The Rustbelt withers in the heat. And it has been hot. Fortunately Michigan rarely has a long string of hot weather and even then it doesn’t last more than a few weeks. So one just needs to sweat through with the comfort of knowing that it will soon end. I shouldn’t complain too much; the BBC reports dozens of dead in an Indian heatwave (I shudder at the thought of an Indian heat wave).
A walk at night through the sweltering streets of my small city (which is about as urban as a town this size can be) can be a little hairy. Add the Michigan recession, which has been twice as long and three times as deep as the national one, and your safety is a real concern. Folks are out of work, poor and angry. Some of my neighbors are genuinely hungry and every day I see more people picking up bottles from the streets and garbage cans to collect the deposit (Michigan has a 10 cent return).
Last night I was out walking late. The sounds of music, drunken this and that and breaking bottles are shouted from street to street. No one goes to bed early in the heat, it’s too hot. And no one has a job to get up for anyway. There are fights and yelling and everyone looks like they’re just back from the war. Better to stay inside.
The bottom few rungs of the working class ladder have been kicked away making it impossible to get a foot up. No unions to join, neighborhoods without neighbors and a culture that doesn’t even recognize its poorest; communities without a dollop of glue to hold them together are adrift and enraged.
The left is good at paying attention to organized workers for all of the obvious reasons. But what about the, increasingly, unorganized? What about the disorganized? A whole swathe of the working class that could just barely get by on their minimum wage jobs and a few food stamps can’t anymore. Without an alternative that speaks to them (and these are MILLIONS of people) they have become only so much human detritus. The wasted.
These aren’t lumpen (and if they were they exist only to be despised?) they’re poor workers without jobs whose lives are flitted away. Anger is a powerful tool in the hands of the oppressed, it steels them to confront the enemy and to suffer sacrifice to make change. Anger without an outlet is simply destructive. And not creatively destructive either, nihilistically so.
The daily humiliations of poverty inflict all kinds of damage. Looking at folks waiting in line at the FIA office you wonder who will be the first to crack and jump the line to throttle the petty bureaucrat that denies them petty assistance. To not be able to take care of yourself and your kids- what an awful condemnation. It is San Quentin for the soul.
On every porch on my street someone is daydreaming of getting out and it’s not just the heat they want to break away from. Revolutions are the hope of the ages and the poor can’t afford to not have hope; it’s suicidal. We haven’t had such hope in generations now. All of these defeats for all of these years, even to those unconscious of them, “weigh like a nightmare upon the living”. Shit rolls down hill and we are standing at the bottom watching an avalanche.
Hope. Not the hope extolled by Obama which is only a marketing ploy, and a base one at that, but the hope that they might have some say over their own lives, control over the destiny of their children. Lives which are now so definitely not their own, but the property of a capitalist decay. A decay which is rotting away a whole generation of workers.
This is a warning comrades and friends. There will be hell to pay. And it won’t be the capitalists that pay it.