Friday, October 10, 2008
Strange thing, no outrage yet over economic meltdown
by Larry Geller
I was wondering if people used to protest macro financial changes that affected them. I mean, like, before I was born. Was it always like this, so passive, or just an email to Congress, which they seem happy to ignore? Did people ever do any more than this when confronted with economic crisis created by Wall Street tycoons?
And then the latest copy of the Progressive magazine arrived in the mail. In it was a column by Barbara Ehrenreich which neatly provided my answer. She wrote her column a couple of months ago, before the current crisis and bailout. Yes, there have been protests.
Ehrenreich references a Wall Street Journal article, Why No Outrage?, by James Grant. That can be found also here. The WSJ article has info on central banking, and really questions why we, the public, are not more angry.
Ehrenreich writes about a homeowner who committed suicide just 90 minutes before the foreclosure of her home. Please read her article. I’ll snip a little, though, from the middle. She is writing about James Grant’s article:
"One might infer from the lack of popular anger," the famed Wall Street contrarian wrote, "that the credit crisis was God's fault rather than the doing of the bankers and the rating agencies and the government's snoozing watchdogs." For contrast, he cites the spirited response to the depression of the 1890s, when lawyer/agitator Mary Lease stirred crowds with the message that "We want the accursed foreclosure system wiped out.... We will stand by our homes and stay by our firesides by force if necessary..."
Grant could have found even more bracing examples of resistance in the 1930s, when farmers and tenants used mob power -- and sometimes firearms -- to fight foreclosures and evictions. For more on that, I consulted Frances Fox Piven, co-author of the classic text Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail, who told me that in the early 30s, a number of cities were so shaken by the resistance that they declared moratoriums on further evictions. A 1931 riot by Chicago tenants who had fallen behind on their rent, for example, had left three dead and three police officers injured.
According to Piven, these actions were often spontaneous. A group of unemployed men would get word of a scheduled eviction and march through the streets, gathering crowds as they went. Arriving at the site of the eviction, they would move the furniture back into the apartment and stay around to protect the threatened tenants. In one instance in Detroit, it took 100 cops to evict a single family. Also in Detroit, Piven said, "two families protected their apartments by shooting their landlord and were acquitted by a sympathetic jury."
What a difference 80 years makes.
Yes, I’m also waiting for the outrage. While these articles are informative, I wonder how can we shift from reading things on a screen into useful action?
In the last article I spoke of microcredit. It seems there is a program on PBS tonight (Friday 10/10). It’s on at midnight, and says it will cover microcredit from India to New York. I’ve set the computer to record it, and in case it might be informative, suggest you check it out also. This is knowledge we may need here in Hawaii.