David Esrati, union organizer? Christopher Gardner?

Publicity photo of Christopher Gardner, author of “The Pursuit of Happyness”I’ve been called more than my share of names, but union organizer is a new one.

After a folksy speech, punctuated with a lot of “I know some of you out there know what I’m talking about” – I got a chance to ask Christopher Gardner a question.

Wright State University Communications and Marketing
Christopher Gardner, who told his story of rising from poverty to self-made millionaire in his autobiography The Pursuit of Happyness

He said, you can always tell what part of the country in by the questions- and was I an AFL/CIO organizer. Considering my past dealings with some of the labor organizations in Dayton- I had a hard time keeping a straight face.

Christopher’s story is a modern-day fairy tale of hard work and single-minded determination. For the few Christophers out there, there are quite a few more people who worked a lifetime of hard honest work – only to see their life savings get “Enron’d” into oblivion. Considering he rose from homelessness to millions – by working as a stock broker, I had to ask: how do you feel about CEO’s making multiples of 365x their workers’ pay, and getting rewarded for cutting benefits, offshoring jobs and pillaging pension funds. His answers were that when the stockholders don’t receive value, they will step in- to which I asked a follow up; that with program trading and institutional investors moving funds according to the way the wind is blowing- how can we talk about value?

He gave the absolute right answer: “that isn’t investing”- but when pressed to what he would do about it- as people lose their homes- due to corporate largess, usurious interest rates, predatory lending- he had no answer.

People like Christopher – who have an audience on Oprah, 20/20 and access to movie moguls- have a position to remind our nation about the responsibilities that come with leadership. That not all poverty is caused by laziness, alcohol, illness- but sometimes the system will put the screws to you.

His downfall began with too many parking tickets- and continued downhill from there. If there is a modern day person more able to understand, speak and be a voice of the oppressed, I don’t think I’ve met them. However, Gardner is selling nothing more than a self-help program and rah-rah speech, instead of attacking some of the institutional forces that keep people from reaching their potential.

I found it particularly poignant that he spoke about the costs of day care as a major roadblock for rising out of homelessness- something I addressed in my 1993 campaign for Mayor- where I suggested subsidized day care as an economic development tool.

He also thanked “ladies of the evening” for doing what would now be known as “random acts of kindness” giving $5 bills to his son instead of candy- when he and his son were living in a rough section of town. He must fully understand what those women had to do to give his kid a meal when he had nothing to feed him. What is he doing to help them back, now that he can more than afford to do the same in return?

I guess, to be called a union organizer isn’t so bad, compared to what I might choose to call Christopher Gardner, if I felt it was my duty to label people.

The real question is what kind of organizer is Christopher Gardner? Does he have the guts to go back and question the hand that fed him (Wall Street) on the righteousness of the model that allows people to earn great sums, with no real risk?

I don’t think he has the answer. At least, I didn’t hear it today.

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13 Responses

  1. pizzabill September 11, 2007 / 2:44 am
    I can’t believe you would doubt such a person. I saw the movie and it was great. So there.

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  2. gene September 11, 2007 / 8:38 am
    David Esrati – what did you mean by “the model allows people to earn great sums, with no real risk?” No risk?

    He came from very little and made himself into a successful stockbroker, which is amazing. Yes, he is selling a dream – why not? – he did it for himself and if he can inspire one other person then why not. It is his life. Are you suggesting he hands over his time and money for thing he may not believe in? He could do more, but that goes for every human being. You just like to pick on the rich ones.

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  3. D. Greene September 11, 2007 / 9:55 am
    What’s your deal with rich people Esrati? Do you think it’s a mis-allocation of resources or are you just jealous?

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  4. David Esrati September 11, 2007 / 10:26 am

    He’s got a pulpit, and a great story- he could do better.
    Call me a compassionate liberal. But, when the rich people realize they don’t buy enough to keep the money coming their way- and the whole think tanks- don’t say I didn’t tell you.
    If you wonder what it’s like- review your history. It’s called the great depression. It’s not funny. The foreclosure crisis may only be the first wave of the storm.

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  5. gene September 11, 2007 / 11:11 am
    You could do better. So could I.

    It is not his job to “buy enough” to keep the money coming or going ANY way.

    He has a big house with lots of bedrooms, do you think he should shelter the homeless? Oh, you have extra bedrooms, why don’t you shelter the homeless?

    He has no obligation to anyone or anything. You are right, he could do more, and all rich people could and should. But they have earned it, or inherited it, and it is not their duty to do anything, no matter how compassionate you are. Why don’t you take a vow of poverty, working for cash that is to be redistributed at my liking. It simply just does not work that way. I am not completely bashing your idea, but it falls into a Utopian mentality. I could go on and on, but I KNOW he gives more money than you do, so leave him and his cash alone.

    Why don’t you pick on rich Democrats? B/C it does not fit your “outraged liberal agenda.” And please explain your comment: “righteousness of the model that allows people to earn great sums, with no real risk?” I think you fell off the turnip truck this time……?……….

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  6. MattN September 11, 2007 / 5:21 pm
    Oh Mr. Esrati, I’m so not down with your struggle. My friends in Mexico, who work six days a week, 12 hours a day, for less than a dollar a day would love to share in the misery that you call America.

    Would you consider sharing with us how you became of socialist? And why is its so important to you? How do you feel about Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez?

    Thanks,

    n

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  7. David Esrati September 11, 2007 / 5:38 pm

    I’m not calling America a misery- I’m just saying that if we continue on our current path we’ll either have an economic meltdown, or a revolution.
    Whenever the gap between the haves and the have nots gets too big, bad things happen.
    Frankly, if you compare Cuba’s literacy rates, or infant mortality rates- they do better than we do.
    I believe in honest pay for honest risk. Risk doesn’t mean if you get fired- you walk away with a $200 million dollar golden parachute.
    Risk means, if you fail, you are lucky to have a parachute, and you are jumping out of a plane that you had piloted into the ground.
    Playing with financial paper is one step above gambling when we are talking about “investing” for minutes at a time.
    Our financial system has become a house of cards- and when it collapses- it’s not going to be pretty.

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  8. gene September 11, 2007 / 6:07 pm
    Risk…… brokers spend their time and own money to learn a trade without compensation. They must pass exams and study, they generally DO NOT GET PAID FOR THIS. Then, after all this time and money, they have spend more time and money just to start out, WITHOUT being compensated. That is RISK.

    They must risk more time without pay to flag down potential investors who may or may not be interested. Once they get people interested, they have to perform, or they will lose a client. Again, this is a risk. All the while they must continue educating themselves while being up to date on a thousand little things in the business world.

    Most are straight forward and honest. Yes, it may seem like a gamble, but THE CASH IS REAL. Stop trying to compare apples and oranges. Our system may be a house of cards, but this guy is one in a million. Why pick on him?

    You are telling me you do not have any investments. Where do you bank? That is a form of investment, My Friend. You are a liar, mooch, and support a form a stealing by wanting other people money. If someone has a golden parachute, and you take that away, THE MONEY DOES NOT GO TO YOU! Grow up. IT IS NOT YOUR MONEY !!!

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  9. J.R. Locke September 11, 2007 / 8:54 pm
    The problem I have with the have and the have nots is that the majority of people think they are the have nots when they are the haves! Look around this world and you will see very quickly that we are the rich ones.

    To back up Mr. Esrati, this “dream” is a false dream. There is only so much wealth to go around. Not everyone can attain this goal, not everyone can obtain middle class and not everyone can break the reigns of poverty….no matter the determination. These are systematic institutional problems with America’s structure which was founded on genocide built with slavery and its world power consolidated through war.

    It is one guy with a great story but is a social worker, garbage worker or your favorite waitress or teacher ever going to make millions despite their time and effort? All the hard work in the world does not guarantee wealth. There has been a lot of fellows who have robbed American’s with a pen; the outrage nowhere near the disappearance of a white girl in Jamaica. Day Traders risk was always trading on margin!

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  10. Jeff September 11, 2007 / 9:51 pm
    “There has been a lot of fellows who have robbed American’s with a pen”

    ..nice Woody Gutherie reference.

    “Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered/
    I’ve seen lots of funny men;/
    Some will rob you with a six-gun,/
    And some with a fountain pen.”

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  11. Brother Omi September 13, 2007 / 7:02 pm
    i love gardner’s story. i come from the ‘hood and seen too much death and decadence. i have seen people become successful, leave and never return. its as if they forgot.

    i feel you
    on a political level, gardner does have to do more. he does have to speak out. he does have to speak truth to power.

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  12. Zak September 23, 2007 / 11:24 am
    I agree with your overall message. What you’re basically proposing is for corporations to realize what Henry Ford did seventy-odd years ago, that if you don’t pay people enough to buy your products, then you don’t do well.

    Actually, odd thought: I wonder if Walmart actually *does* understand this idea and specifically pays its workers shittily so that they have no choice *but* to buy from Walmart, thus creatively cutting out the competition…

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