Collective obligation during the Great Recession

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(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—The Great Recession will be a time that we all look back on and define in various ways to ourselves, our children, spouses and co-workers. Some of us will relate stories to our future children about stop-gap work for years finally ending in a job that was less lucrative, but at least stable. Some will go through the great recession relatively unscathed, either through the luck of staying employed or in some cases thriving. And of course, there will in another 10 or 15 years be men and women in America who actually thrived in the great recession, or started businesses that became multi-million dollar corporations.

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One of the speeches I give to groups and organizations across the country is “How I learned to Love the Recession: A History of business start-ups during economic downturns.” However, these are all examples of looking back, what we expect to say when this is all over, but the question that haunts me today is: What if any obligations do we have to our fellow man during this major financial crisis?

Every day that I turn on the television I see more and more examples of collective action across the nation as Occupy Wallstreet, or other major protests start to battle the grotesque financial and political inequalities that plague us today. However as a student of history and politics I know too well that the vast majority of Americans, including myself are not directly involved in any of these protests. Now this is not because people are too busy working, you can take an hour of your time out to go to a protest or just listen. This is not because people don’t agree with what’s going on, because most polls show that Americans are unhappy with the state of the economy whether they blame Wall-Street or Washington. I am of the belief that people simply do not know what to do. America is not a nation built on collective responsibility or communal living, we are raised to be rugged individualists and thus while we all may know that a collective problem is hurting the nation, most Americans have no idea how to tackle the Great Recession outside of individual actions.

The individual actions are varied and based on one’s time and skill levels. I have a couple of friends who have started gardens, cutting down their food costs and learning a new skill all at the same time. After growing up in relative privilege and good times in the 1980’s many of my fellow Generation Xers are married and living with one car, in apartments, in a serious attempt to pay down debt and batten down the hatches until this economic storm blows over. Of course these are all individual actions, but perhaps it is time to do more, collectively, to help others that are hurting. I hear this question a lot from people who would like to volunteer, and make a difference but they have no idea how to start or where to go. Not everyone wants to march on Wall-Street, not everyone with a family and kids has time to volunteer a whole Saturday at a Soup kitchen, but the desire to help is out there, it’s just looking for an outlet.

I advise a very simple but consistent way that everyone in America can make a difference during this Great Recession that will help someone other than themselves: Write a weekly letter. Yes, there are more active and more visible ways to make a difference but the power of the written word, over and over again can make a difference on a local, state and national level. If you simply type the words “Write your Congressman” into Google, you can find out who represents you, what they stand for and what they are doing in this recession. I challenge everyone reading this piece to find that site and write your congressman a letter, every week, for a month, asking them to support policies that use tax dollars to stimulate the economy. Members of Congress know that people are angry, but they don’t know how to respond to this anger so they can only guess or just out and out ignore it. When President Obama gave his jobs speech in July the Congressional Website crashed within hours because the public contacted their members so much, had that intensity continued more than 24 hours we might’ve actually gotten a jobs bill through last week. There are many ways you can give to the less fortunate during this time, but few more simple than getting to your representative and reminding them that the community is hurting.

(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio)

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