Two Thumbs Down For Our Broken System
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
(excerpt from chapter 6 of, “Occupying America: We Shall Overcome“)
Is it any wonder that people are exploding in frustration? A record-high 81% of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed, adding to negativity that has been building over the past 10 years. The seven findings are from Gallup‘s annual Governance survey, updated Sept. 8-11, 2011. The same poll shows record or near-record criticism of Congress, elected officials, government handling of domestic problems, the scope of government power, and government waste of tax dollars.
 82% of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.
 69% say they have little or no confidence in the legislative branch of government, an all-time high and up from 63% in 2010.
 57% have little or no confidence in the federal government to solve domestic problems, exceeding the previous high of 53% recorded in 2010 and well exceeding the 43% who have little or no confidence in the government to solve international problems.
 53% have little or no confidence in the men and women who seek or hold elected office.
 Americans believe, on average, that the federal government wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar, similar to a year ago, but up significantly from 46 cents a decade ago and from an average 43 cents three decades ago.
 49% of Americans believe the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. In 2003, less than a third (30%) believed this.
 At 43%, fewer Americans today than at any time in the past four decades say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the federal government to handle domestic problems. That is significantly lower than the 58% average level of confidence Gallup has found on this since 1972, including a 77% reading shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Along with Americans’ record-low confidence in the federal government on domestic policy, Gallup finds record skepticism about government waste. As previously reported, Americans, on average, think the federal government in Washington wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar, the highest estimated proportion of waste Gallup has found on this measure in trends dating to 1979.
Americans’ sense that the federal government poses an immediate threat to individuals’ rights and freedoms is also at a new high, 49%, since Gallup began asking the question using this wording in 2003. This view is much more pronounced among Republicans (61%) and independents (57%) than among Democrats (28%). But there are more fundamental reasons – reasons that hit way too close to home – why many Americans today feel threatened by their government, by the possible loss of jobs or homes, and most of all they fear getting sick or injured, which for many people would mean personal bankruptcy. But the most visceral fear that people have in these very tough times is the loss of their ability to sustain themselves, and especially their kids. I have first-hand experience in this regard, as do millions of others.
Psychological oppression – manifested by widespread apathy and resignation in the face of major corporate and government attacks on working Americans – is at an all time high in the US. Historically, it’s often a strong and sustained youth rebellion that enables a society to throw off severe psychological oppression. The following is a breakdown of the forces I see favoring and countering the formation of an uprising in the US that will be led by its youth:
 35% of the US population is under 25.
 Total unemployment among age 16-25: 24-25%, with many facing permanent unemployment.
 Percent of non-white unemployed youth: 46%
 Unemployment among African Americans under 25: 40.7%
 Unemployment among Hispanic Americans under 25: 35%
 Highest rate of imprisonment (which disproportionately targets youth and minorities) in the industrialized world.
 Widespread availability of illicit drugs to dampen youth resentment and anger, especially in minority communities. Ever since the opium wars in China, addictive drugs have been a favorite weapon of the British and American elite to suppress resistance movements. The late Gary Webb and others who have studied CIA involvement in narcotics trafficking have documented disproportionate targeting of minority neighborhoods with both heroin and crack cocaine. This is no accident.
Clinical psychologist and social commentator Dr Bruce Levine recently published an article on the Web about American societal institutions that tend to crush young people’s natural spirit of resistance. The institutions Levine highlights as inducing compliance, as opposed to rebellion, include student-loan debt, the uniquely American tendency to medicate non-compliant and rebellious children and teens, American schools that educate for compliance rather than democracy, normalization and fear of surveillance, the “three screens” (TV, computers and cellphones), and so-called “fundamentalist” consumerism (the completely ridiculous belief that all human needs can be met by buying something).
No one disputes that teen homelessness is both the strongest and most alarming symptom of the disintegration of US society. Homeless children and teenagers under 18 represent one-third of the US homeless population. 2.8 million American children have at least one episode of homelessness every year, while 1.35 million American children are permanently homeless. Approximately ten percent of homeless teens had access to state and city-run shelters prior to the 2008 economic collapse. However, owing to extreme state and city budgetary difficulties, most have been forced to close. In third world countries, homeless children are called “street kids.” The US government prefers to call them “unaccompanied minors.” Giving it a fancy name doesn’t hide the fact that the rate of homeless American children per capita is worse than in some third world countries. Today’s homeless kids will grow up to be America’s infuriated adults. Infuriated adults invariably strike back at that which enrages them. It happens 200% of the time.
Among countries who keep a count of homeless children under 18, India has the highest rate of street children per capita, with 1 homeless child per 61 residents. Egypt is next with 1 per 110, then Pakistan (1 per 120), Kenya (1 per 133), Russia (1 per 141), and Congo (1 per 148). The per capita rate of child homelessness in the US is 1 per 245 residents. This is worse than the Philippines (1 per 360), Honduras (1 per 370), Jamaica (1 per 419), Uruguay (1 per 1,000), and Morocco (1 per 1066). Germany, in contrast, has 1 homeless child per 4,100 residents.
The understandable rage that many of these kids are harboring is exactly what happens when all hope of any economic opportunity is taken away from any nation’s youth. This is precisely what happened in Britain in the summer of 2011. Speculations circle as to why the 2011 London riots became so big, but the answer was quite obvious as the disorder spread to Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham. Politicians and police officers who one day were making stony-faced statements about criminality are now simply begging the young people of Britain’s inner cities to go home. The violence on the streets was being dismissed as “pure criminality”, as the work of a “violent minority”, as “opportunism”. This is madly insufficient. It is no way to talk about viral civil unrest that has been a long time coming. Angry young people with nothing to do and nothing to lose are turning on their own communities, and they cannot be stopped, and they know it. It will happen in America next. It’s already started with the mobilization of the Occupy and 99% Movements.
Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there. Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating about US civil unrest have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move, and the police are on the streets stopping-and-searching you as you come home from school and work. The people who do will be waking up this week in the sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and marginalized and harassed by the police, after years of not seeing any conceivable hope of a better future buried under a pile of student loan debt, they are finally on the news. In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything: “Yes,” said the young man. “You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you”?
Riots are about power, and they are about catharsis. They are not about poor parenting, or youth services being cut, or any of the other snap explanations that media pundits have been trotting out. Structural inequalities are not solved by a few pool tables or basketball courts. People riot because it makes them feel powerful, even if only for a night. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realize that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves, and it spreads like wildfire after a lightning strike.
Here in the US, we have so far had the advent of the Occupy Wall St. and the “We Are The 99%” movements on the American political scene since the fall of 2011. The primary difference between the protest movement in the US and those overseas – such as North Africa, Syria, Yemen and Nigeria as of this writing – is that the American protests have all been peaceful and nonviolent. However, I have observed a growing groundswell and a developing cultural backlash here in America regarding the choices for President that the American voters will have in 2012. As of now, voters have a choice of Barack Obama, someone who once promised me “change you can believe in” only to give me “change that scares the hell out of me”, or Mitt Romney, which scares me even worse because of their insistence on mixing religion and politics (which is, speaking as a minister of the Gospel, unconstitutional and unlawful). This could be seen by American voters as little more than having to pick the most necessary evil or nothing at all, and that could enrage the American people enough for an explosion of civil disobedience that could easily result in massive rioting. Either that, or a sudden surge in the price of fuel to, say, $5.00 – $7.00 per gallon for whatever reason, would likely turn the American people into a raging inferno that would burn the capitalist, profit-driven and intentionally rigged economic system to the ground.
Although up until now the American people have shown admirable restraint during these difficult times in which we live, this time the public anger will not be deflected. Confessions, not false, will be extracted from the guilty parties. Occupy Wall Street has set the snowball rolling. In so doing it has made America aware of a sinister, usurious process by which wealth has systematically been funneled into fewer and fewer hands, and it is a process in which Washington is playing a useful supporting role.
Over the next year, I expect the “what” will give way to the “how” in the broad electorate’s comprehension of the financial situation. The 99 percent must learn to differentiate the bloodsuckers and rent-extractors from those in the 1 percent who make the world a better, more just place to live. Once people realize how Wall Street made its huge pile of cash, understand how financiers get rich, and what it is that they actually do, the time will become ripe for someone to gather the spreading ripples of anger and perplexity into a focused tsunami of retribution, and to make the Wall Street criminals pay, properly, for the grief and woe they have caused. The truth that is written throughout this book is a part of that same tsunami, focusing the rage and frustration of the US middle and working classes, and particularly that of the poor, into an expression of how we feel, what we need (not our wants, just mainly our needs), what our hopes and dreams are, and above all recognition of our value as dynamic and sovereign individuals, all of whom can contribute to the greater good, and to our belief in the sacredness of life.