Economic Activism

Why Progressives Must Stay United

Robert Reich

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It’s impossible to overcome widening economic inequality in America without also dealing with the legacy of racial inequality.

And it is impossible to overcome racial inequality without also reversing widening economic inequality.

They are not the same but they are intimately related.

Racial inequalities are baked into our political and economic system. Police brutality against black men and women, mass incarceration disproportionately of blacks and Latinos, housing discrimination that has resulted in racial apartheid across the nation, and voter suppression in the forms of gerrymandered districts, voter identification requirements, purges of names from voter registration lists, and understaffed voting stations in black neighborhoods – all reveal deep structures of discrimination that undermine economic (in)equality.



For decades Republicans have exploited the economic frustrations of the white working and middle class to drive a wedge between races, channeling those frustrations into bigotry and resentment.

The Republican strategy has been to divide-and-conquer. They want to prevent the majority of Americans – poor, working class, and middle-class, blacks, Latinos, and whites – from uniting in common cause against the moneyed interests.

We must not let them.

Our only hope for genuine change is if poor, working class, middle class, black, Latino, and white come together in a powerful movement to take back our economy and democracy from the moneyed interests that now control both.

Without addressing widening economic inequality, the legacy of racism and social injustice cannot be corrected.  Why, you may ask, were LGBTQ issues advanced during this Administration after languishing for decades and in the face of vociferous and concerted opposition?

It’s not that I begrudge my otherly oriented comerades their victories, they were hard fought and well deserved, but they came at the point of a privileged gun.  The LGBTQ demographic is politically active, has disposable income for contributions, and looks just like me- white and upper middle-class.  1%ers if not .001%ers.

Women (not a minority) and minorities (not for much longer) face the additional problems of being distinguishable in their physical characteristics.  They’re women or their skin is browner.  To argue that these are not the basis of discrimination is to ignore Italian/Irish/Jewish assimilation (separate culture/language?  Check!  African-Americans are native English speakers.).

What we can learn from the LGBTQ victories is that economic pressure works!  Not just in terms of direct contributions though those are a very visible aspect, but also in shaping markets.  The reason Bus Lines were such a vulnerable target during the Civil Rights movement is that their ridership was overwhelmingly African-American and boycotts cut deep.

As citizens we must use the levers of the market to punish the traitors and reward the patriots if we wish to promote our agenda.

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