Chuck Pezeshki recently wrote about Black Lives Matter protests (His View, June 6 & 7), ending by saying, “It is on the proponents to make the ask.” As a middle-aged white male, I’m hardly one to speak with any credibility, but it seems like the first “ask” is a complete overhaul of policing practices in the United States. That is, however, only a tip of the iceberg.
Despite growing up in one of the poorer counties of Washington, my life stands in stark contrast to what many people of color face, particularly those living in urban neighborhoods. The opportunities and advantages that I have experienced should not be considered “privileges.” Instead, they should be commonplace for all who want to better their lives.
In brief, while my high school education was nothing to brag about, I was sufficiently prepared to enroll at Washington State University back in 1983. At the time I paid about $600 per semester for tuition ($1,544 in today’s dollars) and was ultimately supported by two Pell grants and two federally subsidized student loans; both of which are very difficult to access these days). I walked away in 1987 with $5,000 in debt ($11,284 today) that I deferred while in graduate school, finally paying off in 1998 ($7,987 today). In sharp contrast, average college debt was $32,731 in 2019 when the average post-college salary was only $50,944. I ultimately ended up back on the Palouse where I have a great job with sufficient household income to put three children through college and contribute back to the system through my income taxes.
The key difference between my life and those of many African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and other marginalized groups, is that I always found open doors. Whether it be assistance with education, financing our first home, or obtaining quality medical care, the process was clearly geared to work for me. I have never had reason to fear the police, I’ve always been able to vote without difficulty, and my children have had an outstanding K-12 education (go PSD!).
So, there’s the ask. Policing that works for everyone, equal justice under the law, access to quality education from kindergarten through college or vocational training, equal and fair access to finance, equal employment opportunities, equal access to health care, investment in social services and removal or otherwise highlighting the shame of “lost cause monuments.” Frankly, the nation is incredibly lucky that the vast majority of Black Lives Matter protesters are only demanding fairness and dignity rather than revenge.
Importantly, many of these changes will also work in favor of low-income rural families of every stripe. Such changes offer an opportunity to unleash the multitude of constraints from our communities with a net result of greater opportunity for everyone, healthier and wealthier families, a stronger economy, and greater political and judicial transparency.
Getting there will take a lot of work and a lot of investment. That includes fixing our political system that primarily serves corporate interests and the status quo. One of the most blatant examples is the 2017 supply-side trillion-dollar Republican-sponsored tax break for the rich that has never paid back the promised dividends (no surprise). Our politicians even managed to include $135 billion in tax relief for the top 1-percent income earners in the country in the CARES Act that was meant to blunt the economic damage from the COVID pandemic.
Massive corporations like Amazon have benefited tremendously from a mostly publicly educated workforce. Nevertheless, with billions in pure profit for 2016-18, Amazon paid no income tax and actually received $266 million in federal “returns.” In 2019, Amazon only paid 1.2-percent income tax on $13.9 billion in profits. Large corporations need to pay their fair share of taxes to help pay for quality education for all U.S. citizens.
Besides fixing our listing political ship, significant reforms are needed in voting rights. It is also time to fully support free higher education for those who cannot otherwise attend, and to provide full and automatic healthcare for those who cannot afford other options. Such changes will unshackle opportunity and entrepreneurship in America. The need is great, the time is now.
Doug Call is a microbiologist. He first discovered the Palouse 37 years ago.