Of Liberty and Underemployment

Every summer hundreds of Irish students disembark Berkeley BART station to earn their keep for a summer in San Fran. They come with a J-1 Visa; find a job within a month or go home. These new arrivals go out in groups to drop their CV’s (Irish for resume) wherever mass transit will take them. They wander until their feet hurt, and return with sunburns to their new abodes, perhaps a room full of mattresses in a busy frat house.

Within weeks, the Irish have taken hundreds of openings in stores and restaurants within a forty mile range. Along Telegraph, Piedmont, and Shattuck, chances are you’ll hear that familiar lilt coming from your cook, cashier, or pale and pretty hostess. They are here for a good time, but they are invited to work. The area loses work when the students go home to the summer, and the Irish fill the gap and maintain the nightlife.

I am an American and I need a job. I am 23, I graduated college last year with a degree in the humanities, and I’m still hanging around the college scene. I’m not saying I don’t know other 23 year olds. Who says I don’t go out every other weekend with my girlfriend and ten other coupled 23 year olds to bars with wood paneling and craft beer specials? The point is, I am between two phases and a bit adrift on what to do next. I do know, and we all know, that I now need a job to duck destitution rather than deportation.

I’m not looking for a job in a shop or a restaurant; I’m ready for an office, just to pay my bills in between now and grad school. We all want to go to grad school. I have dress shirts, a clothes iron, and I can tie a bow tie. I try to take to the classic professional approach; it adds some charm to my quivering upstart base. I need a job that one, the Irish don’t have, and two, that pays my bills with some to spare.

Then I saw a flyer on one of the many construction sites around campus. SUMMER JOBS: ACLU canvassers wanted. The Irish can’t take it because of their type of visa. Sometimes I take the role of a college student, and sometimes a college graduate. The former got me this time. I took a tab thinking I’d hit pay dirt. I showed up to the interview all quaffed in a grey suit and discovered I’d hit dirt pay.

I was a millennial clipboard jerk. Hi my name is Eric and I’m a paid fundraiser working on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union. They looked at me like I was a mosquito eater. Sure you don’t bite but go away anyways. This was a door to door job that had me in Anywhere, Oakland selling vague Utopian promises with all the credibility of a paper name tag.

The day started in an office. Pro tips: once you get to the office, choose a clipboard first thing so you can get one of the good ones. If you bring your own pens, you’ll have a pen. The shirts are damp with another’s sweat but you’re more likely to make quota with a shirt than with a name tag. We got in, practiced, slumped into a clown car and went out all day with a clipboard and a name tag. In the day it was hot, past 7:30 people were irritated, and it was cold until 9. My feet hurt and I wanted a beer, day after day.

I was good at it. I made quota and got promoted. Then I got chased by a dog. Then I trekked a mile out of territory to relieve myself in a sketchy homeless person bathroom. Then Anywhere, Oakland, was anywhere in Oakland, which wasn’t always hospitable. Then there was no real possibility of commission and it became clear that I couldn’t pay my bills with it. I fulfilled my administrative responsibilities for the day and politely excused myself from my employer.

So I am a college graduate and not a college student. So now what? Both of the roles I’m tackling agree that the ACLU is a fine organization. With our friends the Democrats presiding over a land of cameras and prisons, who else will keep the guns pointed away from us while we cloak ourselves in entitlement and dive into a brave new world? Then who did I represent: the ACLU or the company they contracted to raise funds for their political lobby? Either way, organizations with such strong ties to the labor movement should have higher labor standards. It’s part of dealing with our lot.

Then what is the lot of my age group? We are more educated than our parents, yet we approach a world that demands us to be ever more refined cogs. Broad interests are no interests at all. Office software familiarity is as common as typing skills. You have no skills, no network, and wipe that smirk off your face. While I’m betting on being presentable and capable, will this land me work or land me in the same situation as millions of college graduates who move back in with their parents until they are twenty six and find a job that will be twice as specialized as it is now.

Now I’m a young man. I want to find love, have friends, and have the sense of freedom that comes with taking care of oneself. Then I went home on Father’s Day and hear thirty is the new twenty and life is only going to get more demanding. Do I take a college student job and tough it out like the Irish so I can return home to poverty and a bit of fun, let the mounting abyss of indecision paralyze me, or supplicate myself like a company man to squeeze a job I won’t be qualified for in three years? If you’re saying the world is bleak and I am meek now, don’t despair.

We will inherit the Earth. Clipboard jerking for the ACLU reminded me I’m capable and willing to work hard. We struggle for a place that we will eventually take for ourselves. We are more educated than our parents. Last week two of my friends went bust and are moving back with mom. They had jobs and came home worn and hungry from them to a nice house in a bad neighborhood. They’ve still got time but whose patient? The man has a towering intellect and the woman has the qualifications to run her own theater. Too bad for now, but their abilities remain. We’re all taking the same beating.

Your parents took the beating. The beating has always been around. Your backwards ancestors wanted creationism taught in schools because they felt evolution and the implied competition in that philosophy would subject us to a level of dehumanization not fit for their Christian social progress. The ACLU fought against this in court, most famously in the Scopes trial, for the same reasons you’d favor science today. While you wouldn’t call the current face of Christian politics progressive, we might take that a feeling of dread and dehumanization is and has been universal no matter which political umbrella one cowers under.

So then don’t cower. Are you feeling alienated in your own homeland? The Irish are foreigners and yet they are able to make their own place every year. Remind yourself, this is our land and we are the most able bodied, and the most educated. The coveted youth vote is still ours to be diverted into any project whatsoever. The technology and culture of tomorrow is ours to invent. Our work is valuable, desirable, and innovative. We’ve navigated the most dynamic time in human history our entire lives and will handle it better than our predecessors. Keep producing work, and aim for the work you are entitled to.

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