In the Dec. 14 issue of the NY Times, Mark Bittman summarized several maladies that afflict the United States of America:
The police killing unarmed civilians. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure and an unsafe “safety net.” An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. A food system that causes disease. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.
Happy Holidays! Nothing to see here, folks; keep minding your own business and please keep shopping. Bittman may be told to “stay in your lane,” but as he persuasively concludes, “Everything affects everything. It’s all tied together, and the starting place hardly matters. A just and righteous system will have a positive impact on everything we care about, just as an unjust, exploitative system makes everything worse.”
Spot on, sir. The interconnected and interdependent movements against injustice and exploitation — respectively embodied by the growing pressure to reform the nation’s police and to lift the working poor with a living wage — are sparking a conflagration of consciousness. If America is going to be a light unto the world, its people must not remain benighted by fear, division, and ignorance. Our civic creed has atrophied for too long. We fellow Americans are waking up, and it does not seem hyperbolic to say that the tide of a see-no-evil doctrine has begun to turn at last. Of course, activists have struggled to improve the country for a long time, but their efforts, for the most part, were relegated to a noisy but ineffective fringe of the body politic. What is different now is how popular and mainstream movements for social and economic justice have become.
There is a gulf between politics and policy, however. And it is beyond obvious that street demonstrators do not make policy. Yet with more and more of the populace in revolt, predominantly in a nonviolent fashion — in stark contrast to the violent reaction from agents of the state — policymakers cannot fail to remain unaffected. Legislators, these are your people. You serve them. They may not contribute campaign donations, but they are your real bosses. People feel alienated from power because powerful interests, namely the prison-industrial complex and the national security state on one end and an engorged financial class and obese agribusiness on the other (to denote only a few), do not care about the general population.
Anything that benefits the bulk of the people — whether it be health-care reform or radical concepts like fair pay — must be ardently opposed in the name of freedom and democracy. Right now, as Bittman observed, “we’re seeing spontaneous protests nationwide, protests that, in their scale, racial diversity, anger and largely nonviolent nature, are unusual if not unique.” It is impossible that these can be ignored. Taking to the streets may not be enough, although it is admirable. Whether power can concede substantive change, with popular demand, remains to be seen.