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Yolanda Reid Chassiakos

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Invite a Tea Partier to Tea

Posted: 09/15/10 04:35 PM ET

The devastating natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, California is only the latest in a series of tragedies affecting our country's infrastructure. Bridges are falling, roads are crumbling, dams are leaking. Needed renovations to the burst of building and implementation of new technologies during our post World War II golden years have been postponed or sacrificed at the altar of economic crisis. Leapfrogged by other countries in the First and Second Worlds over the last 30 years, we may soon find ourselves mourning more of our population as they fall victim to the accidents and mishaps caused by inadequate infrastructure maintenance and repairs. Focusing our resources on advancing the information highway does not mean we can ignore the concrete world in which we live.

Though our streets have not suffered literal aerial attacks, since 2001 anyway, the wars of our country have drained our economic coffers and left our neighborhoods and families damaged, and, in some cases, beyond repair. This devolution is most evident in California, where the post-war boom years resulted in an explosion of growth and development. After that "big bang," unlike our ever-expanding universe, we are now receding. Houses built with optimism stand empty and abandoned. Budgets are contracting, statewide, locally and at home. Furloughs and layoffs, foreclosures and bankruptcies are the most critical signs, but it's the little things that reveal how far this epidemic of depression has spread. Graffiti covering unpainted walls, streets unpaved and potholes gaping. Commercial districts and residential neighborhoods, even those keeping up appearances, are wearing an air of worn-out, their make-up unable to hide the wrinkles and age spots that seep through. We are, most of us, a step or two from the edge, and trying desperately to hold on.

Our president has to a good extent staunched the economic bleeding, but we are still in dire need of a transfusion. There are few donors, however, globally, and those who can donate lifeblood to our working and middle classes are either in denial or still vampiric in their hunger for more. Let the tax cuts for the uber-rich expire rather than watch the figurative and literal demise of the middle and working class. Otherwise, our cookies will continue to crumble, and our health and safety will slide ever faster downhill toward the abyss. Gridlock in congress, band-aids in the White House and sabotage from the vampires and the extremists will only lead to more explosions, more collapses, more erosion, more death. We have taken baby steps back from the cliff's lip, and we must not let the lip of Sarah, Glenn or Rush push us off the ledge and blind us to the need to rescue our population with the lifeline of social democracy and a functional safety net.

As we approach a critical election in November, I suggest that those of us of a progressive persuasion invite a "tea-bagger" to tea. Let us use a quiet conversation over Lipton's and scones to explain how the strategies of the extreme right such as privatizing Social Security would be harmful in the short and long term to their own self-interests. Sanctioned selfishness has led us to this point. We must all, especially those who benefited now temper our so-called "good" greed with a concern for each other and our future as a community and nation.

We are at a crossroads. Do we return to the golden years fading in our rear-view mirrors through a system of progressive taxation; peace at home and abroad; defense budget limits; and a commitment to housing, health care, a good education, and a good job for all; or do we drive towards a future with "Dangers Ahead," "Bridge Out"--a Dickensian world of imperial feudalism, where the oligarchs lounge in the clouds and the rest of us struggle to "breathe" in a suffocating "fog" of misery and poverty.

The choice, I hope, is ours. And we cannot afford to let those who endanger us drive.