Recently, the jobs crisis in America prompted New York mayor Michael Bloomberg to predict that riots will come if jobs are not created soon.
“We have a lot of kids graduating college, can’t find jobs,” Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show. “That’s what happened in Cairo. That’s what happened in Madrid. You don’t want those kinds of riots here.”
“The damage to a generation that can’t find jobs will go on for many, many years,” he added.
As for a nation with multimedia diversions—not to mention a stubborn, widespread belief that the American Dream of upward mobility still will come to all who want it— I have maintained that it will take a great deal for riots to come to this country once again. I certainly would not want to see violence fall upon anyone in any community.
At the same time, as a student of history I understand that things do happen. In the 1960s, communities of color reached a tipping point. Call them riots, civil disturbances or urban rebellions, they often arose from acts of police brutality. But ultimately, they came to reflect frustration over poverty and inequality, a lack of economic opportunity, no jobs, bad schools and a shortage of housing.
And it was also a time of heightened political awareness and political activism, with the civil rights, antiwar and Black Power movements in full force. Meanwhile, J. Edgar Hoover and the police made their best effort to neutralize these protest movements, even if it meant assassinating their leaders.
Now, I’m sure that some commentators at the time dismissed the riots as acts of vandalism and mayhem on the part of “those” lawless people, meaning black folks, who just don’t know how to behave.
And yet, while blacks, Latinos and other historically marginalized groups have always known pain, whether back in the day or under the current recession, today we are witnessing something fundamentally different. Today, the thumbscrews are being applied to America’s poor, working class and middle class, as a collective. And you can’t help but believe that the torturers are engaged in a perverse experiment to see how much they can get away with.
If the U.S. has not reached a tipping point of sorts, you can’t help but think it will come soon. Some 6.9 million jobs have been lost since the trap door came aloose on the nation’s flawed economic system in 2007. Add to that the jobs needed to keep up with population growth and America has a jobs deficit of 11 million jobs.
A jobs crisis exists side-by-side with a staggering rate of poverty unmatched in over half a century. One in six Americans lives in poverty—46.2 million people, or 15.1 percent—a third of them children. The Latino poverty rate is 26 percent, with 27 percent for blacks. The U.S. is experiencing a lost decade, and beyond the numbers there exists a profound psychological toll that defies any degree of quantifying.
It is one thing to say that half of all Americans earn less than less than $26,000, and only 1 percent earn over $250,000. You can also point out that in the land of opportunity, the nation with the highest inequality in the industrialized world, 400 people have more wealth than half the entire country combined.
But it is an entirely different proposition to ask why, and how to stop it.
Simply put, America’s political governance system has been purchased by the nation’s top 1 percent, and they are getting their money’s worth. Corporate money has taken over the government, and the government is unable, no, unwilling to take care of the needs of its people, sans the 1 percent who possess their sales receipt in hand.
American politics is legalized bribery and corruption. With the social welfare system peeling away for austerity’s sake, American capitalism, unfettered, is reverting back to its natural state of exploitation—allowing a few winners, mostly losers, and a lot of cold-bloodedness and cold-heartedness to go around.
The party controlling Congress is a Koch Brothers-led sideshow of extremism, lunacy, instability and racial paranoia. And the party in the White House is led by a man who means well on his best days, but has placed far too much faith in Ivy League white dudes. He has sought friendship with those who plan his demise— and that of the nation’s economy for political gain— as he legitimizes and embraces their pathological ideas. Half-measures and Clintonian triangulation have appeared misplaced and wholly inadequate, falling far short of the bold promises of hope and change in the 2008 election.
Right now, the president is on the right track in his populist efforts at pushback against the GOP, including a proposal to end the Bush tax cuts and tax the wealthy more, or at least as much as the rest of us.
Ultimately, public pressure will turn all of this around, as it always does. What we learned is that elections are not enough, and politics is not a spectator sport. The people must demand what they want from their elected officials, and change the terms of the public debate. Mass protest, not President Obama, will do the job of saving us from American capitalism.
A movement called Occupy Wall Street has decided to take a cue from the Arab Spring, and engage in nonviolent mass occupation to fight the greed and corruption of the top 1 percent and restore democracy in America. The movement, which plans to camp out on Wall Street for a few months, is not getting as much attention as it should. Hopefully that will change. We could use a little class warfare right now. It is always good to know where things stand.