But first I am reprinting an article below written a year ago looking the divergence between the middle class and the poor in this country and the reasons why that has historically been the case, yet also identifying the opportunity for these two classes two join forces given the impending impoverization of the middle class. I predicted a year ago that such an alliance would occur in the United States. Now I examine whether it can be sustained.
After that I update the article in the wake of the Occupy Movement and ask can an alliance between the poor and the Occupy Movement be sustained.
Finally I look at factors which I think can sink the movement, even before the November presidential elections.
(Written November 2010
In the recent mid-term elections 2010 in the United States political debate excluded two enormous topics of obvious import: the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the plight of the working poor and middle classes in the United States.
The economy was discussed in these mid-term elections but not its real impacts on real people now short of resources and whose life chances are declining. Rather, we were treated to debates about tax cuts, deficit reductions, "big government" and "socialism."
Why should these discussions take on these contours?
We will have a look at the middle classes and the working poor in the American political landscape and how they place themselves in the political spectrum and why.
We shall also compare that to the multi-party system and the coalition patterns extent in Europe. There we find distinctly different political patterns and outcomes. How do the two systems compare and why and with what political outcomes.
Let's start with a quote from two European scholars who ask the questions; do political coalitions between the middle class and the working poor explain the nature of political structures in Europe? Why are there no coalitions between the poor and the middle class in the United States?
The scholars Iversen and Soskice are quoted from a paper given by Phillip Manow in Seoul, Korea in March of 2007 gives us some clues as to why such coalitions exist in Europe but not in the United States. See link below.
Here is a longish quote from that paper.
"Iversen and Soskice start from the basic observation that in multi-party systems the left is in government more often whereas the right more often governs in two-party systems. Why is this so?
In a multi-party system the lower and the middle classes together can tax the rich and share the revenue. In a two party system the middle class can either vote for a centre-left party or a centre-right party. If the left
governs, the middle class has to fear that the left government will tax both the upper and the middle class for the exclusive benefit of the lower class. If a right party governs, the middle and upper class will not be taxed and redistribution will be marginal. Therefore, in a two-party
system the middle class has the choice either to be taxed and to receive no benefits, or not to be taxed and to receive no benefits. Obviously, it would prefer then not to be taxed.
From this simple and highly stylized account it is clear that the middle class will more often vote together with the lower class in multi-party systems – or to be more precise: middle class parties will more often enter into coalitions with lower class parties in multi-party systems than in two party systems.2"
Underlying this analysis is a stark premise: Politics is about money and resources--who gets what, when, where and how.
Another premise, equally important and less apparent, seems to be that prosperity must be shared for a culture to flourish. A peaceful means to accomplish this must be identified and institutionalized. Otherwise, the rich will greedily absorb a disproportionate share of everything, refuse to give it up, and the society ultimately is thrown into riots, anger, social dislocations, revolution and all things bad and not so incidentially, the destruction of the middle class.
Well lets see how these principles do and do not apply to America, especially since at this critical juncture, these are precisely the questions which our country now confronts, even as political discourse ignores them altogether--if we take the last election as an indicator.
Next time. Who is getting what, when, where, why, and how in the United States.
Nov 29, 2010
I make the argument that the systematic attack on the middle class in this country involving so-called deficit cut backs, privatizing social security, cutting medicare, cutting education spending, cutting wages, contemplating millions of unemployed indefinitely, also constitute opportunities.
There are now opportunities for the middle class, in seeing itself becoming lower middle class, to begin to see and form a coalition with the working poor classes and to see it has common interests with even the current poor.
From this an ethos of common prosperity can emerge and the country can get back on the right track again.
Having most wealth the hands of the rich is an unsustainable idea.
This opportunity for the middle class to finally see that all the money in this country is money they themselves supply to Wall Street institutions who translate those funds into political power which has been used to ransack that very same middle class--taking from them in just three years, their home values, their savings, their jobs--and their futures even unto retirement--all under the guise of deficit reduction. This is a middle class holocaust.
This is and will become even more devastating. It in fact, it turns America into a true welfare state: The rich controlling most wealth in a Neo-Dickens world where most will have to depend upon alms from a government controlled by those very same rich classes.
Fish are having trouble identifying water.
Nov 10, 2011-An Update
Well in the year since the above was written much of what was discussed there has come to pass. In the form of the Occupy Movement, young people and old people who saw themselves in the middle class finally realized they were actually poor and getting poorer.
Even more remarkably they saw that they had much in common with the working poor and labor unions.
This is a remarkable turn about.
In the Vietnam War era, and in most other protest movements heretofore, hard-hats had no sympathy for "hippies, radicals and communists."
Now the two groups stand together.
This has seldom occurred where all of the various classes outside the one percent stand together.
And this is precisely what makes the movement so potent.
All of American history has been dominated by the divide and rule tactics of the one percent, where Americans have been pitted against one another, by race against race, immigrants vs. natives, women against men, republicans against democrats, war vs anti-war. social conservatives against liberals, but rarely has the issue been so starkly put: the real issue is and has always been the one percent against the 99 percent.
The groping at this point is for those opposed to the Occupy Movement is to find a way to divide and or discredit its participants, supporters and backers.
And they are trying.
First lets just identify a few themes which have emerged from the right wing media.
1-The protesters are dirty, lazy hippies and rabble.
2-The protesters do not represent the majority of americans.
3-They are disorganized have have no agenda.
4-Winter will cause them to disband.
5-Their encampments are crime ridden, and rape and violence occurs within them which goes unreported.
6-They are priviledged kids who want to made demands and don't want to work hard as other generations have.
7-They are dead-beats not willing to pay off their debts.
8-They have illicit sex in those tents.
9-They have no political future since they don't have leaders, and no demands.
10-They are anti-American and secretly backed by socialists and communists.
11-They are creating health hazards and they are breaking the law and hurting merchants and destroying property.
What a list huh?
Well, rather than defend against these red-herrings, (I will get around to each in coming days)
I instead now propose to identify the ones in the list above which are serious threats to the movement and might sink it if they are not dealt with judiciously.
By far the two greatest threats to movement are the two listed below.
They, in my mind are:
1-Portraying the protestors as law-breakers and destroyers of property.
2-Portraying them as anti-American, deadbeats.
If the portrayal as law-breakers sticks this can effectively sink the movement. It allows the use of police to crack down to "protect property and lives" while hiding the real intent, which is that of crushing the movement.
What should the movement do about legitimate concerns around safety, health, crime and property issues?
The issue must be faced head on and directly.
I'll go into detail about how that can be done on tomorrow and also tackle number two above.
The ability of the movement to tackle these two issues will, in my view, determine its future. More tommorow.
For a detailed look at how it all got started and who these Occupiers are see the link below.
The issue of safety is not a red herring.
Movement members must take this issue seriously and deal with it. Protestors must feel safe in protesting.
Here are the challenges for OWS and possible solutions.
1-First it is not enough to complain that the police are dropping off the homeless, criminals and the mentally ill in the camps knowing that these types will increase chaos. Even if true , and it probably is, the challenge here is to deal with the cards being dealt here. How?
a. Ask veterans groups to provide security for the camps. If you are trying to model alternative ways of doing institutions, you must take on this task as well. Cities don't deal with human issues. Occupiers have to now show the alternatives. It comes with the claims of being different.
What should be done is to employ veteran security people would also cement the alliance between that group and the protestors. Some groups like the NY group could afford to pay people small sums to do this. Social workers too are present and more ought to be recruited on a volunteer basis.
b. Go into negotiations and have the city police provide special patrols for the camp, asking for that support just like one would do for their own neighborhood. Off duty cops, friendly to the movement can be found and would like do it. After all two or three might suffice for most camps. Additionally cop/protestor liasons like this are very useful for a lot of reasons over and above security issues.
c. Identify or bring in lockers so that campers can have a place to store their stuff and not worry about theft. Every crook in town just might show up looking to steal stuff. That is a fact of life and Occupiers have to deal with it.
d. The criminal element and the window-breakers should be handled using the techniques above as well. Small business people should not suffer because of the protest. Meetings should be held with them, and an outreach program should be established and their help actively solicited and their concerns taken serously.
Here is an important and clarifying point on this property issue: Thousands may die in senseless wars, homes repossesed and foreclosed upon, savings stolen and movements trying to do something about all that can be discredited because of broken windows, and property damage?
This is the American ethos where property takes precidence over human lives. That is how far we have come, how much the rights of property and money are now deemed more important than millions of human lives. This is the sacredness of property promoted by the 1%. We have been brainwashed.
How many broken windows does it take then to tarnish a movement? Only a few.
This is the hard lesson that OWS people have to learn. They too, share in these money and property values and have to unlearn them if they are to maintain their momentum. Besides few and few of them will have property in the future to worry about.
A Self-Education Program has to be mounted.
History shows that movements such as these bring protestors and rebels face to face with own values and changing those values or over-coming dysfunctional ones (for example, placing property above human lives) and class prejudices against the poor; all of this is self-education and is not easy.
The middle class rebels discover sometimes, in rebelling, that they are middle class and some don't recover enough from this realization to keep the protest going.
They go home, some dissillusioned, some complaining, some discouraged. That is been the history of many protest movements in this country.
Most of the young people have never encountered a homeless person up close for days at a time in their entire lives. These are middle class people meeting really poor people, vagabonds, down and outers, drunks and other non-middle class types.
I have seen the culture shock of this destroy movements unless organizers take steps to deal with it.
So the single greatest factor as to whether the movement will survive is whether its middle class protestors and supporters can overcome close contact with the poor and the working poor, the very folks the movement is supposed to be all about.
In all of this middle class kids discover just how middle class they are in movements like this and can get turned off from actually coming into contact with the walking wounded of our society.
This a serious problem and must be addressed.
Internal liasons with the walking wounded should be set up and even special programs to help them. Also make the city do their job in helping those neglected and the practice of dumping them at camps ought to be investigated.
See link below for the issue of the homeless.
2-Second health is an issue. Volunteers must be identified to take care of cleanliness and illness. One bad outbreak of something God-awful could make people wary about showing up. The above ideas can also be applied to this health issue-liasons and medical volunteers ought to be recruited.
It is essential, as well, that money be spent on porta-potties cause bad smells can ruin a good movement.
3-Move the meetings indoors where there is more control over who shows up. Leave only a few stalwarts outside for photo ops but protect your people in the coming winter and get them inside. Besides volunteers like to be warm and their needs too, which have to be considered.
4-Getting Hit in the Head Will Make you Conform.
Secondly, the shock of seeing cops come toward you and then smash you in the face and tear-gas you is a shock of another kind--young people genuinely thought the cops were their friends.
No, they get taken to jail, and sit in holding tanks with drunks,drug addicts and the like. And the police do this on purpose to discourage people and to make them fear arrest and to drop out of the movement.
Intimidation works which is why the city and the police use these tactics.
Normally that is.
What is unusual is that OWS people have turned the tables on this tactic and video taped it all gaining sympathy for participants and gaining for it even more recruits.
5-Last, if you are going to feed people every day (3,000) there must be controls over the food, it's preparation and delivery.
One bad batch of food will scare people away.
Or food can easily be sabotaged by those who wish to see the movement fail.
Next: what to do about those media-haters who denigrate movement participants and seek to strangle the movement in its crib?