The constant yammering about what divides us is an enormous smokescreen intended to obscure that which really divides us. As Liz Theoharis writes in “The New Politics of the Poor…”
“Today, in the early winter of an uncurbed pandemic and the economic crisis that accompanies it, there are 140 million poor or low-income Americans, disproportionately people of color, but reaching into every community in this country: 24 million Blacks, 38 million Latinos, eight million Asians, two million Native peoples, and 66 million whites. More than a third of the potential electorate, in other words, has been relegated to poverty and precariousness and yet how little of the political discourse in recent elections was directed at those who were poor or one storm, fire, job loss, eviction, or healthcare crisis away from poverty and economic chaos. In the distorted mirror of public policy, those 140 million people have remained essentially invisible.”
White boomers like me are most easily confused by this barrage of propaganda. We lived through a period of relative prosperity for ourselves and our neighbors, and a whole bunch of lies about those who didn’t share our prosperity.
Allegedly, the poor of my lifetime were lazy, or addicted to substances, or poorly parented by elders who were lazy or addicted. Plenty of photos of Black and brown faces accompanied the “investigative” reporting on the failed life in the segregated communities targeted by the war on drugs that was really a war on the poor. Or crime reporting about arrests that always seemed to have a Black or brown face featured despite the fact that crime rates among white people are higher.
Where were the reports on how Black veterans did not receive the GI benefits that allowed my father to complete a college education and buy a house for me to grow up in?
Where were the reports on the redlining by mortgage lenders and real estate brokers that kept Black families from moving into the neighborhoods I grew up in?
Where were the living wage jobs with union protections for working conditions available to Black and brown wage earners my father never had to compete with?
Photo credit Steven Depolo, Flickr
Where was the income for unpaid caregivers like the moms, aunties, and grandmothers that raised children in substandard housing and had to send them to substandard schools nearby?
Where were the reports on how highly addictive crack cocaine was sponsored by the CIA and deliberately introduced into segregated neighborhoods?
Where was the universal health care to treat substance use disorders like health issues rather than criminalizing and filling prisons with enslaved laborers disenfranchised from their right to vote?
Young people today understand the reality of the situation much better than most boomers, even when they are part of the dominant white caste. A common slogan I see them sharing —
No war but class war
— expresses this understanding.
Note that this graph is from before the pandemic, which has greatly accelerated income inequality in the US.
Because the rich got so much richer and the poor got so much poorer in the last several decades, it takes a whole lot of propaganda to convince poor whites that what’s wrong with their lives is brown immigrants taking “their” jobs. Or the Black Lives Matter movement. Or, more to the point, that liberals are the problem.
There is some truth to that and it fuels the furor to “own the libs” that the demagogue with bad hair rode to the White House.
In the crash of 2008 when banks got bailed out but regular working people got sold out, there was a liberal presiding over it all. His VP, now our president-elect, had previously been the architect of the student loan crisis that younger people continue being crushed by.
It’s clear that our corporate overlords, the ones who own the media and the means of production, are ginning up a civil war. Their invisible strategy: make sure the masses kill each other over culture rather than turning on the 1% and removing them from positions of power so that the people can eat.
There’s a reason the guillotine has become a common image in social media shared by the young. Also the slogan, Eat the rich.
But this history major will never advocate violent revolution. Wars, including revolutions, harm many innocent people, most often children and the women who care for them.
A general strike would be much more to the point. No wealth can be created without our labor. That is our greatest power.
No propaganda can change the fact that Jeff Bezos could give every person who risks covid exposure to work in his Amazon warehouses an entire year’s salary as a bonus and still have more money than he did when the pandemic started. And, no propaganda can change the fact that, if they went on strike, his income from that source would dry up quickly.
But we are too broke to strike! young people tell me. I believe them. I also know that every strike that brought down a regime was mounted by people who lacked the resources to survive without income. Mutual aid — another thing young people are good at, putting most boomers to shame — is the cure for that ailment.
But the ruling class will bring the violence if there is a general strike, is another argument I’ve heard against it. But isn’t dire poverty, homelessness, and lack of health care for working class people violent? Isn’t a lifetime of student debt violent? Isn’t mass incarceration and the routine execution of unarmed Black people by police violent?
Certainly our endless wars for resource extraction and transport are violent. Think Afghanistan, Ecuador, and Standing Rock just for starters.
Who knows how a general strike will start, or whether I’ll live long enough to see it.
Mass uprisings are often set off by a spark no one expected.
Will it begin with a rent strike? A nurses strike? The pandemic has put a lot of pressure on both renters and frontline health care providers. Once a specific strike is underway, others who are economically desperate may be motivated to join in.
Remember, the Mongtomery, Alabama bus boycott of the civil rights movement was planned to last one day, intended to demonstrate how much the city bus system needed the revenue from Black customers. It lasted more than a year as that first day inspired the weary, the timid, and the fencesitters to join in.
It was also, most significantly, supported by extensive organizing in advance.
Let’s get busy.