Sean Davis came from the poorest of the poor, from the white-trash, from food stamps and toys made from boxes of government cheese—and he has a message for America.
My mother was a sixteen-year-old child when she found out she was pregnant with me. She had me at seventeen. My father was nineteen and already an alcoholic and drug abuser. Five years later he left her with three children and didn’t pay child support. Imagine yourself right now, 22 years old with three toddlers, on your own. She moved close to my maternal grandmother who worked at a cannery in the Bay Area, California. My grandfather was a 101st Airborne veteran from WWII and he drove cabs, trucks, worked at the Mint, and drank too much as well. They watched us when they could.
We lived in a one-bedroom apartment and my mom worked three jobs. She worked three jobs. Three jobs: waiting tables, making pizzas, cleaning hotel rooms. She was hispanic and never graduated from high school. Even with her three paychecks we still qualified for food stamps and welfare. My mother drew the wheels and little windows of buses and cars on the boxes the government cheese came in, and that’s what we played with. When I was seven or eight my mom would get home from a graveyard shift and sometimes send me to the store with food stamps for milk or cereal for us to eat. They weren’t the credit card they have today. The food stamps were bills, the bigger the value, the bigger the bill. The only way the store would let me buy anything was with a signed letter from her giving me permission to use them. Picture an eight year old child struggling to set a gallon of milk on the store counter and then unfolding a note from his mother with the big food stamp paperclipped to the corner of it.
She didn’t make enough money to pay federal income tax. In fact, tax time was her favorite time of year because we received a refund and she could finally catch up on buying us Christmas and birthday presents after she fixed the piece of shit car, because every year it needed something—tires, alternator, new battery.
Two years later she couldn’t do it anymore. The only way out was to give my brothers and me to our paternal grandparents. They were retired and lived off a modest pension and social security. My grandpa was a flight medic in WWII, left the service and started as a dog catcher in South City, San Francisco. A little less than thirty years later he was the head of public works and would dine regularly with the mayor of San Fran. They retired and moved to the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, into a trailerpark for couples 55 and older. They took us in. They didn’t pay income tax either.
Years later my alcoholic father came back in the picture and my brothers and I bounced from trailerpark to trailerpark with him. We were the worst of the white trash. Dad sold his foodstamps for half their value to buy booze. He worked under the table or at job just long enough to get fired and collect unemployment. Occasionally he paid taxes, but for the most part he used the system. He was the worst part of what Romney identified as his 47%. I can’t deny that.
I say this for a reason. Here’s my point: I lived both sides of the spectrum, and in the middle. My grandparents somehow survived with three small children on their meager income without asking the government for anything. My mother tried, but even with welfare couldn’t do it. My father abused the hell out of the system and for most of my childhood I was the filthy, white-trash kid that someone like Mitt Romney would look at and dismiss as a waste, someone who would never, never do anything with his life except be a draw on society. The sad part is that he would be right about the majority of people I grew up with, but not me.
As a Junior in high school I lived on my own in a one-bedroom house, went to classes during the day, and stocked shelves at the supermarket at night. I joined the military young and traveled the world. I defended democracy and saved lives in Haiti in 1995. I stayed in the military and had two amazing children then left in 1999. I enrolled in college and used the GI Bill, but before my second year, I left to join the military again the day after 9/11. I fought in the Iraq War and was critically injured, receiving a Purple Heart. My platoon of 30 to 40 men won the Presidential Unit Citation for their actions during that war. That is the same fucking medal they gave Seal Team 6 for killing Osama bin Laden. Later, I volunteered to save lives again during Hurricane Katrina and I did. I did save lives. After leaving the military for a second time it took me only five years to get my Associates, Bachelors, and Masters Degree. Now I help manage a national company and I have, myself, hired over 30 veterans this year.
My parents and my grandparents were the very bottom of Mitt Romney’s 47 percent. I would have been what Mary Matalin calls a parasite. I grew up with the poorest of the poor.
My point is that no one, no one, can tell where the good people will come from. No political consultant, no politician, no human being should be allowed to dismiss any part of the population as being useless to America. Isn’t that what the American Dream is? Isn’t it?
I’m not a registered Democrat. Being 39 I’ve only voted in a handful of elections and it’s been on both sides of the board. I voted against Clinton for Perot. I voted against Gore, and I’m sorry to say, for Bush the first time, for Kerry the second time. But my vote for President Barack Obama was the proudest one I cast. I saw a man who wanted to change what is wrong with the system and in these last four years I’ve seen him put into policy what he said he would, against incredible odds. It hasn’t happened yet, I know. As an employer I see it. I can’t pay people a living wage right now and it breaks my heart, especially when I see how these people live. They have roommates all the way up to their sixties. I know we are hurting. I see it every day and if there was a better way I would vote for it, but Romney isn’t it.
I will vote for President Obama again. I will do everything I can so he can finish what he’s started. I believe a president has more of an opportunity to get his policies passed during a second term. I know that my choice isn’t popular with some of my war buddies, some of the people I respect more than anything else in this world, but I need to do what I see as right. This is the best country on the planet. I know, I’ve been to many of the worst. In this country even the poorest kid, white trash, black, hispanic, even the poorest kid has a shot at becoming great. We’re all Americans. Let’s stop dividing the country into percentages and work together to move forward.
Also read The Breech, Sean Davis’ haunting first-person account of the humanity (and inhumanity) of war.
Photo of Purple Heart courtesy of Shutterstock. Photo of Sean Davis with kids courtesy of the author.