Often discussions about political and societal issues come to an impasse, even anger. At first the discussion is about the problem, why it is a problem and then degrades from there. Blaming, finger pointing, name calling ensue. Sigh. The discussion breaks down. At this point so many issues become a battle ground and the two parties walk away convinced the other party is incredibly wrong (or ignorant or stupid or a communist or a socialist or a red neck, I am sure you have been there). Nothing gets resolved. Another layer of bricks is added to the wall separating people.

 

However, if we were to approach problems with the attitude that a solution is possible we may come to a satisfactory resolution. When my great grandmother was a little girl the idea of her going to college and becoming an engineer was not something she or her family or her society considered as possible. Three generations later my sister and I both went to college and my sister became an engineer. What was not considered a possibility is now an expectation. According to The Russell Sage Foundation’s published book, “The Rise of Women: The Gender Gap in Education and What It Means for American Schools”, women have had rapid educational gains since the 1960’s. One of my daughters has graduated from college and the second is not far behind. They were raised from the start with the belief that it was not 'if' but which college they would attend. The following graph from, The Economics of Higher Education A Report Prepared by the Department of the Treasury With the Department of Education December 2012, shows the surge in degrees earned by women.

Percent by Gender

Previous to The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 the possibility that children should not be required to work was not a possibility. Poor families knew their children would have to join the labor force. The possibility of laws preventing the use of children in labor was not considered a possibility. Child labor was considered a part of reality. Businesses cried, “But who will do the work? Costs will go up! We won’t be able to stay in business.” These are the same arguments being made about raising the minimum wage, “businesses will shut down if employees are given increased minimum hourly pay” (which even at the current suggestion of $10 an hour will not bring people out of poverty but will be a starting point.) The city of San Jose, CA has proven that a minimum wage increase can benefit the employee and the local economy.  According to San Jose Downtown Association unemployment has been reduced, the number of businesses has grown, the number of minimum wage jobs has expanded, average employee hours remained constant and the economy was stimulated. 40,000 minimum wage workers in San Jose have pumped more than $100 million into the local economy this past year, stimulating the economic growth. There were 84,000 businesses registered at the start of 2014 compared to 75,000 the previous year. San Jose Downtown Association reports that businesses grew by 3 percent in the past year, with the retail sector, which includes restaurants, increasing to 19 percent of all downtown businesses, up from 15 percent in 2012. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average number of hours worked in the San Jose metro area in 2013 is nearly the same as in 2012 (36.5 hours in 2013 vs. 36.9 hours in 2012). “Kids don't have a little brother working in the coal mine, they don't have a little sister coughing her lungs out in the looms of the big mill towns of the Northeast. Why? Because we organized; we broke the back of the sweatshops in this country; we have child labor laws. Those were not benevolent gifts from enlightened management. They were fought for, they were bled for, and they were died for by working people, by people like us. Kids ought to know that. That's why I sing these songs. That's why I tell these stories, dammit! No root, no fruit!” - Utah Phillips

Before December 1, 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the White section to a White passenger the possibility of equal civil rights for Black people seemed impossible. I am sure even Rosa herself had no idea of the domino effect her actions would have on desegregation. Like so many of us she was one person out of millions going about her life until one day she stood her ground. The efforts of Rosa and many others resisting the segregated system of the South were instrumental in bringing civil rights to Black people. This year on the anniversary of Selma we witnessed people who had been beaten while trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago walk hand in hand with our first Black president in a peaceful walk.

MLK Memorial

When Abigail Adams entreated her husband, “And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” The likelihood of a woman in politics, and feasibly even a president was not considered possible. Today we are seriously considering two women as viable candidates for president! Imagine.  In reality, few things are truly impossible. Impossible means, cannot be done, a proposed solution will never happen. Impossible: adj.adjective. 1- Incapable of having existence or of occurring. 2-Not capable of being accomplished. 3-an impossible goal. To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” And Sherlock Holmes, “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

Currently we have a situation in our country where the middle class is struggling and the income and equality gap is stretching. Yes, this has happened before. Historically there are many examples of a wealthy minority ruling and suppressing the majority. Yet, we have also frequently seen a majority rise up and demand a more equitable distribution of opportunity. Sometimes it was violent like The French Revolution. Often, though, it was legal and non-violent. The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey v. United States. Prague Spring. African-American Civil Rights Movement. The seed of each of these peaceful, non-violent revolutions started with one person. One individual had an idea that a change was necessary and that person spread their idea to others. Sometimes it is difficult to convince others. Sometimes it seems overwhelming and insurmountable. Sometimes it can take years.

If you find yourself in conversation with someone you disagree with try to be the person who says, “Ok, I will listen. How about we try this? How about we think of a possible solution?” Try not to be the person who says, “That will never work. It’s always been that way.” There was a time when a woman looked at her daughter and thought, “Women have never been able to go to school and neither will my daughter.” Think instead, “It’s possible my daughter may be an astronaut or a doctor or president.” It’s possible.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Deborah Baron

Deborah Baron

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