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How Financial Crisis, Economic Inequality, Social Media, and More Brought Revolutions in 2011--and Changed Us Forever

Journalist Paul Mason covered the uprisings of 2011 as they occurred. His new book "Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere," explains why they all happened at once.

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But if you're not--and this is the minority, but we shouldn't let this minority demographic define what we mean by working class—then you are left to be prey of solutions that are essentially nationalist, localist, you spend your entire life grieving for a lifestyle that is gone because the new lifestyle is worse.

It makes it very hard to talk about a “working-class” solution to things. Some of the movements that are the most successful, the networked horizontal types of organization, allow you to actually say there's space for difference. The new labor movement might have to be a space where difference exists. What I mean by that is where the sort of lifestyle and values of the traditional white workers can exist in a bit alongside the values of the salariat. Because if they don't, you more or less are abandoning the former to the right.

But at the end of the day the one thing that determines what people vote about is their stomach. All these issues that mesmerize people, abortion, gay marriage—at the end of the day, Roosevelt built a coalition overcoming the opposition of people like Father Coughlin, overcoming the right wing of his own party because he was able to understand a way of articulating the demands of people who were not progressive, because he put food into their stomachs.

The real people that Steinbeck wrote about were not progressive. I went last year and interviewed lots of modern-day Oklahoma farmers and for the simple reason that the Right wants to cut their subsidies, they are part of an alliance that wants a big state. In a way the challenge for the American center and left is to work out how to galvanize everything.

I do think that we're likely to see quite a large part of the networked protest people flip into a pro-Obama position. The beauty of modern political activism is you can do a lot of things parallel, a lot of contradictory things.

SJ: I wonder, because then we go back to what you call in the book “the graduates with no future.” There's a lot of kids who were on the Obama campaign in 2008 who are now out of school, they have a heck of a lot of student debt, they don't have a job or if they do they don't have the job they thought they'd have, and they're pissed. They're not going to go out and do the same kind of work for Obama that they did in 2008. They will probably grudgingly vote. But do they flip when they get jobs? Do they remember?

PM: Two texts really struck me when I was writing the book. One was that University of California-Santa Cruz “Communique from an Absent Future” -- not only how eloquent it was, but what you just described—did we do a degree to get a job writing hearts in cappuccino foam? But when it was written people thought it was an exaggeration, because in 2009 people thought the recovery was happening. Instead we got this stagnation and double-dip and uber-crisis in Europe, and then we had the Arab Spring, and now we're getting the Nigerian spring. That language doesn't look so apocalyptic.

Because even if you get a job the story has to be, how am I better in 30 years time? Where does my healthcare come from, where does my pension come from, where does my rising asset wealth come from? None of that is possible because of the overhanging debt, we're due for a decade more of deleveraging. Even if we get a recovery in America that's not completely jobless, the jobs on offer will be low-paid, they will be insecure.