“It’s corporate America,” the woman beside me says.
We’re in a cafe in Oxford, Mississippi, and she’s talking about her job with Winchester Ammunition.
“The people are secondary to the production.”
Although, she says the company is trying to change that. For instance, she heard a C-level executive talk to the staff about hurting 30 people on the job this year and how that’s unacceptable. For a company as big as Winchester to care about the safety of 30 people is pretty amazing.
But Cindy’s inclination on corporate America has broader significance.
Do we see all the other humans as cogs, put there to serve us caramel lattes with skim milk while we stare at our smartphones and they serve us plates of grilled chicken over rice pilaf quickly “because we’re kind of in a hurry?”
This kind of new American slave driver is found most often at drive-thrus and quick-service restaurants.
Only you, you’re the special one, huh? Sent here to do bigger things, always interrupted by other people’s incompetence.
A man walks out of the cafe, passing a trash can and a bus tub on the way out. As a barista stuffs napkins in the coffee cup, you can hear the whip crack.
Everywhere you look, we seem disconnected from the feelings of others.
Mississippi’s recent opposition to Initiative 42 and Alternative 42, two public education amendments, seems to coordinate this feeling or lack thereof.
“It was pretty controversial,” says a friend of a friend, Capel.
“How?” I ask.
Initiative 42 would have required the state government to establish, maintain and support “an adequate and efficient system of free public schools.” And Alternative 42 would have required the state legislature to establish, maintain and support “an effective system of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe.”
Public education doesn’t seem particularly controversial.
“I mean it was controversial because it was opposed,” Capel says.
Within the Mississippi constitution, there is already an article expressing that the legislature provide free public education, according to Ballotpedia. Initiative 42 added “adequate and efficient” as adjectives to the schools and would have turned the enforcement of the initiative over to the courts. Alternative 42 merely added “effective” to public schools.
But with capitalism as a guide, state governments might not see a need for effective public schools. If there’s a way to skimp on infrastructure in an effort to take more profit, then that’s what we’ll do.
And in Mississippi when it comes to education, that’s what they do. In 2011, Mississippi had the lowest per pupil spending of any state in the South and ranked 47 out of 51 on a national level.
In 2014, Mississippi scored an F in K-12 achievement and a D+ in chance of success, according to education publication, Education Week’s Quality Counts scoring system.
The opposition to the legislation might also tell us something about who’s actually voting in the state. It’s an assumption, but probably not the people that send their kids to ineffective public schools and more the people that currently send their kids to well-funded private schools.
Opponents included Governor Phil Bryant and other members of the Republican party in the state with the excuse that the legislature’s recent approval of $2.5 billion school spending package for fiscal year 2016 was enough, although that package is about $211 million shy of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program requirements.
Another opponent, Sid Salter, a columnist for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, merely stated that everything in Mississippi, from healthcare to transportation to law enforcement is underfunded so why play favorites with education.
Plus, according to blogger, Diane Ravitch, anti-42 political action committee, KidsFirst Mississippi poured more than $230,000 of donated money (from the notorious billionaire businessmen, the Koch Brothers) into advertisements opposing the legislation.
The Mississippi Delta, known for its fertile soil and poverty, is the epitome of the classist capitalism that’s rampant in America.
I pull over every mile or so to take pictures. The lime green flatlands stretch out, interrupted by brown rivers and rundown houses. A pale blue sky sits over it all. It’s a awe-inspiring welcome to the Delta that leads to the disrepair that’s fallen on Clarksdale.
There are storefronts open, selling photography books that lament on the desolate streets and crumbling infrastructure of a place that shaped blues music and in turn folk music, rock n’ roll and heavy metal. They sell all number of items; niche just doesn’t work here.
These storefronts are sandwiched in between ones that haven’t been open in years. Clarksdale is reminiscent of Detroit with boarded-up doors and broken windows along every street. Not even the large school building got away from the ground clouds of destruction.
I come to the intersection, marked with Highway 61 and Highway 49 atop a circle of blue guitars, where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play the blues.
Under the sign, a small corroded plaque reads:
County seat of Coahoma County, was founded in 1869 by John Clark, for whom the town was named. Situated in one of the most fertile regions of the world, it has grown into one of the leading cities of the Yazoo Mississippi Delta. It has a just pride in its library, its schools and its churches and is an important market for long staple cotton.”
Placed by Rosannah Waters Chapter D.A.R. 1938
Ironic isn’t it?