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.
Each local – Des Moines, Los Angeles, San Diego, Boulder, Fort Collins and Wichita – attracted more than their usual DSA attendees; in most cases, half or more were new people. They included local members of Occupy, community organizers, unemployed folks, students, union members and people from faith-based groups.
Boulder’s audience of 30 was a good size for maximizing audience participation. In the “income walk,” people representing the bottom four quintiles (20 percent) of the population, the 80-98th percentile and the top 1 percent take positions along a line that marks one foot for every $10,000 of income. They locate their place by 1979 income and then shift to their 2006 income (the cusp of the financial crisis).
DC DSA held a well-attended GET UP workshop Nov. 10, co-sponsored by DC Jobs with Justice, the Communications Workers of America, and United Food and Confectionary Workers Local 400.
It is stunning to see the 1-percent person not only leave the room, but disappear down the street! At the request of the Wichita folks, we included a special reference to the estimated income of the Koch brothers, whose headquarters are in Wichita. On the same scale, each Koch would end up about 23 miles out from the workshop.
In the housing skit, audience
members act out (with a script) the experience of buying a house in 2005 and refinancing in 2007, illustrating the actions of both mortgage lenders and the agencies that rated risky investments as safe, thereby contributing to the financial collapse of 2008. The workshop ends by contrasting “reforms” that increase the role of the market, with reforms that lessen the market’s role and social market alternatives that remove the role of the market – in the areas of health care, education, housing and labor.
In sum, this GET UP workshop argues: Together, the U.S. had three decades of growing inequality, with huge income growth among the top 1 percent. This income inequality generated a rise of speculative financial activity, which drove a housing bubble and financial crisis, followed by economic stagnation. We must move the political discussion towards social market alternatives.
Other GET UP workshops explore neoliberal principles, student debt and the decline in funding higher education. Contact the national office if you want to host a GET UP. t
Peg Strobel is a member of Chicago DSA and the DSA National Political Committee; former director of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum; and professor emerita of gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.