Sandra Brown, 50, fresh off a shift in the steam and heat and sweat of a dry cleaner, sat on the front porch of a house Tuesday and reflected on the politics of the day.
It was a day after 47 percent of Americans were told by a rich guy, Mitt Romney, that his role is not to worry about them. Romney is mentioned by Brown and the other ladies on the porch as the Republican nominee for president against President Barack Obama, who was born poor before he was rich.
In a speech to other rich guys, Romney said 47 percent of the people in the country don’t pay income tax. He said those people want entitlements and freebies, won’t take personal responsibility and are dependent on government.
Worse, those same people vote for Obama.
“I worked since I was 13 years old,” Brown said. “I worked in a mill. Then I worked at dry cleaners. I worked. I never got a welfare check in my life.”
Next to her sat Terry Lee Boular, 48, who also works on her feet at the dry cleaner on Cherry Road – a street that bureaucrats and editorial boards call “a homely stepsister” to streets where the more well-heeled get clothes cleaned and where those with style do not have to look at the poor who work on their feet all day in miles of businesses and stores.
In the third chair sat Shirley Mclean, 75, who still works some at the cleaners, too.
Mclean’s husband of 43 years, Grady, who worked with his back and hands all his life until the back went, lay in a bed inside the tiny house.
“His health ain’t good,” Mclean said. “Hard work made him old.”
Brown said that for the first time in her adult life, her daughter has medical insurance and she has new insurance herself. It comes out of her paycheck to help pay for these programs that are new under Obama in the past few years.
These ladies all are in the income bracket, or age bracket, that means they end up owing no federal income tax at the end of a year.
“I work and I always have and I do not like somebody who wants to be president to say I act like a victim,” Brown said. “A president is president of everybody. He would cut so much stuff.
“If Romney gets in there, we will all be victims.”
Down the “homely stepsister” street from the trio on the porch is the intake center for Carolina Community Actions, a federal program where people get help for utilities, rent and other expenses.
Thousands of people each year have to prove how poor they are to get help that is paid for by taxes.
Romney said 47 percent of Americans believe they are entitled to health care and food and housing and more – but he does not worry about those people. He told that to a roomful of rich Republican donors in a private meeting in May, according to a video of the fundraiser released this week.
Obama, the Democrat, has private meetings of his own with rich Democratic donors. Obama held the strenuous jobs of politician and law professor in the last 20 years before he was president.
The poor have their own meetings.
In the waiting room at Carolina Community Actions Tuesday were four white ladies and four black ladies – united by a lifetime of work and a time later in life when the money comes up short.
The word “entitled” never came up Tuesday, but the word “work” did.
One of the white ladies, May Bennett, 70, worked all her life in restaurants. That means her Social Security check is so small it should be seen through a microscope. Waitressing is mainly off the books and cash comes in tips.
She needed some help Tuesday and appreciated nobody calling her a victim after she worked for more than 50 years.
“I walked to work,” said Bennett. “I asked for nothing.”
Bennett came for help after a lifetime of work that has turned her into somebody a man who wants to be president cannot worry about.
In the next chair sat Jean Lattimore, 66. Old enough for Medicare, an entitlement.
“Thirty-two years at Clear Knit, at a sewing machine,” Lattimore said of her years at hard labor that started at 18, and all she paid in sales taxes, property taxes, school taxes, county taxes, city taxes and other taxes.
And now some politician insinuates this lady of work is some kind of freeloader.
On the other side of the room sat Willie Miller, who worked 26 years at a plant making Easter baskets.
“Worked on my feet, with my hands,” Miller said.
Then Miller kept kids, meaning she babysat for money to pay bills, and now she is older and she is at a government-program office hoping to keep the lights on.
Romney said he will never convince people – such as this lady who worked all her life from the time she was a teen – that “they should take responsibility and care for their own lives.”
Miller has been responsible since she was old enough to stand up.
“If this Romney gets in there,” she said, “won’t be any office like this where people get help to survive.”
On the other side of the city, the sound of an air hose and drill filled the air outside a place that does mechanic work and sells new and used tires. Clayton Duckett came out from fixing brakes to be told that Romney said he doesn’t worry about people in his income bracket.
“It’s him I worry about,” said Duckett.
Bernard Agurs worked on brakes and tires. His hands were scratched and rough and hard – yet a guy who is rich said Agurs claims to be a victim. That he doesn’t pay his fair share in taxes or pull his weight, compared to the rich who pay hefty taxes and have to spend so much time not worrying about the 47 percent who don’t work as hard as the rich.
Agurs is a victim all right – a victim of his own hard work.
“I pay taxes on food, every meal I buy for my family, clothes, gasoline,” Agurs said. “I pay for insurance and taxes for schools. Property taxes. I pay for everything.”
Then Agurs went back to work. Men such as him have little time for politicians who do not worry about them.
Working people worry plenty, though.