|"Courthouse," Sidney Larson, Acrylic, 1971|
As if the House were His—
And He owned all the Mourners—now—
And little Boys—besides—
And then the Milliner—and the Man
Of the Appalling Trade—
To take measure of the house—
There’ll be that Dark Parade—
These astute lines come from Emily Dickinson's poem that begins "There's been a death in the house opposite." Great poetry goes so far beyond its nominal subject matter, and this poem has been haunting me. Yesterday my husband and I went to court because my credit card company is suing me. A year and a half ago, we had the choice of paying our credit card bill or our mortgage, and we chose to keep our home. From 9 a.m to 10 a.m. there were about twenty others on the docket also being sued by the very same credit card. They probably had to make worse choices. In the gallery we sat, the legions against whom other banks, a local dentist, vehicle sales companies, and the Boone County Tax Collector have brought suit. On the other side of the bar (which is called "the well," I've just now discovered, because unlike most of the defendants in the court, I'm educated, employed, have access to the internet, and can engage in research), at tables, in chairs lined up against the wall, and in the jury box, the lawyers lounged around, professionally dressed, sometimes smiling smugly or talking amongst themselves behind their hands. We spectators watched as “the dark parade” marched on, a Dickensian dark charade in which the justice system unjustly and systematically goes about its business of disenfranchising people of their homes, wages, automobiles, and well-being.
I was crocheting an afghan as I watched the proceedings. The woman in front of me turned around to whisper, "That's so pretty."
|Thomas Hart Benton, "Kansas City,"1936, from Politics, |
Farming, and the Law, Missouri State Museum
|Eli Jacobi, All Night Mission, 1938|
I was preaching to choir, of course, and Craig answered, "Some of these people probably don't even know they're about to be evicted and their homes sold out from under them." And he's right. On the Boone County Collector webpage we find that very warning, clearly stated in bold letters:
Failure to receive a tax bill does not relieve the obligation to pay taxes and applicable late fees.
When we got home, I called my attorney, who is on a mission to help people like me. I was fortunate that I could cash out an IRA, and pay him his retainer. I was lucky because my attorney is patient and ethical and was willing to wait a month for me to come up with the funds. I told my attorney the latest: my husband, who is preparing our taxes, calculated that he’d made one-sixth the money he made in 2007, when our romance began. I make a good salary, and I am among the tiny minority of the middle-class who feels somewhat secure that I will keep my job. Until the crash, my husband, a small business man, was making a fine living. (Well, he's doing very well, even now, in comparison to others in his field.) One of the things that I find annoying is the common wisdom, promulgated by most the media on the left and the right, that somehow those of us who have debts we cannot pay were irresponsible when we took them on. This is misinformation. We did the math, looked at the moneys we could reasonably expect to receive in the future, and we took one of those balance transfer deals: 0% interest for the first 6 months, 3% percent for the next 6 months, etc. My husband had a contract that would have allowed us to pay off the whole debt and have a good sum left over. But that contract was cancelled. No, we were not irresponsible; we weren't paranoid enough. We assumed that the world economy would have ups and downs, not that corporate greed would bring about another great depression. My attorney listened patiently, and then said: "Welcome to my world. Your case is just like so many others I see. Then there are the folks whose homes have been illegally foreclosed, whom we are also trying to help."
I reported the courtroom scene and summed up, "The justice system is just a tool for the rich to rob from the poor and middle-class."
"Yes," my lawyer said, "We are governed by Wall Street," and so on, more preaching to choir. Or is it? Somehow I doubt that my attorney and I align ourselves with the same political organizations. The walls of our beautiful county courthouse in Columbia, Missouri are adorned with murals by Sidney Larson, whose teacher was Thomas Hart Benton. Benton, like Grant Wood, is often dismissed for his "regionalism" and his leftist political leanings. There was a time when I regarded these perhaps propagandistic murals as evidence that despite it all, this is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, with an unassailable First Amendment. I still believed passionately in our system, for all its flaws, despite the fact that the Supreme Court appointed President Bush, despite the unpatriotic Patriot Act. Despite everything, I considered myself a lefty, peace-nik, patriot. I was so happy after Obama was elected and I could go to Greece and not be embarrassed to be American. The American Civil Liberties Union's Executive Director, Anthony Romero, has said he's "disgusted" with Obama's record on civil liberties. Bill Quigley, a human rights lawyer, recently wrote an article worth reading, 20 Ways the Obama Administration Has Intruded on Your Rights
|From George Orwell's manuscript of 1984|
"Yes, of course you can. Please do."
"Well, that makes me happy. I'll go ahead and exercise my First Amendment rights."
"Yes...oh, wait a minute. In one my cases, the other side used my client's blog against her...