Anger and the Euro-descended working and middle classes

By Chuck Kaufman (This post can also be read on Chuck’s Znet Blog.)

I am angry. I don’t personally have any kids or grandkids, but I am deeply angry anyway that the children and grandchildren of my friends are going to have a worse education, poorer health care, lower paying jobs, less personal security, and less sense of community than I had at their age.

I’ve known for a long time that my life choices mean that I’ll be dependent on Social Security and Medicare when I can no longer work. It was my choice to work a low wage, pensionless job hoping to achieve social change. I’ve known for a long time that I may have to become an economic migrant, reversing the trail of young workers who are coming here for better earnings. I’ve known that I may have to go to their homeland where I might be able to afford to live. I’ve always thought that those were my options. I thought I’d have options. But now, as I’ve witnessed the fight over the debt ceiling and deficit reduction, I am terrified that there may be no place I can afford to live when I can no longer earn my own way. If the politicians and their corporate masters destroy Social Security or their actions make the dollar worthless, my options disappear.

And I have a job! I’m still a few years from retirement! For millions of people in the US my future reality is their present reality.

When we get scared we get angry. This has been an important survival response for 200,000 years or longer. Anger helped us protect our families from the threat of a saber tooth tiger or another tribe’s incursion into our limited hunting grounds. Have we in the Euro-descended progressive working and middle classes lost our survival instinct to become angry? Have we been privileged and comfortable for so long that we have lost the instinct to defend our families? I grant that some in the working class are angry. They have expressed their anger and fear through the Tea Party whose funders have cynically focused that anger on the wrong targets.

But what is the excuse for the lack of anger among the progressive working and middle classes? Our way of life and the future of our children is under attack, but all I am seeing in response is the same candle light vigils, the same marches within the lanes granted to us by the police, the same calls to write letters to Congress and the President. All I am seeing is the same rational and polite tactics that have caused us to be left out of any political calculation made by those in power. Our freedom of speech is in no danger at all as long as we follow the rules and pose no threat to those in power, but all else that we hold valuable is in jeopardy.

Pacifism does not mean passivity. Non-violence doesn’t mean a commitment to follow rules set by those whose only interest is protecting their ability to accumulate wealth and power. The legacies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi have been so homogenized and pasteurized that we don’t even remember that these were angry men. They were so incensed at the injustices of their day that they were willing to stop the evil machine with their own bodies; to take the beatings, the jailings, and ultimately the assassinations, to build a better life for their children.

How can we meekly and politely accept that Presidents Bush and Obama have doubled our nation’s military expenditures at the expense of jobs, and schools, and roads, and bridges, and all the things that create the opportunities for well-being for our families?

How can we meekly and politely accept that the corporate/political elites are intent on destroying Social Security and childhood health and development programs? There was a time in this nation when most of our elderly and most of our children lived in poverty. As a national community, following the Great Depression, we put in place systems that prevented youth and age from being, for most, a sentence to poverty and deprivation.

Where is the anger of Euro-descended liberals, those who benefitted most from our social contract to end poverty? People of color know anger. They never gained the full benefit of those post-Depression community-building programs. But we Euro-descendeds seem to value rationality and dignity above the survival of family and community.

Well there is nothing dignified about an 85 year old grandmother eating cat food. There is nothing dignified about a baby and her teenage mother dying for lack of prenatal care and instruction. There is nothing dignified about a 50 year old couple losing their home, with its underwater mortgage, because one of them lost their job. There is nothing dignified about a 65 year old worker having to postpone his or her retirement for five more years because his 401(k) is worth half of what it was in 2007.

If we won’t defend our children and our elders then we are an evolutionary dead end and we do not deserve to survive ourselves. The people of Tunisia, Egypt, Greece and now London, and the other great cities of that first capitalist nation, understand anger and defense of family. If you don’t think the social explosion in Great Britain is about defense of family, then your back is not yet against the wall. You are not young and afraid that you will never even have a family, or a job, or personal security. You are not yet angry enough.

Are we angry enough? Was Madison, WI the first inkling that we are beginning to understand? Will Oct. 6 and the occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC be another indication that even Euro-descended liberals have a survival instinct?

I don’t know. The evidence is far from in. I think there is probably a greater chance that we will keep our heads down, like the good people of 1930s Germany, and hope the bad stuff just goes away. I think there is probably a greater chance that we’ll spend our money and our time next year working to elect Democrats who are only marginally better than their opponents and who will vote against our interests when elected. That not only makes me angry, it terrifies me. We will be complicit in our own extinction.

When I am made afraid, I get angry. I can hope that you do too. Like Howard Beale in the movie Network, it is time to throw open the window and shout, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” But, I hope, that unlike Howard Beale, we decide that the appropriate response is not to take a gun and shoot our own self. Instead I hope that we will use our anger to demand the changes that are needed to give life and dignity and value to every human being. I can hope that, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, we will stop the evil machine with our own bodies and the courage to accept the consequences.