Saturday, October 13, 2007

E is for Empowerment II

Here is part I.

There’s a great article over at Alternet called “Americans Don’t Believe in the American Dream.” It’s worth checking out. Here’s a short excerpt which drives home its main point:
The American Dream is Dead, gone along with the era of good union jobs, comprehensive employer benefits and real upward mobility, and most working people are fully aware of the fact. That's the takeaway from the latest installment of the American Dream Survey, a study of working Americans' views of the political-economy released in late September.

The Alternet article laments the death of the American Dream—what now? What should be done about it? What does “doing something about it” mean in the context of a rapidly deindustrializing economy, a widening inequality between social classes, and job insecurity?

In the context of politics does that mean voting for Democrats in elections? Does that mean voting for the “right” kind of Democrats over “wrong” kinds? Does that mean reviving the labor movement and working through unions to advocate for better working conditions, pay and benefits? Other than getting all worked up, what can ordinary people do?

I am increasingly intrigued by unconventional solutions to inequality being put forth by a new generation of activist voices—in particular, African American conservatives. For them, the key to competing in a global economy is to play the capitalist game right back—but for the benefit of your population. If your population is being left behind, why not start your own businesses and corporations? Why not circulate the money within your community and help it develop jobs and growth and to keep the benefits circulating within that sphere? This is what successful ethnic minorities such as Jews, Korean-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans have done. Why not emulate them?

I won’t get in anyone’s way if they want to start their own business or if they want to play the capitalist game for the benefit of their community. I see the validity of the conservative argument where everybody will have a chance to rise up socially and economically if the population were to invest in their own communities and have the wealth circulating among themselves so that everybody benefits. If that is what floats your boat then I say more power. I will not stand in your way. I’m all for economic empowerment.

But what does that mean for the rest of us? Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone and not everybody is inclined to aspire to be a business owner. In the context of an America that is rapidly becoming polarized socially and economically one logical avenue to empowerment to workers appears to be through their sheer numbers and potential influence as voters and as citizens. This means political empowerment.

I make it no secret where I stand on this issue: I favor political empowerment for working and middle class people along class lines. And I see no contradiction between advocating for political empowerment along class lines for people like me and those who wish to gain economic empowerment through establishing their own businesses within their communities.

The real question is: once you have political empowerment—what then? What types of issues and policies will you advocate? If you are suspicious of those who claim they represent the “little guy” on ideological grounds, then this is a fair question to ask. I come from the point of view of being one of the “little guys” who senses there is something deeply wrong with inequality in American society and would like it to change. How to go about doing it? Let's talk.


Brian said...

Interesting post. I agree that Entrepreneurship isn't for everyone. And with the increase in globalization, American wages (for the bottom half at least) will continue to stagnate.

Although there have been some recent victories lately for organized labor, Unions as a whole, are on the decline. So that is no longer a promising avenue for American workers. And employers are as anti-Union as ever.

Globalization (and the importing of cheap labor) means that American companies have to keep wages down in order to compete with rivals based outside of the Country.

But you bring up political empowerment... as a way for the masses to see some kind of economic/social justice. But I don't see much hope there either. Especially in this era where we are living under the "best Democracy money can buy".... Where money gets you access to the political candidates and to the policymakers.

It's ironic that the U.S. Capitol was once thought of as the peoples house. But the average citizen has almost zero access to their Congressional reps. But a lobbyist from a multinational corporation has all the access in the world. See the PBS documentary Capitol Crimes.

Therefore, I don't know how much political power the average citizen can have, particularly with two largely corrupt political parties controlling the game. As long as we have a two party system, the average citizen will have little influence over either domestic or international policy. It's almost as if we are locked out of the system altogether. Yes... there are elections every couple of years...and every 4 for the Presidency... But voting in a broken election system equates to very little power for the average joe. Especially when you can't even be sure that your vote will be counted. Elections have become almost ceremonial in nature in this country.

Without more political parties, we won't be able to develop any leverage in terms of public policy.

We have a media that chooses the favorites... chooses the candidates, and basically chooses the winners. This is the same role that the State run media plays in other Countries, (in bogus Democracies) where the winner has already been decided.

Before we can reach any kind of empowerment in this country as average citizens, there will have to be fundamental election/campaign reform, and more political parties on the national stage. Otherwise, we will have ceremonial voting every few years, with nothing really changing on the ground in the lives of Americans.

To start with, we need to have public financing of campaigns, that will provide the same amount of money for all the candidates (after they have met certain requirements for candidacy). Why not start on an even playing field. This paper chase mentality has to be removed from the process.
I see no real spirit with these candidates...because they are competing for money... and not for anything of substance. It's like watching a game show.

Secondly, the media must provide equal time to all of the candidates. None of this media choosing the winner nonsense.

Third, there should be no political ads, or polling at least 2-4 weeks before an election. Polling and ads have been used in excess in recent years to influence voters. If a voter doesn't believe their candidate will have a chance... (based on the State-Run American media reports) then they may decide to save themselves a trip and just stay home....which is what the big money (media annointed) candidates are hoping for.

Fourth, we have to at least regulate these outside special interest groups who run ads. No one group should be so powerful that they can almost single-handedly eliminate a candidate (Swiftboating, etc).

Fifth, we need some sort of compulsory voting system in this country, just like what is in place in Canada.

Finally, we need to get rid of the Commission on Presidential Debates... the group (acting at the behest of the political parties) that decides who will be "allowed" to participate in Presidential debates. This group is basically in place to help keep alternative party candidates out. This is one of the areas where the two main parties actually collude to maintain their power.

Here is a great discussion with Barbara Ehrenreich on the subject of the elusive American Dream.

Here is another discussion with Ehrenreich that is several years old (but still on the mark).

redante said...

Hello Angry Independent

Great response -- I agree with you on structural political reforms to open up the political playing field beyond the two major parties as a basic prerequisite. That's why I am an advocate of reforms like Instant Runoff Voting and the National Popular Vote. (I know Broken Ladder is just out there itching to say something about Range Voting). I'm also skeptical of the sincerity of either major party when it comes to major reforms and representing the "average Joe" which I why I am a supporter of third parties and movements that seek to empower them. I am also a great admirer of Barbara Ehrenreich -- I've read (and lived) both Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch.

When I say I am for middle and working class people becoming empowered politically I say it because only a mass movement of agitated and organized working and middle class folk will have the clout to put the pressure enough for any of these reforms to be feasible in real life. The elites of both parties, the mechanisms of government, the media, and those in charge who make and implement the rules by which political campaigns and elections are run are not going to listen and change unless there is a popular groundswell forcing them to make that change.

Is this a pipe dream? I don't know. All I know is that nothing less will make any of the above things I discuss feasible in real life. I guess I'd rather be hoping for this dream because without it I'd lose all hope and might as well just give up, throw up my hands in despair and say -- OK the other side won. I'd much rather keep the flame of resistance alive and hope that there are others who think like me. Perhaps this blogging thing will serve as a way to keep the flame alive.

Anonymous said...

This is a point of fact response to angry independent's fifth point:

"Fifth, we need some sort of compulsory voting system in this country, just like what is in place in Canada."

There is no compulsory voting system in Canada.

However, according to the current Wikipedia article on the topic:

"There are currently 32 countries with compulsory voting. Of these, 19 enforce it".