Jacob Swenson. Remember that name, because you’ll be hearing more from him down the road. For now he bides his time between Ph.D. studies at the University of Chicago (For Tea Partiers, that means he’s read books with big words-and facts, the sort of stuff FOX would call “elitist”) and community organizing. He’s a bright, driven man who will doubtless have no trouble doing well after school. He might just as easily, at that crossroads of success or privilege, turn left towards uplifting all of humanity. or right, with a self-focused impatience that ignores the complexity of human experience and toil.
I caught up to Jacob at a meeting of Democracy in Action Chicago, DIAC, on Chicago’s far north side yesterday afternoon. We’d talked before. He is also a part of IIRON, “organizing for broad, inclusive, collective power and democratic self-governance.” Brian and I had him on the radio program to talk about Corporate Tax Transparency in the state of Illinois. There was a small audience to an hour long presentation, roughly 18 in attendance this day. He was the youngest person there. Most were over 50 years of age. A fair number were far older.
“This is our crisis,” he said as afternoon sunlight through tightly drawn blinds warmed the basement offices of “A Just Harvest,” where the meeting was hosted. “This is our moment for Progressive change. But it can’t happen unless we can mobilize large numbers.”
He was referring to the catastrophe of the Great Depression, which galvanized the labor movement and lead to labor, social and banking reforms, and the New Deal. And it is that single question that is at the core of Progressive movements here today. What amount of pain and indignity compels citizens into the streets to reaffirm control of their government, and reassert a measure of simple security over their lives, homes and health? What draws the phenomenal numbers of the Occupy movement back into action, and keeps them there until this country and government is once again more responsive and accessible to the people and less responsive and accessible to the powerful and wealthy?
It is natural, whether talking with progressive, labor and even far-left groups, or the Tea Party, conservatives and moderates, that those in this country whose household income falls within the reasonable range of the median income all have the same complaints. They all have a story, either of themselves, their family or someone close suffering under the weight of this economy. They have all surrendered substantial assumptions on the American Dream, but also to their own indignity while a small number of wealthy individuals become ever more powerful and less sympathetic to this national decline. The difference is in where people from each of the afore-mentioned constituencies place the blame for their current disillusionment. Some blame immigrants, some the government, others corporations. Everybody has a scapegoat.
There is a kinship of all those in this country in the very real group dubbed the 99%. It is defined by a loss of faith and hope in the American Dream, the government and the economy. All too often we end up flailing at our personal ghosts, rather than on fixing the system. We come to meetings and demonstrations looking for community and commiseration rather than clearly denouncing the causes, and then doing the long-term difficult slog towards solutions.
In no small part the media makes that task far more difficult. Never forget in any conversation on the rightwing media or leftwing media that 90% of those are owned by three globally monstrous corporations, and that it is the finely managed marketing departments of those corporations that are virtually entirely responsible for nearly everything you see on television, radio and in print. Those companies descend to what you desire, but not what will sustain and help you to nurture yourself, the community and the world. I desire to eat Twinkies all day-yes, they are coming back, America- but a diet of Twinkies kill me of malnutrition of Type-II diabetes in pretty short order, or at the very least leave me weak and sickly. What do you think endless Twinkie-like programming does to your heart, mind and soul?
This is our crisis, as my good friend Jacob said yesterday. The key is in understanding not the symptoms of the crisis, but of the root cause of that crisis. We, as Americans, may complain, commiserate and bitch endlessly on the burden of student loans, the cost of food outpacing income, Monsanto, Republicans, Democrats, social security and school closings. It only makes us victims of our crisis and not agents for changing the system to eliminate the crisis.
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