By John W. Whitehead
In my lifetime I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind. Nor, for that matter, are they the least bit interested in me or anything I have to say.”—Joe Stack
On Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010, 53-year-old, financially strapped software engineer Joseph Stack crashed a small plane into an IRS office building in Austin, Texas. He left behind a wife, a stepdaughter and a suicide note he had posted on his software company’s website. By the following day, the various media pundits on the right and left had already dismissed Stack as a fringe lunatic, and anyone who agreed with Stack’s diatribe against an unjust government was labeled a crackpot. However, while you can--and should--disagree with the method of Stack’s madness, Americans shouldn’t be too quick to discount the source of his frustrations.
Clearly, Stack is neither a hero nor a martyr. Nor is he technically a terrorist. Rather, he is the end product of a system that pays little heed to the disaffected, discontent and voiceless. And while Stack may have been alone in the cockpit of that Piper Cherokee plane, he is not alone in his discontent and frustration.
Stack is representative of a burgeoning class of disaffected Americans who are waking up to the reality that the American governmental system no longer works as it was intended--that is, it no longer works for them. In its place, a government of elites comprised of politicians and unelected bureaucrats has emerged that views the average American as little more than a source of tax funds and labor to keep the massive machinery of government operating. We have shifted from having a government that is “of the people, by the people, for the people” to one that is largely seen as predatory, a “government of wolves.”
Unfortunately, most Americans are so caught up in their own hectic day-to-day lives that Joe Stack stands to become just one more passing media sensation without anyone giving any real thought as to why he chose to end his life as he did. Yet if we allow this incident to quickly fade into media oblivion, we will be doing a great disservice to all those like Stack who are suffering under the crushing weight of economic hardship, hopelessness and despair.
So what should we glean from this seeming exercise in futility?
Is it a populist lesson, as Stack states in his suicide note, “that there are two ‘interpretations’ for every law; one for the very rich, and one for the rest of us”? Is it a reality check that we “live in a country with an ideology that is based on a total and complete lie”? Is it a social commentary on the “incredible stupidity of the American public; that they buy, hook, line, and sinker, the crap about their ‘freedom’… and that they continue to do so with eyes closed in the face of overwhelming evidence and all that keeps happening in front of them”?
I would venture to say that it is all of these things and one thing more: an act of abject desperation from a man who had been pushed to the breaking point. “I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand. It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country, and it isn’t limited to the blacks, and poor immigrants. I know there have been countless before me and there are sure to be as many after,” writes Stack. “But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change. I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at ‘big brother’ while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough.”
That said, Joe Stack is not “D-FENS,” the white-collar worker in the 1993 film Falling Down who goes on a shooting rampage after being pushed to the edge by a myriad of frustrations. This guy didn’t work within the system to fight back--he’s no Tea Party patriot. Instead, he checked out--and that’s an important distinction--and is signaling to others that perhaps they, too, need to follow his lead.
The Joe Stacks of the world should be a wake-up call to Americans that it’s time to shake themselves out of their zombie-like stupor and realize that there is a growing segment of our nation that is at the end of their ropes. These are not bad people, nor are they extremists. Rather, they are average Americans who have lost faith in the government’s ability to meet their most fundamental needs.
The question is: what are we going to do about these disaffected, disconnected and discontent Americans? How do we reach out to them and persuade them that there is a better solution than the one-way exit proffered by Stack? Note, by “we,” I’m not referring to the politicians or law enforcement officials or any other government official who might view this as a problem behavior to identify, stamp out and sweep under the rug.
It comes back to what I’ve said all along: if there is to be any hope of turning things around, it will have to start with “we the people” first recognizing that there is a problem and then working toward a solution together.
The problems are right in front of you. They’re in your local communities, in the neighbor who is out of work or the co-worker who may be in danger of losing her home. It’s in the growing number of children who live in poverty and go to bed every night hungry--now estimated at nearly 14 million children in America. It’s in the more than 39 million people who are subsisting on food stamps--6 million of whom have no other source of income. That translates to roughly 1 in 4 children in America on food stamps, and 1 in 50 Americans now living in a household with a reported income that consists of nothing but a food stamp card.
These are issues that Stack addressed generally in his suicide note, only to be derided by some commentators for spouting socialist or populist propaganda. But that’s the problem with people who can’t distinguish between politics and basic human decency. They have lost sight of their humanity. Frankly, there is nothing wrong with suggesting that a nation as affluent as the United States should not abide by this kind of suffering.
It’s obvious that our politicians are not about to change. They are going to continue to promise a lot while doing very little, all the while spending our hard-earned tax dollars on lavish, jet-setting lifestyles. The problem with the Joe Stacks of the world is that they keep relying on government to fix the problems, but government officials are not going to fix them because most of them don’t really seem to give a damn.
So what’s the cure to the disaffected and alienated ones among us? It’s you and me. It’s our churches and synagogues and private institutions. In fact, if the churches in America would open soup kitchens and open their doors to the homeless, no one would have to go hungry or sleep out in the cold.
Thus, it’s each and every one of us--young and old, single and married, white collar and blue collar, liberal and conservative, religious believer and atheist alike--reaching out and chipping in and working in our communities to fix these problems from the ground up.
That’s the wake-up call, America. Is anyone listening?