The letter began with a single, heartfelt sentence: “I worry about the nation my children will inherit.”
It went on to list his concerns, culminating in the fear that “our representatives, on both sides of the aisle, are so removed from the reality of working-class life that they fail to see, and fail to understand, the true driving forces of working people’s discontent.” It spoke quietly but passionately about the source of that discontent: “For decades, corporate leaders and their shareholders built their personal wealth by cutting worker benefits, eliminating pensions, dismantling unions and demanding ever-higher levels of productivity and efficiency, while eliminating any sense of job security.” And it ended with a strong statement that offered a glimmer of hope: “Steps must be taken to include everyone in our nation’s prosperity. Only then will we bridge the gulf that divides us.”
The letter writer was Daniel Wasik, a 55-year-old precision machinist living with his wife and two children in Fanwood. It appeared in the January 21, 2019, edition of The New York Times, a letter to the editor that broke the two cardinal rules set by the paper for readers’ letters: It was longer than 200 words (much longer, at more than 500 words), and it didn’t respond to a particular article in the paper. Rather, it addressed a series of longstanding social and economic ills that boiled down to its headline: “A Lack of Respect for the Working Class in America Today.”
[RELATED: Finding Bliss on the NJ Turnpike]
To say that the letter struck a chord is an understatement. After its publication, Wasik sent it to a number of luminaries from the worlds of academia, politics and the media—among them the presidents of Harvard and MIT, the executive editor of The Washington Post, and the dean emeritus of the Columbia School of Journalism. He also got in touch with Joe Biden’s campaign manager, offering his opinions on Biden’s speeches.
That letter and the issues it raises have been percolating in Wasik’s imagination since at least the recession years of the early 1980s, when, he says, “I saw people older than my dad, who’d had good jobs for decades, bagging groceries and working in fast food.” Over the past several years, the urge to give voice to his frustration—and hopes—became all-consuming. He wrote and recorded songs and posted them up on YouTube. He sent letters to people in the public eye, including Leon Panetta and Noam Chomsky, with whom he now corresponds. He had initially crafted the letter to the editor as an opinion piece, but couldn’t sell it. He submitted it to the letters editor at the Times, who fell in love with it.
An avid reader and a self-taught student of history and music (he plays Renaissance galliards on a lute he built himself), he’d like to keep writing about the issues that move him. “I’m really just trying to change common perceptions of people who work with their hands for a living,” he says. On that front, he’s made a good start.Click here to leave a comment