A scene from this week's protests on Brazil's Capital, Rio de Janeiro
In America, the most recent analogous show of discontent by the people toward the status quo were the Occupy and the Tea Party Movements. However, with the exception of still-unfolding events in Turkey and Brazil, the “demonstrations”—for want of a better term—in America lack the broad grassroots inclusiveness of the uprisings around the world. The chief difference between say, the Arab Spring as an example of popular uprisings and those much weaker variations having occurred in America is both their lasting effect and limited scope. The Occupy movement was a rejection of corporate greed and the type of hyper-capitalism that almost tanked the global market back in 2008. Despite the number of associated protests, the Occupy Movement was less of a protest against socioeconomic inequality and Big Money influence in the legislative process it should have been. The Tea Party protests—despite having tinges of the same issues that the Occupy Movement were protesting—was too ideologically partisan to the right to truly represent a cross-section of America ethnically, politically, and/or socially.
As I watch news coverage of more economic-issue-inspired protests unfurling across Brazil, I can’t help but wonder why the poor and disenfranchised in America don’t mobilize in a similar way against marginalization by politicians and policy makers? During the 2012 presidential elections, both President Obama and former Republican candidate Mitt Romney ran campaigns targeting the American Middle Class—as did Romney’s Republican Primary competitors. Democrats running for office at the national level tend to target the same constituency; at local levels they have no choice but to acknowledge poor voters simply because of the nature of local politics. However, as both, a campaign policy and policy focus, the welfare and interests of the underclass as a group in America simply doesn’t lobby on its own behalf when their interests are ignored or targeted for damning by legislators seeking to balance budgets on their already burdened backs. The underclass as a group is not usually given to vocalizing their discontent. This week’s failure in the U.S House of Representatives to cut funding to programs responsible for helping those needy families purchase food is an example of this (See: “Proposed Cuts in the House Farm Bill Mean "2 Million Less People on Food Stamps, 210,000 Children Will Not Receive School Lunches or Breakfasts”).
Those needing the program did not march on Washington to protest the attempt to cut the much-needed assistance; Democrats (and some Republicans) simply refused to support the cuts for differing reasons. Those who would benefit from the program were given the reprieve on the mercies of advocates in Congress. While the politically-connected Moneyed Class has the ears, hearts, and minds of policy-makers, the Middle Class catches policy-makers’ attention during election periods. The poor in America—lacking money, organization, and drenched in voter apathy—are nothing more than pawns in the political chess game. Having worked with and alongside (and at one time lived) with the politically and economically disenfranchised in America, my personal (and objective) observations as to why they as a group refuse to mobilize in the way that their brethren in other countries have are multidimensional.
A major reason the poor in America don’t organize and/or vocalize their discontent is the lack of interests in news and current events—such as the protests occurring abroad. Many lower income, lower class individuals tend to anesthetize with irrelevant distractions, and insulate from knowledge of relevant issues which could affect them. A great majority of them tend to spend inordinate amounts of time viewing music videos, so-called “reality television,” and other programming which specializes in commanding the narrow attention spans and interests of those who would rather be entertained than informed. And in the instances they are seeking to be informed, their curiosity extends only as far as the personal lives of celebrities and pseudo-celebrities. Having worked with at-risk kids (as well as their parents), I would observe and take note of their interests and their lack of interests in national and world events. When they have an opportunity to use the internet for schoolwork and/or recreation, they tend to use the time to listen to the latest offering of what passes for music nowadays, or view sites that delve into the meaningless lives of those “entertainers” who are responsible for today’s music. Their parents are little better in their knowledge (or interest) of current events. Of course, this is not to say that there are those of within the lower economic (and social) brackets who are not interested in what goes in Washington and their state capitals. What I speak is on the whole, this group is more inclined toward focusing on information on the most rudimentary of levels; the weather forecast, local news, and/or progress of their local sports teams. An observation that I made years ago provides an illustration. Back when I was in college, a good friend of mine and I travelled to Chicago (where I was born) and went sight-seeing along in the “Gold Coast” area of the city—where Big Money and affluence is concentrated. As we drove in the Lake Shore Drive area, I noticed that outside the couple-grand-a-month-rent condos were newspaper boxes stacked groups of 5 or more. They sold The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and a few more of the national dailies. Back in the old neighborhood, the corner newspaper boxes only carried the Chicago Sun-Times, the Tribune, and maybe the city’s historic black newspaper, The Defender. The takeaway for me was the “haves” were informed, while the “have-nots” were not.
Another reason that the poor in America are not able to gather the wherewithal to demonstrate in favor of their collective interests is that much of their time is spent simply trying to survive trying to live off of the meager wages offered in our new service-based economy. While lawmakers were busy gutting the gutting programs—in the name of “cutting spending”—that had some impact in supplementing low wage workers, those on the lower rungs of society were forced to dedicate more and more of their time trying to make up for these cuts by working two or even part-time three jobs to make up for the incomes and benefits that a single job used to offer. The 90s-era North American Free-Trade Agreement made it possible for many higher-paying U.S. manufacturers to move jobs to lower-labor costs Mexico. The manufacturers who remained lowered wages to compete with the new globalized economy. The emerging service industry didn’t have to pay as much to compete with the comparable-paying manufacturing industry; the $7.00-$9.00 starting pay is the same as moderate pay in the 1980s. With so much time dedicated to ensuring that families are able to pay bills, little things like attending parent-teacher meetings, community groups, city-council/town hall meetings, and other such gathering that would normally inform citizens of what’s going on around them (as well as fellowship with those who might also might be informed) became necessarily passé’ as a matter of survival. Among a group where many have to plan ahead just to vote in a way that doesn’t jeopardize their jobs or compromise any needed paid time, is it any wonder that voting is the only form of being “informed” or “protest” that many of them know?
There is also a level of willful ignorance as well as self-defeating thinking among the lower classes in America. Many rural poor whites for example harbor race-based animosities toward minorities; “blacks are lazy,” “Mexicans come to America and take all the jobs, “and “Foreigners are buying up American stores.” Many lower-class blacks tend to give racism more power than it has over their lives and the impact it has on their ability to work toward impacting their own lives in a positive sense. Sure, racism still exists, and it can have some negative impact over those who try to get ahead—no matter how much others want to believe otherwise. But it cannot overcome hard work or the desire to not be manipulated by uncaring legislators and policy makers who only seem to be motivated by the financially well-heeled. Such thinking leads to apathy, the feeling of powerlessness, and a fatalistic outlook toward those who expect and operate in concert with such thinking. In other words, uncaring, unmoved, and oblivious legislators and policymakers here in America need the disaffectedness and divisions among the lower-class and disenfranchised in order to keep themselves in power, and the masses from rising up in the same way those others have in other countries.
The Civil Rights, Feminist, Tea Party, and various other movements prove that people can impact decisions far more than they would give themselves credit for. The protests this week in Turkey and Brazil prove that masses of disaffected and disenchanted people can mobilize in ways that render the influence of Big Money moot. When the Founders Fathers crafted the Constitution, they intended for the people to tell government what it wants, not to have its representatives ignore the needs of the people. Since the Supreme Court’s democracy-weakening decision in Citizens United, our decision-makers and leaders have adopted the backwards notion that money should move and impact policy more than anything else. The poor in this country need to take a page from what’s happening around the world and start mass protesting in not only Washing, but in the various state capitals to show that policy and governing should be based on reality—what’s going on around us—rather than ideology—what one thinks or believes to “be right.”
One reason why the poor in America maintain a sense of powerlessness...exploitation by those benefit from their unfortunate circumstances (watch the video).