Fighting Back in America
By Reginald Johnson
Feb. 11, 2011
For nearly three weeks the Egyptian people put on an incredible display of courage. Despite attacks by pro-government thugs and police --- which resulted in over 300 deaths and widespread injuries --- they continued to demonstrate day after day by the hundreds of thousands, demanding a more just economic system, a more democratic government and the removal of long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Now it looks like the rebellion has succeeded, with Mubarak stepping down and ceding power to the military and the vice president.
The Egyptian uprising followed the protests in January in Tunisia, where people rallied by the thousands to demand the ouster of long-time despot, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Eventually, the massive protests forced Ben Ali to flee the country.
Last year millions demonstrated across Europe, protesting austerity plans calling for pay cuts and pension reductions. In Greece alone, two million workers ---- a full 20 percent of the nation’s population --- protested on one day alone.
I’m wondering. Just when are the American people going to rise up and demand changes from their government? When is there going to be a mass movement and fightback against the financial-military-media elite of this country to bring about a fairer economic system?
It just seems that as other countries boil over, it’s so quiet here. You would think people would be really steamed over the worsening quality of life in the U.S, and that so little is being done to stop the decline.
What do we have? More than 9 percent unemployed ---- 22 million people looking for work; health care costs climbing steadily, eating away at family budgets and driving more people into bankruptcy; foreclosures still happening everywhere, with banks and the government doing little or nothing to stanch the flow; millions of Americans worried about their ability to retire, due to losses in retirement accounts in the stock market crash of two years ago as well as pension reductions.
But instead of taking the position that government should play an active role in helping people weather these difficult times, we have a President and a Congress who keep insisting on cutting safety net programs.
Despite the crisis in health care, proposals are being floated to slash Medicare and Medicaid. Many in Congress and people around President Barack Obama also think Social Security should be cut. Obama is also asking for a freeze on vital domestic programs such as education and housing.
Obama and other leaders say Americans have to sacrifice so the nation can pull itself out of massive debt --- a debt they didn’t create. The debt was created by the cost of bank bailouts, overseas wars and a recession triggered by Wall Street speculation.
But only working people are being told to sacrifice in this effort.
A bill signed by Obama in December gives tax breaks to billionaires and big corporations. This will just add to the debt burden on everyone else.
The wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, siphoning money away from social programs.
So Americans are getting screwed. The middle class is being battered --- to the point where soon, there will be no middle class. Increasingly our society is becoming two strata --- the rich and the near rich, and everybody else.
You would think that this situation would get people fired up, fired up to the point where they want to get out and demonstrate, wave flags, hold signs, shout and demand better --- just like in the Middle East and Europe. But it’s not happening. There have been local protests, for instance, in California and New York, over budget cuts. That’s good. But where are the broad coalitions forming for a general fightback against what’s happening in Washington? I don’t see it.
I looked up some websites for different liberal and progressive groups to find out what’s going on. AFL-CIO, Progressive Democrats for America, United for Peace and Justice, Moveon.org, etc. They’re all working on good things, economic issues, social issues, environmental issues. But I saw no signs of coalition building for a wider struggle.
There was nothing about big demonstrations planned, or rallies to fight the growing inequities in our society and the central problem of corporate power.
I don’t know the reason for this. Is it a weakened labor movement that no longer can lead the way? Is it that people and groups are being too insular, working on their own agendas, and refusing to join forces?
Or are people still clinging to the faint hope that Obama will change course and do something good? That he will suddenly adopt a progressive agenda? Fat chance. He keeps talking about working with business to get them to invest more, and boost the economy. Recently, he appointed former GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt as an advisor. Hey, that will help working people.
Then he visited the Chamber of Commerce, and said to the business leaders, ‘pretty please, can you invest some of the more than a trillion dollars you’re sitting on?’ He was met with stoney slience. Then he offered to soften some regulations to help them. This is the road to nowhere.
Forget about Obama. There has to be a strong, grassroots movement in this country to bring about change. This has to be hitched to issues, not a party or candidate. Organizations of all stripes ---- labor, political, community, civil rights, religious and environmental --- have to come together for a wider fightback.
As evidenced by the accomplishments in the 1930s and 1960s --- it’s only through strong social movements that anything will be achieved.