She worked as a clerk at a pizza joint making $8 an hour. It took her 10 years to get through college. She has a mountain of student loan debt. She drives an old Mustang convertible with a top held up with duct tape.
She is my vote for president of the United States. Her name is Diane Russell. She is a member of the Maine Legislature, where she represents the people in the neighborhood where she grew up and still lives.
“I think of all the people who are stuck in $8-an-hour jobs with no hope of finding anything better and all the people who can’t find any job,” she said on a recent “Theater for Ideas” program, “Cut Their Salaries,” where she appeared via phone. I came to know her just a few days before through a petition she started on the national website Moveon.org in which she called for the salaries of members of Congress and the president of the United States to be cut if they are going to vote for cuts that will result in more misery for millions of Americans.
The richest nation in history is making cuts, but only on Americans who aren’t rich. The rich get benefits. Athletes get million-dollar contracts. CEOs get lavish bonuses. Giant corporations pay no taxes. Exxon Mobil, were they required to pay, would owe $6.2 billion. Facebook, with profits in the billions, is receiving $429 million tax refunds. Read that again. $429 million! $1.7 trillion — yes, trillion — is the amount of taxes American corporations in the Forbes 100 hide in offshore tax havens. These cuts have nothing to do with debt. They have to do with greed.
President Obama, who pledged to never cut Social Security and Medicare, as usual has lied and is proposing cuts to these programs that are a matter of life and death to millions. He and some members of Congress refer to these programs as “entitlements,” implying the recipients are selfish and greedy and undeserving. Really?
President Obama is the most entitled human being on the planet. He ran up a million-dollar bill to go to Denmark a few years back to lobby to get the Olympics in his hometown of Chicago. He failed. Rio de Janeiro got them. He could have used that money to create programs to combat the epidemic of murders of young people in Chicago, including a girl who played in her school band at his inauguration and the sister of a girl who sat behind him.
Members of Congress don’t even mess with Social Security and Medicare. Why should they? They vote themselves the finest health care plan and retirement package on the planet — that we pay for. The staggering poverty and inequality of wealth, the hopelessness and the despair, are of no concern to President Obama and most members of Congress. $2 trillion for the invasion of Iraq, $17 billion, how much would be saved in Pennsylvania with a single-payer health care plan. And we’re to believe that there’s no money for programs like Social Security and Medicare?
As guest Patty Hunter, a talk show host and a committee member of Three Rivers Art Center for Kids (TRACK), said to Diane, “What about people like me and my husband? We’re in our 60s with little hope of finding a job because of our age.”
Diane replied that many younger people can’t find a job, either. Diane called this government’s twisted priorities “unconscionable,” a word she used several times. President Obama is busy sending drones to kill innocent people in our names, even Americans in America, and while his own daughters will never have financial worries, he is indifferent to the plight of thousands of children in America who are homeless and hungry — a situation that prompted me to create TRACK to address.
TRACK has a simple concept: to use the best of our natures to help those who are victims of the worst. Artists will volunteer an hour or so a week to teach kids music, dance, writing, drawing and other disciplines; therapists will donate their time to talk with kids. Already we have an original song written and performed by two local artists; a dance choreographed by a local teacher and performed by her students; and a talk by a young woman who was raped by family members and who has turned her grief into a source of empowerment for others by sharing her story in schools, the subject of a feature story in this newspaper. For more information, go to Three Rivers Art Center for Kids on Facebook.
I think it’s fair to say that Diane Russell as president would find programs like TRACK essential, a priority in budget concerns. She has never forgotten her neighbors and her neighborhood. Her goal is not to punish them but to give them hope, to reward them for their hard work, which is why someone like her will never be president of these United States.
That she got elected state senator is hopeful, but as she points out, “You don’t need a title to work for a better society” and called for “a ripple effect of hope.” She, Patty and Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who has volunteered to take a pay cut, the people working to make TRACK a reality, are doing their share. What about you?