Despite a defeatist and rightwing narrative that minority workers have no interest in the OWS/ We are the 99 percent,” the interracial and pluralist alliance that we called for on this blog has begun to come together, signaling a truly transformational era for America.
Occupy Wall Street and Black clergy have started “Occupy the Dream,” joining forces to protest the hold financial institutions have on the economy. They have initiated a new series of actions they consider a continuation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy. “Dr. King did not die for a monument,” said the Rev. Jamal Bryant. “He died for a movement and that movement must move forward.” According to Afro.com, Rev. Bryant described OWS as having “taken the methodology of the black church in the civil rights movement and brought it to the 21st Century.” Occupy the Dream will hold major demonstrations every month in 10 to 15 select cities across the U.S., beginning on Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 16, 2012.
Behind this is the fact that economic privileges expected by the middle class have disappeared, so that all Americans face the same fate of poverty without a safety net. The political divide between the professional middle class and the working class, which has been fostered by Republicans since the time of Nixon, has now no basis in social reality.
Barbara and John Ehrenreich, following E.P. Thompson’s analysis of the formation of the English working class, describe how the 99 percent began to articulate their interests as a group despite race and class differences. “For decades, the most stridently promoted division within the 99% was the one between what the right calls the ‘liberal elite’ — composed of academics, journalists, media figures, etc. — and pretty much everyone else. … [but] the idea of the ‘liberal elite’ could not survive the depredations of the 1% in the late 2000s. For one thing, it was summarily eclipsed by the discovery of the actual Wall Street-based elite and their crimes. Compared to them, professionals and managers, no matter how annoying, were pikers. The doctor or school principal might be overbearing, the professor and the social worker might be condescending, but only the 1% took your house away.”
Even though they have lost their encampments, the OWS are continuing to build alliances with groups protesting home foreclosures and evictions, and as in New York City working in solidarity with labor unions. The first union to come out in support of OWS was Public Transit Union (TWU) Local 100, and the occupiers returned the favor on Thursday by joining the TWU’s rally outside MTA headquarters in Manhattan to demand a fair contract and then marching to a rally at Liberty Plaza. Bus and subway workers are rejecting a 3-year wage freeze and givebacks on working conditions.
The pluralist orientation of the 99 percent has helped diverse groups to articulate their perception of the accumulation of vast wealth by the one percent at the expense of everyone else. Nurses on East and West coasts, who are on the front line of changes in Medicare provisions, have been made militant by reductions in staffing ratios and attacks on wages while the CEOs at the top of the medical industry earn huge salaries and bonuses.
In New York City, “nurses, who voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, say they are being treated with disrespect by a corporate hospital culture that demands sacrifices from patients and those who provide their care, but pays executives millions of dollars.” They are being made to pay hundreds of dollars a year more for health care and medication, while the nurse to patient ratio is being reduced to an extent that threatens the quality of patient care.
The New York Times reported that the nurses’ sense of disrespect “crystallized when a management negotiator told them: ‘We have the money. We just don’t have the will to give it to you’.” The story quoted the president of the nurses’ bargaining unit, Jacklynn Price, who said: “‘They go home with bags of money, what I call these nonprofit oligarchs.’ … She cited a $1.2 million bonus paid last year to the [Mount Sinai] hospital’s chief executive, Kenneth L. Davis, which brought his compensation to $2.6 million. ‘None of that could they do without nurses’.”
No wonder, then, that as the gap between the 1% and everyone else grows, Americans are uniting across racial, ethnic, and class lines. The tremendous solidarity of that union, which in the 1960s dreamed a better vision of what America could be and fueled the fight for it, has been revitalized.
As Barbara and John Ehrenreich write: “The Occupation encampments that enlivened approximately 1,400 cities this fall provided a vivid template for the 99%’s growing sense of unity. Here were thousands of people — we may never know the exact numbers — from all walks of life, living outdoors in the streets and parks, very much as the poorest of the poor have always lived: without electricity, heat, water, or toilets. In the process, they managed to create self-governing communities. General assembly meetings brought together an unprecedented mix of recent college graduates, young professionals, elderly people, laid-off blue-collar workers, and plenty of the chronically homeless for what were, for the most part, constructive and civil exchanges. What started as a diffuse protest against economic injustice became a vast experiment in class building. The 99%, which might have seemed to be a purely aspirational category just a few months ago, began to will itself into existence.”
A hopeful beauty is reborn in America.