Hit the Road, Joad
As some may recall, I wrote this – my absolutely favorite piece I ever wrote – back in 2017 and posted it on my blog. I shared it on Twitter recently and someone told me it seemed as germane as if I’d written it today. I figured, why waste it when instead I could start a massive flaming argument and have people call me all kinds of nasty names?* * *
Why do poor people stay in economically depressed areas? Why don’t they move where the jobs are? It’s a question that’s been asked repeatedly since the Batshit Crazy Election of 2016 (patent pending), from both liberals and conservatives alike, usually with an implied sneer.
Those frickin Trumpers, those Rust Belt idiots, why don’t they just move to where the jobs are?
It seems so easy, so obvious. This poor family in Gary, Indiana or Mobile, Alabama or St. Louis or Detroit and all the dying rural areas all across our glorious nation should just toss their grapes of wrath into the family jalopy like the Joads did and go to California where the jobs are plentiful and high paying, hanging off the trees like oranges ready to be picked. Aren’t they? Oh, bummer. Ok. Well maybe instead they should move to Boston where there are empty textile factories just waiting for a flood of unskilled employees…oh, wait, I suppose that was 1817, not 2017.
To say this a different way, what jobs? Where are these magic jobs to which you are referring?
(Most) Liberals seem to think that cities – the great big ginormous trendy awesome ones, that is, not measly puny lame pathologically uncool ones like Omaha or Spokane – are the answer to everything. Because culture. And diversity, maybe, but liberals all too often seem unable to fathom the shocking concept that a whole lot of people who live in rural and/or economically depressed areas ARE minorities.
Helpful hint: not everyone in a poor and/or depressed area is a white person who voted for Trump but when you insult one of us for living where and how we do, you insult us all. Think about that while my husband drags his poor non-Trump-voting Native American ass to work at the county dump to take care of your recyclables for you.
(Many) Conservatives seem to think that poor people of every hue are poor by virtue of stupidity, squandering meager resources on shiny booping gewgaws and fantasy football leagues and the Demon Rum, only in beer form. And even though it’s set into their DNA to have a shiftless, lazy nature they need to get off their obese soda-swilling asses and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Instead of giving them money to continue struggling to survive we need to bribe them to move somewhere different and struggle to survive there.
(And the cons may even be right a little bit. Certainly a much closer hit than the liberals, at any rate. U sank my Battleship.)
The reality is, there are no jobs. They don’t exist. They certainly don’t exist in the kind of numbers that it would take to employ a mass exodus of Joads like me.
Here’s a chilling thought – we could drive our third-hand 1987 Winnebagos into a vacant lot in a charming neighborhood near YOU and start hanging out our laundry and deep frying turkeys and shooting guns into the air in celebration. What would you do with us all, if you had us? Love us? Bring us plates of cookies and a Welcome Wagon basket? Of course you wouldn’t. You would march right down to City Hall and demand that something be DONE about these squatters. Forcible removal, if necessary. You know you would.
But even if the Joads were greeted with open arms, should this voyage occur it would cause a cultural upheaval on a scale not seen for generations and certainly never in Modern America where cultural upheaval tends to make people feel rather uncomfortable (the Year 2020 read this line and said “LOL”). It would cause problems, real problems, huge and massive problems. Havoc and chaos and borderline insanity would ensue as the Jobless Joad Hordes invaded. There would be tent cities and social unrest and thieving and carnage and possibly, probably violence. People, up to and including Very Adorable Children, could easily end up starving and riddled with disease and even dying in the streets as cities struggled to contain them. This unprecedented migration would have ripple effects that would disrupt the entire nation in ways we can’t even imagine.
You want this to happen? Really? I very seriously doubt it. But you don’t live in the real world, do you, you clever, clever person. You don’t live in the real world where actions have consequences and millions of people pulling up stakes and traveling across the country to whatever the hot city of the moment is in search of work that doesn’t exist, all of them homeless and growing poorer by the day, actually affects your day to day life. Those things could never touch you because you are afloat in the clouds, far removed from the struggles of we mere mortals down here on Earth. You are an Educated Person. A member of the elite. Don’t blush, you know it’s true. You’re better than us. We know you think it already, may as well admit it right out loud. We won’t judge. We Joads aren’t a judgy folk.
It’s very easy for super geniuses such as yourself to sit behind a computer screen and theorize, convinced that you are, in fact, a Superior Being, imagining moving folks around like pieces in a game of Risk. Speculating about how, if there were just LESS troglodytes here, and fewer bumpkins there, and a small reduction in hoodlums overall, everything would be better, fairer, and would function so much more smoothly. But you’re a dreamer if you believe that, a pipe dreamer, and what is worse is, you’re a stupid, uninformed pipe dreamer who wants to set social policy based on your naive fantasies and not reality.
Ok, I may have possibly judged.
The fact of the matter is, most Joads are best off staying right where they are. You know why? Let me tell you. It is because there are resources BEYOND money. WHAT?!? I know it’s hard to believe, so let me repeat. In a stunning development, it has been recently discovered by exceedingly large-brained economists that not all resources come in the form of cold hard cash. There are resources – other, non-financial resources – that help one and one’s offspring to survive, and even thrive, even without much money. People who have always had money don’t understand this, because, well, they’ve always had money. If they have to move, they hire a moving company, they don’t ask a buddy with a pickup. If they need a car repair, they go to the shop and not to their cousin who’s good with cars. If their house needs paint or repairs, they call a contractor and take bids instead of making their teenagers do it over summer vacation. Some of these non-financial resources, not entirely unlike money, take a lifetime to accrue and if you squander them, piss them away chasing a non-existent job in The Big City, they’re gone forever.
When you don’t have money, you develop these other resources, bigly. Social currency in the form of family and friends and work contacts (people get a LOT of jobs via friends and work contacts, too, by the way) is invaluable.
Predictability of environment is a major resource and anyone who’s never had to live without it takes it for granted – imagine how functional YOU would be if someone dropped you in a whole new locale where you didn’t know a soul and you had to find a job and a place to live and a decent doctor and and a non-crooked mechanic and a dentist who took payments and a school for your kids and a grocery store – all with no money.
Stability for yourself and especially, especially your children? Priceless.
Even your stuff itself, those belongings like socks and toothpaste and cleaning supplies and Christmas decorations that you have accumulated slowly over time and would have to leave at least some of behind or sell for a pittance and replace slowly over time at full price if you moved, are a huge resource.
Just the sheer amount of work and money expended to move is substantial. The price of moving itself is actually something that is beyond the ability of many families to afford. That’s right, not blowing the money you do have on moving is a resource in and of itself.
Poor people stay where they are not because they are stupid shiftless nincompoops, but because they have done the math and it isn’t worth losing their non-financial resources to go to a place where there probably aren’t going to be any better jobs for people like them anyway.
Imagine it – to go where you’re not wanted, to live among people who despise you, look down upon you, who don’t share your culture and your values, and with whom you have nothing in common? To leave your family and friends, your social safety net and all your connections, to trade love and companionship for loneliness and isolation? To give up a home that you may own or can rent cheaply at least, to live in an apartment in a strange city with a rent at least 5 times as high in a food desert without a grocery store? To sell off most of your belongings and burn through much of your spare cash (if not using credit, because it’s most likely that this adventure will be funded by a credit card) to finance a move that even under ideal circumstances is a huge gamble and since circumstances are very rarely ideal, is likely to end up with you in worse straits than you were to begin with?
Why would you? The Joads would be fools to do it. And believe it or not, we aren’t fools.
It doesn’t. Make any. Sense. For most. Of us. To move.
QUIT SAYING IT before desperate people start believing you and you wake up to a homeless horde of hungry Joads camping in your city park and saying “We came, did you build it?”
Because nobody’s going to build it. We know nobody’s going to build it. We may as well stay the eff at home and conserve the substantial non-financial resources we do have. Just quit bitching us out for staying put when we both know you thank God every day that we do.
In many ways, we’re richer than you anyway. There is an irony in city dwellers clucking their tongues and telling anybody to move anyplace. Because there is, and always has been, a right flood of cityfolk who hate living in the urban jungle and work awfully hard to get out of the situation. That is why Connecticut exists and why Washington State is spilling over with Californians. Plenty of people despise the big city rat race they’re running and want desperately to have what many po’ folk already have – more leisure time, more freedom, more community, a more authentic life.
We are blessed, bitches. And plenty of you want what WE have.
Yet another non-financial resource that the “u idjits should move” advocates fail take into account. We Joads may very well like where we live. It may very well be better than where you live, jobs or no. People dream of living in the country and exchange money and job security for the privilege all the time. And it ain’t just the country, either. Many Rust Belt neighborhoods are vibrant communities full of happy people who may not always be flush with cash but who enjoy each other and enjoy life and love their neighborhood and their home and look out for one another in a way that Manhattanites can only dream of. They may not WANT to be gentrified, they may not WANT Amazon to come to town. They may just want clean drinking water. Flyover Country is chock full of fine people in good places even if said places don’t have as many vegan restaurants as Brooklyn does.
Your priorities are not our priorities. Deal with it.
And besides that, besides any of that. Set all that I just said aside. Stick a pin in it and put it on the cork board. None of it matters anyway, because you NEED us. You need us Joads out here. Because every day, city folks, we are doing stuff for you. You don’t see it, so intent ye be on the myth that the hoity-toitiest of cities are the true driving force behind the economy and ruminating upon how important your Very Important Academic Career is in the Grand Scheme of Everything, but we are. The biggest, richest, most liberal cities may be the brains of the nation (dubious snort, I’ll give it to you tho) but the rest of us are the heart and the guts. I know the “we grow ur food” angle is obvious and the card has been played to death, but we actually kinda do. At least till y’all get that plan going to turn the tops of buildings into hydroponic gardens going like you always say you’re going to someday. #goforit #imwaiting #whatstheholduphere
But wait, there’s more. There are layers upon layers of economic activity out here in the boondocks that maybe you, Smartypants McSnootyface, have never even stopped to consider. Because it’s not just this picturesque gang of self-reliant straw-chewing taciturn farmers dotted evenly across the open plains, you see. There are all the people who run the small cities and towns that support those farmers. There are gas stations and grocery stores and tire shops and tractor dealerships and autoparts stores and all people who work in them. We Joads waitress in restaurants where the farmers eat and we teach the farmer’s kids in the local schools and we drive the school bus that gets those kiddies to school. There are Joad lawyers and Joad doctors and dentists and chiropractors and barbers and dog groomers. Joads fix the streets and train tracks and like my intrepid husband, they dump everybody’s garbage.
My people are everywhere, we are legion.
They’re shockingly living even in cities without an abundance of farmers like Flint, Michigan and Jersey City because this ISN’T ABOUT FARMING and they matter, and they vote, and their votes and lives count just as much as yours do, Internet Warriors of Social Engineering Justice.
We haven’t even talked about logging. Or mining. Or manufacturing, which is still going on in all those Rust Belt locales and lots of little unimpressive cities all over the US, whether you know it or not. Or recreation. (hey, don’t ya love the state and national park system – people actually work at those! MIND BLOWN!)
All of these things that we goddamn annoying Joads provide for the sacred residents of Panem every freaking day and you citiots don’t even know that they’re happening. It’s like you think your belongings fell from the sky where the heavenly scientists live into the nearest Urban Outfitters and that the whole entire universe was created just 4 u. You’re like a pampered princess who has had a poor maid dress and undress her every day since birth and then throws a fit and demands the maid’s head on a platter the first time her gown is the least bit uncomfortable. Your discomfort is-eth not mine problem, Princess. I didst not make thine dress nor select it for-est thou. I just worketh here.
You take the results of our labor for granted and tell us to move because you don’t like how an election came out while you lie to our faces and claim it’s cause you don’t like having to pay a slightly higher percentage per capita of tax dollars to support all the things that WE ARE CONSTANTLY DOING FOR YOUR STUPID USELESS ASSES but really it’s cause you don’t like how an election came out.
And while you may take solace from your belief that all of us Joads out here in Nowheresville, USA are disposable opioid-addicted losers who should blindly accept your stern-yet-loving hand steering the till of our country to a brave and glorious future in which there are men in every woman’s bathroom that currently lacks them, the fact is most of us are fully functional, normal, responsible people who are perfectly capable of directing our own lives and know a hell of a lot about the needs of our families and the requirements of our own freaking communities than you do. I don’t care how long you sat your dumb ass in college looking at a textbook that purports to tell you what people like us think feel and need, you know-nothing know-it-alls. You have no clue.
You would literally die in a week if not for us. And that’s not a threat, it’s a promise.
We maintain your power supply. We maintain your roads, all of them, across the whole US of A not only so you can drive upon these roads with your beautiful new cars, but also so we, the trusty and reliable Joad clan, can drive tractor-trailers (that is a fancy word for trucks) full of goods and materials upon them. We carry these goods from the people who actually MAKE AND GROW THINGS into the city where the whole lot of you seem to manage to somehow live by writing Very Important Tweets on computers and phones. Computers and phones that only exist because awful men like my husband Joad-y dismantle the old ones to recycle the expensive metallurgical components within, that other awful awful men like Joadward and Joadixander originally extracted from the Earth’s crust decades ago with their bare fucking hands (while possibly wearing gloves).
We Joads drill your oil and turn it into gas and then we drive that gas to the gas station in these super big dangerous tanker trucks while you get in our way because you’re wandering all over the road whilst texting on your iPhone 11. We dig the coal from the ground and while coal’s heyday may be over, the power contained within silly old coal, that useless useless stuff built the cities in which you now live and your beloved urban lifestyle you presently enjoy wouldn’t exist without it.
We keep the effluvia from backing up in your toilet and overflowing all over your Italian tile floor constructed from clay that some a-hole Joad dug up from the ground and held together with mortar made from minerals that some dumbcluck Joad also dug up from the ground. And you know why we are able to do this?? Because we live HERE where minerals exist and not in a city where everything is covered by cement or asphalt.
So you’ll forgive me if I don’t apologize and beg your forgiveness that rural America receives a slightly disproportionate percentage of tax money per capita than urban America does. It’s because we are doing things out here that YOU NEED to survive. And you’ll forgive me if I don’t apologize for Trump, either. I didn’t vote for Trump but I understand 110% why so many people did and your ridick childish meltdown tantrum in the years since only galvanized my belief that you are a dangerous pack of spoiled fascist lunatics who are fully in control of the press and Hollywood. Yet you have no sway over the Joad Clan’s opinions, as much as it infuriates you not to.
You people have done nothing but spit into our faces for 30+ years and it is ending now. We’re fed up, we’re pushing back. Quite a few of us are ready to blow it up rather than service your needs any more, while patiently hoping you maybe throw us a scrap from your table, which we built for you lovingly out of wood we cut down in an expedition that killed a man and oh yeah we also provided all the food for your banquet.
I know, I know, it needed salt. We’ll try harder next time.
Actually, we won’t. We’re done playing nice. Because it hasn’t gotten us anyplace. You dishonor us, you mock us, you tell us to shut up and eff off when we try to explain to you what reality is on things we know way more about than you, like about our own goddamn lives and what our communities are like and the thoughts in our misshapen belumped opiate-addled Joad heads.
You are NOT our betters, you’re actually our worsers.
And it ain’t Fox News doing this, honeychildren, it’s you, because you’re just that odious that we literally cannot hold our noses and choke it down to keep the peace another second. We tried but you wouldn’t meet us even a fraction of the way. You are the reason Fox News exists, because you’re so shallow, so repulsive, so mean and arrogant and rude, that some of us will turn to anything that isn’t YOU and you control every other flipping thing on the whole goddamn planet and it still isn’t enough for you.
They say the universe is pretty much empty space. But America is the opposite of that. It isn’t just empty space. It has all this STUFF in it, important stuff, in the places that some people like to pretend is nothing but empty space. This stuff is people and these people matter. They are of value and they have culture and art and beauty too even if it’s different than yours and they have just as much right to exist as you do. IN THEIR OWN HOMES. Without being told by rich elitists who have benefited hugely off of the system (which at least half of them admit is fundamentally unfair and stacked against the poor to begin with but they somehow manage to conveniently forget all that while Joad-bashing) to “just move.” You want to help us move? How’s about we skip a step and you help us NOW and we don’t have to do the whole moving and then us begging you for spare change on a street corner part?
It is just about entirely bizarre in a nation that manages to scrape together $39 billion in foreign aid and $135 billion to cover the cost of illegal immigration and even $1.5 billion straight to movie studios that no one has a single solitary suggestion for revitalizing this vast and critically necessary swath of our own freaking country other than “just move, stoopid!” Anyone with half a brain could maybe say “hmm how about some nice juicy tax incentives, Bill Gates, I’m looking at you here” or “let’s build some affordable housing in small towns instead of big cities perchance” or “maybe let’s not make people in counties with less than 10,000 people pay property taxes” or any number of things – and these aren’t even good suggestions, they’re just the first things I came up with off the top of my head.
And I’m sure they do stuff like that but it IS NOT ENOUGH obviously DUH. We don’t want to move. We just want jobs that pay enough to cover our health insurance and have a little bit left over at the end of the month to pay our deductibles with. I know you’ll try to lean in and hiss “the jobs are gone, learn to code” into my ear but the jobs are gone in no small part because you elite mofos in all your great wisdom have screwed with the economy so much over the last 50 years that things are malfunctioning. Bad.
Yet you want us all to squeeze our eyes shut and stick our fingers into our ears and say “yes this economy is entirely normal.” It isn’t. And I’m a hardcore libertarian and I don’t even like things like subsidies and tax breaks at all, not at all, but ffs, if you’re gonna be handing out dough left and right, how about shooting a little more of it to the Heartland?
Because if the heart dies, the brain will quickly follow. It’s Biology, people!
But no. (Most) Liberals and (many) conservatives love to hand out cash to any special interest group that comes to them begging with puppydog eyes. Yet somehow the people who actually do the hard and dirty work of making America run are just this big pain in everyone’s ass and they should just shut up and move to where the nonexistent imaginary jobs are.
another helpful hint: if everyone learns to code, pretty soon there will be a hell of a lot of unemployed coders joining the ranks of the Joads. Welcome, brothers and sisters.
The idea that poor people could own land, could aspire to own their own home is something very uniquely American. You may say that this development came through oppression and on the backs of human beings and you’d be entirely correct, but still, on balance, it is a step in the right direction. A step towards equality, true equality.
The poor can own land here. Isn’t that incredible?
It’s extraordinary because historically it has never been that way. Before America, land was owned mostly by wealthy nobility – the landed gentry – and if you weren’t wealthy and you weren’t nobility you had to be serf or a servant. An employee. Forever. In perpetuity, because your children would be as well. You had little hope of ever getting ahead, of rising in social standing, becoming a rich man or even simply a comfortable one.
I sometimes think that’s what the elitists really want. A return to the good old days back when the lower classes knew their place. A Dickensian world in which the poor are forced into the cities where they can be kept tucked away out of sight so no one has to see or deal with them. Sequestered in tenements, the Joads could finally be good little cogs and work menial jobs for slave wages to pay off their overwhelming student loans. And even though they fervently hope that their landlord doesn’t raise their rent again (they hope, because prayer has been outlawed, it only puts ideas into people’s heads) eventually the rent will go up; after all, landlords have expenses too. The landlord has a lot of money to pay to the elites because it is owed it to them, for society needs their valuable and highly educated opinions on things.
Incarcerated in their small apartments, the Joads could then be monitored and controlled – for their own good, of course. They could be forced to exercise and brush their teeth 3 times a day and given only appropriately healthy foods to eat. No Joad could ever smoke or drink or take drugs and that way no one’s health insurance premium would ever go up even just a little due to another person’s bad choices. And then no one would ever need to worry if they can’t afford their copays and deductibles on the insurance that they are forced to buy out of whatever is left after their landlord gets his/her share. After all, if they eat properly and exercise, they won’t get diseases anyway, right? Isn’t that what science says? Diseases only occur because of bad choices.
And since the elites aren’t ogres, of course the Joads would still be allowed their amusements. They would be allowed to watch politically-correct feminist-approved pornography and non-CTE-inducing sporting events and reruns of How I Met Your Mother on tv in their off time, at least until it is deemed problematic. The little people would finally be put in their place and would no longer even imagine rising above their station, never daring to even formulate the thought that things could be different and that they might actually know more than their wise and educated rulers do.
Because they most certainly DON’T.
In the meanwhile the countryside could be parceled out into manors and estates ruled over by Gentleperson Farmers who could exercise thorough control over the nearest small town full of serfs like the dukes and lords of old only it would be called country democracy because the people still have nostalgia for that word. There would be scenic fields with placid, happy Joads handpicking insects off of the crops so everything would always be totally organic. There could be banquets and balls and picnics during which everyone would wave at the self-driving trucks passing by and yell “huzzah!” Except for the Joads of course since they’d be too busy picking bugs off the quinoa.
As for our elitists, why they’d be in charge of everything as is their birthright, flitting back and forth from city to country like they’re living out a plot from a Jane Austen novel, only with more Tinder Swiping. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good phone must be in want of a fuck buddy.”
But it wouldn’t be like Austen, not really, because while our landed gentry forebears did have systemic inequality they also had a sense of responsibility to go along with it. Any fan of Austen will recall the titular character Emma mocking and insulting a poor spinster, Miss Bates, at a picnic. The older, wiser Mr. Knightley takes her to task for it, not because it was mean per se, not because it was “offensive”, but because Emma was rich and Miss Bates was poor. Being a wealthy person in the Regency Era may have had privileges, but carried with it a responsibility to be considerate to the less fortunate. Those familiar with the story will recall that Emma, sweet, spoiled Emma, often visited the sick and dying. Voluntarily. She took them food and gifts and was kind to them.
When was the last time any of our elitists were kind to a Joad?
final helpful hint: writing a tweet about a universal basic income is not kindness.
Our modern day elites seem to think they get to have all the fun, have all the privileges of rank, being, as as Austen described Emma – “handsome, clever, and rich” – and yet at the same time sit in judgement of, or even be downright cruel to, those who are on the rungs of the ladder below. That isn’t how it works. That isn’t how any of this works. You don’t get to have it both ways. You don’t get to rule and then at the same time act common.
If you truly want to be accepted as elites, behave accordingly. Act like people worthy of respect, of admiration. Show kindness and compassion and benevolence even to those who you believe are beneath you. Listen to us, don’t roll your eyes, don’t tell us to shut up. Try to understand where we’re coming from because it may not be where you think. Convince us that you have our interests even the least little bit at heart and then maybe we might take your opinions into consideration.
But when every word out of your mouth is dipped in venom, seething with hate, demanding that we bend our knee to obey you when it is so, so very obvious you despise us, you’re going to get the time-honored Joad answer that has been spoken in thousands of languages since the dawn of time, because Joads have always been and will always be.
Go fuck yourselves.
This piece was originally published on the atomic feminist.