Saturday, May 26, 2007

Not a "free" country

I was in the crowd at the Carpentersville Illinois Village Hall on October 3rd, about five “layers” back from the door. They gave me number 69 of 212 tickets into the chambers. Behind me were the protesters with their megaphone and their flags waving. Estimates range from 1000-3000 pro-illegal protesters, most bussed in from Chicago.

One flag display was particularly disturbing to me. They had Old Glory attached to a pole back-to-back with the Mexican flag. I suppose the symbolism they were trying to achieve was unity or equality. But I was taught that every other banner dipped to the American Flag here in the United States. It just seemed wrong to have her half covered up at the same height as another flag.

A stocky young boy with short brown hair and olive skin was circulating through the crowd. He looked like a middle schooler, about 14. He kept repeating to no one in particular, “I thought this was supposed to be a free country.”

I wanted so desperately to take him on a tour. I wanted to show him the kitchen where “free” school lunches are prepared, to let him see that someone writes checks to food vendors, employees, and delivery drivers. Someone paid for those free lunches.

I wanted to explain to him that when a family couldn’t afford to pay the fees at the beginning of the school year, that everyone else’s fees went up a little bit to make up for it.

I wanted to take him to the administration office of his school district so he could see that bilingual education meant separate textbooks, teachers, classrooms, and sometimes school busses.

I wanted to show that young man how free health care at the emergency room wasn’t just “written off”, but that sometimes the hospital gets paid by the government (tax money), and sometimes those with insurance and deductibles subsidized it, and sometimes the hospital just closes its doors, which makes everyone in town suffer.

I wanted to show the boy a property tax bill that funds city services and schools. You see, taxes are assessed based on demand coming from the home and services going back into the home, with some “good of the community” revenue thrown in. For example, we depend on those families where the kids have grown to continue to fund the schools. School districts and municipalities rely on an analysis often called the Naperville Study to know what the demands will be and tax accordingly. Things go out of whack quickly when too many people live in a home intended for two adults and two children.

Villages need to meet payroll and provide services, so everybody pays for overcrowded housing. And too much overcrowding in the neighborhood makes my home worth less. Again, someone else is paying for what this boy thinks is free.

And I wanted to take him to Arlington National Cemetery where we could walk the rows of white markers. I wanted to explain to him that for well over 200 years people have paid with their lives for this “free” country, and every week more people not much older than this young boy are still paying the price.

No son, in so many ways America is not a free country.

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