Why is it so difficult today to mobilize American citizens for political action? We face critical issues like education and health care, poverty and mass incarceration, the worsening economic divide and possible human extinction due to climate change. Why aren’t people scrambling to vote in every election, participating in demonstrations, telling our political representatives what we want done to make society better?
This is not a new question. Frequently in our nation’s history, the people have demanded innovative solutions to the systemic ills caused by the excesses of enterprise. Why not do that again?
In the struggle to establish unions, and in the suffrage, temperance, and civil rights movements, each started with scattered local actions. As general support was mustered, people came together around the issue, developed strength and camaraderie. Is there a difference between “then” and “now?”
In those times, the business interests used government as an agent of repression and suppression. The military was called in; the strikers, protesters and women were beaten and murdered. Today, different tactics are used to similar effect: activists are economically co-opted with promises that they, too, can be part of the 1 percent.
A century ago, people gathered together in public places to discuss and debate policy issues. Today’s average citizen, by contrast, has little time for political action, and there are no public spaces for gathering. Since corporate wages and salaries (except for CEOs) have been stagnated for nearly half of a century, one-third of Americans live at or below the poverty line. Many people are working multiple jobs, going deeper into debt just to stay afloat. As a result, individual struggles divert us from public discussion and action.
This is an intended response. The right uses the corporate-owned media, chiefly television, to mask the issues and divert popular attention. TV watchers are lulled with easy answers that appeal to their comfort level and allow them to think inaction is a satisfactory response. Many find it’s easier and simpler to watch the “news” as it’s presented without thinking it through.
Consequently, the people most likely in need of social and economic change, are those staying home, not acting out their dissent, not even voting. Researchers find that those who make less than $75,000 a year, those who describe themselves as “poor,” who are out of work and looking for a job, single people, and young people, are habitually missing at the voting booth.
“Disenfranchisement,” therefore, occurs because the conservatives and wealthy elite get out and vote, while liberals and those who feel deprived are more likely to stay home. This happens because the neo-liberal emphasis on individualism isolates us from one another; our political parties are cozying up to the corporations, and the unions have been crushed and co-opted. We therefore have few opportunities to interact sympathetically and supportively with one another, which blunts our appetite for social action. That’s the way the right likes it.
Nevertheless, polls show most Americans know what must be done. We must address economic inequality and gun violence. We need to stop corporate buying of elections and legislative favors. We must reverse the trend to deprive women of power over their own reproduction systems, and to disenfranchise voters at the polls. We also need to forge a solution to corporate intransigence on climate change.
Miraculously, a revolution is beginning once again, however hesitantly. Just as in the Progressive Era, people are demonstrating and dissenting somewhere in our nation every day. The mainstream media rarely report these facts, but here and there, in communities strung out across the country, Americans are protesting injustice, inequality and violence. They’re saying “no more” to corporate excess and government takeover.
This fall we’re likely to see those who feel disenfranchised by the conservative assault on their lives and rights voting in the mid-term elections. Eventually we’ll see them on the picket lines, too. It’s only a matter of time.