By Doug Porter
Welcome to Day Two of the Starting Line’s summation of 2014. Yesterday the focus was on challenges not met in San Diego. Today we’ll look at some serious challenges rising to the forefront of the local and national consciousness.
Struggles for economic justice and ending racism (re) emerged as serious issues over the past year, and there certainly is every indication they’ll remain at the forefront in 2015. Taking the long view, it seems as though in the past we’ve ended up in the past settling for half a loaf in these matters; the symptoms got treated but never the disease.
Promises of hope and change have run into the politics of “No.” Often the personification of that attitude is the Republican Party, a convenient diversion from the reality that the underlying attitudes are part of our national consciousness. Entitlement based on race, wealth and class are as American as apple pie. Passing laws and declarations by elected leaders can no longer be regarded as a substitute for changing our culture.
The American Dream, Dystopian Edition
What happened: A small protest by fast food workers in New York two years ago is growing into a national discontent. It’s way bigger than a recruiting drive by unions. Some call it alt-labor. It’s amorphous and often undefined. And the feelings run deep, deeper than an incremental increase in the minimum wage can assuage.
Anybody that thinks the decline in sales at mega-companies like WalMart and McDonalds are solely because of product issues is missing the fact that brands themselves are being degraded as a consequence of the way they treat their workforce.
Locally a push for a city-wide increase in the minimum wage was defeated (until June 2016) by a Chamber of Commerce backed referendum drive. The tactics used by opponents of the increase (gross amounts of money, deception and -if all else failed- lies) points out the limitations of conventional avenues for change in the modern era.
Another local manifestation, the push by taxi drivers for lifting the cap on permits, was more successful, in part because the marketplace for cabs is being disrupted by technology based services. Many cab drivers who switched from leasing taxis to companies like Uber have switched back; the boss may have been different but the exploitation remained.
Why it happened: The promised economic recovery of the US economy has left most of us behind. Real wages have stagnated and the evolution of the marketplace offers scant hope for the vast majority of people dependent on their labor as a source of income.
Since 2010, 43% percent of new jobs created by midyear (2014) have been in low-wage industries, which employ 2.3 million more workers now than they did at the start of the recession.
Traditional relationships between employers and employees are vanishing in the face of an era where outsourcing and contracting have become the new normal. Workplace norms like the 8 hour day, vacations, benefits and pensions are seemingly outmoded in the developing economy of the 21st century.
Follow the money: (From Wikipedia-with source links-, simply because it’s succinct):
Inflation-adjusted pre-tax income for the bottom 90% of American families fell between 2010 and 2013, with the middle income groups dropping the most, about 6% for the 40th-60th percentiles and 7% for the 20th-40th percentiles. Incomes in the top decile rose 2%.
The top 1% captured an estimated 95% of the income growth during the 2009-2012 recovery period, with their pre-tax incomes growing 31.4% adjusted for inflation while the pre-tax incomes of the bottom 99% grew 0.4%. By 2012, the top 10% (top decile) had a 50.4% share of the pre-tax income, the highest level since 1917.
Where we stand now: Twenty states across the country are raising the minimum wage in 2015. Over three million workers will be getting a way overdue bump in wages. For the first time a majority of states — 29, plus the District of Columbia – will have minimum wages that surpass the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
Nonetheless, the minimum wage is a long way from a living wage. (And, yes, the original legislation on minimum wages was supposed to amount to something a person could live on.) Wage theft and a lowering (by default) of the standards for what constitutes an overtime-exempt salaried employee are issues targeted for actions by the federal government this year.
Asymmetrical protests will spread beyond the fast food industry this year. These largely leaderless and semi-spontaneous events are necessitated by the array of forces lined up against low wage workers. Whether it’s by framing the discussion, getting court orders or the use of brute force, the deck is stacked against attempts at traditional organizing.
Despite Democratic figureheads decrying the current state of inequality in this country, the reality is the solutions lie at least partially outside the normal legislative and political arenas.
Given that 2015 isn’t an election year, the best role for those who are committed to that process as a means of change will be to stand in support of those who don’t feel empowered enough to trust the system. We need to recognize this as an issue that transcends traditional political boundaries and act accordingly.
#Icantbreathe, San Diego Edition
What happened: A five year effort to create a community plan for Barrio Logan was derailed by industries with a long history of environmental disregard for their neighbors. A last minute compromise worked out by David Alvarez prior to City Council approval was rejected in favor of sponsoring a referendum putting the Community Plan before the entire city electorate. Key to the planning effort were measures designed to reduce pollutants in San Diego’s neighborhood with the highest rate of child asthma.
While voters in Barrio Logan overwhelmingly supported the plan, opponents were victorious in neighborhoods north of San Diego’s racial divide, also known as Interstate 8.
The campaign of lies and deception supported by the Chamber of Commerce and the maritime industry only went forth based on the assumption that the lives of those people affected by the community plan were worth less than those of the surrounding areas. I’m not saying that people voted on Propositions B&C based on racism; I’m saying their understanding of the issue as defined by opponents to the community plan was manipulated with a racist subtext.
Why it happened: The struggle against racism, as recently highlighted by protests over police killings, is about way more than simply the actions of people in uniforms who may or may not be racist. It’s about a system, a way of thinking that devalues human life in beings having differing backgrounds, cultures and pigmentation. You don’t have to be seen wearing a Klan outfit to act in ways considered racist.
If you think for a minute that a plan creating separation between an industrial zone and a residential area would have been successfully opposed if that neighborhood was La Jolla, then think again. When real estate developers tried to pull a fast one (on density) with the Ocean Beach Community Plan, the City Council’s vote (after much community activism) on a plan sans those revisions was unquestioned. You can argue that it’s apples and oranges all you want; lots of brown skinned people with Hispanic backgrounds think otherwise, particularly in light of the promised “new” Barrio Logan Plan that hasn’t happened.
Follow the money: Opposition to the community plan was organized under the name Protect Our Jobs Coalition and fronted by five retired Navy Admirals, giving a modicum of credibility to their argument that the plan would result in the US Navy leaving San Diego. (Even though the Navy said no such thing). Nearly three quarters of a million dollars flowed from corporate coffers to fund the opposition.
The primary supporters of the plan, the Environmental Health Coalition, is now under investigation thanks to complaints from right wing sources that they violated laws concerning their foundation’s tax-exempt status.
Where we stand now: Propositions B&C stand as yet another milestone in the bitter legacy of racism towards Latinos in San Diego.
#Icantbreathe, National Edition
What happened: Unrelated killings of civilians by police officers in cities around the country has sparked ongoing protests and discussions about racism nationwide. Attempts by traditional leaders in the Black Community to take leadership on the issue have been rejected by the mostly younger people most active in the cause.
Most recently the center of media attention on these protests has involved the New York Police Department, following a grand jury’s refusal to indict an officer videotaped choking a man suspected of selling loose cigarettes to death. The hashtag #Icantbreathe has become synonymous with anti-racism and anti-police brutality organizing around the country.
The white dominated union within the NYPD has decided to blame the city’s progressive mayor on two execution style deaths of police officers by an individual with a history of mental illness. Emails and chat room transcripts involving NYPD members leave little doubt as to the racism involved here.
Why it happened: The police are a lightning rod for racial animus around the country. They are the most visible evidence in many poor communities of a system that continues to economically and politically disenfranchise people of color.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has been publicly reviled by white pundits for having the “talk” with his (bi-racial) son, warning him about dangers inherent in being black in dealing with policemen. Polls show a huge gap in understanding between how racial groups view the police.
Let’s face it folks, we live in a society where a significant portion of the population feels discriminated against. And they can’t all be agitators.
Follow the money: Yup, Black people are getting screwed over more than most in the post recession economy. And feeding your family and keeping a roof over your head is kinda of important to just about everybody.
From the Pew Research Center:
The Great Recession, fueled by the crises in the housing and financial markets, was universally hard on the net worth of American families. But even as the economic recovery has begun to mend asset prices, not all households have benefited alike, and wealth inequality has widened along racial and ethnic lines.
The wealth of white households was 13 times the median wealth of black households in 2013, compared with eight times the wealth in 2010, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Likewise, the wealth of white households is now more than 10 times the wealth of Hispanic households, compared with nine times the wealth in 2010.
Where we stand now: This is another issue that I think falls outside the normal parameters of political expression. Having a Black president has, in the minds of many Americans, only accentuated the reality of how deep racism runs. It’s baked into our legal, political and economic systems.
As is true with the activism connected with the struggles for better wages and working conditions, in order to succeed the leadership of these efforts will have to remain asymmetrical, despite the media’s attempts to anoint one. Martin Luther King wouldn’t last a month as a leader in the modern era before a campaign to discredit him would be given credence by the mass media.
What can you do? Just show up and speak up. At a family gathering, it’s time to not keep your mouth shut as your racist relative prattles on. It’s time for church congregations and civic organizations to reach out across the racial divides and get to know each other as people. It’s time to recognize that some of the comforts and privileges acceded to people with less skin pigmentation may exist at a cost, rooted in history, to others.
And it’s time to understand that public protests do lead to change; not in one day and not in one year. Their effects are cumulative. The squeaky wheel will eventually get greased. And it’s important not to let the noise (or what the media makes of it) distract from solving the problem.
Tomorrow: Rape culture, climate change and marriage equality.
On This Day: 1863 – President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that all slaves in the rebel states were free. 1932 – With the Great Depression in full force, the year opens with 14 million unemployed, national income down by 50 percent, breadlines that include former shopkeepers, businessmen and middle-class housewives. Charity is overwhelmed: only one-quarter of America’s unemployed are receiving any help at all. 1967 – Sonny and Cher were barred from the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena for their support of the Sunset Strip rioters.
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