People In My Neighborhood

A blog about some residents of Nashua, New Hampshire

Livia Gershon

Livia Gershon
Nashua, New Hampshire, USA
June 21
To get updates from this blog on Facebook, please like this page: Or on Twitter follow @LiviaGershon. This is a blog about some of my neighbors. Like a lot of people who spend considerable time reading newspapers and websites, I sometimes feel I’m more familiar with the lifestyles of the kinds of people who show up in the lifestyle sections of the paper than with the lives of people who are way closer to my income level. This is an attempt to find out more about the working- and middle-class people around me. I live in Nashua, New Hampshire, which isn’t a poor city. The average job in the metropolitan area pays about $28 an hour, according to the state agency that collects that kind of information. Unemployment in the area is under 5 percent. But I’m continually astonished by how hard things are for many people I see every day. I chose people to interview for this blog pretty much at random. I didn’t pick them out because I thought their stories would illustrate a particular political or economic idea. They’re just people I saw around who were generous enough to talk with me.


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NOVEMBER 21, 2011 9:10AM

Whiners Needed

Rate: 22 Flag

Ash StreetI’ve got this problem where I can’t seem to stop myself from reading attack pieces on the Occupy movement. Thank God I don’t have cable, so I can’t watch Fox News, but give me a link to a right-wing blog post or the comments section of the local paper’s story on Occupy New Hampshire, and I’ll click on it every time.

Then, inevitably, I find my muscles clenching and my mind racing to find rejoinders to arguments that consist mostly of name calling and wildly inaccurate caricatures.

The thing that always punches me in the gut when I read this stuff is the word “whiners.” It usually comes up pretty quickly, along with the phrase “occupy mom’s basement.”

It doesn’t bother me much that these guys are insulting the protesters.  The Occupy activists are clearly tough enough to take it, and they can take pride in how much they’ve already shifted discussion in the national media toward the subjects of inequality and unemployment.

Felicia McMahon and David RoachWhat bugs me is what the commenters are implicitly saying about my neighbors. I live in a poor-to-middle-class neighborhood, and what I hear from the right wing is a big, fat congratulations to people like the ones who live here for not whining.

If you’re not literally starving to death, the right-wing narrative goes, you have no business complaining about an economic and political system that makes your life difficult. If you’ve got the least bit of family support or education and you complain about being unemployed or making minimum wage, there are whole web pages like this one devoted to making fun of you.

There’s also, of course, an implied promise in all of this that if you spend your time working hard instead of whining you’ll end up in a comfortable position and be able to look down on all the little whiners.

I’ve been writing this blog about my neighborhood for the past three months, and I’ve noticed a distinct lack of whining from my neighbors. They lose their jobs, get evicted, get their houses foreclosed, and instead of complaining they redouble their efforts. They find another job or go back to school. They crash with a friend for a few months, sleeping on blankets on the floor so their kids can share the couch.

It’s a vision right out of one of the anti-Occupy ranters’ stories about their grandparents. The next line in the story is that the grandfather starts a company and works long hours, and the grandmother helps out while watching the kids, and pretty soon they’ve got a nice house and the money to send the kids to college.

That’s not the trajectory that most of my neighbors seem to be on. And the hardships they are going through are mostly not the what-doesn’t-kill-me-makes-me-stronger kind.

Bret LittlefieldI talked to two different men recently who spoke with a surprising lack of bitterness about their ex-wives. Both of them said financial stress was a big part of what wrecked their marriages. They’re not whining. They’re working at demanding jobs and spending time with their kids and living interesting lives with a lot of joy in them. But their relationships with the women they loved have been ruined and their kids have to deal with being shuttled from household to household.

I talked to a woman who works in home care, making meals and giving baths to the elderly and disabled. It’s good work that she cares about. She can’t afford enough food for her family, so she feeds her children and sometimes goes hungry herself. She doesn’t have a car, so she walks from one assignment to the next, sometimes faint with hunger. She’s not whining.

I talked to a woman whose boyfriend is dying of cancer. While she was taking care of him, and fighting with Medicare and Medicaid over paying for his care, she was also worrying about what she’d do after he’s gone. She won’t be able to afford an apartment by herself. She’s too busy to whine.

A young mother I talked to had just been Niquel Furtickevicted. She and her children had already been homeless once. When I met her she was joking with her sister while their kids played at the park, not whining at all. But her kids are growing up knowing that on any given night there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to sleep in their own beds.

Another young woman I talked to is an immigrant from Greece who’s still in high school. Her family runs a convenience store and is struggling, like so many immigrants have for so many decades, to make a life for themselves in America. She’s got great hopes for a future in design. But her family can’t afford health insurance, so her father doesn’t go to the doctor when he gets chest pains. She’s clearly terribly hard-working I can imagine an amazing and very prosperous life for her in the long run, but I can also imagine her family suffering a terrible tragedy in the near future.

If my neighbors did decide to look for a political solution to their problems, I don’t know that they’d reach the kind of conclusions that the Occupy protesters have. But the idea that working together and thinking about institutional problems amounts to whining is disturbing to me.

That’s not just because I think the country would be stronger if more people organized politically around problems in their daily lives. It’s also because of a guy I talked to who had lost his apartment a few years back because he couldn’t afford the rent, despite working nearly full time at a retail job. He said when it happened he was so ashamed that he thought about killing himself.

What gave him strength, he said, was talking to co-workers who, he discovered, had been through the same thing themselves. Before that, he’d never known their stories. I’m really glad they weren’t so afraid of being called whiners that they never told them.

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I suspect that besides a culture that abhors the have-nots and near so, the issue for which the OWS'ers are being subjected to various epitheths, is the lack of clear coalescing ideas and objectives on what to do about the enormous inequality gap.
Btw, for me as an external observers the whiners are the disceples of the Tea Party with their moaning about "getting our country back"
Whine out loud!

A lot of the slogans we've lived by no longer serve us, but instead serve our overlords.
Well-deserved EP, Livia. I have a feeling some of the people who are accusing others of whining will soon find themselves in the same boat -- "whining" themselves.

Great post. Personally, I've been offended by the commentary suggesting that the presence of homeless people at OWS gatherings is somehow hurting the image of the movement -- as though they are dirty lepers. As if homeless people aren't the most visible symptom of a failing social system, one that authorities have done their best to make invisible. What other political group has spoken for their needs in the past 30 years?
Great story, giving a face to the so-called "whiners". Thank you for this thoughtful piece, showing the true grit of the average American. R.
I'm with you on jaw-clenching. I'm still stewing over Newt's advice last weekend to OWS: "get a job, after taking a shower." Ass!
I read/hear about these stories all the time, and it still feels unbelievable that so much hardship could be befalling so many people. Thank you for sharing your neighbors' stories. They truly are the unsung heroes.
Thank you for your excellently stated viewpoint and the stories. Being homeless and/or struggling in the economic conditions foisted upon our country is not shameful, no matter how much the ones who created the mess try to make us believe it!
Excellent article, Livia

But the idea that working together and thinking about institutional problems amounts to whining is disturbing to me.

It is to me, too. It's not that I think the Government should be able to solve all problems. I don't think that's possible, even if I wanted it. It sounds like your neighbors are all working hard to be self-sufficient even in their struggles and I salute them all for their determination. But it seems to me the government should also not make the lives of it's citizens so difficult as they are at present. Our policies reward the wealthy and punish the poor, and it's madly out of proportion in the last decade. Your neighbors should not have to struggle so hard to get by in order to make life pleasant for the wealthiest Americans who are already in a position to take care of themselves quite well. It's time for them to feel a little pain, too!

People are born equal. There is no guaranty of material equality post-partum.

Funny, poverty isn't less now, when we spend nearly a quarter of our GDP on government, nearly two-thirds of that goes to entitlement programs that compose our welfare state, than when we spent only 8% of our GDP at the turn of the century 111 years ago.

Did whining get you anywhere with your parents when you were growing up?

However, perhaps I should be agreeing with your premise. There doesn't seem to be any more effective means of exposing who socialists are.
@ Uncle Chri : "People are born equal" ??!!??
Think, much ?
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"
--upton sinclair

"One withstands the invasion of armies; one does not withstand the invasion of ideas."
--victor hugo

"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
supreme court justice louis brandeis

occupy party reaches critical mass/seismic effect--now what?
The stories you tell sound too familiar. It seems to me that the reason that the protests by Occupy have not coalesced into a coherent message stems from the fact that solutions involve not just a change in a system but, also, a change in core beliefs on the part of the protesters. For decades we have been told that our democratic system and free markets are the source of our wealth, health and happiness. We have been told that if we get an education and work hard we can succeed; own our own home, drive a car, send our 2.5 kids to good colleges, and watch our grand kids grow up.
All the while that this illusion has been believed there has been a slow, steady, subversion of basic truths. Corporate CEOs who operate as ruthlessly as the robber barons in Germany hold prayer before the beginning of board meetings, and ministers preach the sanctity of capitalism from the pulpit.
Congregations that proclaim themselves the real Christians in this Christian nation (ignoring history and fact) are told that God loves successful people, people who buy lots of things, people who dress like they are successful, and being poor is a sure sign that God does not love you because you are a sinner. What was the sin? Not cheating your neighbor?
There can be no success so long as there is just naked rage. There has to be a message, and the message has to be that we have been lied to and the system has been fixed by the wealthy to serve their needs. R
Thank you so much for articulating the thoughts that have been rolling around in my brain for ages. I have the great good fortunate to be a white-collar worker after growing up in a blue-collar family, and i cannot believe the appalling arrogance and callousness of my co-workers -- who spend much of their time deriding the working class. Maybe it's because I know how easy it will be for me -- and them! --- to slip into poverty. So many of them seem to think they got there purely on their own efforts, ignoring the advantages of steadily-employed functional parents and good educational opportunities. I've never lost appreciation for my reality: being a white daughter of a (white) union man in the 1960's gave me chances unknown to others.
This is well-written and inspiring, Livia.
An earlier comment suggested that those who are suffering do not come from stable homes with comfortably wealthy parents and do not have an education. I have all of that, and yet I'm living below the poverty line. I have not been able to find work in 2-1/2 years. I sold my car to pay the rent. We don't have much time left before we are homeless.

Advantages in upbringing and family mean less and less every day. The still-comfortable will not be comfortable for long unless something changes. I never expected this life.
Thank you very much for your thoughtful article! I also habitually read the anti-OWS rants (although I avoid Fox News for the sake of my coronary health). The good reason for doing so is presumably to understand all sides of the argument; the real reason is probably adrenaline addiction. Either way, we see Social Darwinist comments all over the mainstream chat-streams (not to mention the right-of-center ones); the people making them can't all be members of the 1%. Fox News and other hired ideologues of the right have seeded these vicious, Gilded Age blame-the-victim ideas among population segments who are certainly as much at risk as anyone for job loss, overwhelming medical expenses, foreclosure, and the rest of it. This condescending, often grossly insulting, perspective allows those taking it to distance themselves psychologically from those already suffering. At bottom, it is a divide-and-conquer strategy, like racism.
Thanks for a well reasoned and articulate article.
This is perfect. I'll be referring all my family to it. :)
Well, the charge of whining is legit when people complain about the rich per se. Complain about ill gotten riches, however, and you are on firm ground. Many on the Left apply blanket accusations. This is wrong for the same reasons that racial profiling is wrong.

But what is absolutely right is that millions of dollars were made by the financial industry in a criminal fashion. Many of the millions made by the 1% are due to hidden subsidies by the government. For example: if you pay down your mortgage as part of your retirement planning vs. put your money into a 401k plan managed by Wall St., you pay more taxes. The mortgage deduction is a subsidy to the banking industry.

We cannot expect the young victims of the maze of subsidies to properly target to villains. That is the job of the economically sophisticated. But if the OWS movement is to mature and lead to productive action, the economically sophisticated need to talk with the occupiers to refine the message and come up with demands based less on need and more on justice.

I'll have more to say on this in a future essay.