When I ran first ran for Maine State Representative four years ago, I did so as the cashier at Colucci's, the neighborhood convenience store. Like many people my age, I had a college degree, considerable professional experience and yet found myself begging for the chance to make $8.00 an hour. There were no paid sick days, no health insurance and certainly no perks, but I was grateful to be working even if my feet and back hurt most of the time.
To be clear, there were no deep pockets itching to support the candidacy of a convenience store clerk. In fact, if it were not for Maine's Clean Elections system, I would not have been able to run at all. From behind the counter, though, I got to know people, their kids, their dogs and their personal stories. I won that election, and the next one.
While I've long since gone back to my professional career, I still work part-time at the store. It keeps me grounded, and keeps me focused on what really matters in life - people. To this day, when mom loses her job due to "cutbacks," I'm the one she confides in. When one of the local kids doesn't have "much food at home," I make sure they get a sandwich and a banana.
Earlier this week, I got home from work around midnight, flipped on my computer to unwind and ran across some news articles about Mitt Romney's 47% comments. I was so stunned, I had to watch the video. No one says this, right?
But there he was, in his own words, callously discussing his contempt for hard working Americans across this country:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what... These are people who pay no income tax.
This is the guy who refuses to disclose more than two years of his income tax returns, who allegedly stores money in offshore accounts and whose wife got a substantial tax break for her horse.
He presumed that because I was voting for President Obama that I didn't pay income taxes, that I relied on the government and that I saw myself as a victim. Worse, this is what he thought of my neighbors, the very people who had entrusted me all these years with their greatest fears and their most stunning struggles.
I beg to dream and differ, to quote Green Day.
It is on the backs of the so-called "47 percent" that the super rich -- including him -- have made their money. That position deserves respect.
We have clear choices in front of us -- vastly different views on who America is and what our core values are. Do we believe that individuals should pull the ladder up from behind them, or do we believe we're all in this together?
Mr. Romney clearly has never looked a man in the eye and watched his immense strength begin to crumble away as he explains why he was wearing an ER visitor's badge: his 19-year-old son was diagnosed with brain cancer -- that day.
I have, and I don't ever want to forget it.
Unlike Mitt Romney, I can't afford to live in a gated community where it's easy to just dismiss the stories of average everyday Americans. What's more, I don't want to.
I believe in an American Dream predicated on a system where everyone plays by the same rules, where the game isn't rigged to benefit the elite at the expense of the rest of us, and where a convenience store clerk can run for state office -- and win.
While Mr. Romney spends his time courting $50,000 donations from the 1%, I'm going to run for Speaker of the Maine House on the $5, $10 and $25 donations from the 99%.
In America -- even a convenience store clerk can make a difference.
Diane Russell is a Maine State Representative and was chosen by The Nation magazine as "Most Valuable State Representative" in its 2011 Progressive Honor Roll. You can follow her online @MissWrite.