In the two weeks since the 2020 election, the country has wavered between joy and anger, hope and fear in a time of polarization exacerbated by the forces of racism, nativism and hatred. To be honest, while the divisive tone of this moment may only be sharper, division in the United States of America is not a new phenomenon.
For the past few days, I’ve been to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. returned, who in 1967, just a year before his assassination, delivered a prophetic speech entitled “The other America“In which he vividly described a reality that feels too much of this moment than of this:
“There are literally two Americas. America is beautiful … and full of the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies; and culture and education for their spirit; and freedom and human dignity for their spirits …
“But tragically and unfortunately there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness that constantly turns the exuberance of hope into the weariness of despair. In this America, millions of work-hungry men take to the streets every day looking for jobs that don’t exist. In this America, millions of people live in rat infested slums full of vermin. In this America there are millions of people poor. You are on a desert island of poverty in the middle of a vast ocean of material prosperity. ”
To Dr. In King’s day, this other America was for a time stripped of the nation by social unrest and political change, the bold actions of freedom fighters who won the suffrage law and then just kept fighting, and government programs like the war on poverty. And yet, despite the substantial gains then, for many decades since then, Inequality in this country has risen to previously unimaginable levels while poverty has continued to be persisted and largely ignored.
Today, in the early winter of an unchecked pandemic and the associated economic crisis, there is 140 million poor or low-income Americans, disproportionately colored people who, however, reach every community in this country: 24 million blacks, 38 million Latinos, eight million Asians, 2 million natives and 66 million whites. More than one Third of the potential votersIn other words, it has been relegated to poverty and precariousness, and yet political discourse in the recent elections was directed against those who were poor, or a storm, fire, job loss, eviction, or health crisis outside of poverty and economic chaos. In the distorted mirror of public order, these 140 million people have remained essentially invisible. As in the 1960s and at other times in our history, however, the poor are no longer waiting to be recognized by Washington. Instead, everyone is suggesting that they are starting to organize and take decisive action to change the level of political power.
I have traveled this country for years working to build a movement to end poverty. In a nation that so often boasts of being the richest and freest in history, I have regularly seen painful divisions caused by hunger, homelessness, disease, humiliation, and more. in the Lowndes County, Ala.For example, I organized with people who lived day after day with raw sewage in their yards and dangerous mold in their homes. Land on Apache in Oak Flats, Ariz.I stood with local leaders who have faced generations of losses and looting, most recently by a multinational copper mining company. in the Gray’s Harbor, WashingtonI visited millennials who lived in homeless camps and were constantly besieged by militia groups and the police. And unfortunately the list only goes on.
As the future administration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris heads towards the White House (whether or not the stubborn loser still lives there), the rest of us must arm ourselves with courage and caution and live as we do in a divided nation to do. to be precise – two completely different America. Remember, this isn’t the isolated, pre-made America of MSNBC and Fox News, of Republicans and Democrats, of Conservatives and Liberals. We all live in a country where there are two Americas, one of unimaginable wealth and the other of wretched poverty; an America of the promised good life and one of almost guaranteed premature death.
Unleashing the power of poor and low-income voters
A lasting narrative from the 2016 election is that poor and low-income voters Donald Trump won the White House, even if the numbers don’t stand it. Hillary Clinton won with 12 points among voters who earned less than $ 30,000 a year and 9 points among voters who earned less than $ 49,999. The median household income of Trump voters at the time was $ 72,000.
Four years later, initial estimates suggest that this trend has only intensified: Joe Biden, overall and overall, attracted more poor and low-income voters than President Trump Key states like Michigan. Trump, on the other hand, won among voters with an annual family income of more than $ 100,000. Last week, the director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab written down that this “seems to be the biggest demographic change I see. And you can bind to it [Trump’s] Tax cuts [for the wealthy] and lower regulations. ”
In 2016 there was 64 million eligible poor and low-income voters, 32 million of whom did not vote. In 2020, it will become clear that poor and low-income voters helped shape the election result by choosing a candidate, providing support for key poverty reduction issues such as raising the minimum wage, expanding health care and protecting people Environment signaled. At voting races every member of Congress Those who supported Medicare for All won re-election, even in swing states. Imagine how many dispossessed and disenfranchised voters would have turned out if more candidates had actually spoken on the most pressing issues of their lives.
Seventy-two percent of Americans said they would prefer a government-run health plan and more than 70 percent supported the increase in the minimum wage, including 62 percent of Republicans. Even in districts that voted for Trump, voters have passed election measures that would have been unknown just a few years ago. In Mississippi, people voted to decriminalize medical marijuana while they were in Florida a referendum for a minimum wage of $ 15, he received more votes than either of the two presidential candidates.
Last but not least, the 2020 elections showed a deeply divided nation – two Americas, not one – though that dividing line marked anything but an even or overt division. A staggering number of Americans are trapped in dire straits and hungry for a clean break with the status quo. On the other hand the rampant suppression of voters and racial wandering in the last decade of American politics suggests extremists from richer America will make remarkable efforts to undermine the power of those at the bottom of this society. They have shown themselves ready to use every conceivable instrument and terrorist strategy of racial division and cunning to prevent poor potential voters from Black, Latino, Asian, Indigenous and White from forming new and transformative alliances, including a new electorate.
It’s time to move beyond the defeatist myth of the Solid South, or even the hazy comfort of a “blue wall” of the Midwest. Everywhere in the South and in the Midwest there are still states for the suppression of voters, not for a party but for a merger movement of the many. The same could apply to the coasts and the southwest, where there is still a sleeping giant of poor and low-income people who has not yet become politically active. If this country is ever to be rebuilt better to loan Joe Biden’s election pledges, it is time to turn to its deserted corners. to the other America of Martin Luther King that still haunts us whether we know it or not.
Merger policy in the other America
When Dr. King gave his “Other America” speech, he was preparing for the last political project of his life: the campaign of the poor. At a time when the nation seemed to be frayed at the seams, he realized that a huge social leap forward was still possible. Indeed, he envisioned a protracted struggle that could catapult this country into a new era Human rights and revolution Not through confident demands for unity, but through a stirring amalgamation of poor and dispossessed people from all walks of life. And that would include, as he envisioned, the realization that systemic racism and other forms of hatred and prejudice were vital to the maintenance of the two Americas, and needed to be challenged directly.
The idea of such a merger policy was repeated previous chapters political reckoning and transformation in this country. From the post-civil war reconstruction period until the 1890s, newly emancipated blacks forged unprecedented, if fragile, alliances with poor whites to take power. In a new south, the merging parties expanded voting rights, access to public education, health and safety, fair taxes and much more. In North Carolina, for example, in 1868 the legislature went so far as to rewrite the state constitution to codify it for the first time the right of all citizens to “life, freedom and the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor”.
For nearly 30 years, I’ve been part of a modern version of the merger organization, although I’ve studied previous examples of it – and the history of this country is rich in them. Indeed the modern one Campaign of the Poor The fact that I am a cochair is itself inspired by such earlier merger movements, including the version of politics I learned about through multicultural welfare rights and homeless organizations in the 1980s and 1990s.
Organizations like that National Welfare Rights Union and the National Union of the Homeless first grew in response to President Ronald Reagan’s neoliberal policies and attacks on the poor, especially the black poor, or, as he put it, “welfare queens”. In response to such myths and deep, divisive cuts from shelters and from the streets poor people began organizing mutual aid and solidarity projects, including “unions” for the homeless.
In the 1980s, the National Union of the Homeless was formed, with over 30,000 members in 25 cities. Meanwhile, organizers across the country soon escalated their efforts with waves of coordinated and non-violent action Acquisitions of vacant federally owned buildings at a time when the government abandoned its responsibility to protect and care for its poorest citizens. These poor and homeless leaders also helped the Homeless Union obtain guarantees from the federal government for both more subsidized housing and protection of the homeless’s right to vote.
Today, in the midst of an economic crisis that could end up keeping up with the Great Depression, I remember not only the moments I was first involved, but also the merger movements of the early 1930s. After all, shanty cities were called in those years “Hoovervilles“- since Herbert Hoover was president – has appeared in cities across the country.
Much like the tent cities of the Homeless Union and Welfare Movement in the 1980s, and in cities today, these Hoovervilles gathered crowds of unemployed and homeless people to survive the worst of this depression and devise strategies to withstand their misery. Multiracial Unemployed Councils organized and fought for the relief of unemployed workers to prevent thousands of evictions and shutdowns.
In the deserted fields of the southern delta from Arkansas to Mississippi there are groups like that Southern Tenant Farmers Union Pioneering dangerous organizational work Black and white Tenants and tenants. When the New Deal coalition put its future on a compromise with white southern extremists, members of that union were among the last guardians of the rights of poor farm workers. Her solitary clarity about the importance of merger policy in the South stood in stark contrast to the rise of unqualified white reaction politics there.
Today, as top Democrats like it Joe Biden and Senate minority leaders Chuck Schumer claim the legacy of the Great Depression President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and remember the merger organization that helped him come to power and pushed him to make change. I am thinking in particular of the 40,000+ unemployed World War I veterans who arrived in Washington DC in 1932 to demand early payment of promised bonuses that were previously considered redeemable only after 1945 Bonus armyas the veterans called it, gathered many of the frayed threads of the American tapestry, Make camp, sometimes with women and children, on confiscated public land directly across the Potomac from the capital’s federal office buildings, while regular non-violent marches and rallies are held.
Eventually, President Herbert Hoover ordered the US Army to forcibly demolish the camp. The mistreatment of these poor and war-weary veterans proved a lightning rod for the public, and Hoover lost to the FDR in the presidential election later that year, setting the stage for a decade of militant organization and major changes in national politics.
The mandate of the poor today
There are already those in the media and in politics who recommend restraint and a return to the days before Trump as if he were the cause rather than the result of a desperately divided nation. This would be nothing short of a catastrophe, as the cracks in our democracy need so urgently to be repaired, not with kind words, but with a new government treaty with the American people.
The battlefield states that gave Joe Biden the presidency were also battlefields in the recent war against the poor. in the MichiganMillions first and worst hit by deindustrialization have faced a failing water system and an employment crisis. In Wisconsin, where there were unions Under fire For years and austerity measures have become the norm. Both budgets and social policy have been cut by the legislators. In Pennsylvania, rural hospitals have been closing at an alarming rate, and the country’s poorest major city, Philadelphia, had become a chessboard for divestment and gentrification even before the pandemic broke out. In Georgia, 1.3 million tenants– 45 percent of households in the state – were at risk of eviction this year. And in Arizona, the climate crisis and Covid-19 have devastated entire communities, including members of Indigenous nations who recently voted in record numbers.
The people of these states and 15 others voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and you can count on one thing: With their votes, they called for more than just an end to Trumpism. They called for a new era of change Start for the poor and the marginalized. The first priority in such an era should of course be to pass a comprehensive one Relief calculation to control the pandemic and fuel the millions of Americans now facing a cold, dark winter of deprivation. The House and the Senate have one moral responsibility to do this as soon as the new administration takes office, if not before (but just tell Mitch McConnell). The first 100 days of Biden administration should then, at least in part, focus on the introduction of a historical investment Ensure permanent protection for the poor, including extended voting rights, universal health care, affordable housing, a Subsistence leveland guaranteed decent annual income, not to mention alienation from the war economy and a swift transition to a green economy.
The should be that mandate our next government. And so we, the crowded millions, must take advantage of the merger policy that was so crucial in the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and organize ourselves in the best tradition of our predecessors. Real social progress rarely comes slowly and steadily, but often in leaps and bounds. The foreseeable stalemate of the next administration and its Republican opposition cannot be broken by grand speeches in the House or Senate. It can only be broken by a huge social movement that can awaken the nation’s moral imagination.
It’s time to get to work.