On this September 11, I find myself wondering why we don’t have more revolutions here. There’s an opioid epidemic, especially among the poor and unemployed, and suicide. Why do we have those instead of a revolution?
The unfairness of it all does not lie hidden. According to Wikipedia, if you add up all this country’s household and non-profit wealth, each American family should have an average of $760,000 in wealth—more than three-quarters of a million dollars! Instead, the lower 50% of households average $11,000 in wealth. The top 10% of families own more than three-quarters of American wealth, while the lower 50% hold 1%.
As a young girl, I used to read these numbers in connection with certain Latin American countries, those derisively referred to as banana republics. There was a dictator and his family who took most of the wealth, surrounded by a few landowners who owned most of the land, banks and companies, and almost everyone else was poor. This happened when there was a very small middle class. It happened when there was no democracy.
And it’s happening here now, with our democratic institutions still mostly in place (though often undermined). I do not blame it on the Trump era, this trend began long before him, with Ronald Reagan and continuing under both Democratic and Republican administrations and Congresses. It has to do with an economic system that has severely undercut the middle class even as it has rarely brought much benefit to those with lower incomes. It has to do with how much power money exerts in state capitols and in Washington.
We don’t need a dictator to protect the few, we have a duly elected government that does just that.
So why isn’t there a revolution? Why aren’t people taking to the streets?
1776 notwithstanding, revolution doesn’t seem to be our way. In this country, if you have no money it’s because you’re a failure, you’re the only one to blame. In this country it’s a crime to depend on others’ generosity. It’s practically a crime to give birth and not instantly jump up and go back to work as soon as possible. Too many people have internalized that message, so instead of opposing it on the streets, in demonstrations and in the election booth, they take drugs.
Imagine what it’s like to be poor here. Not only are you struggling to make it to the end of the month, it’s all your fault as well even if you just lost your job after decades working, so shame and guilt pile up. At the very time when you need to stay strong, keep your head clear and keep on plugging, you’re told you’re no good. So we take drugs to dull the pain, we escape into television and bad food, we escape a society that’s punitive and humiliating, and we try to escape ourselves.
I can’t imagine this happening in France. There they fight for their piece of the pie, and the minute it looks like it’s shrinking they go on the streets. Trucks barricade the highways, students fill the Paris streets, unions shut things down. They turn on the government, not on themselves.
Here we turn on ourselves. We accept the blame, and at best become apathetic, finding relief in oxycodone; at worst we kill ourselves. The television stays on all day to show how others live, with their sharp clothes, McMansions and frivolous love lives, and if our lives aren’t remotely like that it’s no one’s fault but our own.
And when everything’s your fault, who has the energy to go out on the streets and change the system? Much, much easier to reach for another valium, another anti-depressant, another beer.
And maybe one of the reasons our society has been ready to countenance this, hey, even help pay for it, is that it’s much more fearful of the alternative.Make A Donation