Monday, November 5, 2012

You Say You Want a Revolution

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We're doing what we can
But when you want money
for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right
~ Revolution by the Beatles, 1968

Mackenzie, who is staying with us while transitioning to a new city, is working as a server while she is here. She needs to work a job that offers flexibility for when she is performing as a dancer and aerialist. She has seven years of experience in upscale New York City restaurants, where a good proportion of wait staff are performers, and both restaurants she contacted down here quickly offered her a job. She chose the one that is closest to us.
Last Saturday night she worked the dinner shift and, generally, at least in NYC, Saturday night dinner shifts reap good tips. She had a table of seven, the tab was over $150, and she thought the customers enjoyed their dining experience. She received a one-dollar tip.  Her base pay is under three dollars per hour. Added together, that’s not even close to being a living wage. Yet the restaurant general manager admonished her for not buying the uniform they’d decided they wanted their servers to wear a week ago. This, after she had already purchased a shirt to their specifications (a shirt that looks exactly like the shirt they decided upon and was actually more expensive) and had been wearing it for the two months she’s worked there.
She said, “I didn’t make any money. How do you think I’m going to pay for the shirt?”
Some of her colleagues commute forty minutes each way, and they can barely afford to fill their gas tanks, let alone buy shirts, and pay rent and utilities. Yet they are expected to give service with a smile.
Low wages are common here in this right-to-work state. So are jobs that don’t offer benefits such as health insurance. There is another reason restaurants on the whole are lacking business and tips are often less than the standard 15 – 20 percent. It is because many people are still suffering economically, and though things are getting better slowly, we could suffer major setbacks if Romney wins the election.
About half of America will disagree with that statement.
Low wages are becoming a trend everywhere in our country, though. Manufacturing jobs, the path to a middle class living in the 1950s through 1970s, have been replaced with low paying service jobs. Even for the few manufacturing jobs left in America, most are paying lower wages after chasing out the unions. I know my own company moved manufacturing out of the Northeast in order to close out the union and operate more cheaply overseas or in right-to-work states.
Executives are making more than ever and creating a class of super rich individuals. Mitt Romney supports them in continuing to make super salaries and receiving super perks, because he believes their wealth will “trickle down” to the rest of us. I don’t believe it. I haven’t seen it.
Some people are talking about a revolution to take back America, but when Ronald and I talk about it, we often say, “It won’t be the revolution people think it’s going to be.”
The reason we say that is because we need to come together, not push apart, and this election cycle is proving just how far apart we are. It isn’t the average American, you and me, who we need to rise up against. It’s all of us, the 99%, who need to rise up against the 1%.
“It’s not the haves versus the have-nots, it’s the have-it-alls versus the rest of Americans,” says Jacob Hacker, co-author of Winner Takes All: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.
He and his co-author Paul Pierson talked with Bill Moyers in January 2012 about the premise of their book. Their research has led them to the conclusion that in the last thirty years politics has changed our economy through organized combat funded by the super rich. On issue after issue our politicians cater to the rich and ignore the rest of America.
As I watched the interview a few days ago, I realized that this election clearly illustrates their premise.
As mentioned in an earlier post We Built This, the economy of the 1950s was good for everyone. There was better income distribution, and though the wealthy continued to get wealthy, everyone else was doing well, too. A rising tide lifts all boats, as Pierson and Hacker reminded me during the interview.  Further, they said middle class Americans had a voice through Labor unions, civic organizations, and the government.
After the 1960s the gap in wealth distribution grew as a result of failed domestic policies. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that almost all Americans, the 99%, lose in a shift where rewards are concentrated on a small segment of the society. Lobbying and big money fueled the disparity by getting directly involved in government. This election highlights the disparity. The Koch brothers and other billionaires have funded tens of millions of dollars to support the Romney/Ryan ticket.
Pierson said, “There has been a thirty-year war in which the sound of the voice of ordinary Americans is quieter and quieter in American politics and the voice of business and the wealthy has been louder and louder.”
I’m scared about Tuesday’s outcome. Can money really buy an election? I believe so. Can tapping into people’s fears and prejudices sway votes? I believe so. Can voter suppression work its insidious magic? It worked in 2000.
I suppose many feel that President Obama is part of the machine but I can’t help but believe he has compromised where he needed to in order to move his initiatives forward, like the Affordable Health Care Act which resembles Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan rather than the single-payer plan he originally envisioned. He believes our greatest recovery is in building out from the middle, as in the middle class, as opposed to the GOP trickle down theory.
The closest we came to a revolution in recent years was in 2008 when Obama’s grassroots fundraising helped him win the election. Hatred and fear were running high, and racism had an obvious impact, but he still won.
A little over a year ago the 99% tried to create a revolution, but I think they lacked organization and an agenda. Maybe they had the right idea, but implementation was haphazard at best. Camping out on Wall Street might have sent a message, but it didn’t have any teeth behind it and no way to make change happen.
This time around, unlike in 2008 when I wasn’t using social media, I receive about five emails a day from various liberal groups such as Emily’s List and that give information and plead for donations. They worked.  I donated often, and I have high hopes for another win for President Obama despite a nagging uneasiness.
But the GOP is organized as well, and I get several phone calls and mailings a week from organizations such as the American Family Association and the National Organization for Marriage. They are trying to jump on the coattails of the super rich to force social issues changes that will impact the civil rights of some Americans.
I worry that people are concentrating on the wrong issues when we argue over a woman’s reproductive rights or the rights of two consenting people to have a legal union that protects them as a couple. When life seems overwhelming, people seek to control what they can.
In this right-to-work, religious, and swing state North Carolina, people’s words and deeds have frightened me. They use strong language in describing how white people feel disenfranchised by minorities  (racial, ethnic, and gender minorities) and how they will fight, violently so if need be, to retain their position of racial majority and the privilege that goes with it. It is their version of a revolution.
I don’t want to see people fight over the single piece of pie that is left to the rest of us after the super rich have taken their share. There is more than enough pie for all to have a hearty slice. A rising tide lifts all boats. So when we all do better, businesses will see more business, and people like Mackenzie will make decent tips because the people they are serving will have more to spend. But we need to do it peacefully, in collaboration and in consensus.
Jacob Hacker said the following during the interview:
“When citizens are organized and when they press their claims forcefully, and there are reformist leaders within government and outside it who work on [citizens’] behalf then we do see reform. This is the story of the American democratic experiment of wave after wave of reform leading to a much broader franchise and a much broader understanding of the American idea.”
I agree. We need to start a revolution.
Martin Luther King once led a revolution for civil rights and racial justice for all Americans. He said this in his commencement address at Oberlin College in June 1965:
“Now there is another problem facing us that we must deal with if we are to remain awake through a social revolution. We must get rid of violence, hatred, and war. Anyone who feels that the problems of mankind can be solved through violence is sleeping through a revolution. I've said this over and over again, and I believe it more than ever today. We know about violence. It's been the inseparable twin of Western materialism, the hallmark of its grandeur. I am convinced that violence ends up creating many more social problems than it solves. This is why I say to my people that if we succumb to the temptation of using violence in our struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness. There is another way - a way as old as the insights of Jesus of Nazareth and as modern as the techniques of Mohandas K. Gandhi. For it is possible to stand up against an unjust system with all of your might, with all of your body, with all of your soul, and yet not stoop to hatred and violence. Something about this approach disarms the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses, weakens his morale, and at the same time, works on his conscience. He doesn't know how to handle it. So it is my great hope that, as we struggle for racial justice, we will follow that philosophy and method of non-violent resistance, realizing that this is the approach that can bring about that better day of racial justice for everyone.”
Here is a photo of Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. sitting in a jail cell at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, AL (Bettmann/CORBIS).

I feel much the same way Hacker did at the end of his interview with Bill Moyers. He said, “The optimistic message is that politics got us into this mess and, potentially, politics can get us out of it.”

The Beatles ended their song Revolution with the following stanzas:
You say you'll change the constitution
Well you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well you know
You better free your mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow

Don't you know know it's gonna be alright
Alright, alright
Vote. Make your voice loud and let it be heard. Start the revolution.

No comments:

Post a Comment