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Ambled down to the People’s Citizen Park of the People today, or whatever it was renamed. Most days it’s the Government Center – a structure much like Minnesota in winter: brutal on the outside, lovely on the inside. Two slabs of slit-windowed offices straddle two blocks, with a soaring atrium in between. Walkways connect the slabs high above. The building was in operation for 20 years before they put up barriers to keep people from jumping.
On one side of the building, a green knoll shaded by trees, lovely for a lunchtime bask in the sun. On the other, an expanse of red brick notorious for its slippery quality in the winter, with a predictable 70s-style fountain in the middle. Across the street from this plaza, the rusticated bulk of the old City Hall. There’s a tiny statue of Hubert Humphrey in front – our former mayor – and he stands there all year, hands upraised in a hectoring posture, talking to no one. Old timers still hear his voice when they pass, though.
I wandered through the crowd with Ricochet’s own Andrew Johnson (check him out in the College Contributors Feed), and we saw just what you’d expect. It was early in the protest, but half the plaza was filled. A nod to the wonderfulness of the Tahir Square event: check. Capitalism is the source of all problems including but not limited to seborrhea and psoriasis: check. This Economic Situation I Don’t Quite Understand = A Concept I Don’t Fully Grasp But Oppose: check. Met a fellow who had an upside-down American flag tattooed on his neck, a sign of permanent distress. His sign said 99% of the population lacked spiritual well-being. Because of the 1%. Anyway, on to the signs! You just don’t know where to begin:
Because it’s better to have a medium of exchange and a system for the mutually advantageous exchange of goods than a state of nature that requires you either kill your prey with your teeth or pick it apart when it’s already dead? Maybe? Humans are the only creatures who go to the moon! WHY?
Then there’s this guy:
So I asked. Why don’t you remember what water tastes like?
Because I’m too poor to have any, he grinned. Wasn’t too poor for tats and nasal piercings, but never mind. I noted that this is literally the city of water. There was a fountain of water 20 feet away.
“My shoes are too worn to walk.”
I looked at his shoes. “Your kicks are fine,” I said.
“I’m too tired,” he said. “Carry me.”
I think he was just having fun with it. All right, carry on.
I asked her what her specialty was. You know, her craft.
“I’m an English major.”
“Oh, well, there’s your problem,” I said. “I was one too. There’s nothing for English majors. Wasn’t when I got out in the 80s.”
“That’s why I’m thinking of adding political science.”
Oh, dear. “Listen, do you like coffee? Or selling cool things? Or the internet? Go to North Dakota and start a coffee shop or open a small store selling something you like. I’m serious. They’re sloshing with money there. Unemployment is 3 percent and Fargo is actually a cool place to live these days.”
That’s my answer to everyone, in fact. Go West, Young Person! Fargo is four hours away. It’s not like you’re moving to the end of the earth – but of course it seems like that, to some. It’s not like hip ‘n’ cool Minneapolis. It does sound like annoying advice, I’m sure – why should I have to move away for a job? But people think nothing of moving away for college. In fact it’s practically required.
Like so many teenagers, I believed in the “American Dream,” that I could move to New York from the Midwest and become an artist. I would achieve both fame and success, and I would never have to think about money.
Didn’t get the memo when the American dream was thus redefined. Maybe it was a text message. So no, I don’t think she’ll be moving. Probably take that political science major. Then grad school. What else can you do? There aren’t any jobs. (BTW: Yes, the green thing is an Phone.)
You mean, like the debt people take on themselves? Or the debt that’s put on their back by government?
“Obviously no,” she said, I think in response to my first point. “It’s just that you can’t go to college without going in debt, and you can’t get a job without going to college, and you can’t pay off the debt without getting a job, and there aren’t any jobs.” So that = slavery somehow. I asked what she wanted to study, and I think she said “English.” I said no, no, it’s not worth going $35,000 in debt to know something about Gatsby, and no employer cares anyhow. Why not something like nursing or dental technician to start?
“I’m squeamish about medical things,” she said. I understood completely; I would have said the same if someone asked me that question in college. Knowledge was its own reward. But then she said something practical that would never have occurred to me: “But I’m considering cosmetology, hair cutting.”
“That’s great,” I said. “You meet people, you do something useful, and after a while you can find a cheap place and set up your own shop. Wouldn’t that be cool? To have your own salon?” (She had pinkish-reddish hair.) She nodded an I-suppose-so, and then I had to say “but then there’s the taxes and regulations and utilities and all the other costs of business.” I’d lost her now, because this wasn’t doing ANYTHING about debt being slavery. Stop extrapolating scenarios from the beautiful simplicity of my hand-drawn sign!
Here’s a novel idea:
What an idea; maybe we should give it a try. As long as we’re shakin’ things up, here’s an idea:
France instituted a 35-hour workweek in February 2000; the unemployment rate was 9.5. It’s 9.9 percent today. Obviously they were three hours off. That’s the ticket! That, plus taxing the rich. I’m still struck by that: why didn’t anyone come up with that before?
Didn’t go around to the other side of the slab to see if people had taken over the grassy knoll. The view’s different – instead of the old stones of City Hall, there’s glass towers from the 80s boom. Because of Capitalism, there’s one big tower where before there was a fleabag hotel. (The Senator, if you’re curious.)Because of the 1987 crash – which some blame on the rewriting of tax laws for real estate – the adjoining tower was never built. After a while no one notices that the building seems oddly alone on its lot, a twin meant to be conjoined.
Government builds things, yes – roads, dams, bridges. But the more government you get, the more they take, the more some things don’t happen. You never see the things that don’t get built, the towers that never rose, the factories never built. Not at the People’s Plaza, though.The Government Center’s two wings were built simultaneously. One side houses the bureaucracy that regulates and approves, denies and forbids. The other side houses the courts. Which side produced more jumpers from the walkways over the beautiful space below, I can only guess.