Unity With Whom in the 99%?

By Jacqueline S. Homan, author: Classism for Dimwits and Divine Right

Jacqueline S. Homan, author of Classism For Dimwits and Divine Right: The Truth is a Lie

Just what does it mean to join in solidarity with the 99% whose Occupy movement is upper-middle class and heterosexual white male centered?

A prison guard who makes $50,000/year or more plus health and dental benefits, a pension and paid vacation may not be part of that 1% on Wall Street, but can he really stand in solidarity with poor black males with NO jobs (let alone good-paying union ones) who have a 1 in 4 chance of becoming fodder for the prison-industrial complex that provides middle class jobs for men (not many women) at the expense of poor racial minorities and women?

Being poor and non-white significantly increases your chance for ending up wrongly convicted and slapped with the death penalty. How much solidarity should those most at risk for ending up strapped to an execution gurney feel with those whose middle class paychecks and benefits require participation in the carrying out of capital punishment?

And who else is in this 99% that many might have difficulty feeling solidarity with? Gary Leon Ridgeway (“the Green River Killer”) was not, by any definition, part of the wealthy 1%. Neither was Larry Singleton, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, or Robert “Willie” Pickton. These serial rapists and psycho killers who hailed from the 99% preyed on society’s “throw-away” women — poor, marginalized vulnerable women of all races at the very bottom of the 99% that no one ever really cared about, not even other men in the 99% who now want us to stand with them in “unity.” Asking poor and vulnerable women to feel solidarity with social predators of any stripe is like asking Jewish Holocaust survivors to feel solidarity with the Nazi guards who were “just doing their jobs” at those death camps.

Would any sane person really argue that Nazi bureaucrats and guards were “just as oppressed” as the millions of genocide victims whom they first dehumanized, socially and economically excluded, and then herded into sealed ghettoes from which they were marched at gunpoint onto the death trains bound for the death camps that were the size of small cities?

What about rapists and child molesters that are part of this 99%? Do we really want to sit in solidarity with them and hold hands and sing Koom-Bye-Ya? Their violation of women’s and children’s human rights has nothing to do with the economic abuses committed by the 1%, but everything to do with patriarchy and the culture of rape: Rape of women and children, rape of the earth, rape of everything — all excused and justified by “divine right.”

And what about middle class employees of utility monopolies who previously rationalized the enormous suffering they inflicted on the poorest of the poor at the very bottom of the 99% who weren’t lucky enough to have a good-paying job to afford their rent, food, utilities, clothing, and medical and dental care and access to an advanced education? Where was all this unity when poor women and children and poor seniors and the disabled were either left to freeze to death or die in fires caused by unsafe space heaters because middle class utility company workers — who had their good jobs, their food, their nice homes, and their winter heat — shut off utilities on the poor, leaving them to die because there really wasn’t “all this help out there”?

Sylvia Young, a destitute 29 year-old single mother in Detroit with seven children to support on her own with no opportunity and no middle class job, lost everything except the clothes on her back in March of 2010 when her gas got shut off by DTE Energy during a deadly cold snap. She had to scramble trying to make do with old space heaters — one of which started the fire that ended up claiming the lives of three of her seven children. Less than two hours before the fire started, the utility worker who shut off Young’s gas spoke with her face-to face. He saw the infant she held in her arms. He saw her other children. He saw the squalor and poverty that she and her children were condemned to live in. Poor women across racial lines never got a chance for anything in this “land of opportunity” where the haves and have-nots are divided along the lines of gender and/or race.

And what was this middle class man’s response to the pleas of Sylvia Young and countless other marginalized and poor women like her when she begged him not to shut off the gas and leave her and her children to freeze to death? His answer was, “Sorry, but I have to do my job.”

How nice for him that he had his good-paying job enabling him to afford plenty of good food to eat, medical and dental care, and a nice warm home! Two hours after he “did his job” of shutting off Sylvia Young’s gas, a raging fire broke out. She lost what little bit of nothing that she had. Three of her children burned to death. The worst was yet to come when Michigan’s Democrat judges and middle class social workers from the child welfare authorities took Sylvia Young’s remaining children away from her and criminalized her for being a poor woman. Where was all this middle and working class “solidarity” with the poor then? I don’t recall seeing much middle class support and sympathy for the poorest of the poor in my lifetime as a marginal woman who struggled all of my life to climb up from total destitution up to poverty, never having access to health and dental care outside of the emergency room, and never getting a chance to make it to even the lowest rung of the lower-middle class.

As of December 2010, there were approximately 10 million US households from the bottom of the 99% that were without at least one life-sustaining utility; poor households whose utilities were shut off due to extreme poverty. Long before now, 80% of those below poverty either couldn’t get enough help to make it or they got turned away and sent home empty-handed altogether. But no one ever talked about those of us at the very bottom of the 99% who were turned away from all those charities and social service agencies; denied adequate help, denied hope, and denied a fair fighting chance of ever being able to escape dire poverty in America (which had been denied by everybody else for a long, long time until Hurricane Katrina opened the world’s eyes).

The truth is that nobody ever cared about us. The middle classes dismissed us and claimed we had it made compared to the poor in the slums of Mumbai; that we should “shut up and stop whining.” Now they want to talk about “unity” and how we’re all part of this 99% and trot us out as the mascot for their movement — which is really only about getting a better deal for their middle class selves within the capitalist paradigm while nothing gets better for those of us at the very bottom.

My personal past experiences with cross-class social justice coalitions is that the poor always lose out every time. The only outcome that those of us in extreme poverty can count on is being thrown under the bus for the sake of “political compromise” while we’re chastised by our middle class “saviors” for not being “pragmatic” enough. I’m not interested in more of the same, thank you.

Approximately half a million dollars was donated to Occupy Wall Street protesters alone. It went to pay for supporting a movement that is dominated by middle class white males under age 40. How many truly poor and destitute Americans could that support have helped instead of going for the publicized building of a middle class ‘Skid Row’ just to make a political statement by pretending to be destitute and homeless after the real poor and homeless have been shoved out of mind and out of sight for as long as I can remember? The middle class was all too happy these past 30 years to push for laws that criminalized the truly homeless and destitute by voting for lawmakers and leaders who slashed what little miserly help there was for America’s poor prior to the Welfare Reform Act of 1996.

As a deeply impoverished woman over age 40 who has been unemployed since 2004 with no real hope of ever getting re-employed due to age and gender discrimination that has always been pervasive even in better job markets, I’m not getting the help I need to be able to make it — I suffer from long-term deprivation of basic human needs that are not being met: medical and dental care, nutritious food, adequate clothing, basic utilities, and adequate housing that isn’t substandard. I can’t afford reliable transportation (a necessity when one lives in a semi-rural area). I have no income other than a meager food stamp benefit. I can’t get Medicaid because I’m not a parent or a low-income senior citizen. And until the middle class found itself under the barrel of capitalism’s Hotchkiss guns, they were very eager and willing footsoldiers who lubed the gears in the bureaucratic machine that runs the world on behalf of the super rich by sacrificing the poor.

Funny how middle class people can always find tons of money to push their class interests to the front of the line, using those of us at the very bottom as their disposable poster child to further their own agenda at our expense while they never have any money and support to give directly to someone in poverty and really lift someone up out of utter destitution and despair. And this is what they call “unity” and “solidarity” with those of us who can’t afford the luxury of being able to travel to a protest, camp out, and get our voices heard because we can’t even afford to live?

I don’t find much solidarity with upper-middle class college kids, well-heeled union leaders and professional “activists” living large off of honorariums and donations who talk about the unearned wealth of those with trillions of dollars while they exert their own privileges to step on those of us who suffer the oppression of sexism and legitimized misogyny and/or racism and/or colonialism for whom the issues transcend the economic injustices of capitalism. Yet, when marginalized people suffering from the redistributive injustices of more than one oppressor try to speak out, we get accused of being divisive. We get silenced. Our concerns are excluded from the social justice agenda, and we get accused of engaging in “oppression Olympics.”

Oppression Olympics is a term used to describe the dynamics of two or more groups competing to prove themselves more oppressed than the other. It’s a silencing tactic. It’s a way of invalidating others’ viewpoints by trying to place them lower down on a scale of significance. But the reality is that many people experience oppression daily in their lives from multiple fronts, and they’re not always comparable. To dismiss that by saying “we’re all in the same boat” ignores that oppression and even legitimizes it as part of the “sacrifice” some of us are expected to make for the benefit of those who ignore their own privileges and begin to exert them against us — in the name of “unity.”

When comfortably off union workers and wealthy union bosses in Ohio recently launched a political campaign by preaching unity among the middle class, the working class, and the poor, they were eager to get voter support for their Democrat candidates enabled through unity. But once their boys got in, that unity with the poorest of the poor went up in smoke — they protected their middle class wages and health benefits through Obamacare at the expense of eliminating access to medical care for the poorest of the poor — 84% whom are women, according to US Census data, human rights reports, and US Department of Health & Human Services records. The middle classes once again protected their own economic turf at the expense of the poor whom they threw under the bus — after benefiting from our solidarity with them.

We’re told that all of the 99% is equally oppressed by the 1%. Sorry, but no. No, we are not “all oppressed equally.” We are not “all in the same boat.” And openly acknowledging that is not being “divisive” or promoting “identity politics” — it’s simply telling the truth.

And it is not only many of us from poverty that are mistrustful of this Occupy movement, the Haudenosaunee also don’t seem to be supportive of it either. And mostly for very similar reasons: they were ill-used for others’ gain at their expense one time too many.  As Jessica Yee pointed out,

Colonialism also leads to capitalism, globalization, and industrialization. How can we truly end capitalism without ending colonialism? How does doing things in the name of “America” which was created by the imposition of hierarchies of class, race, ability, gender, and sexuality help that?”

[Read the rest of her article here: http://www.racialicious.com/2011/09/30/occupy-wall-street-the-game-of-colonialism-and-further-nationalism-to-be-decolonized-from-the-left/ ]

In every war since Britain and France colonized North America — the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, etc. — the Haudenosaunee fought to help the British and later, both the Americans (the Iroquois helped the North win the Civil War) and the Canadians in two devastating world wars resulting from imperialism. All they ever got for it was short-shifted. They got kicked out of the newly independent colonies after the end of the American Revolution (even though much of that land was their home) and offered a tiny tract as payment by the British Crown for their service in the American Revolution. But that land was already part of their traditional hunting territories anyway, and that land was held in trust, thus reducing the Iroquois (and other Aboriginals) to the status of diminished sovereigns. The Haudenosaunee lost lots of people in battle, fighting other people’s wars — rich, inbred foreign crowned heads’ wars — none of which were to their benefit.

As Rastiatanon:ha, a Seneca historian for the Iroquois Confederacy, says:

“Have we not been drawn into enough of their battles in the past, and look where it got us? This movement is bad for all Indigenous people, and none of us should be involved with it on any level.”

I have to agree with both Rastiatanon:ha and Jessica Yee. The original North Americans did not invite this trouble into their lives, just like they did not cause the “War on Terror” that they bear the consequence for with enormous border-crossing difficulties that neutered the Jay Treaty and put a “Berlin Wall” through the middle of their traditional territories.

I think this movement is also bad for the poorest non-Natives at the bottom of the 99% who are being used as pawns and tools for the preservation of unearned middle class white male privilege. Social justice solutions won’t be found within the non-reformable capitalist paradigm. The system of unearned privileges is the sine qua non of capitalism and its handmaiden, colonialism. If women and the poorest of the poor non-Indigenous are to be anyone’s ally, we should be allies with the original North Americans whose country this really is — not with a middle class white male centered 99% Occupy movement.

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7 Responses to “Unity With Whom in the 99%?”

  1. Lord of Mikawa Says:

    I think I’ve finally found a post that I agree with on Occupy Wall Street. Before I was neutral towards it but hearing the reports of rape and racism coming from these camps does nothing but leave a sour taste in my mouth. These same middle class priviledged kids and adults scream unity but don’t realize they helped to aid the problem. One of the worst occupy protests I’ve seen is Occupy Harlem. The cynical nature of that one makes me angry. Many poor people in NYC have been driven out of their homes over the last 4 decades in the name of remodeling them in order to rent them at obscene rates. Those kids, many of whom who lived in Brooklyn as “hipsters”, had no problem with this. But now all of a sudden we are all supposed to be united against Wall Street? Get the fuck out of here. Wall Street can’t do what they will without enablers.

    The Middle Class in America had no issue with standing by as Blacks were terrorized in South for almost a century. They had no problem allowing the Dixiecrats to block New Deal aid for Black families. Also when poor people tried to assert that the system was unfair and didn’t work, what did the middle class tell us? “You are lazy, pull yourself up”. Now that the illusion is up, they expect us to fight for them. Fuck no, I say let the system collapse completely. It hasn’t ever done anything for me and the only thing my family has gotten is they fought for inspite of the bullshit thrown at them.

  2. Grady Lee Howard Says:

    I think it’d be really hard to know what a specific Occupy encampment is unless you go there and spend some time. If it didn’t seem friendly and secure you’d be a fool to spend the night. In some cases Occupy has been cleared. In other cases it is a few puptents (fiberglass rod supported enclosures) with maybe some sandwiches and an information table. It’s kind of Mickey Mouse.

    But I can imagine suburban Mom and Dad with an unemployed adult
    offspring hanging around who might find these camps convenient. For the cost of a tent and some new winter duds they can gain respite from the carping for a few weeks and they’re no worse off afterwards when the outdoor toughened subject returns home. Maybe they could even get them out to rake leaves or do other yardwork post-conditioning.

    Jacqueline would feel out of place in an Occupy, even though she can speak the bourgeoise language and plays outdoors in Canadian parks helping first nations land claimants. She is a serious radical waiting to stick it to surburban Mom and Dad. That might upset Junior and Missy as they carefully word magic signs.

    It isn’t only Mike Blumberg who claims rapes in these enclaves, and some have said the real poor and homeless were sent packing from public facilities so that college graduates could carouse a little as they wait for their opportunity to become networked.

    Anyway it is a good thing when any group of tens of thousands of Americans turn out to boo wealthy financiers. The prevailing condition has been wealth envy, and diligence for the Man while awaiting a capitalist jackpot. But the majority of us are not prepared for a People Powered Revolution. There would be violence and crime and opportuism on all sides because we are by large a predatory people. We were brought up that way. It’s hard to take pepper spray or a club lick over the head without swearing revenge. And those in the Occupy camps may be no better. If they are from an upwardly mobile sector they will tend to be more predatory and callous than most. They have been taught the “true value of a dollar” and they dream about rolling in dough without ever feeling guilt. The dreams of such persons contradict reality.

    Under capitalism more than 90% lose so less than 10% win. Regulation and prosperity mitigated this truth in the USA for awhile. But now the capitalists are getting back down to business. Thinking citizens want to push back. What portion of fair weather revolutionaries will have to be co-opted and purchased by the Elite before equilibrium returns? And can this old trick be pulled off again
    in a used up environment with scarce resources? I would be interested in how dismal and cutthroat Jacqueline thinks things will become before we emerge into some sort of egalitarian sunshine.
    But I know she is trying to avoid camps of all varieties.

  3. Sam Holloway Says:

    Thanks for writing this, Jacqueline. I agree wholeheartedly. Your post reminds me of a poster I recently saw hanging in many of the firehouses in which I’ve worked. There was some sort of union-led rally in Springfield (the IL capitol) recently, and my union was trying to get numbers of us to go down and join it. The slogan on the poster was something to the effect of ‘we [firefighters] fight for all classes; today we fight for the middle class.’

    The poster left a bad taste in my psyche. I’d gone on a previous bus trip (also organized by my union) that went to Madison, WI to protest the GOP-led effort to bulldoze public employees’ collective bargaining rights. The energy around the WI capitol was impressive, but I remember thinking at the time ‘what are they going to do with this energy?’ Sure enough, when the time for recalls came up, the GOP/Koch brothers stooges were opposed by– you guessed it– Democrats. So all those ostensibly middle-class folks got fed up with GOP anti-labor extremism and were willing to organize against it, but they lacked the vision or the spine to fight for universal labor solidarity. Their recall efforts, predictably, yielded tepid and unimpressive results (by their own standards, not mine).

    Anyway, I’ll give you a couple of links to my observations on this, should you be so inclined.

    http://idwarrior.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/1241/

    http://idwarrior.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/1236/

  4. alan2102 Says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I agree; the “99%” surely needs to be disaggregated; many of them really ARE priveleged, and the phrase “99%”, however attractive from the marketing standpoint (ha!), obscures gross class stratification. On the other hand, from the global standpoint, we in the developed world (or as I sometimes call it, the “overdeveloped world”) are ALL priveleged, even the poorest of us. Even the rank and file workers here, and the poor, are a global elite relative to the bottom billion. In other words, calling attention to the class stratification of the developed-world “99%”, particularly the bottom 5-10% (or whatever), is not wrong, but rather does not go nearly far enough.

    See background on global class here:
    http://llco.org

    Their view on “occupy”:
    http://llco.org/on-the-occupy-movements
    from the comments:
    “The Occupy movement is mostly a few thousand First World peoples mobilized to demand more wealth, even though they already receive more than their fair share and even though their current lifestyle is unsustainable. The Occupy demands are not progressive from the standpoint of the vast majority of humanity. Most Americans, including the so-called middle class, are entitled to less, not more. They need to give up their wealth, not demand more. A more progressive movement would be a movement for global equality and sustainability.”

    • Jacqueline S. Homan Says:

      You are overlooking the fact that if the super rich were forced to part with much of their wealth, EVERYONE could live a modestly middle class and sustainable lifestyle. The poor are already suffering enough. When is the upper-middle class and the rich going to make do with less and live simply so that others can simply live? Plus when you say “most Americans” and paint us as “middle class” you ignore those of us who struggle and suffered our entire lifetimes WITHOUT access to basic health and dental care, those of us who live in Third World poverty right here in the US in places like Appalachia, and in the ghettos of Detroit and Camden where the poorest of the poor die from lack of heat in the winter and lack access to potable water because of being too poor to afford their water bills. You also ignore those of us in semi-rural areas where there is no clean safe drinking water due to mining companies, fracking, etc., and bottled water is an unaffordable luxury that someone with no income other than food stamps can’t afford. When America’s poor and marginalized pregnant women die from pregnancy and childbirth complications at rates on par with other Third World countries, and when kids and adults die from things like abscessed teeth due to poverty and lack of access to preventive healthcare, they’re sure as hell no better off than the poor in other countries. Why should we always get ignored as if we don’t matter as much as everybody else? Here in America, the poor get less than $2/day to live on…in a country where it costs a hell of a lot more than $2/day just to survive.

  5. alan2102 Says:

    Hi, Jacqueline. Thanks for your reply.

    I think you’re taking me wrong. I’m not ignoring class and poverty problems in the developed world. Indeed, those problems occupy much of my attention. I was just placing those problems in a global context.

    As a borderline-communist, I very much look forward to the day when the rich and the super-rich not only part with their income, but (much more importantly) part with their MEANS to income and wealth. Then, truly, everyone could live, as you say, “a modestly middle class and sustainable lifestyle.” No question about that! There is plenty to go around, and plenty of productive capacity. It is a matter of just reorganzation of society, so as to include EVERONE in the bounty.

    In the process, however, most of us in the developed world are going to need to re-adjust our expectations rather drastically. There is plenty to go around and plenty to provide a MODEST middle-class lifestyle for everyone. But that does not mean that there is plenty for everyone to waste and live as profligately as most “middle-class” people live in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world. The phrase “middle class” has a lot of different meanings. In China, “middle class” refers to people who make as little as about $10,000 per year, whereas in the U.S., you are considered impoverished at that level of income.

    I think that that Chinese middle-class lower limit figure is approximately correct and appropriate, on a global basis. The current global GDP is around $70 trillion. That represents approximately $10,000 per person for all 7 billion of us (that includes all the dependent/young children, btw). I am not putting that figure out as an absolute or “hard” standard; just a suggested reasonable starting point. Of course, all kinds of circumstances (local/regional prices, cost of living, number of dependents if any, etc., etc.) would determine more precise numbers in given instances.

    The ethicist/philosopher Peter Singer suggested that people in the developed world limit themselves to about $35,000 per year income (I believe that was his figure, or close). That sounds awfully high to me! Too high to be globally sustainable, across the entire population. Something south of half that is closer to the mark, IMO.

  6. No-hawk occupation of Toronto | Taiaiako'n Historical Preservation Society Says:

    [...] Unity With Whom in the 99%?- by Jacqueline S. Homan Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← Request to Stop BMX/Skills Park in High Park by THPS, FOSM and Six Nations Grandmothers [...]

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