Michael Baker: Finally youth take to streets

BY MICHAEL BAKER
MONday, October 23, 2011

This article was originally published by the Lincoln Journal Star.

As media pundits debate myriad reasons why the various "Occupy" movements around the country are happening, I am drawn to a chapter in the late historian Howard Zinn's book, "A People's History of the United States."

The chapter is entitled, "The Coming Revolt of the Guards." First published in 1980, Zinn accurately points out that at some point the standard of living for the middle class will begin to erode and there will be a backlash against the 1 percent who hold the economic and political power in this country over the 99 percent of the rest of us.

He writes: "The threat of unemployment, always inside the homes of the poor, has spread to white-collar workers, professionals. A college education is no longer a guarantee against joblessness, and a system that cannot offer a future to the young coming out of school is in deep trouble. If it happens only to the children of the poor, the problem is manageable; there are the jails.

"If it happens to the children of the middle class, things may get out of hand. With the Establishment's inability either to solve severe economic problems at home or to manufacture abroad a safety valve for domestic discontent, Americans might be ready to demand not just more tinkering, more reform laws, another reshuffling of the same deck, another New Deal, but radical change."

It is excruciatingly apparent that both of the two major political parties in this country pay homage to the corporate elite. After all, for many of our elected officials in Washington, their perceived function is to elicit funds for re-election rather than obliging themselves to an oath they took to "promote the general welfare."

We live in a nation where over 46 million people live in poverty, nearly 50 million people have no health insurance and household income for the middle class has dropped to the lowest level in more than ten years. It completely befuddles the mind how so many of our citizens find solace in politicians who call for cutting taxes and entitlement programs, privatizing Social Security and disenfranchising millions of Americans from the voting booth. Who profits from this and who suffers?

For years, I have wondered why the youth have not taken to the streets. What was holding them back? Now, finally, it is happening. The radical change that is needed is being promoted not only by the youth but by a broad coalition of citizens who represent the majority of people in this country.

The middle class, which historically supported the 1 percent as long as their lives and families were fairly comfortable, now are becoming enlightened to the fact that not only have the poor in this country been exploited but they have been, too.

Our country is experiencing the trauma that James Madison feared. In Federalist Paper No. 51 Madison writes, "If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure."

Who are the "minority" about whom Madison opines? According to the "father of the Constitution," the primary responsibility of government is "to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority." So far, our government has been successful in following Madison's philosophy. Until now.

Michael Baker lives in Lincoln.

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