You can click below to hear me expand on some thoughts written by former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich about millions of Americans feeling the system is working against them. The rough transcript is below the sound file.
Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote of how millions of us feel powerless. We feel powerless to enact or facilitate real change. We feel powerless that our voices aren’t being heard because big money is controlling our political system. We feel powerless because we’re tired of getting kicked around.
Reich described how Americans, who are both workers and consumers, are getting squeezed. One person he talked with said they’ve lost so much hope that they’ve quit voting because those in power aren’t listening anyway.
The companies we work for, the businesses we buy from, and the political system we participate in all seem to have grown less accountable. I hear it over and over: They don’t care; our voices don’t count.
A large part of the reason is we have fewer choices than we used to have. In almost every area of our lives, it’s now take it or leave it.
I heard a protester in Baltimore this week echo similar sentiments. After calling for the ouster of the Baltimore mayor and Maryland Governor for that city’s ills–exacerbated by the death of Freddie Grey who died somehow after being arrested by Baltimore police–the interviewer asked the protester if they voted. She answered no. Flummoxed, the interviewer asked, “Why not?” She responded, and I’m paraphrasing, that she works all day long, has to pick up her kids and get food on the table. She doesn’t have time to vote or else her pay gets docked, plus, she said it’s not like they’re listening to us anyway.
While the riots are deplorable and done by a group of bad apples, after learning of the constant distrust between the police and public in cities like Baltimore, Ferguson, New York, and several other cities, it’s remarkable there aren’t other similar scenes we witnessed last week.
Thanks to cell phones, numerous examples of police abuse are being documented for the whole world to see. While not all police are bad, and have to work a tough job, there seems to be something a systemic problem within police ranks. Whether it’s the South Carolina shooting of Walter Scott, the physical abuse of Floyd Dent in Inkster, MI, or the death of Freddie Grey in Baltimore, it’s obvious there are bad apples within the police ranks throughout the country.
Heck, we’ve learned that the city of Baltimore has paid over $6 million dollars in court settlements due to charges of police abuse against its citizens!
Yet, the American press didn’t care about why cities across America are sitting in abject poverty. The press didn’t care why cities across America have poor avenues of education. The American press didn’t want to explain how this country’s hyper-active justice system sends many people to prisons in Baltimore–and the United States–leaving millions of Americans behind the eight ball to even better their lives once they get out. And thanks to draconian drug enforcement laws, many of these Americans can’t even vote!!! We say if you’ve done your time, you can re-enter society. Yet we’re doing all we can to make former prisoners feel like constant outsiders who stand no real hope of reformation.
The American press only cares about cities like Baltimore or Ferguson whenever there’s a riot. It’s sensational and it’s fun TV. It allows clowns like Geraldo Rivera on Fox News to point to a few destructive kids and charge that THEY ARE THE ONES TO BLAME FOR OUR TOUGH LIVES. Pay no attention to how destructive policies are decimating, not just our cities, but our suburbs and rural areas! A disappearing manufacturing base thanks to debilitating trade deals, and years of flawed economic policies and criminal policies have hurt this country.
But see, guys like Geraldo don’t want you to pay attention to the causes of abject poverty and inequality. He would rather pit us against each other when we should be together when governmental policies drag people down rather than lifting them up.
The people of Baltimore feel like nobody is listening to them. Naturally, there’s going to be anger and destruction. We’ve seen it in the past and it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Heck, our country was started via a riot! The Boston Tea Party was a riot!
Can you imagine the news coverage for that event? Can you imagine Geraldo asking how destroying imported tea will result in positive change?
But I digress.
Again, rioting doesn’t solve anything. It does illustrate frustration, however, and that frustration is growing not just in the cities, but throughout the country.
President Obama denounced the riots last week, and then said we must pay attention to cities like Baltimore a lot more, not just when a pharmacy is on fire. Yet, as Obama said that, he’s working hard behind the scenes to pass the TPP Trade deal with several Asian countries which will just further perpetuate the shrinking middle class, and hurt those who’ve got very little.
Trade deals like the TPP–and its earlier siblings like NAFTA and CAFTA–work real well for those at the top. In fact, many policies seem to really benefit those at the top, while those benefits just aren’t trickling down to the rest of society, for some reason. The Wall St. bailouts are just a perfect example. And after those bailouts, I don’t recall Geraldo asking, “Where are the Wall Street Leaders to fix the systemic problem of the Street’s gambling culture?”
While the top one percent have enjoyed a massive influx in their bank accounts, wages have remained stagnant for the rest of the country. Yet, politicians and those at the top argue that we must sacrifice more by cutting back on social security, Medicare, or fixing our infrastructure.
I think the reason why this Tuesday’s ballot initiative to fix the roads in Michigan is in serious trouble is simple: After experiencing tax raises during the last five years, the middle class isn’t all fired up to vote for a sales tax hike to pay for new roads. It’s not that Michiganders don’t grasp how bad our roads are, it’s just that the state legislature didn’t do its job and wants the citizens to fix everything they’ve done wrong.
We’ve elected these people to do a job, and what has happened is that over the years, they have steadily drained this state’s financial resources. The money has gone to businesses in the form of tax breaks and incentives, and to make up for those losses, they have put the burden on we the people, with the poor, the elderly and the children taking the brunt of the damage. Over and over and over again they have done this, and now they want to do it some more. It’s confirmation that the elected officials in Lansing don’t care about the people of this state, they only care about who can make them money.
People are feeling powerless. They are angry whether it be in cities like Baltimore or states like Michigan with little hope of experiencing real change.
Robert Reich concludes in his piece:
But a growing sense of powerlessness in all aspects of our lives – as workers, consumers, and voters – is convincing most people the system is working only for those at the top.
That sums it up.