This Cab Ride in NYC Will Open Up Your Eyes to the Issue of Income Inequality in America
“I believe the playing field is rigged. Evidence of that is everywhere. Now I’ve been in the Senate for nearly a year and believe as strongly as ever that the system is rigged for powerful interests and against working families.”—Elizabeth Warren
A couple of weeks back, I took a quick trip to attend an Artists for Warren event that was going on in New York City. I was certainly excited to bump shoulders with celebrities and have meaningful conversation about our effort to draft Elizabeth Warren into the presidential election. But I had no idea that I would end up getting so much more out of the weekend—and from a simple conversation with my taxi driver before I even made it to the event.
After an early morning—and rather turbulent—flight, I wasn’t in the best mood when I jumped into the backseat of my taxi driver’s Prius (I always wait for the eco-friendly cab). That all quickly changed when a man turned around with the most intoxicatingly joyful grin that I have ever seen. “WELCOME TO NEW YORK CITY! You are in much luck. I am best cab driver in all of city!” Wow, I thought, that is a pretty audacious claim to make in a city with some 40,000 cabbies. But I liked his enthusiasm, so I went with it.
And so began our 40-minute drive to Chelsea. I engaged in the normal chitchat: “How long have you been driving?” “How long have you lived in New York?” And then something happened that I don’t think I will ever forget. As we drove down backstreets that I have never heard of, even after living in the city for a brief period of time, we came to a stop at red light. Just outside our stopped cab sat a man who appeared to be in his later years of life, draped in ragged clothing and nearly purple on this frigidly cold day. I felt obligated to do something, but before I could think of what to do, someone already had.
“I’m so sorry, I will stop the meter.” Before I knew it, my cabbie was hopping out of the car.
“Crap” I thought, “this is going to be an interesting story to tell: My cabbie abandoned me in Queens.” My cab driver made his way to the trunk of his car and pulled out a large wool blanket, walked over to the homeless man, wrapped him in it, and shook his hand. He hopped back into the car, began to drive, and continued our previous conversation.
There was no way that I could let him get away with that without saying something. “That was beautiful,” was all I managed to say.
“That was me,” he replied.
He went on to tell me his story of winning a green-card lottery in Poland, coming to America for a better life, and finding a country that was not what he expected. Do not get me wrong, this man loves America, and feels blessed to be here, but he also understands all too well one of the biggest issues that America faces: income inequality.
He went on to tell me what it was like to find a home that he could afford—which for a long time he could not. He told he of what it was like to try to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world on a minimum wage income. He told me of how often he didn’t eat, just so he could stock his cab with blankets in the winter. And he told me that he votes—he was very proud of that.
“We need a leader who will start to change. We need a leader who will fight for us, not take the money of the people who can buy them.” Did he really just say that? It’s almost as if fate had put me in that cab. Here I was in New York to meet with folks about getting that very leader—Elizabeth Warren—to run for our country’s highest office, and the perfect example of why we need her to run for president was sitting right in front of me.
So I decided to tell him where I worked and why I was in the city. “I prayed for you,” he said. “I prayed for this Elizabeth Warren to come as well. I just didn’t know your names.” He went on to tell me that he had been inspired by the young leaders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and wanted to get involved in something that mattered—and just like that, Run Warren Run had gained a supporter.
You see, the defining fight of Elizabeth Warren’s life thus far has been standing up against income inequality. She took on Wall Street and created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has returned millions of dollars to hardworking Americans. She has adamantly fought to raise the minimum wage. She’s stood up against corporate lobbyists and lawyers, and reminded her colleagues that corporations aren’t people—only people are people. She is fighting for all of us, and that is why we need her to run for president.
The story of that cab driver is not unique. In fact, it’s a very similar story to what I faced, growing up in poverty and finding a way out. The only problem is that most people never find that way out. The system is rigged. It’s rigged against Main Street and in favor of Wall Street. It’s rigged against the very Americans it was created to protect.
We’re finally beginning a conversation in this country about the real issue of rising income inequality—in fact it was a major point in President Obama’s recent State of the Union address. That didn’t happen by accident. It happened because of progressive champions like Elizabeth Warren and thousands of activists across the country carrying messages like hers. It’s the folks who have been bold enough to stand up for economic justice when no one else would, and when it wasn’t the most beneficial political move to make.
It’s not too much to ask to be able to work full-time and be able to pay your bills. That’s not the American dream, that’s the American promise. It’s time that we keep our promise, and we need folks like Elizabeth Warren to help us do it.
“I just want to be able to feed my family. I just want to be able to live the American dream that I have been fighting for.” —the best cab driver in New York City
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