Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Two Counteroffensives of the 1%! Middle Class, will you join us?

Some habits are hard to break

(above photo, Oakland CA, October 2011)

"If we are going to talk about personal responsibility let's talk about the personal responsibilities of the speculators. Or the SEC. Or the war mongers who spent all the money invading Iraq and Afghanistan, so that now there's a deficit that didn't exist in 2000. That is the real reason the government is short of money, but no one wants to talk about that. No one's talking about the personal responsibility of George Bush or Alan Greenspan. No one's talking about the personal responsibility of the bankers."

The super rich are scared by a condition that they are unaccustomed to. It is the condition of the people whose lives they have destroyed standing up to them.

The police have been unleashed. The same police that never arrested the speculators, that led George Bush walk free despite the mass murder on his hands, are now cracking down on the people brave enough to denounce the crimes that have affected us all.

A campaign is underfoot, at the behest of Wal Street, to encourage the jealousies, fears, contempt, and narrow minded self centered selfishness of middle classes, and to turn them against the protests, easing their conscience while repression continues.

The Middle Class is split and will split. As it always has and always will. There are two ways to define the "middle class". The way that is most often used is by income. So we include the image of what autoworkers used to get paid and office workers and small store owners and professionals in the same category. Another way to look at is is by job. What is your relationship to the "means of production"? Are you part of management or labor (usually both)? Whose do you instinctively side with- the workers grumbling about conditions and the inadequacies of their management, or the managers grumbling about the flaws of their workers? It's important to look at class as defined by your relation to ownership and control, not just your income. Whether you generally find yourself controlling, or controlled by, other people does a lot to affect your psychology.

If you own a small restaurant, you may work in it yourself, but also exploit your workers. I used to work in that restaurant, as a worker. Whenever today I hear about how we need to "shop local" I think of the local restaurant who illegally stole my and my coworkers' tips. Just because someone also "works" for a living, and is "local", does not mean he is not also an exploiter. He is a small boss but he wants to become a big boss. Because he owns the place and manages it his outlook is often more instinctively closer to that of larger capitalists.

At other times, perhaps his outlook may change. The economy is bad and he doesn't think small business get enough support. Maybe things will eventually get so bad he will sympathize with the workers he used to take advantage of, and support legislation and movements aimed to improve the condition of working people. At other times, he'll side with the politics of big business to "reduce taxes", even though what he gets from that is minuscule compared to the millions the large companies actually get with such reductions. He's perpetually afraid of both sides, yet identifying with both sides, though never fully able to identify with either. He tends to be mentally stressed, if not unstable, in his political psychology. He can either be an ally or an enemy of working class movements. He may switch from one side to the other in the course of these movements.

Like many other people who have never been elected to office or on TV, I have been actively talking about the wealth polarization in this society for years. The data is there. It is real. It has always been real. But it took the recession to break down people's ideologies and illusions with their own life experience. That is how most people form their opinions, by what they live, not just what they read. So here's the data from this article about exactly that.

(The blue bars representing the 1% are the only ones that have gone up).

The great majority of the middle class has seen its living standards decline over the past decade. This might mean getting laid off from one's professional job. It might mean scaling back one's lifestyle because the cost of gasoline is so high. It might mean having to shell more out to put your kids through college that you had prepared to, or watching them take on tremendous debt just to get an education that 30 years ago was much, much cheaper.

In other ways, the decline of the middle class has been much more grim. Homes have been lost. Jobs have been increasingly outsourced for years, doing far more to lumpenize the American working class than any defect of "culture" that racists disparaging inner city communities are often so quick to attack. The middle and former middle class has endured again and again the destruction of their unions and the disapperance of high paying jobs only to then be lectured with economists' statements about "restructuring" and the need for the country to stay "competitive".

Throughout all this two things have rarely been said. Number one: "sacrifice" over the past 30 years of restructuring is uneven. Workers get laid off, not just so the boss can keep being a boss, but so the boss can make much, much more money moving the factory to Asia. The second is that it is always the bosses and never the workers making these decisions. That's as true at the workplace as it is in politics, where the system is controlled by people with money. For anyone to win an election they must first convince large sections of the wealthy that they will represent their interests. Not "special interests", but large corporations and rich individuals is where most of the money for politicians' campaigns comes from. Even if you live in Iowa and New Hampshire when the primaries start, the only reason you get to hear about anyone being in a primary is because they've already raised enough money from wealthy donors to enter the race at that early stage. Routinely, the Republicans and Democrats both get substantial funding from the same companies.

Like a festering sore, living standards have declined for decades while the super rich's government of the super rich allowed the super rich's standard of living to rise dramatically. There was grumbling. There was a brief moment in Seattle in 2000 when it looked like something might actually be done about it... but for naught. This movement was attacked and destroyed by a wave of jingoism after September 11th 2001. The military quagmire abroad was mirrored by the swamp of a similarly irresolute, disassociated, unsatisfied, alienated and demoralized decade known to history as The Bush Years.

What broke the stagnation was the collapse in 2008. There was no immediate fightback, as many hoped there would be. Most of those hardest effected pulled back to the shadows of personal survival. Political organizations and citizens were distracted by the theatrics of Obama's "Hope and Change". The people have endured, far more than they should have ever have been asked to endure. And they were never asked. Unemployment doubled in just a few months. No immigrants to blame for that. It was the whitest and most native born people in America who "took our jobs".

Many held their breath and looked to Obama as a savoir. They gave him time and the benefit of the doubt for three years, over which time Obama's devotion to Wal Street had time enough to come out. The most progressive of his campaign pledges were quickly scuttled, while the more modest reform that he did propose (his health care plan was designed to benefit the private insurance industry at least as much, if not more, than sick people) was instantly mired in the mud of congressional inaction. First, this was with a Democratic Congress that was unable to advance the Democratic Party's Agenda. By the next election enraged rich and white America had elected enough of the older cronies back into power that the presidents' chances of accomplishing anything at all were ever more dimmed.

Today the people are gathering. In angry, though extremely peaceful crowds. Nowhere have I seen guillotines, or pikes, or torches, though I might have reasonably expected them to be relevant. No. Instead what they have are cardboard signs and sleeping bags. And they are feeding each other. In the city's Parks! Clearly it is well past high time for reaction to send in its batons and its tear gas, to save the nation from this menace!

Along with the more thuggish aspects of repression is an ideological offensive to split the middle class from the movement. Resurrected from its grave and thrown back frantically into circulation are 60s era criticisms of protesters as "bums", bums who have only themselves to blame, for blaming the world they found themselves living in where they have not taken enough "personal responsibility". Benevolently if not desperately, the articles are now being curned out and flung far and wide towards middle class readers. Flung, perhaps not unlike a colonial Englishmans' coins tossed out to a crowd of poor brown beggars!The better perhaps, to keep them beggars, and to keep the from evolving into something else. Something far more difficult to placate. Yes. The spectre of personal responsibility has come back from its grave, quite fittingly just in time for Halloween.

So I left my comments.

"I had a very nice job in 2008 that I worked hard, studied, learned, and got on my own merit and pluck. I always handled and budgeted my money well, as well as money I handled for a living. Then some super rich people I've never met a thousand miles away did things with other people's money, and now I'm out of a job. Well I will not take responsibility for that!"

"If we are going to talk about personal responsibility let's talk about the personal responsibilities of the speculators. Or the SEC. Or the war mongers who spent all the money invading Iraq and Afghanistan, so that now there's a deficit that didn't exist in 2000. That is the real reason the government is short of money, but no one wants to talk about that. No one's talking about the personal responsibility of George Bush or Alan Greenspan. No one's talking about the personal responsibility of the bankers. If I robbed something small from a store I'd go to jail. The bankers have robbed our homes and jobs and wiped out millions of people's life savings. Why doesn't anyone talk about personal responsibility for them?"

There are other things out there at go bump in the night which are far more terrifying than the personal responsibility of the corporations and politicians under whom we toil. I am sure there must be. But for some reason I'm having a hard time right now thinking about just what it might be.

We get slurs for everyone these days. Mexicans are "illegals" who take our jobs. Muslims and Arabs are "terrorists" who need to be bombed into democracy- even while they struggle and die today to free themselves from the Ben Ali and Mubarak and Saudi and Jordanian dictatorships we've imposed on them. And the people in the park, the people with the signs, the revolution. Yes. It's "people who don't feel they need to work or people who feel they are entitled to something they haven't earned." Says the article. Parroting off in manipulated contempt the words written for them by the press of the richest one percent!

As a representative of myself and my generation of of protesters I am of course happy to extend my hand, and sit down with, and discuss with any member of the middle or any other class, that the unemployed people in the park holding signs demanding jobs are not people who "don't feel they need to work." They are people who are desperate for work. And millions of us have been desperate for it since 2008. Many more since before then.

The people who live in America, and have worked in America, and who clean the streets and wash the toilets and cook the food and teach the kids and deliver the mail and keep the lights on around here in America, we are not "people who feel entitled to something they haven't earned." We made this country the richest country in the world and the people who sit in offices pushing money in and out of accounts and creating complex derivative schemes and selling them to each other have created nothing of value for this world.

Responsibility is important. The one place it has been a problem for far too long is that we have abdicated our political responsibilities as citizens. We've let the rich get away with running our government, and our economy, for far too long. We haven't been looking out. We haven't been making decisions. We haven't been exerting our power. And no one has been more guilty of this than the American middle class! Convinced that if we just hold our nose to the grindstone and work, work, work, we'll be rewarded. Millions of us chose and choose to consciously ignore politics as some strange, confusing thing other people do that we don't want to have to worry about. And so we left it in the hands of the worst kind of people, and it has been used for the worst ends, and it has been be ignored just so long as we could pretend that didn't affect us. Well we can't pretend that anymore. And I think that if you're part of the 99% you'll agree with me.

Americans are hard working people. We work ourselves to death. We work ourselves into our 80s instead of retiring. We work ourselves for decades to pay off our debt for eduction or health care. Education, health care, jobs, a roof, warmth, and food, such seditious "entitlements" we are demanding today. For it is a characteristic but of the most barbarous stages of our species' development that any of these should be a considered privilege, to be held as the possession of the wealthy alone, to whom all the rest of the peasantry might gaze up with wonder.

Today we are the richest country in the world. We have incredible technological capacities, educational infrastructure, hospitals, and- most perversely- empty houses standing alone while families huddle under tents to seek shelter from the elements!!

This could be a really nice place to live. Not just for the rich- hiding in seclusion behind fences- but for everyone. The question the occupation is raising today is whether we are going to decide to live up to that potential. It is the richest 1% that is the target here. I don't need anyone in the 53% to pay taxes to keep me on welfare. I'd much rather have my own job, and I think all of us would. Maybe a job like the ones the activities of the 1% had formerly stolen from us.

Middle class, how responsible are you going to be? Will you join us?

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