As recently as this summer, it looked as if the 2012 national elections had the potential to be nothing short of disastrous. Mitt Romney remained within striking distance of President Obama’s narrow lead, while the GOP seemed poised to increase its far-right majority in the House and threaten the Democratic majority in the Senate.
What a difference a few months makes.
President Obama owes his re-election to the black, Latino, trade union, feminist, and LGBT communities. It is they who rebuffed a Romney candidacy that relied heavily on the thinnest of veiled white nationalist appeals. A whopping 92 percent of Romney voters were white; and the only age group that Romney won handily was seniors. Obama in turn drew 55 percent of his vote total from whites and 45 percent from people of color. He won 55 percent of the women’s vote, 65 percent of union members, and 80 percent of voters of color (including 71 percent of the Latino vote and 73 percent of the Asian-American vote).
The Right, backed by a toxic flow of big money into politics and shameless efforts at voter suppression, tried to turn the 2012 election into a mandate for a regressive political agenda. The Republicans intended to overturn the modest gains of the president’s first term and roll back progressive reforms dating back to the New Deal. Political circumstances – a weak economic recovery, a gerrymandered redistricting of the House of Representatives in many states, U.S. Senate contests for twice as many Democratic than Republican seats and a disillusioned progressive voting base – favored the Right.
Why do business people want to privatize schools? “Because that’s where the money is,” says Deborah Meier, citing Willie Sutton’s famous response to a reporter who asked him why he robbed banks.
We can grasp the dynamics of contemporary global capitalism through the prism of Foxconn. Nearly a million young Chinese workers assemble over 50 percent of all the electronics products consumed on the globe at 30 of its factories in China. In those massive production complexes armies of young men and women perform monotonous repetitive assembly tasks under quasi-military discipline 60 hours a week for minimal pay.
The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It. Timothy Noah. Bloomsbury Press. 264 pp. $25.
The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto. Tavis Smiley and Cornel West. Smiley Books. 222 pp. $12.
Timothy Noah’s The Great Divergence and Tavis Smiley’s and Cornel West’s The Rich and the Rest of Us frame inequality quite differently. Both are intellectual, political and social histories that span a century but focus most on changes to our politics, policies, and economy over the last few decades. With all the footnotes any scholar would demand, they still remain completely accessible to the non-academic reader. While they cover some of the same ground and promote similar policies, you will be much less informed by reading only one of them.
The right to join a union and to negotiate for a living wage and decent working conditions should be available to all workers. Republican politicians are trying to take this basic right away in several states by proposing legislation misleadingly named “right to work.”
Kansas may count as a “red state,” one that’s backed national Democrats only on the rarest of occasions, but it has a proud radical tradition, too. A strong abolitionist center, it produced a fiery populist uprising and hosted a strong socialist presence in Lawrence. It also spawned a first-rate socialist newspaper, The Appeal to Reason, which at its height in the first decade of the 20th century had a circulation of some 200,000, counting among its regular contributors Eugene Debs and Upton Sinclair.
National and state elections took place this fall as our economy struggled to recover from the worst recession and greatest levels of inequality since 1929. Some DSAers were able to find ways to make a difference in the elections, volunteering as canvassers in swing states or for local candidates. Many used the 50th anniversary of our founder Michael Harrington’s historic book The Other America: Poverty in the United States to re-introduce the “invisible poor” into the public discourse, urge mobilization for solutions, and celebrate our organization’s history. They strove to combine analysis with coalition building that addresses the profound structural causes of the current crisis and the threat to democracy posed by the corporate-funded right wing. Here are a few examples of effective local actions:
In June, Bill Barclay and Peg Strobel set out for California to do a GET UP workshop on “U.S. Capitalism in Crisis and Social Market Alternatives” at six different DSA locals. GET UP stands for “Grassroots Economics Training for Understanding and Power.” It covers inequality, housing, debt and finance, and the alternative policies that would restructure the US political economy. Laced with interactive exercises, its goal is to equip people to identify and counter neoliberal arguments about the economy and society.