Columbus Day, Wall Street and Alabama immigrants

October 10, 2011

In 1992 political strategist James Carville coined the catchphrase that
won Bill Clinton the presidency: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Clinton
made good on his word to address the deficit and high unemployment and
through both skill and luck presided over unprecedented economic growth and prosperity.

The two wars started by his successor, along with the financial
meltdown precipitated by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, eroded
all such gains and any optimism about America’s short- and long-term
economic future.

So Carville’s slogan is as timely as ever, though now it’s been
distilled into the panicky particular of “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” Pundits and
politicians of all stripes reflexively chant the mantra and everyone
knows that the presidency will be won next year by the candidate with
the most compelling plan for tackling the nation’s high unemployment.

In the soundbyte world we live in pithy slogans always get a lot of
traction but the deeper realities they may point to almost never do. And
while the numbers don’t lie–unemployment is alarmingly high, especially
given that many of the jobless aren’t factored into the published
statistics–neither do they illuminate the deeper problem, one that the “Occupy Wall Street” protestors are coalescing around: “It’s about power, stupid.”

It’s always been about power. The colonization of the
Americas undertaken by the crowns of Europe was a centuries-long
experiment in the wielding of power and the dispossessing of the
poor for political and financial gain. Our sanitized versions of
Christopher Columbus the brave explorer are slowly, thankfully giving
way to more truthful accounts of what the decimation of native peoples
wrought. (The colonization of the imagination is one of
the most insidious of takeovers to recognize and undo).

In our own time the “jobs” rhetoric from both the right and the left
ignores the power grabs and power differentials that led to the
hemorrhaging of American jobs in the first place. The simple truth is
that multinational corporations could make more money for their
shareholders by outsourcing jobs to third-world countries so that
is what they did. This was not a moral dilemma for CEOs; it was a
“sound business decision.” And the gospel according to free-market
capitalism (the USA’s true religion) preaches that what is good for
American business is good for America.

(On a related note: for all the adoration heaped on Steve Jobs this past week (iDolatry?),
Apple has a pretty abysmal record on workers’ rights. But our
collective commodity fetish–which knows no political partisanship–makes
this unwelcome news).

So all the flowery rhetoric about “putting Americans back to work” is
bullshit that no one gets called on. Conservatives keep summoning the
ghost of Ronald Reagan, even though “trickle-down economics” has proved
to be a straight-up failure. Liberals talk the talk but can’t walk the
walk on lifting up American workers because of their own political
indebtedness to Wall Street gazillionnaires.

Meanwhile in Alabama the
people who clean toilets and pick produce and mow lawns are
disappearing, fearful for their lives and for their children’s lives as
the state’s new anti-immigration law has gone into effect. The whites
who are taking their places don’t seem to want the jobs so much: “Some
of them work out a little bit,” says one tomato farmer, desperate for
pickers. ”Some might work three hours and they quit.”

The cruelty of the Alabama law is
interesting to ponder on Columbus Day. Granted, most of us “celebrate”
the holiday by taking advantage of department store sales or sleeping in
if we have the day off, but here we are 500+ years later,
still disregarding the humanity of those “not like us”; still assuming a
superiority based on geography; still misappropriating the scriptures
most of us say we live by.

leaders will be of no help on this, nor will the corporate media’s
coverage of the presidential campaign over these next twelve long
months. Candidates for office will not speak truthfully on the issues of
immigration and jobs (and their connection) for truthful speech will
not get you elected in this country. And whether you’re a Democrat or a
Republican it’s the imperial presidency you seek and imperial interests
will always trump the interests of those with no power.

Which is what I take to be the primary complaint of those occupying
Wall Street and now other cities around the country.
Their improvisational, street-theatre style (unintelligible to much of
the media) seems to me a strategic counter-witness to the rigid
managerialism of the corrupt corporate powers they seek to expose: the
revolution will not be on PowerPoint. And their disparate demands
(another source of criticism by the corporate suits) simply reveal the
enormity of the problem created by unchecked greed.

And finally for many in the crowd I suspect it’s trickle up economics they
mean to champion–a radical re-visioning of what it means to live in the
kind of community where there’s more than enough for everyone.  

To that we should all say: more power to them.

Originally posted at Intersections