Thursday, 24 February 2011
Something's Happening Here
“Here” being the Middle East. In Tunisia and Egypt, tyrants have been toppled. Their counterparts in Yemen, Bahrain and Libya are in deep trouble and there is growing unrest in Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Iran and Sudan. There may be more soon.
“Here” is also the U.S. In Wisconsin, protesters have demonstrated for days against the governor who is trying to fob off union busting as budget balancing – a financial shortfall of the governor's own making.
Now, Ohioans are demonstrating too against the same kind of attempt by a governor to kill state workers' right to collective bargaining and yesterday, Democratic legislators in Indiana, like those in Wisconsin, fled the capitol to stall an anti-union vote.
In a gesture of global solidarity, donors from dozens of countries, including Egypt, have ordered up pizza to be delivered to the demonstrators in Madison, where temperatures hover around freezing.
And all this week there are rallies around the U.S. in support of the Wisconsin and, by extension, Ohio and Indiana demonstrators.
Something is definitely happening here, Mr. Jones.
Although types of government in the two regions of protest differ dramatically, there is at least one commonality. In the Middle East countries of unrest, unemployment ranges from about 10 to 35 percent. In the U.S., the national unemployment rate is officially 9.8 percent but as the reality-based community knows, it is closer to 16 or 17 percent.
The people are being squeezed everywhere and the dissatisfaction is reaching a boiling point.
Although citizens of the U.S. are not detained, imprisoned, tortured, executed or shot in the streets as in some Arab countries, we are nonetheless oppressed. Our government, in long-time cahoots with the corporate elite, started decades before this current financial crisis to steal for themselves all but the shirts on our backs.
The truest thing I've read in the past several days – something few have ever stated as baldly - is in a story titled, Plutocracy Now: What Wisconsin is Really About, from Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:
”American politicians don't care much about voters with moderate incomes. Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels studied the voting behavior of US senators in the early '90s and discovered that they respond far more to the desires of high-income groups than to anyone else.
“By itself, that's not a surprise. He also found that Republicans don't respond at all to the desires of voters with modest incomes. Maybe that's not a surprise, either. But this should be: Bartels found that Democratic senators don't respond to the desires of these voters, either. At all.” [original emphasis]
We have always deep down known that, even as we write, phone and email our representatives. We the people, even in concert, cannot possibly match the billions of dollars corporations lavish on legislators (if that's what democracy has become) who never fail to fulfill the demands of the monied interests.
The ultimate insult is that they took a gigantic portion of that money from you and me through corporate-friendly regulation, taxation and legislation.
To understand the enormity of it, Drum helpfully supplies some graphs from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. This one is the change in average household income by economic strata before taxes from 1979 to 2007 in dollars:
Notice those flat lines at the bottom of the graph. This second graph shows the change in share of income after taxes by percentage from 1979 to 2007:
These lines are worse than flat; they are in the negative. If you are not enraged, you should be.
This does not happen by accident or through some natural phenomena of a free market system (there is no free market). It is deliberate and one of the reasons it has been possible is that in the past 30-odd years, the corporate-dominated government neutralized and destroyed the last populist institution – unions – with the size and resources to at least hold the line against the economic rape of the people.
Here's one more graph from Kevin Drum's story that tells the sad, criminal story (click here to see a larger version):
Here is what I think (and hope) is happening in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana, and in the solidarity rallies throughout the country: I think the attack on state employees' right to collective bargaining is a last straw and the people are not going to take it anymore.
These public employees and protesters are teachers, firemen, EMT workers, sanitation workers, snow plow drivers, etc. They are the people's neighbors, friends and fellow PTA members and I think we have finally understood that if our neighbors go down, so do the rest of us.
In Wisconsin, they agreed to increased costs for benefits in the bill they oppose, but they know that stripping their collective bargaining rights has nothing to do with the budget and they know that if they agree to that, they have lost their last bit of leverage against a rapacious system hell bent on taking every last cent from them.
If I am right about what they and their supporters are doing, the protests will spread throughout the land, particularly when the weather warms up in a few weeks. Massive street protests are the only power we the people have left against the corporate/government plutocracy.
God, I hope I'm right, that these people are the vanguard of what is coming. If so, it will be a long and bitter struggle against Mr. Jones, but I don't see an alternative. We must fight back even if, in the end, we lose.
One of my few heroes, Chris Hedges, is much more eloquent and passionate than I am capable of being about our national predicament and I believe it is as important as this excerpt states to stand up in every way possible, large and small, against the corporate/government steamroller:
“We may feel, in the face of the ruthless corporate destruction of our nation, our culture, and our ecosystem, powerless and weak. But we are not. We have a power that terrifies the corporate state.
“Any act of rebellion, no matter how few people show up or how heavily it is censored by a media that caters to the needs and profits of corporations, chips away at corporate power. Any act of rebellion keeps alive the embers for larger movements that follow us. It passes on another narrative.
“It will, as the rot of the state consumes itself, attract wider and wider numbers. Perhaps this will not happen in our lifetimes. But if we persist we will keep this possibility alive. If we do not, it will die.”
The protesters in the Midwest and the 14 state legislators who fled the state to avoid a vote on the bill against an overwhelming Republican majority that is with the governor need and deserve our support.
Send a pizza – here's a telephone number in Madison: (608) 257-9248. Sign this petition. If there is a support rally in your city, join it. And be ready to do more in the coming weeks and months. Help keep this nascent movement alive.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Outhouses I Have Known