Shannon Mulcahy and Misplaced Blame

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Will Slater On the October 18th edition of The New York Times podcast, The Daily, host Michael Barbaro introduces his audience to Shannon Mulcahy. Shannon didn’t go to college, instead finding a low level job at her local steel mill in Whitestown, Indiana, near Indianapolis. As the decades went by, Shannon set herself apart at the mill, earning promotions and working her way up, eventually making a solid middle class salary. The job meant more than just a steady income to her, though, it was her identity, it was what she did best and how she contributed to her community. A little over a year ago, Shannon’s company announced plans to close her factory and open a more cost effective counterpart in Mexico, where the minimum wage is just below $4 USD/hour. Her factory closed a few months ago, and she’s been unemployed and lost since. Shannon is a product of globalization. She has peers who’ve lost their jobs to automation, who’ve been similarly trained for jobs that don’t exist anymore. The policy solutions are numerous and varied and frankly somewhat beyond my understanding. But for Latin students, those solutions are at least in part peripheral at this stage of our education. What matters more is that we recognize that these people, like Shannon, exist. These people who are immensely skilled, but whose skills don’t equate to money or comfort anymore. As we drive through Gary, Indiana, the once industrial giant, and chuckle at the sight of trees sprouting out of abandoned buildings, it’s worth remembering that somebody once lived there and worked there and was proud of it. The same appreciation, or at least awareness, should stretch beyond the financial and identity struggles of the working class. For instance, as some condemn and shame the NRA and gun rights supporters in the wake of mass shootings, it’s worth remembering who many of those people are. Many grew up with guns, and are disturbed not that weapons are available and widespread, but that in most states they wouldn’t have the chance to save their friends and family, the chance kill a shooter slaughtering people in movie theater, a school, a concert or a church. Few things are as simple as we make them. At this point, the issue isn’t even that many of us don’t like guns or that we fear them – we don’t like people who like guns, or think they need them. In refusing to grasp this, and adjust our tone, anti-gun liberals are complicit in gun deaths too, not just staunch, pro-gun conservatives. In her politics class, Ms. Gallagher, in response to Shannon Mulcahy’s story, shared how lucky she feels to have always based her voting decisions on ideology, not personal necessity. Manufacturing jobs like Shannon’s were never going to be coming back, but it’s hard to blame Shannon for voting for candidate whose priority seemed to be helping her keep her job. Shannon has a college age daughter and bills to pay. In her eyes there wasn’t much of a choice. There also wasn’t a choice in 2012, when she, worried about a potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act, voted to reelect Barack Obama. A lot can rest on a single issue. So, to sit back and call the 46% of Americans who voted for Donald Trump and the 38% who approve of him today racist or misogynistic is just irresponsible and unfair. There’s no doubt that America faces indefinite battles against racism, sexism and homophobia. It’s also true that both policy and dullness with words on the part of the President has emboldened and empowered white nationalist groups. But, to place the blame solely on the shoulders of the President and, more damagingly, his supporters, for mass institutional and personal injustice is shortsighted. Context for people’s political stances is worth seeking out. We’re in the midst of one battle within a revolution we’ve been fighting since 1776. We won independence long ago, but the true revolution, the fight for the earth shattering yet distinctly human values of equality and freedom – for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, wages on. As the world urbanizes and modernizes, no one can get left behind in our progress. Starting with people like Shannon Mulcahy, we need to start telling the stories of people who live very different lives than ours, which orbit downtown Chicago. Shannon was moved to tears as she tried to articulate just how afraid she was and how valueless she felt. Some of those feelings may be inevitable, but they can never be ignored or scoffed at. There’s plenty of blame to go around for disunity and cynicism, but it can’t be targeted at almost half the country. Some context, some brand of empathy, is needed.]]>