For the first time in our history it is possible to conquer poverty. – Lyndon B Johnson, 1964
New data shows that 20.5 million Americans live in dire poverty (defined as living at 50% or less — under half — the poverty line). That’s about twice the entire population of Greece. Or twice the population of Bolivia. Or 2x Cuba, the Czech Republic, or Haiti. Or about two-thirds the population of the neighboring petro-state of Canada living in desperate poverty, in the richest nation in the world — and the portion of them that are black or Latino is through the roof.
Small wonder there’s people in the streets, across the continent, occupying parks opposite city halls and in financial centers, chanting angry slogans, and getting gassed by rioting militants (read: police). And the truth is almost none of the occupiers are actually part of the 20.5 million brutally poor or the additional 25 million scraping by right at the poverty line in America (Meanwhile, the top 1 percent who people Obama’s fundraisers are doing better than ever, as is Canada’s 1 percent).
Meanwhile, the largest 280 publicly traded US corporations paid just over half (18%) of the official corporate tax rate (35%) throughout Obama’s term, and 78 of these biggest corporations paid ZERO income tax at least once over the past 3 years. Wells Fargo has received $18 billion in tax breaks over the past 3 years. And north of the border, people who’ve bought into the Canadian “good banks” myth, need to think again.
And they call it Democracy. What we’re principally talking about here, contra so many well-meaning but naive OWS slogans, is not greed, but a class system. In Canada, 6 in 10 people live paycheck to paycheck and 1 of every 10 kids lives in poverty. Most scandalously of all, 1 in 4 aboriginal children lives in poverty, dozens of First Nations communities lack safe water to drink, and aboriginal suicide rates are staggering. Contra the national narrative, this isn’t “neglect,” it’s systemic dispossession.
It is shameful that our wannabe leaders do not have to explain why, in 2011, we tolerate entire communities living without safe drinking water and reliant on “honey pots” (human sewage collected in buckets or plastic bags). Currently, there are more than 100 drinking-water advisories on reserves. This is a disgrace of global proportions in a wealthy country like Canada.
As for the view of the economic future, US authorities on the matter say there’s little economic growth on the horizon. And this view discounts future implications of the ongoing Eurozone crisis, on which the BBC’s brilliant Paul Mason has a must-read blog.
Pandemic poverty, historically unprecedented levels of inequality, unrest in the streets, and near total disillusionment with our political institutions: we are living in a time of massive global upheaval. We are living in history. On Wednesday Nov 02, 2011, thousands of everyday people in Oakland took to the streets in a wildcat General Strike. Late in the afternoon the wave of strikers swarmed from downtown Oakland to the port after a day in the streets and forced the closure of the 5th-busiest port in the world’s richest nation. According to a Facebook contact who was there, they could feel history in the burning of their feet. This may be a burning sensation more of us experience as the crisis of global capitalism continues to unfold.