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Q. Who has our back? A. We should.
I finally began reading Howard Zinn’s classic book ‘A People’s History of the United States’, I have been meaning to read it for a long time. It is a very informative and entertaining work and notable for presenting history from the perspective of what life was like for average people in different stages of the development of the U.S. It is at times depressing and disheartening, and like many great works, as relevant today as it was when first published.
One of the inspirational historical events covered in the book is that of the formation and the works of the Industrial Workers of the World union, IWW, in 1905 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IWW a workers union that sought to bridge the gap between workers who unionized by trade or skill level, and from a body that could represent and stand for all workers regardless of their particular field of labor, they even publicly promoted the acceptance of blacks into their union, though they didn‘t always accomplish this goal. Despite many logistical obstacles faced by many of the members, from daily survival to transportation to basic communication across great distances among other things, they were able to come together and in many cases, do amazing things.
In several instances they were able to provide support to strikers several states away, support that came in the form of sending in reinforcement personnel to keep a strike going, sending money and food to feed strikers who were no longer earning even the meager wages they relied upon to keep their families fed and clothed. In particularly nasty and protracted strikes, folks from out of state would take in the children of strikers to keep the kids from the violence and the suffering taking place at home. Many times, workers in one factory, upon learning of the abuses of laborers in another city or town, sometimes even in another state, would themselves go on strike, for no other reason than solidarity, because they realized solidarity was essential. They didn’t always win concessions, in fact, most times they lost, terribly, the fate of many of the strikers was being fired from their jobs and black listed from further employment in town, imprisoned, and many times, beaten horribly if not killed.
They didn’t always win their particular fight, but fight they did in abundance, and the sum total of their actions did help to bring about some very basic, but very desperately needed reforms, reforms that we still reap the benefits of to this day.
Of all the horrific, oppressive and violent opposition that they had to overcome, it seems to me that the principle business of forming some type of consensus and trust among the various trades and interests of the working classes may have been the most difficult obstacle to over come.
In other words, just to get enough people to agree on common goals and the need to participate in activities designed to achieve those goals may have been infinitely more difficult than simply walking off of a job or getting arrested in a free speech fight. Once enough people truly believed that they were not alone, and were convinced that others had their back, it was much easier to inspire action and activism.
The foot work, the time, the money, the sheer effort required just to spread awareness and to build up mutual agreement and trust must have been nothing short of extraordinary.
It becomes more and more apparent to my mind, that a comparable level of foot work and trust building, and action must be done again, in our times. The days when writing a check to a political party or friendly organization and going faithfully to the ballot box was enough have long since passed us by, the forces aligned against the interests of average people in the U.S. are far too powerful, far too organized and far too wealthy to be checked by monetary donations and votes alone.
When poll after poll reveals clearly that the overwhelming majority of Americans agree with ‘tax the wealthy more’ and ‘don’t mess with medicare and social security’ and the response of our elected officials is to proceed to do just the opposite, it is obvious that government has become at the very least unresponsive if not completely unconcerned to the will of its citizens.
If anything is to be done to turn the tide and to make government work for average folks, it is going to require work and sweat, it is going to require money, it is going to require building trust, it is going to require education and organization, it will require compromise and alliances that some folks would rather not have to make, but if the work is undertaken to build up trust and to establish common goals in order to give real weight to votes cast at the ballot box, we just may bring about some reforms worth having and leave future generations with something to be thankful for in the same way that generations before us have done.
In “A People’s History of the United States’ I read about a factory in New York, where most of the employees were women….along with their small children. Even working 60 hours a week the pay was far short of a living wage, the working conditions were deplorable and dangerous. But when the women employed at the factory went on strike, the greatest concern they had was not for greater pay for themselves, they had learned to accept slave wages as a part of reality.
What they wanted most was for their children to be allowed to work only 55 hours a week, so that they could go to school. During the strike, the little children held up signs that said ‘WE WANT TO GO TO GO TO SCHOOL-55 HOUR WEEKS’.
I don’t believe we have a word in the English language to describe the experience of sadness and anger having a knife fight for emotional dominance inside of one’s conscience, but that is exactly what I imagine most people feel upon acquiring the knowledge that the forces of unbridled greed and avarice had ever overtaken humanity to such a degree that this happened in the country we call home.
A few days later I had occasion to read this article,
http://prospect.org/cs/articles?article=summer_homework_plow_the_field all about children as young as 12 years old, currently working 12 hour days in blazing heat, this abuse is legal only because of an antiquated loophole regarding child labor laws as they relate to the agricultural industry. Many of these children are experiencing the pain of repetitive motion injuries 4 years before they can legally experience driving a car and 6 years before they can legally experience what it means to vote. Many of the parents of these children have such a difficult time earning a living wage, they reluctantly allow their children to work just to be able to make ends meet.
Since anyone of us could easily face similar circumstances, is it unreasonable to ask the question Who has their back?
Many of us are aware of the story of a 59 year old man in North Carolina who robbed a bank and asked only for one dollar, http://www.9news.com/news/sidetracks/204061/337/Man-robbed-bank-for-1-to... he did this because after losing his job, and exhausting all other options, it was the only logical option he believed he had left in order to get access to the health care that he needed to survive.
Anyone could easily face a similar scenario, it could be me, or you, your father or mine. Who has his back?
Who has your back? Who has mine? Who has our back?
In the past few years I have joined and sent money to several organizations, it does not bother me that some of the organizations that I belong to at times have issues with each other, the desire to be involved in advancing real reforms, at least for me, overrides what I consider to be relatively minor points of contention.
At this point, I think many people will work with anyone as long as they are doing something to truly advance the public good, I certainly will.
Regardless of who we are working with or for, I think some good questions we should all be asking are:
How to go about outreach and education on a local level?
Effective ways to encourage folks who may otherwise be uninterested to get interested?
And maybe most importantly, How to build trust among groups of folks with similar but various concerns?
Thanks for reading my post, and please leave any suggestions or comments you may have.
The floor is yours