SARA VANDEN BERGE

Iím not much of a protester.

By that I mean Iíve never carried a hand-made sign and marched up and down the streets for (or against) a cause. Iíve never attended a Town Hall meeting to voice a concern, written my congressman or attended a TEA Party.

Perhaps, Iím just not very good at expressing my whoa, whoa, whoa feelings, but I prefer to chalk it up to the fact that Iíve always been pretty satisfied about the way things are going and never felt the need to engage in any type of protest.

Nothing has ever stirred me enough to set a car on fire, burn a flag or scream at an elected official. In fact, that kind of behavior has always made me a little queasy.

But all across the country, a chill wind is blowing and itís not just giving crazy protesters goose bumps - itís starting to affect ordinary citizens.

Perhaps youíve heard that the economy ainít doing so well. Or maybe youíve felt it. If not, plenty of others have and theyíre expressing their frustration in a variety of ways. With gas prices on the rise, the unemployment rate holding steady at 9.4 percent and the confusion over health care reform spurring an unprecedented number of migraines, the tension folks are feeling is beginning to morph into rage.

Town Hall meetings across the country have turned into loud shouting matches. Citizens who once took to the streets to protest peacefully are now turning violent - trying to get their message of frustration out any way they can.

The scary part is, Iím beginning to understand.

I can tell you that in the past month, I have talked to several close friends and acquaintances who are worried about their familyís financial future.

Those who havenít been laid off are worried that they will be or concerned they will receive a cut in pay. They donít eat out as much, they travel less and clip coupons at an alarming rate.

Thereís not enough anxiety medication to go around.

One friend recently told me that the job she has held for more than a decade has gone from an 8-hour workday to 12 hours - with no salary increase. She has been assigned extra duties after the company she works for laid off more than 100 employees.

But sheís not complaining.

ďI need my job and Iíll do whatever I have to do to hold on to it - even if I have to work 14 hours,Ē she said.

Still. The frustration is there. She talked about her growing credit card debt and fear about not being able to afford college tuition for her kids. Others worry about doing the things that should be relatively simple like paying the mortgage, stocking the refrigerator and buying back-to-school supplies.

I wonít pretend to say I have the solution to the problem. The economic crisis this country is facing is a complicated one and itís going to take a lot of really smart people to fix it.

But what I do know is that ordinary, hardworking families are finding themselves in situations they never imagined - and their frustration is turning into madness.

I donít know enough about Obamaís health care plan to know if Iím for or against it. What I do know, however, is that my familyís monthly insurance bill just increased by $47 a month, making it harder for us to afford.

I donít care if you call health care reform socialism, fascism or Puritanism - something has got to be done to help struggling families survive.

And if things donít start improving fast, donít be surprised if you see an (almost) middle age mother of three marching down Washington Street carrying a sign and kicking up her high heels in a semi-peaceful protest.

SARA VANDEN BERGE is managing editor of the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at 254-968-2379, ext. 240.