By RA Monaco
"The economic downturn that's stalled middle-age, middle-class women has laid bare the myth of upward mobility that drove their lives” says University of Akron, Professor Therese L Lueck in response to a suggestion that women may have the unique potential to unify those who stand in, or close to, the social margins.
Organizing people is the real answer to organized money, if building a broad based, mass movement is to have some impact on changing the terms of political debate in American politics.
A grassroots movement for organizing around growing inequality is possible—as was suggested in Avoiding “The Brick”—though it may gain greater traction with the focused attention of women who historically have proven the ability to challenge those in power that benefit most from continued inequality. Professor Lueck makes clear that, “in order for women to mobilize for political change, it's on the shoulders of middle-class women to bridge the divides.”
While women may hold a unique potential to join differing classes slipping toward the margins of society, "recent cultural dynamics have leached the power from a traditional group of social change agents," Lueck explained. She went on to say that “middle-age, middle-class women still gather to work for the betterment of their communities, but their time, energy, and financial resources are stretched thin” since the bottom fell from the economy.
“The culture operates to keep middle-aged, middle-class women occupied with personal, not political, issues,” according to University of Maryland, Professor Maurine Beasley. “Women see lives as personal challenges not as the reflection of political factors.”
Today, the vast majority of anxieties for Americans are about the present and future. That insecurity is not about multicultural issues—real change must be anchored to a commitment of middle class women and their conviction that society can be made better by combating economic inequality. Merely slowing what has become a practice of absorbing so much of the right's economic agenda won’t be enough—change is what is needed and women won’t be so easily “bought-off.”
Communities Still Count on Women Volunteers
Lueck has observed that “Communities still count on their volunteer efforts, but the women are realizing that they're not the philanthropists who underwrite great public works. Instead of moving toward an elusive status of greater wealth and privilege, these women are 'sandwiched' between aging parents and disenfranchised youth and finding themselves much closer to a poverty class with whom they don't identify and can't communicate.”
What was exceedingly rare in the 1950s has today become a common sight: homeless, beggars, dumpster divers. Spreading poverty is driving the United States to look more and more like an impoverished country. The process, while gradual, seems to be accelerating.
“The more daunting challenge lies in engaging an increasingly feminized and invisible poverty class,” believes Professor Lueck, saying that “women of the middle class can use their experience and education to retrain themselves to communicate with women whose daily survival depends on trust that's built on sincere, personal interaction.”
It won’t be enough to do things that merely soften the consequences of inequality. What is needed must go beyond those reforms toward changing a system that actually produces inequality.
All That Talk About Income Inequality
So, what’s happened since we heard all that talk about income inequality? Does anyone get the sense that your elected representative has seriously taken up the banner of those slipping into the margins beyond a few moments of lip service?
Their silence should make clear our continuing reality—that the social margins will grow in numbers and that the push-back against income inequality and for upward mobility has slipped back on the president's, and his party's, agenda beyond a few recent photo-ops. Such is the perpetual state of politics--empty lip service for all.
Now, I’m not picking on Barak Obama. I’m not disappointed and I don’t dislike him either. In fact, I’d much rather listen to his empty evocative statements than those smug haters on the right—but he’s a product of the Chicago machine. He’s a brand, skillfully packaged as the face of the corporate state.
Consider that we just had a national election without even a whisper from either candidate about the 46 million people living in poverty—how? Income inequality didn’t just happen. Doesn’t someone besides me think that the corporate state vetted the issue of growing poverty from the talking points of the 2012 election?
Who Should We Thank?
So why now, in Obama’s second year of his second term did he decide to draw direct attention to the problem—should we be thanking Pope Francis or the World Economic Forum’s 2014 report?
Conservative greed is what it is and we have every reason to expect that they’ll keep their feet in the concrete of greed until the economy descends directly upon them.
Progressives on the other hand, holding onto the idea that upward mobility is still possible for the vast majority of Americans without election reform, without systemic changes that enable our national priorities, are the same people begging Obama to be Obama—he is exactly who he has always been, a corporatist. Prove me wrong—please, I want to be wrong.
In his much ballyhooed speech from a couple weeks ago, President Obama mentioned the word "inequality" a couple times and no sooner than he left the podium, he went straight to his own party and attempted to strong arm support for fast tracking the Trans Pacific Partnership.
Unless you believe that raising the minimum wage for federal workers was serious, there’s no reason to hope for change or even the possibility of real change, at least until corporate money in politics has been dealt with, so that our electoral system functions to reflect the "public-will" of the people–not campaign funders.
Face it, the recent lull in the discussion on income inequality from the legislative and media agenda has become a clear victory for the Republican Party. While they vacillated between the view of denying that inequality even existed on the one hand, to the idea that it wasn’t even a real problem on the other, their lack of interest in reducing income inequality was always a given.
In the mean time, Americans are being gradually sifted into greater inequality within a system that has become the model for bipartisan neoliberalism.
The Promise Was a Year of Action
A “year of action” was the promise so maybe more time is needed you say—the president is surely entitled to more time, right? Well, I’m so not sure, consider the 2000 Election Campaign, when candidate George W. Bush, Jr., accused Al Gore of appealing to “class warfare.” The candidacy of Gore and his Vice President, Senator Joseph Lieberman, posed no genuine threat to the superrich—both Bush and Gore were courting corporate money. In fact, Sen. Lieberman’s campaign boasted that the military industrial complex of Connecticut was grateful to him for their $7.5 billion in contracts for the Seawolf submarine.
The difference in corporate financial support for those candidates was marginal, at best, and hardly mattered. In fact, beyond the “Hanging-Chad,” there was no real difference between either candidate as their narrowly vetted talking points failed to include the “public-will”—a plan for free national healthcare, low cost housing and changes in our nation’s environmental controls.
Fast forward to another example. Consider how President Obama’s supporters like to portray him as a peacemaker to George W. Bush’s being a warmonger. It’s almost certain that more people have died violent deaths in the greater Middle East during this presidency after his escalating our involvement. Now, we’re about to leave the region ablaze with increased tensions while expanding our presence in the Asian pacific region. Include consideration of Obama’s record on civil liberties and it becomes difficult to see a difference.
Americans have accepted a free market utopian ideology for intensified upward redistribution of wealth that chooses only between a neoliberal party that is progressive on multicultural and diversity issues, and a neoliberal party that's reactionary and horrible on those same issues.
The political competition then, as it is now, is always for corporate financial support. The “public-will” has become a mere platform for public lip-service, not reform. Describe it however you like, the dialog is always a slow-pitch-corporatist-curve to the American public—a pretense for public good—and now, women are on to them.
Poised to Dislodge Resources from the Top of the Social Strata
"Having adopted the attributes of upward mobility, middle-class women are poised to dislodge resources from the top of the social strata,” says Prof. Lueck. Interestingly, the recent theme of Fox contributors Lou Dobbs, Erick Erickson and Bill O’Reilly may reflect the truth of Professor Lueck’s belief.
On the May 29 edition of his Fox Business show, Lou Dobbs described a Pew Research study that found an increase in female breadwinners as full of "concerning and troubling statistics." Dobbs said the study was suggestive of "society dissolv[ing] around us."
Then, on the same episode of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Erick Erickson suggested the recent increase in female breadwinners was unnatural, saying, "When you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and female in society, and the other animals, the male typically is the dominant role."
Know Your Role and Shut Your Mouth
Another example of what seems a Fox "Know Your Role And Shut Your Mouth" campaign, played out on the June 20 edition of Fox News' Hannity, with guest and conservative radio host Bill Cunningham, shouting down Fox contributor Tamara Holder during a debate saying, "You shut up. Know your role and shut your mouth" then asking if she was "going to cry."
Never to be outdone, Bill O'Reilly dismissed the significance of the gender wage gap, saying "I don't buy into this inequality stuff," claiming that women can overcome wage inequality simply by working hard.
While O'Reilly openly ignores the true scope and impact of the gender wage gap, which plagues women at all stages of their careers regardless of education or experience level, it seems clear that those at the “top of the social strata” have begun a campaign to marginalize the voices of women.
Americans Will Be the Benefactors of a Women’s Movement
Regardless of whether Fox is underestimating or anticipating the true potential of women, Americans will be the benefactors of a women’s grassroots movement for social reform.
In fact, women may be the best way to mobilize the “political-will” needed to reallocate our abundant resources. They know that in the richest country in the world, we have the resources to make our economy work for everyone.