These are hard times. There doesn’t appear to be any respite coming soon. The political atmosphere has shifted in response to the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression. This crisis, because of how the changes in technology, communication and production have made the world smaller, is global in its impact.
Corporations and financial institutions on Wall Street have become profitable again. Their profits were made possible by the more than $16 trillion in tax money doled out to them by Washington and because they have shed millions of jobs, ripped up workers’ contracts, forced concessions down the workers’ throats and because they make those left with a job work harder and produce more in less time.
There are cutbacks at every level of government — cuts to education, health care, housing, federal nutrition programs and other vital social services. Government workers are being laid off and their collective bargaining rights curtailed in places like Wisconsin — the birthplace of public sector unions — and in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana to name a few states.
These are hard times, confusing times, where, no matter which political party the heads of government at the local, state and federal level answer to, the common program is for cutbacks, cutbacks, cutbacks for the workers and the poor and tax breaks, subsidies and bailouts for the corporations and the rich.
But times change. The political atmosphere shifts in response to real events. It has once again. The Occupy Wall Street movement, like the uprising in Wisconsin earlier in the year but on a grander and broader scale, has awakened youth and students, labor — all sectors.
It has grown from seeds planted by the conditions of accelerating poverty, joblessness, disenfranchisement and frustration with a political system that favors the wealthy elite. Perhaps this movement’s greatest achievement to date is that it has opened up new, broad, vitally needed political space.
It rose suddenly and brazenly, goaded on by threats and intimidation. It shows no sign of waning. This movement has captured the imagination of people the world over who have been waiting, hoping that the roots lurking just under the soil will push upward.
But where does it go from here?
The United States was created from the destruction of the societies and the way of life of the original inhabitants of the North American continent. The wealth of the country stemmed from this destruction of the lives of Indigenous peoples, the enslavement of Africans, the seizure of half of Mexico, the colonization of the land of sovereign nations such as Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the Philippines, the corporate grab of the Western Hemisphere.
Indigenous people, the descendants of African slaves, the offspring of the people from the northern half of Mexico, the people of Puerto Rico continue to live in the United States and suffer the effects of centuries of genocide, slavery, land theft and racist policies that have been pervasive throughout U.S. history.
Drawn into the U.S. are people who left their homelands because of war — be it the war in Iraq that has raged for eight years; the war in Afghanistan that has persisted for ten; the wars more than one generation ago in Vietnam and Korea — or economic warfare imposed on their countries through the so-called North American Free Trade Act, structural adjustments or austerity — all emanating from Wall Street.
We, the overwhelming majority, comprise the working class. It is a multinational class that speaks many languages, has many different cultures, customs, beliefs and religions.
For the movement to grow, it has to accept the peculiar history of the development of the U.S. What we all want is an equal, just society with an equitable distribution of wealth, one where people are not exploited and where young people are not thrust into Wall Street’s wars for profit and plunder.
But that society does not yet exist.
A broad movement must be multinational, in solidarity with all people and their issues, against racist repression, sexism, homophobia, and in support of the struggles of people who suffer disproportionately under this oppressive system.
While in general the conditions heaped upon all of our class are bad, Black, Latinos/as, Indigenous people and other people of color suffer higher rates of unemployment, poverty, lack of access to health care, in addition to regular oppression and repression.
The attacks against immigrant workers, the raids and deportations, the attacks against Muslims and the attacks against Black people — be they in the form of police brutality, incarceration or police occupation of communities of color — must all be seen as attacks against a sector of the working class.
As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Unity and solidarity are needed.
Any grouping that seeks to scapegoat immigrants, Muslims, people of color is no friend of the working class. It is instead doing the bidding of Wall Street by attacking the most dispossessed, most disenfranchised. Any opportunists who think that demagogy against Wall Street that serves a racist, sexist or homophobic perspective must be given no quarter. Our class is diverse and we must always be aware of its diversity.
This movement will grow and can be transformative. We will learn what works and what doesn’t. We will learn lessons from our mistakes and our victories, and we will march forward.
An Injury to One Is an Injury to All!
All Power to the People!
Hales is an organizer of the national student struggle against austerity; an Occupy Wall Street, anti-police brutality and anti-war activist and a member of Fight Imperialism Stand Together.