It started with one simple question posed by Senator Bernie Sandersto his constituents in an invitation to a town meeting: what does the decline of the middle class mean to you personally?
Over 700 people replied.
A second question was askedin his e-newsletter, The Bernie Buzz: do you have a story to tell about how gas prices are affecting you?
Over 1200 responses.
“The volume of responses was stunning,” Sanders told me. “Most people in my state – especially in rural areas – do not feel comfortable telling people about their struggles. ‘He has it worse than I do, I’ll be fine. Thanks for asking.’ It’s just not a natural thing [to share these struggles]…. The other point that has to be underlined – this is not an interview at the homeless shelter. These are letters from working families, from middle class families… [and] people who’ve worked their whole lives who expected to have a minimal degree of economic security but are now finding themselves with nothing.”
Here are some excerpts from the letters:
A mother and father in rural Vermont: “Due to increasing fuel prices we have at times had to choose between baby food/diapers and heating fuel. We’ve run out of heating fuel three times…. The baby has ended up in the hospital with pneumonia two of the times.”
A man in north central Vermont: “As bad as our situation is, I know many in worse shape. We try to donate food when we do our weekly shopping but now we are not able to even afford to help our neighbors eat. What has this country come to?”
A mother: “By February we ran out of wood [for the wood stove we use for heat] and I burned my mother’s dining furniture. I have no oil for hot water…. We are certainly a country in distress.”
A 55 year old man: “I have worked since age 16. I don’t live paycheck to paycheck, I live day to day…. I can see myself working until the day I die…. I work 12 to 14 hours daily and it just doesn’t help…. I am just tired, the harder that I work, the harder it gets.”
A man in a small town: “I have what I used to consider a decent job, I work hard, pinch my pennies, but the pennies have all but dried up…. I began selling off my woodworking tools, snowblower (pennies on the dollar), and furniture that had been handed down in my family from the early 1800s, just to keep the heat on. Today I am sad, broken, and very discouraged.”