It’s good to be part of a trend. My family has been countercultural for so long that it’s a nice change. We have shopped exclusively at thrift stores for years and squinted to watch a tiny old TV…then just when shopping was flatly declared a thing of the past, we finally sprang for the giant flatscreen we’d been saving up for, as well as that MacBook. Always against the grain.
But now, finally, a trend emerges which I am solidly part of. Populist Rage. I haven’t been following the media in order to learn more about this, so I don’t know what the rest of the populist is most enraged about, but I’m there. I’m enraged.
Since I haven’t followed the actual news stories on right-wing or mainstream media outlets, I’m not sure if I actually qualify as populist. I know that often in right wing radio I am part of the liberal elite, the non-real America, so pardon me if I’m not sure if my rage is real American rage right now. Certainly, the problems I have are the problems of a privileged person, a person with dollars and hours to lose without ending up on the streets as some people would. So maybe, once again, I’m against the grain.
I think of Agnes Angst, the punk rock character that Lili Tomlin brought to life in the 1980’s, who said, “No matter how much contempt I have for society, it is nothing compared to the contempt society has for me.” It’s hard to feel I can generate enough rage, populist or otherwise, to meet the forces that enrage me.
I’m not even particularly focused at Bernie Madoff, the greedy Wall Street bankers, or any of the other targets of rage du jour. I’m still processing rage that’s been building for decades!
Today, for instance, is April 8. It is also the first day I have woken up knowing that the phone service for which I have been paying BOTH Qwest and Comcast since February 15 finally, actually, works. That someone could call me on my primary phone line and reach me. People will no longer leave baffled messages on my cellphone or email saying, “That number you gave me just rings and rings.” Never mind that I will never know how many people gave up on trying to find me. Because, hey, Comcast has offered me $50 for my trouble.
Repeated calls to both companies have taken me dozens of hours—lunch hours, evening hours, work hours. My AT&T cellphone minutes were over last month for the first time ever—I haven’t studied the bill but I’d be willing to bet I know why.
But where would I turn to alleviate this anger? To another big company? I was a loyal Verizon customer for about seven years, paying my cellphone bills on time each month. When I finally changed providers, I had a heart to heart talk with the woman on the phone, telling her I was leaving for AT&T ONLY because I wanted an iPhone but I had really loved Verizon’s service. She commiserated, told me that she wanted an iPhone herself. I thought we were friends. Was I surprised to receive a $500 bill for terminating my service a week early—it turns out a minor change I had made, unbeknownst to me, had extended my contract with them! Wouldn’t you think my dear friend might have mentioned this to me as we chatted? Again, hours of phone calls throwing tantrums netted me splitting the difference with them—after all, they said, I should have asked. No doubt I should have.
But I’m not singling out Comcast or Verizon. It’s all of them. When I bought my daughter an iPhone for Christmas and went to renegotiate our AT&T family service contract, it turned out that I’d been overbilled by almost a thousand dollars last year! Luckily a guy was honest enough to point this out to me, since I had obviously not tracked that I was paying twice a month in an obscure way too complicated to explain. But after he copped to it, his boss clearly chewed him out, so that after he went to the back room to meet with her, he came back looking quite guarded and told me the maximum they could reimburse me was $250. After all, I should have noticed. No doubt I should have.
So, here’s my rage: It comes from hour after hour of listening to muzak and recorded voices that tell me how much Fill-In-The-Blank Corporation cares about my patronage when I know from firsthand experience that they could care less about me. One of my most desperate, helpless, moments in my ongoing fights with Comcast was when I heard myself say, “I’m going to post this on my facebook page. And I have LOTS of friends!”
I’ll tell you this, which all of my facebook friends and everyone else I’ve ever spoken to knows in their cells and bones: Corporations and their lack of willingness to take responsibility for good service are the source, not the solution, of our rage. No one will be able to tell people like me, who have lost lunch hours and credit ratings and thousands of dollars because of their irresponsibility that our hope for a better life lies in continued favoritism for corporations and privatization of government services. Because we talk to our friends on or off Facebook, and we know better.
– from the mind of the Rev. Meg Riley