By RA Monaco
When our lack of self determination becomes a realization, the issue becomes, how do we create a calculus for change?
If we can’t control the government—the apparatus—we claim manifests the popular will of the nation, women may hold the key to our avoiding “the brick.” Entrenched inequality and its companion, poverty, is the abyss of the American dream for a growing citizenry united by name, but not by rules.
When it was just black and brown people that stood in the margins of our cities with the poorly performing school systems, higher rates of unemployment and lack of opportunity, few questioned the economic engine of capitalism as our blueprint for society.
However, in this last recession—which for most in the margin continues—when white middle class people started to find themselves vulnerable, many began to see through the mystic that it’s not just about race, it’s about “class.”
Seizing Defeat from the Jaws of Victory
“Capitalism as an idea has moved beyond, it’s moved into the realm of sacred belief” according to Dr. W.K. Mott, Associate Professor of Political Science and member of the Women and Gender Studies program at Seton Hall University. “I think that the capitalist system is so pervasive that it truly scrubs just about every bit of dissent out of it’s citizens through its mythology and its creation of celebrity and other ideas… it’s preached from pulpit and it’s deified.”
“America is about to seize defeat from the jaws of victory if it doesn’t embrace some other values for human endeavor,” proclaimed David Simon. Without a government that values a communal logic that says, nobody’s going to get left behind, how many more of our middle class will be pulled into the margins when the economy casts its nets once again?
“If one is forced to negotiate reality in these margins to the point where there is clear hardship and what appears to be speculative and offensive wealth, they’re going to create dissent,” Dr. Mott believes. “I think a large portion of that dissent will be women. I also think it will be all the marginalized groups. It will be labor, women, LGBT individuals, immigrants, people of color—that’s where there is any possibility of any opposition.”
Overall, Dr. Mott is not terribly optimistic “because we’re so easily bought off.” Consistently, Americans behave like a little T-ball team that forgets they’re in the game, distracted with every partisan-driven political butterfly that crosses the field.
Women May Have the Right Stuff to Reform America
When those with the power to change inequality were those who benefited most from the system, it was women who once proved the right stuff to win political reform for half the population in this country.
At the inception of our nation, the invisibility of women—overlooked in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution with no right to vote—created an especially useful class for a new economy based on competition and the private property of men who were the landholders and political leaders.
Those familiar with gender studies are surely aware women were early advocates in the movements against slavery. Woman have organized, protested and won many battles for “fundamental rights” since the founding of our nation. Elizabeth Cady Scannon and Lucrecia Mott are good examples of such early activists.
Women as a Grassroots Group
The idea that women as a grassroots group would challenge the economic authority of Wall Street over our government may be somewhat romantic despite what women as a sub-group have accomplished politically—most notably suffrage.
“When you talk about grassroots the women’s movement isn’t historically… a grassroots movement, I don’t believe” said Dr. Mott. “Take the paradigmatic example of Betty Friedan in ‘The Feminine Mystique’, there is a well educated, quite Jewish suburban housewife living on Long Island.”
The National Organization of Women was pretty marginalized and by its own leadership, considered itself, very vulnerable to what it called the ‘lavender menace’ which was lesbian women. They were harshly criticized by the likes of Audrey Lorde and others from a Black and Latina perspective.
Nevertheless, “Women as a group within American politics does have to negotiate power differently and so they are aware of issues that men often are not…You find the same advantage coming to ethnic minorities or to immigrants or to gay people. They have to negotiate so they understand the system a bit differently,” explained Dr. W.K. Mott.
A Representative Government of Profiteers
Consider the historical journey of women and fast forward to the “Congressional-Circus” we now claim as a representative government, whose daily business operates under the banner of corporate civil rights, conflicting at every turn with the popular will and public’s interest.
Rightfully, some would say a government representative of profiteers, multinational corporations, bankers and elite campaign funders. As described by author David Simon, we have become “a country utterly schizophrenic when it comes to society, its economy and politics.”
“That notion, that profit is the metric that we are going to measure the health of our society, is one of the fundamental mistakes of the last 30 years” said Simon, as he described two very unconnected Americas and the mounting need to revisit our metric for national values. “We have become something other than what we claim for the American dream and all because of our inability to basically share—to even contemplate a socialist impulse.”
Inability to See We Are All Connected
Civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams reminds us, "Don't measure your wealth by how much money you have. Measure your wealth by how many things you have that you wouldn't take money for." The wealth of America was once measured by a healthy middle class. Have we descended completely into the ideology of greed to the point where we no longer are able to see that we are all connected? Can society succeed if, you don’t succeed, I don’t succeed, and a rapidly growing underclass is left behind?
The ideas of author David Simon resonate with many, including myself. Last November, while speaking in Sidney, Australia at The Festival of Dangerous Ideas he told an attentive audience, “The last job of capitalism, having won all the battles against labor, having acquired the ultimate authority—almost the ultimate moral authority over what’s a good idea and what’s not, or what’s valued and what’s not—the last journey for capital in my country, is to buy the electoral process the one venue for reform that remained to Americans.”
The NSA the Only Part of Government That Listens
Our challenge as a nation is to reset the societal metric around the idea that the popular will of the people should be valued more than campaign funders and corporate profits—not, valued less. “America's basic bargain that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead” has become a dark, illusory promise, which Barak Obama says, “drives everything I do in this office.”
There is great truth in the president’s observations—although it’s difficult to reconcile his claim against his current push for “fast-track” and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Without understanding more about the secrecy that surrounded drafting the TPP—there is every reason to hear the president’s words as empty, yet true, and possibly more evidence of a system broken.
Dr. Mott thinks it is a very difficult critique to make. “I mean look at Obama, I mean a black man really not able to make or hasn’t made the critiques of the system because, I think, he considered that everything else that he wanted to accomplish would be shut down,” says Dr. Mott.
Corporate Money Corrupts Congress And Beyond
Recently, in the dead of the New Hampshire winter, Lawrence Lessig and others working to say “money is not speech” and raise public awareness, marched across the entire state. Lessig explained, “If you think about every single important issue America has to address -- if you're on the right and you care about tax reform or addressing the issues of the deficit, on the left if you care about climate change or real health care reform -- whatever the issue is, if you look at the way our system functions right now you have to see that there will be no sensible reform given the way we fund campaigns.”
Consider too, the recent firestorm of “outside interference”—chiefly by Republican politicians, activists and business groups—that narrowly persuaded VW workers in Chattanooga to vote against unionizing their factory. Politically driven anti-union campaigns aggressively interfered with the UAW election to unionize while VW’s management remained neutral. Management wasn’t even in the fight!
The campaign included publicly-announced and widely disseminated threats by elected officials that state-financed incentives would be withheld if workers exercised their protected right to form a union.
The campaign also included threats by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker related to promises of a new product line awarded to the plant if workers voted against UAW representation.
The level of coercion—by players that didn’t have a seat at the table—in the private decision of workers to have a U.S. senator, a governor and leaders of the state legislature threaten the company with the denial of economic incentives and workers with a loss of product is extraordinary, if not brazen.
The Supreme Court Has Walked Away From Responsibility
Corporate money hasn’t just corrupted the Congress or changed this president—it’s played into the Supreme Court too. The Supreme Court has walked away from any sort of responsibility to maintain democracy at that level. The rules continue to be relaxed to favor Capital’s agenda.
Exactly what was the purchase of our electoral process and our loss of self determination worth? The question seems fair, given the appearance of impropriety on the part of both Justice Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia who personally failed to abide by the rules of professional conduct demanded of every other lawyer in this country—to say nothing of their support for a ruling that says, “money is speech.”
Why should we trust the integrity of the court when Supreme Court judges flaunt a double standard and prove that the rules don’t apply to everyone?
Challenging the Landscape of Economic Greed
A continuing and well founded economic fear, pervasive throughout our middle-class may have become fuel to feed the greed that leaves Americans nervously paralyzed, waiting for the economy to descend once again and pull in another net full of our former middle-class.
Professor Maurine Beasley, at the University of Maryland, a former staff writer for The Washington Post and specialist on the subject of women's portrayal and participation in journalism thinks the idea of a gender driven movement is interesting.
Offering her expert view of the current political landscape Beasley said, “at this point there seems a good likelihood of having a woman as President, but I see it as a stretch to picture Hillary as a political reformer. She seems very much plugged into the current political system, and I don't see her as a passionate advocate for campaign finance and election reform.”
Professor Beasley readily acknowledges that “women are a potentially powerful grassroots force - they supported Obama in large measure.” On the other hand, describing herself as a pessimist for the moment, at least, Beasley doesn’t see much likelihood of them mobilizing now for election reform saying, “Women come in all stripes. Some of the most outspoken Tea Party types are women… For the most part, though, women never have voted as a bloc and I personally don't see that happening now.” Notably, she mentions Elizabeth Warren as a champion for progressive women.
Beyond mere gender strength, Dr. Mott also sees potential in Elizabeth Warren as an advocate because she can speak without apparently clamoring for notoriety—“I mean she’s speaking to the issues and her testimony and her questions in the Senate have been extraordinarily revealing and quite uncomfortable.”
On the progressive side of the social ledger, University of Missouri Curators' Professor Emerita, Betty Houchin Winfield, Ph.D. responded to the notion of a gender driven movement enthusiastically saying, “Great idea…Just maybe, they can do political reform once again in congress! They view politics as serving beyond their own interests; in other words, giving!
We should all hope for the determined resolve of women like Myrlie Evers-Williams, Elizabeth Cady Scannon or Lucrecia Mott so that we might regain the feeling of what we once had, valued and wanted—self determination.
Can we wake to the mechanics of Capital’s greed that is destroying our planet and the popular will of the nation? Or, will corporate money keep us distracted and divided?
“It terrifies me, because I’m astonished at how comfortable we are absolving our selves of what is basically a moral choice” says David Simon.
When Our Lack of Self Determination Becomes a Realization
The first order of business is to march once again in the footsteps of women, toward a reformed electoral process no longer vetted by the influence of corporate money. We should demand a functioning congress that reflects the popular will of the people free from the influence of corporate money.
Optimism at this point may be the singular attempt to create an awakening to what has already happened in America. When our lack of self determination becomes a realization—when we discover individually that we are not able to collectively change or control our destiny in any meaningful way—that “public will” has nothing to do with the business of our elected representatives and people continue to be pulled into the margins, the issue becomes, how do we create a calculus for change?
I think women are a powerful way to unify across the margins. David Simon said it clearly: “If it is your government and it’s institutions are failing, that’s a call to arms to engage.” So it is, that women in the past have shown the way and if “avoiding the brick” can be done, disengagement and apathy are not real options—everyone must step up.