In her book “Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” Naomi Klein explains how crises are used by governments to distract and frighten people so that unpopular and exploitative policies can be pushed through
It seems that now there is a different reaction disaster capitalism. Rather than disasters providing cover for the implementation of dangerous capitalist policies that lower wages and increase the wealth divide, the disasters being caused by these dangerous policies have woken the public and are leading to a more active and empowered people. People are taking initiative rather than waiting for leaders.
Ahmed states, “People are really hungry actually for answers, hungry for solutions, hungry for alternatives, so really this is actually an unprecedented opportunity. It’s an unprecedented crisis but it’s also an opportunity to dream-weave and say ‘well actually everything is going to go to pot over the next 20-30 years if we don’t change, so here’s an opportunity to think outside the box.’”
Enough people appear to recognize that the political system is dysfunctional and does not serve the public’s needs or interests. We saw this recently with the President’s call for an attack on Syria. The public demanded that the President go to Congress, that there be an investigation into the facts and that the rule of law be followed. The attack was averted.
US foreign policy is rarely attacked but stopping the war on Syria shows that something may be changing. General David Petraeus has been a target of people opposed to war. On the way to his first class the retired General and former CIA director was chased down the street by people calling him a war criminal and threatening to protest at every class he taught at CUNY. Then he was protested at a fundraiser. The protests keep growing. This week, when veterans announced they would protest a luncheon in Los Angeles, Petraeus cancelled his appearance. This is a major change as it is rare to see a former general called a war criminal in the United States.
This week, we are being told that there is a budget crisis and that we must accept more cuts, more austerity measures. But many Americans understand that austerity actually causes more economic decline rather than recovery. In response, nurses and health care workers in 13 countries had a global day of action against austerity, cuts to healthcare and for a tax on stock transactions. And there have been some victories. This week in New York City, nurses won a series of battles in the courts and electoral arena that will keep community hospitals open.
We know that the economy is rigged so that the working class is subsidizing the richest, that our wealth is trickling up. An analysis published this week found the average U.S. family subsidizes Big Business by $6,000 annually. This is outrageous at a time when most Americans are struggling to survive.
Instead of accepting cuts and declining wages, workers are fighting back. We’ve been reporting on the striking Walmart and fast food workers. Now people are realizing that they are fighting for all of us. And, in North Carolina where teachers are not allowed to unionize or strike, there is talk of a teacher walk-out.
Labor unrest is building and big labor needs to change to catch-up to American workers anger. There is lots of criticism of big labor for its ties to the Democratic Party and cautious lack of activism, but there are some good signs in labor as well. United Students Against Sweatshops which has been winning victories, is allying with the AFL-CIO. Our hope is the students pull the AFL-CIO toward more activism.
People are seeing that the Democratic Party is behind the neo-liberal economic agenda. Democrats are joining the GOP to privatize and log national forests and cut education funding. And the husband of Senator Feinstein is selling our commons, in this case publicly-owned Post Office buildings, to his friends cheap in order to line his family’s pockets with our commonwealth.
On the bright side, as people speak-up, mobilize and take action not only is there a growing movement but the power structure is being divided. Divisions are occurring in the Democratic Party where some are being pulled away from Obama’s pro-Wall Street, market-based policies that undermine the social infrastructure.
We hope that trend will continue, especially with regard to the mother of all neo-liberal policies, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that has been negotiated in secret for more than three years. This is a rigged corporate trade agreement (falsely called “free trade” for marketing purposes) that will do very little to get the economy going but will add to many of the mistaken market policies that hinder the economy and make it unfair. A study published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research made some amazing findings about the TPP: (1) the impact on economic growth will be almost nothing, only a .1% increase in the GDP, but (2) the impact on most Americans will be negative with 90% of workers seeing their wages decline. The TPP will add to the decline of the middle class, race to the bottom in wages and continue the expansion of the wealth divide.
As it comes down to the wire – we expect a push by the President for Congress to grant him Fast Track (Trade Promotion Authority) so that he can sign it before Congressional review – resistance to the TPP is growing. In Maine, where the state House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution opposing “Fast Track,” Rep. Sharon Anglin Treat sees the a broad, bi-partisan opposition developing. The OWS made the TPP a focus of its anniversary protest with Adam Weissman of Occupy Trade Justice describing it as the “anti-Occupy” agreement, “a 1% power grab.”
In Washington, DC, a coalition of unions, environmentalists and Public Citizen organized a protest against the TPP on Friday, while lead negotiators were inside discussing the agreement. Over the weekend as part of a TPP Training organized by Flush The TPP (which includes both authors), activists produced light projections on a federal building. And, then on Monday, protests escalated as activists scaled the US Trade Rep’s building and covered it with four massive banners in order to expose their secret negotiations, as captured in this video. The Washington Post said the “guerrilla theater . . . demonstration could rank among the best ever.” On Tuesday the activists celebrated with a “Don’t Fast Track a Train Wreck” March that began at the White House went to the US Trade Rep, World Bank, US Chamber of Commerce, through the business district, and ended at Congress. You can see a video of the Fast Track train march at the end of this article summarizing the spectacle protests.
Opposition to the TPP is going to continue to grow as more of the secret agreement becomes public knowledge. This week information about the impact of the TPP on two of the hottest environmental issues – hydro-fracking and tar sands – came out. The TPP could allow an end run by the oil and gas industry around local opposition to fracking and gas exports. And, the US Trade Rep, Mike Froman, is pushing less regulation of the already inadequately regulated tar sands industry.
As environmental justice activists realize the TPP could undo all of their good work to stop extreme energy extraction, they will join the effort to stop the TPP. Already 75,000 have threatened civil disobedience if Obama approves the KXL pipeline, and they reiterated that threat in letters to President Obama this week.
Activism for environmental justice has been constantly building in recent years, especially this summer. There were protests across the country in recent weeks. Here are a few examples to highlight some of the diverse tactics used: a renewable energy barn was built in path of Keystone XL Pipeline in Nebraska, activists in Montana stopped a coal train, student artists, activists are aiming for fossil-free investment at Washington University. This is a global movement as can be seen from the protests in Russia with an extreme reaction from the Russian government and in Ecuador this week.
A strong environmental movement that is independent of the corporate political parties is critical to addressing climate change effectively. Naomi Klein is seeing divisions between the Big Green environmental groups and the grassroots environmental groups; indeed, she says the Big Greens may be more damaging than the climate deniers. And, the corrupt linkage between some Green groups and the Democrats can be seen in the Blue Green Alliance that is giving the environmentally-damaging governor of California an award, at which there will be protests. In fact, the Big Greens and the Democratic Party are critical parts of the power structure that keeps the status quo in place. For the popular resistance movement to be successful we need to divide those groups and pull people from them into the movement.
This video produced by the Post Carbon Institute explains why our current way of life cannot continue. Access to fossil fuels is declining and their extraction increasingly destructive. It requires us to change our way of living but this can be a positive transformation. The current crises are activating more of us and are forcing us to work together to create new solutions, such as the ones described by Gar Alperovitz in Ten things You Can Do to Democratize the Economy. In fact, it is already happening. Cooperatives employ more people than multinational corporations. People are taking up the challenge. It is time for the people to lead and create the kind of world we want to live in.