The above video is intense, be warned. But then again, there are many many very intense things happening in our nation. We tend to be shielded (and to shield ourselves) from the very real suffering that happens in the United States and the suffering that happens around the world for which we are to blame. We live in a culture that prefers to engage Hollywood suffering rather than confront the harsh realities of the real thing: ghettos of violence and drugs, rural poor who have no access to healthcare or insurance, people who cannot find jobs that will support their families, incarcerated people striped of their rights and subjected to the absolute authority of guards and prison officials.
There are many tough things to digest, much suffering in the U.S. The passion of those in this video simply represent a small minority of people who are standing up for the right to collectively bargain.
Michael Moore’s passion is also evident. I share his general concern, particularly about the unequal, top-heavy concentration of wealth in the hands of a few people in the U.S. Public workers are not to blame for our financial mess in the U.S. It is the people who hold the purse strings, and the numbers are staggering. In this video, Moore points out that 400 people have more wealth in the U.S. than 50% of the population. I tried to fact-check this, and while I couldn’t come up with a direct confirmation, the stats I have seen make it seem quite probably that Moore is correct. (See the link at the end of the post for more statistics.)
From a spiritual perspective, I am a bit hesitant to use the term “They” in the way that Michael Moore uses it. I think there are a collective group of elites in this country who are aware that they are exploiting the masses in order to be more wealthy, and I think there are powerful people who actively work to keep down the worker and increase their wealth. However, I don’t know that Governor Walker or others who agree with his philosophy necessarily represent the forces of evil in quite the same way. I think there are many who are simply misguided, who genuinely believe that unionizing workers is a threat to the economy and represent a strain on the economy. I think this perspective misses the point of why our economy tanked, and I think their concern is severely misplaced, but they do not meaningfully work to promote suffering. I think there is a good deal of fear in the U.S. There is an unhealthy paranoia of all the wrong things and a lack of healthy fear of what is really wrong.
So, protests. How do they matter?
It is interesting to watch the intensity of these protests. It also gives me heart, to show that people do care and are willing to take a stand.
Do the protesters matter? Are we in the white middle class more willing to sympathize with well-dressed, “appropriate” protests than we are if there is a rag-tag small group of protesters on a street corner?
I really hope that our financial crisis can awaken in us a desire to take real action to change the massive inequality and global exploitation that have marked our economy for decades now. I hope that this will lead to a concern for all people who suffer in this nation. Real empathy for the plight of all.
“If democracy were to be given any meaning, if it were to go beyond the limits of capitalism and nationalism, this would not come–if history were any guide–from the top. It would come through citizens movements, educating, organizing, agitating, striking, boycotting, demonstrating, threatening those in power with disruption of the stability they need.” — Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States
For more graphs and statistics on inequality in the U.S. see Power in America
The Cairo-Madison Connection by Noam Chomsky on the importance of workers standing up to power