Don't Sit on the Sidelines -- This Saturday, Be Part of the Uprising Sweeping the Country from Wisconsin to Your Home Town
Noam Chomsky was asked in a recent interview whether it's possible to make our government work for ordinary Americans rather than a rarified elite. “What has to be done,” he replied, “is what’s happening in Madison, or what’s happening in Tahrir Square in Cairo. If there’s mass popular opposition, any political leader is going to have to respond to it, whoever they are.”
Today, we may be seeing the emergence of just such a force in American politics. This Saturday, the sleeping giant will stir as progressives across the country rally in solidarity with public-sector workers and in opposition to the draconian cuts to our already threadbare safety net proposed by the Tea Party-infused GOP.
There's a new militancy in the air. Inspired not only by the protesters standing tall in Wisconsin, Ohio and a half-dozen other states but also by the seismic upheaval taking place around the world, progressive America, long overshadowed by the media-friendly Tea Parties, will show up in force in all 50 states this Saturday to demand that budgets aren't balanced on the backs of working people and the most vulnerable among us.
In Wisconsin, there has even been talk of organizing a general strike, an event not seen in this country since the 1930s, if right-wing Governor Scott Walker manages to push his union-busting bill through the legislature. Labor hasn't flexed its muscles like that for generations, but there is a growing sense that we, as working people, face a defining moment in our democracy.
On Saturday, there will be two opportunities to make your voice heard above the astroturfed right-wing din. First, a coalition of grassroots progressive groups are staging a nationwide “Rally to Save the American Dream” in front of every state house in the country at noon local time to express support for the working people of Wisconsin.
In Wisconsin and around our country, the American Dream is under fierce attack. Instead of creating jobs, Republicans are giving tax breaks to corporations and the very rich—and then cutting funding for education, police, emergency response, and vital human services.
But this weekend's rallies won't be the end of this effort. Taking a page from the noisy town-hall meetings that marked last year's health-care reform debate, an unnamed labor organizer told Politico that union members “have been urged to attend congressional town hall meetings to ask Republican lawmakers 'pointed questions' about the cuts they supported last week. ...We are targeting various House Republicans in town hall meetings during the recess to let them know these budget cuts are beyond the pale,” the organizer said.
You can find out more about the Rally to Save the American Dream, and get involved in the action, here.
The other major actions this weekend are being organized by US Uncut, which is targeting the corporate power behind the elites' assault on our middle-class. Modeled on the UK Uncut movement that was organized to push back against the “austerity” measures being imposed by the Cameron government (and inspired by an excellent essay by Johann Hari titled, “How to Build a Progressive Tea Party”), they have an exceedingly simple yet powerful message: there is a simple alternative to imposing economic pain on working people to balance budgets: make corporate tax cheats pay.
The questions US Uncut is trying to inject into the discourse are: “If we pay our taxes, why don’t they?” and “If corporations profit here, shouldn't they pay here?”
Enjoying record profits and taxpayer-funded bailouts as the economy slowly recovers from a financial crisis, nearly two-thirds of US corporations don't pay any income taxes, instead opting to abuse tax loopholes and offshore tax havens. According to this studyfrom the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, 83 of the top 100 publicly traded corporations that operate in the US exploit corporate tax havens. Since 2009, America’s most profitable companies such as ExxonMobil, General Electric, Bank of America and Citigroup all paid a grand total of $0 in federal income taxes to Uncle Sam. Tax havens alone account for up to $1 trillion in tax revenue lost every decade, money that could be invested in K-12 education, colleges, public health, job creation and hundreds of other worthy public programs.
US Uncut is a decentralized operation, and local activists can choose their own targets. But the main event this Saturday will be at Bank of America branches across the country. It's an appropriate choice, as the organizers explain:
Despite ruining the economy with their reckless greed, Bank of America has consistently avoided any form of accountability to the American taxpayer. In fact, in 2009, Bank of America actually received a net tax benefit. Yes, last year, the federal government gave Bank of America $2.3 billion.
That money alone could almost completely cover the proposed $2.5 billion cuts to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps low-income families pay their heating and cooling bills and affects 34 million households.
Learn more about US Uncut, and sign up to protest outside of BofA, or another corporate tax cheat of your choice, here.
But the most militant response to the Right's push came from Madison, Wisconsin this week, when the local AFL-CIO federation voted to make preparations to hold a general strike if Walker pushes his bill through the legislature. This is a big deal -- a sign of how threatened the American labor movement feels after seeing its representation in the private sector fall under a withering campaign of union-busting from a third of all wage-earners 30 years ago to just 7 percent today.
General strikes don't target a single company or industry; they're an expression of power by all workers in a region or country. Greece had a one-day general strike this week, but in the U.S., the last one occurred in San Francisco in 1934.
So far, they are only threatening to call a general strike. Actually doing so – having unions walk out in support of other organized workers – has been illegal since the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in the 1940s. The law, called the “slave act” by opponents, outlaws all strikes by workers who don't have a direct interest in the issue at hand.
As such, it would be a powerful act of civil disobedience. But violating Taft-Hartley exposes unions to costly judgments that could potentially wipe out some of the smaller unions. Nevertheless, labor journalist Mike Elk reports that some public employee unions – with their backs against the wall -- may take that risk.
It's important to understand that only labor unions are barred from organizing a general strike, and around 90 percent of American workers don't belong to a union. When the Wisconsin labor federation adopted its resolution, one long-time progressive activist remarked that it was “the most exciting idea I've heard in a long time.” With the power of online organizing, perhaps the next iteration of progressive power will be a general strike not of union workers, but of ordinary Americans who are sick of a government that's done everything for Wall Street while practically ignoring a 9 percent unemployment rate and a devastating foreclosure crisis.
It looks increasingly likely that we will see a government shutdown over the GOP's proposals to kill any economic progress we've made since the crash with their draconian cuts. Why not shut down the private sector in response? It's hard to imagine a more full-throated rejection of the political games being played in Washington.
All of this energy may be short-lived, but it could be the start of a more active progressive movement in the U.S. By and large, progressives have held their fire since the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Organizers of the protests spreading across this country in a decaying economy are tapping into a deep reserve of frustration with the status quo, and resurrecting a populist tradition long missing on the American Left.
This Saturday, we might witness the beginning of some real push-back against the plutocracy from a newly energized progressive movement. This is something you really shouldn't miss.