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Occupy Wall Street was About the American Dream
A Willingness to Work Hard in America
When my father came home from work, he was like a white-collar king returning from victorious battle. His big, white Cadillac would turn into the driveway and my stepmother would shout, “Your father’s home!”
We would high-tail it to gather near the front door; because when he came home, he was rarely grumpy or unhappy. He would burst through the door jubilantly and share his happiness with us all. He’d ask us what we accomplished that day around praise he heaped on each of us if we had been doing good. When we did something wrong, or failed to achieve what we were capable of, we received no less love, but we could sense his disappointment. My father could understand anything, so long as whatever went wrong, went wrong despite your hard work.
He was brought up in an era where working hard was a basic part of a man’s makeup. It was beyond him to understand someone who wasn’t willing to work hard. He saw laziness in them and my father viewed laziness as weakness. He saw them as failing to live up to their potential as men.
Growing Up in the Lean Years
He grew up during the Great Depression. He lived in a one room home for part of his childhood, with his parents and four other siblings. His mother and father were immigrants from Croatia. They had admired America from distant shores, and when the children were born to these new Americans, they insisted they speak only English in the home. No matter that the father of the household would slip into his native language whenever angered. There was no exception for the children.
My grandfather was a gifted engineer. When he died, scribblings of engineering inventions and ideas were found. He never got around to showing them to anyone. He was too busy breaking his back in factories so that his children would have a head start on the American Dream.
He was a blue-collar worker. He worked in foundries, factories, and wherever else he could earn enough money to keep his children from experiencing what other children were experiencing in his neighborhood – hunger, shame, and homelessness.
This is the man whom my father wanted to emulate. I grew up in an upper middle class home. This was because my father, who had nothing given to him in life, had worked up through the foundries and factories to secure a professional engineering job. It wasn’t long before he was buying into the company he worked for, and eventually he became sole owner.
Sharing the Wealth
He treated the men who worked for him with understanding, dignity, and patience. He was known for helping his men in time of need. In the early 90s, when business went bad and my father lost his business, former employees paid him a visit to ask if there was any way they could help. Many knew him when he was younger, and just an apprentice at Fisher Body. Others simply respected him because he was fair. He believed in strong employee benefits and above average wages for his men. He was anti-union, and he successfully defeated unionization attempts within his company. He believed in the Constitution, but never understood how Americans on television marching and protesting could find the time away from work to do so. He believed in giving a hand up instead of a hand out.
America's Promise to the Poor
He lived and breathed his business, and the people that worked there were his extended family. Indeed, he would throw parties at our suburban home and invite them all over. He would drink with them, throw them in our pool, and let go any semblance of executive behavior. He was them; only he had worked harder. He didn’t view himself as anything other than a poor kid from Detroit who worked his way up the ladder. He was genuinely convinced that his elevated status had nothing to do with anything but hard work. He believed in the promised American Dream, and he lived it. The promise America had made to his parents standing on shores where war and Communism were the order of the day, was realized only one generation later.
I write this because I want to make a statement concerning the radical positions some of the writers on HubPages, and indeed writers everywhere, have chosen to take concerning America. I was actually moved to write this after reading a comment posted to this OWS article, that America should be compared to Hitler’s Germany.
I’m dismayed people would say such things about my country. This is the beacon of light and bastion of freedom that those from far away lands could come to work hard for a better life. It is hard work and diversity that immigrants bring to our shores, and it is what makes us a great nation. Future generations always could look back on their descendants and say, “My father worked hard and went from a grubby kid picking coal off the street to successful business owner.”
This Has Nothing to do with the Sixties
Before you get out your Sixties gear and jump on the Magic Bus, please try to remember that Occupy Wall Street was never about freedom. Oh sure, when people aren’t happy, they are going to find a cause to march to. It’s the American way granted in our Constitution.
No, this was not a cause, but a warning. And one I agree with. It said to the people making public policy, “Hey, what the hell happened to the American Dream?”
No matter how hard some people work today, they find themselves unable to advance within companies or make a decent living. They found that there were requirements that they could never match for owning a small business of their own. They came to a slow realization that people who have money are going to have children who wouldn't have to work hard to be wealthy themselves. In other words, our wealth system regressed to a more feudal way, and no one saw it coming.
Americans are a patient, enlightened, and progressive group of people. They will not allow certain entities and people to cause the opportunity to gain wealth of their own to regress or disappear. Whoever is President, and I don't see any indication there will be a change this election season (edit: indeed, President Obama won the 2012 election in a landslide), must bring back the American Dream.
Worker demands led to work going to other countries. Those jobs had faded (since then, the economy has rebounded well as I update this in 2015), and Americans found it hard to live on what was being paid to workers in Asia for the same job, anyway. No, this is going to require some innovative leadership skills. Americans need a way to work themselves up out of the muck.
Author's Note: A lot has changed since I originally published this article...and a lot has not. It's still so difficult to build something from nothing in America today. Unless a person has significant capital to invest, they likely will not escape a low income lifestyle. Raising a family takes money, for those of you who insist the money be saved. Unless we recommend that all young people in poverty go childless, there isn't going to be many stories of the poor working family working their way to a much better life economically.
The rich do get richer, in America. For now.