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by Paul Boden, WRAP
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f it feels to you that everywhere you look these days, things in this country are going to hell in a handbasket, you’re not alone — you’re also not a CEO or hedge fund manager.
Home foreclosures are at record highs, unemployment rates (artificially low to begin with) are stuck at over 9 percent, and those who still have a job see their wages remain stagnant, their work responsibilities expanded and, more often than not, they hear the company plans to move its operations overseas.
Kids are suffering from cuts to vital preventive health care programs, schools are being shut down, childcare is being defunded and after-school programs are becoming a virtual thing of the past. Many kids are hiding from immigration authorities and local police in fear that at any moment their whole world could be turned upside down with a deportation to a country they have heard of but never really known.
Unions, perhaps the biggest factor behind the fact that we once had a large middle class, are seeing their members attacked by government at every level and under assault by corporations in every trade. And then there are the 40 million-plus people who are living in poverty — the “canaries in this coal mine.”
Housing assistance has been cut 60 percent, disability assistance and family assistance is all but wiped out. Millions are living in homelessness, including 960,000 kids in public schools across the nation who have no homes, and our society has a ten-fold increase in the incarceration rates of mentally ill people.
In Native American tribal communities, poverty and unemployment are at staggering levels, and more than 50 percent of the youth know someone who has attempted suicide. Public parks are locked shut or closed at dusk and public sidewalks are patrolled by private security guards hired by local business groups.
I stop now only because this reflection on the state of U.S. society is so damn depressing. The list is in no way complete but I trust you get the premise: Thing’s are bad! Injustice is in the air everywhere. Oppression is as suffocating as smog.
It’s as though Manifest Destiny, Jim Crow, Anti-Okie and Ugly Laws, and Business Improvement Districts all intermingled, combined the virulent forms of prejudice from every era, and produced what we now simply call America.
The days of social consciousness applying to only one segment of injustice and oppression are over. We can’t claim to care about “the homeless” but buy Nike and stay at a scab hotel. We need to stop thinking that tenant rights for people living in public housing are somehow different than they are for people living in private housing or that America’s continued support for apartheid in Palestine is any different from the anti-immigrant fever that is sweeping the land here at home.
We all know the amazing strength we possess. We find courage and inspiration in the righteous work of our allies and the sacrifices when their work leads to incarceration, as it did for General Dogon of the L.A. Community Action Network most recently. He was unfairly convicted on July 6 of resisting arrest during a nonviolent protest at the L.A. City Council where activists were demanding a freeze on rent increases.
Our commitment, intelligence and fearlessness has never been, and is not now, in question. The question we face today is how we build a movement — not a campaign or an issue-based coalition — but a movement. A movement that truly embraces the diversity of people and understands that issues may come and go, but that what is important is how our government is treating its people.
The more we see ourselves as part of the people in the broadest sense possible, the better we can identify the trends that are becoming so clear at this point: that we have lost our government to a mind-set of corporate gluttony and political corruption that has pitted us against each other to the point where we are all drowning in the sea of repression and trickle-down economics.
On Friday, August 5, 2011, at 4 p.m. in San Francisco’s Union Square, representatives from throughout the West Coast, along with allies from Chicago and New York City, are getting together and laying the groundwork so this movement can grow. People from community organizing and immigrant right communities, from union, homeless, health, and housing groups, from music and education are gathering. We will all be marching, dancing, and dropping in to say hello to our “friends” in the financial district. Not for their benefit, but for ours.
We’ll practice what we preach. We’ll speak to the issues of all our communities and practice how we meld our common humanity in with our individual pride.
And then we’ll do this again, and then again and then again …. We’re going to get really, really good at it, and when we do, when we really do connect all our energies, intelligence, and passions, then we’re going to be able to create a pretty damn decent place for people to live!
Paul Boden is the director of the Western Regional Advocacy Porject (WRAP).