The American Heritage dictionary definition of apathy “lack of emotion or feeling; indifference”. Since the early 70’s, Americans have, to a great extent, given up on mass activism. The last great “motivating factor” was the Vietnam War, a.k.a. “police action”.
When men like my father, a staunch (bite my tongue) Goldwater Republican, came out in 1969 to oppose the war, the “elites” were in trouble. Millions of Americans a) signed petitions, b) attended rallies, c) wrote letters to Congresspeople, and generally made it known that they would not vote for politicians who supported the war. They demanded: “Bring our boys home, now!”
If one researches the many progressive books about the Vietnam era, one realizes the “elites’ were not ready in ’71, ’72 or ’73, to end the war and withdraw our soldiers and military hardware. No, they were making too much money because of Vietnam. Someone wrote that each time a “Huey helicopter” went down it meant $1 million more for the manufacturer. Think of 500,000 soldiers, each needing a gun and ammo, clothing and food. Factor in the myriad of jeeps and tanks and “look, up there in the sky, its not a bird, its not Superman, its a US fighter or bomber dropping million dollar bombs!” The adage “War is hell” only tells the soldiers story. For the defense industry, War is Money!
Listening to the radio news the other day, I heard a fascinating (and troubling) story. It seems that many Disney fanatics were up in arms when Disney planned to do away with a certain decades old ride. Many of these “20 and 30 something’s” formed a group, something like “friends of the ride” and organized a protest. They demonstrated and sent e-mail’s, letters and phone calls to Disney- finally they “saved the ride”! Are you listening to this, dear America? The same 20 and 30 year olds who very likely: a) have inadequate or no health coverage, b) attended schools that allowed junk food producers to legally brainwash and addict them, and c) who work dead-end jobs for companies that are laying off thousands while the CEOs make millions- these people chose to (finally) become “activists” over some stupid Disney (of all corporations) ride!
According to United for a Fair Economy: “CEOs of 23 large corporations under investigation for accounting irregularities earned 70% more (from 1999-2001) than the average CEO at large companies.” These CEOs under question, by the way, earned an average of $62 million from 1999-2001. That’s a lot of “rides” at Disney, wouldn’t you say? Now, while this “greed is good” was occurring, and those “Disney activists” were demonstrating for their ride, the aforementioned corporations laid off a total of 162,000 workers since 2001. Tyco corp. laid off 18,000 workers in that time period, while CEO Dennis Kozlowski made $331 million from ’99-’01. Plus, Tyco gave him over $135 million for “luxury living’. Of course, since these scandals broke, good old Dennis “resigned in disgrace”, a little “super wealthier” as well (easing those late night feelings of guilt).
Here’s the deal: most couples and single parents get up each morning and “punch out” those 8 or 9 hours, then run home to pick up the kid(s) at daycare or the school, prepare dinner, clean the dishes and the kids (if youngsters) and maybe get 2 hours at the boob tube or computer terminal. Weekends are spent: a) maintaining the house (if lucky enough to own one), being a good parent to the children and/or c) holding down that 2nd job to help pay that mortgage or car loan(ever realize how many of those “SUVs” are owned by banks and not people?). How in the heck can we progressives out there expect such “over burdened” working folk to become activists?
Well, we cannot.
What we can do is implore those of us who do have spare time to “get mad as hell and …”. We can sit down with our working neighbors and discuss: “is this right what is going on?” Then we need to unite as Consumers – that is our common denominator! Not as Greens or Republicans, Dems or Libertarians etc…- as Consumers. In reality, unless one is earning millions per year, we all do have one common enemy (okay call it “adversary”, you get my drift) and that is the “elites”, the super rich who run this economy, who run this world. As Consumers, we can join together and ; a) harrass their “paid for politicians’, b) boycott their companies and their products, and c) embarrass them publicly.
Let’s take the case of Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH). Since 1993 U.S. dairies have been allowed (by the FDA) to inject BGH into cows for increased milk production. Scientists internationally have found cause to object to this Monsanto Corp. product. So much so, that in Europe and in Canada BGH is not allowed – apparently those countries think more of their cows and their humans.
BGH can cause Mastitis (udder infection) in cows, which usually must be treated with antibiotics – the same ones used on humans. So, little Johnny and Jan are given milk from cows conceivably “pumped” with mega-strength antibiotics! Monsanto wasn’t just content with being able to sell a product not allowed in Europe – it sued two U.S. dairies who had the nerve to label its milk “BGH free”!
If consumers rallied together and boycotted selected dairy products, even briefly, until such time as laws were passed either a) banning BGH or b) temporarily mandating the labeling of all products containing BGH milk – what would occur? Imagine tens of thousands, millions of us refusing to purchase certain products until and unless…….?
It is so easy to do. We simply organize “Consumer Action Networks” a.k.a. CAN and start meeting at libraries or any place that offers free space. We meet once a week, or once a month, free of any party affiliations, not allowing any political posturing at these meetings- just consumers discussing and voting on what issues to address first and how. This writer has his own “key issues” list. To me, Clean Election Laws are the only hope for allowing more “average citizens” into the mix, by getting private monies out (Maine did this in 1996 and it is working). In states like my own (Florida) with no state income tax, a law creating a small income surtax of 2-3% for large corporations and rich individuals (earning millions a year) should be demanded. These revenues would be used to improve our schools, our roads, mass transit, and increase the pay of our teachers, firemen and police- without costing the majority of our working and middle class one extra penny in taxes! Imagine if your local statehouse rep starts getting 20 or 30 then 50 then 100, 200 calls, faxes and e-mails demanding action on these 2 issues, or else! “Or else means we will not vote for your re-election, or election to any office you shall seek”. If mainstream candidates refuse to back these issues, then the Consumer Action Network could choose sympathetic people to run against them. .
We must now realize, that white, black or brown and yellow, whether we call ourselves working class or middle class, or downright poor- we are all in the same boat, and it is sinking. The times demand that each of us go those extra steps, echoing Confucius: “You succeeded because you tried again” – wake up American workers and get involved!
Philip Farruggio, son of a longshoreman, is “Blue Collar Brooklyn” born, raised and educated (Brooklyn College, Class of ’74). A former progressive talk show host, Philip runs a mfg. rep. business and writes for many publications. He lives in Port Orange, FL. You can contact Mr. Farruggio at e-mail: email@example.com.