to credit card debt. The “have-nots” are the ones who unionized, agitated for civil rights, and demanded equal pay for equal work. They’re the ones that nationalists like the Renew America folk vilify for taking away “our” America.
Make a New Year’s resolution: Don’t buy simple-minded hype that makes your neighbor into your enemy. Ask yourself the harder question: Where do the nickels and dimes really go? If the answer is gasoline, medicine, doctor appointments, it’s not your neighbor who’s your enemy; it’s the institutionalized greed concealed by slick propaganda like “Falling prices,” “We’re here to help,” and “Beyond Petroleum.”
Wendy Lynne Lee