Beck used my recent article, “Wisconsin: First Step in an American Uprising?” as a backdrop during his Wednesday show on Fox News, where he talked in dark, hushed tones about the spread of the UK Uncut movement to the United States. “A coincidence?” he asked. Is it a coincidence that citizens of both countries are holding protests in multiple locations on February 26?
Hardly! Organizers of US Uncut have made no secret of the fact that they were inspired by the British upstart group. UK Uncut started when 12 people meeting at a London pub decided they were fed up waiting for “someone to do something” about the fact that, in response to budget shortfalls caused by the financial crisis, the government was planning drastic cuts to public services while big businesses were raking in record profits. “Why don’t we just start?” they wondered. “If we do it, maybe everybody will stop asking why it isn’t happening and join in.”
They sat down in front of a retail outlet of a major cell phone company that was $6 billion behind in its taxes. If that company paid up, they argued, all those cuts—to libraries, schools, health benefits, pensions—wouldn’t be needed. The protests spread, eventually shutting down retail stores and banks across the country.
Unlike the Tea Party movement that Beck likes so well, they didn’t have billionaire money behind them. The oil tycoon Koch brothers didn’t bankroll a front group to train and fund them and give them talking points. No, UK Uncut is made up of ordinary people, using social media to coordinate their actions, getting their voice heard in spite of being off the message that the Murdoch media would like us to hear. When news of their success spread to the U.S.—primarily via an article in The Nation by British columnist Johann Hari (reposted here)—Americans with the same concerns were quick to take up the idea, and dozens of decentralized US Uncut groups quickly formed.
Now, MoveOn.org and Van Jones are teaming up in a call for rallies on the same day to protect the American Dream. And the United States Student Association and Jobs with Justice are collaborating (there's that word again!) on a call to defend public benefits.
These sorts of collaborations are not new, and they're not secret. If Beck had been reading YES! Magazine, for example, he would have seen hundreds of examples of groups that form from the bottom up, that work for the benefit of ordinary people, and that collaborate in lots of creative ways.
Which we think is a good thing. That collaboration is urgently needed at a time when the power balance in the United States is leaning dangerously toward large corporations and Wall Street banks. Because these institutions are formed to increase the wealth of those who already have it, any other goal we might have for our communities, our families, and our future easily gets pushed aside.
It’s very clear what happens when corporate power and the fixation on short-term profits get too strong. Taxes on corporations and the wealthy get cut, and so money for infrastructure goes away, and our roads, bridges, schools, and universities decline. The pay and benefits of ordinary workers get cut, and they can no longer afford homes, education for their children, or health care. Environmental protection is put on the back burner or simply gutted, and our mountaintops are blown apart (including sites that could be ideal for wind farms that could supply energy for centuries to come). The climate crisis disrupts agriculture, causes floods and droughts, and brings extreme weather events, yet corporations prevent action. Our local economies are sapped of their strength, and regulation that could prevent some of the worst abuses goes away. That leaves us vulnerable to the sort of global economic meltdown that happened in 2008, and that continues to undermine economies everywhere. And the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling is just the latest in a cascading series of events that adds still more power to the corporate side of the scale.
This lopsided power makes the events in Wisconsin (and now Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, and many other states) all the more important. Ordinary people still have power, but only when we talk together and work together.
Beck would like to shift the conversation to one of conspiracies and fear—frankly, I’m not not sure what he’s so afraid of, but it seems to be a rotating list that includes communists, the United Nations, and Muslims. Oh, and our president.
But in Wisconsin, firefighters, teachers, nurses, sanitation workers, and students are rediscovering courage. Look at their faces, and you see fatigue, but also joy. No longer isolated and afraid, standing up for what they believe in, and, yes, collaborating, these people know they have power. And so do the rest of us.
How to get involved:
Van Jones and MoveOn.org are organizing a February 26 “Rally to Save the American Dream” at noon at state capitals and major cities around the country. Wear Wisconsin colors, red and white.
Student Labor Action Project, a collaboration of United States Student Association and Jobs with Justice, is calling for a national day of action to defend the public sector on March 2nd.