I Was One of the 47%

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I spent the first nine years of my life caught in the war that waged on and on between my parents. My dad was fierce with words, but contrary to the popular saying, his bite was actually worse than his bark. I can recall nights spent awake listening to him terrorize my mother in the next room. The time he pushed her down in a Toys-R-Us parking lot in front of horrified onlookers. The false molars my mom has from that time he punched her in the face. One day he backed her up against the refrigerator and strangled her as I beat helplessly on his back with child-sized fists, pleading with him to stop. Please stop. Just let her go.

My mother made the decision to leave when I was nine, just a few days after my father threw a knife at her. It landed--buried up to the handle--in the wall only inches away from her face. That weekend he left for a business trip, and my mom rented a U-Haul. She packed up as much stuff as the truck could hold, hitched her car to the back, and then drove the four of us--herself, my two younger sisters, and me--three states away to a brand-new life.

The first years were hard. My mom had been a stay-at-home parent. She had no college education, no real employment history or work experience. We lived in a rental home infested with cockroaches, and she took any job she could find to cover the bills. She did the best she possibly could given the circumstances, but still there were months when we found ourselves at local churches getting free food because we could barely afford to eat.

At our lowest point, we turned to government assistance. I remember shopping at the grocery store with food stamps and bags of change, wearing used clothes, and going to dirty clinics for check-ups in the worst parts of town because they were the only ones who would accept government medical assistance. I remember the shame I felt, the inherent notion that I was somehow less human than other people because I didn't have as much money as they did.

It took a few years, but eventually things got better. My mom never stopped working, and she excelled at every job she took, quickly climbing the ladder to a salary high enough that we could stop living on food stamps. I grew up and was able to get my first job as a young teen, which I used to pay for my first car. I eventually went on to pay much of my own way through college, helping to ensure that I won't one day find myself in the same situation my mother was in.

Often when people tell these types of stories, they are met with comments like, "Good job. You used government assistance the right way. Most people don't."

That is so wrong.

Tell me, what is this statistic that keeps being used? Who are all of these "most people" we're talking about?

There are absolutely people who try to cheat the system. I won't deny that. But, the reality is that the vast majority of people who use federal aid, whether it be food stamps, medicaid, or something else, are just like you and me. They're just trying to get by. They've fallen on hard times. They need a leg up. And what an absolute blessing and miracle that we can provide that for them! The fact that these programs even exist says incredible things about our country.

It's troubling to me that some are so willing to make sweeping generalizations about single parents, the elderly, the disabled, people on welfare, and those living in poverty. It makes me sick when people accuse those groups of being moochers, free loaders, ignorant degenerates, and lazy drug addicts. It infuriates me because "most" of those people are none of that. They are my mom, your neighbors, your friends, children your kids go to school with. They are people--they are flesh and blood human beings--and they need help. 

I believe in my right to eat. I'm sorry, Mitt, and all who agree with Mitt; I just do. I don't think I should I have to starve to death because I happened to have been born to a strong and courageous woman who made tough choices in order to protect her children from an abusive psycho. I believe in my right to have access to health care. I believe in the right of children and families to be given the opportunity to thrive no matter what their circumstances.

And, even more than that, I believe in my own responsibility as an American to look out for my fellow citizens. We are all worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of our station in life, and we are all in this together. The only person worthy of leading this great nation is one who understands that.

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