Take It to the Streets

They are out in the streets in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities to protest the high cost of housing, food, education and health care.

In Italy, workers shut down transportation and business with a general strike to protest a series of austerity measures and, in Greece, a European Union bailout plan demanding tax hikes and service cuts met widespread protests before being passed by the Greek Parliament. But in the United States, aside from some relatively small protests in the Midwest, economically distressed Americans just sit and stew while the people they sent to Washington do nothing but bicker and promise to slash spending.

That, more than gridlock in Washington, is what ails this nation. We have lost the ability to organize ourselves, have been lulled into complicity with the corporate class by our acquiescence to consumer culture and a decades-long, full-court corporate public relations blitz.

There really is no other way to explain the apathy with which the American public has responded to the nation’s economy woes. Yes, the polls show that the public is angry and that they think the president and Congress are doing a terrible job of handling the economy.

All of this is happening at a time of record corporate profits. Federal statistics “indicate that corporate profits accounted for 14% of the total national income in 2010, the highest proportion ever recorded,” wrote Floyd Norris in the New York Times. “The previous peak, of 13.6%, was set in 1942 when the need for war materials filled the order books of companies at the same time as the government imposed wage and price controls, holding down the costs companies had to pay. “In the first quarter of 2011, the latest figures available, the new estimates indicate corporate profits accounted for 14.2% of national income, well above the 13.1% that had previously been estimated. “

The disparity between the average American (not to mention those who have spent most of their lives at the bottom of the economic barrel) and corporations should have Americans doing more than writing the occasional letter to the editor. We should be in the streets. Protest, after all, is part of our national DNA – or it was.

Protests, in particular, the general strike, have created the kind of moral momentum needed to force a shift in the national narrative and a change in public policy. Workers in the pre-union era, African-Americans during the early civil rights years, the gay-rights and women’s rights movements all took to the streets, demanded change.

Martin Luther King Jr., in a June 1963 speech, told a crowd in Detroit that civil rights legislation then pending wasn’t “going to get through if we don’t put some work in it and some determined pressure.”

“And this is why I’ve said that in order to get this bill through, we’ve got to arouse the conscience of the nation, and we ought to march to Washington more than 100,000 in order to say,” he said. “in order to say that we are determined, and in order to engage in a nonviolent protest to keep this issue before the conscience of the nation.” That’s where we stand now as our economy continues to sputter and disintegrate and the rich find ways to benefit from the pain of Americans. We can’t count on Washington politicians who have been bought and paid for by the people who are profiting from our malaise.

We have to take back our economy, reconstruct it and make it work for the majority of Americans once again.

Hank Kalet is regional editor for in New Jersey. You can email him at

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2011

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