Global Crisis; American Nightmare
A global economic crisis has brought a new Great Depression to the doorsteps of working class families. While the corporations, government officials, and bureaucracies are experiencing record profits and compensation, those who are least able to pay are expected to shoulder the majority of the burden [1,2]. This collapse is placed upon the backs of workers, and even more to the most oppressed in working class communities, for example: working class women, immigrants, blacks, and latinos [3,4]. Despite the promises of a Democratic congress and presidency, deportations of undocumented immigrants have dramatically increased since Obama took office, tearing communities apart and criminalizing whole populations. If we don’t fight back, the crisis may drive a permanent decline in our standard of living, deepen the domination over the oppressed, and widen the gaps in American society.
But people are coming together and finding ways to support and struggle alongside each other in ways that haven’t been seen in generations. The potential of a mobilized, conscious, and active movement frightens those in power, and they are pouring money, resources, and repression into diverting potential movements. People all over the world are building new struggles: turning vacant foreclosures into homes, resisting tuition hikes and worsening education in universities, fighting cuts and injustice at work, resisting ICE deportations and challenging second class status for immigrants, launching fare strikes on transit against service cuts and fare hikes, and resisting racialized police brutality and violence against oppressed communities. Attempts to coopt these potential movements are coming out of the unions who fear changes in the comfortable relationships they have with management, from the NGOs who are funded by and keep their jobs through all those who profit off our suffering, and from the political machinery that wants to channel our anger into their careers.
Vote with your feet
With the upcoming election far too often the range of reactions is either one of deserved cynicism but usually coupled with crippling apathy (“They’re all corrupt, things won’t change”) or a faith like belief that some type of democratic or populist reform is possible that will alleviate the major underlying symptoms of capitalism (campaign finance reform, repeal Citizens United, populist illusions, etc).
But more concerning is the host of snake oil sellers on the left, within NGOs, and unions who will be pulling out all the stops to sell the Democratic Party oil once again. This might entail some re-packaging but some like SEIU who shamelessly carry water for the Democrats have publically announced their endorsement of Obama in the name of the 99% well ahead of most players. We will also receive a number of crass rationalizations (lesser evil, new promises of legislation, and once in his second term Obama will do what he really wants). A few on the left will make arguments along the lines of the left ‘strategically engaging’ the Obama campaign, though if you look carefully they seem to have exactly the same strategy and sales pitch as they did during the 2008 campaign. And for all the hype they made in 2008 these players ironically have little to show for their investment.
Abandoned by the State, unions, and civil society, some people put their hope in the return of a strong government to protect them, solve the crisis, and return things to business as usual. Putting faith in the courts, lobbying, and legislative reform fuel the fires of hope; we can’t wait for a messiah to save us while things deteriorate. Even the purest of heart can’t help but continue our suffering when they step into government. The structure is built for the interests of power, and working in the halls of power changes people. By living, working, and experiencing reality through a life of politicians, lobbying, wealthy donors and corporations, and being outside the normal lives of everyday people, the political machinery represents it’s own interests and those of the powerful against the rest of the population. If some rebel tried to truly make real changes that threatened the powerful, the ruling class would not tolerate it. The rich will never let their wealth be voted away ; throughout history they opted to unleash bloody dictatorships against democracy, rather than bend to people’s democratic will when it threatened them.
The era of government safety nets ended for a reason; it was based denying that standard of living to sections of the working class at home (for example black and latino workers), and exploiting the wealth of dominated countries abroad. Now the global balance of power has shifted with rising capitalists to the South, East, and West, and movements for equality throughout the 20th century challenged domination in our borders. In this global crisis attempting to save this system will only result in continuing the poverty, work organized for management rather than people, domination of women and the oppressed, police violence and prison society, institutionalized racism, and all the forms of repression we know. Relying on those who benefit from this to be willing to change just because we vote for them is waiting for a miracle.
We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for
The country has been electrified by mobilizations that seem to reflect a new combativeness and focus on class in parts of American society. The challenge for us is to move from an activist movement to a popular movement rooted in people’s everyday lives. A number of activist movements in the US failed precisely here, such as the anti-nuclear movements, anti-war movements (Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq), and the anti-globalization movement. Still, today people worldwide are waking up to the need to take matters into their own hands and solve the problems the politicians and capitalists are unable to.
Throughout American history we have made change only when collectively we stood together and used our power. Slavery wasn’t ended by Abraham Lincoln or even northern politicians; it was destroyed by movements against slavery organizing and taking action against a divided ruling class, culminating in a massive slave rebellion during the civil war (what WEB DuBois called a general strike ) that forever changed American society. Politicians and unions didn’t give us the weekend, workers rights, or the 8hr day; we won those when workers challenged power through spreading strikes, demonstrations, and chasing down the ruling class in unemployment offices, courts, and government buildings. Segregation wasn’t defeated by patiently lobbying politicians, but by people putting their bodies and lives on the line to take the streets, break the unjust laws of their time, and put forward a vision of a freer humanity. We won’t win our freedom by defending the rotten institutions of society, but by directly creating our own together. We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.
Until people take to the streets and assert their power, we have to help lay the groundwork. We need to be immersed in working class communities, helping to build struggles against exploitation and oppression in workplaces, housing, education, neighborhoods, and our homes. We are not in a permanent state of agitation though; fights will pick up and cool down. We need to build intermediate organizations that live through the ups and downs of these struggles. Intermediate level organizations can group together organizers who become conscious and committed to a more equal and just vision of society in organizing, and stay committed to helping others fight back around concrete issues in their daily lives.
Building Our Power
We have come together on May 1st to show our power and express our discontent, but many of us ask ourselves: what comes next? The May 1st General Strike callout was a day for the working class to show our power. Yet, the hardest work begins now. We must use this momentum and start working together, building a mass movement from the bottom up that fights against the exploitation that permeates all aspects of our lives—whether on our jobs, in our communities and neighborhood, or at our schools.
Workplace and Labor Organizing
This economic crisis has seen an escalation of class war on workers by capitalists and the State, leading to a further erosion of working conditions, with lawmakers enacting policies that cut wages and benefits and further burden workers. Most workplaces are not unionized, and those with unions have seen little improvements, as unions further collaborate with bosses for their own political gains.
It’s up to us to unite with our coworkers and fight the bosses to improve our working conditions and fight for change. Whether we work in restaurants, retail, hospitals, education, or other industries; we need to form workers’ committees where we push immediate reforms that improve our day-to-day working conditions, but also look to the future and organize for a time where the workers will run our jobs not for private profit, but for the benefit of the community.
In places where there are unions, we should build a network of more militant union members that supports struggles to improve the workplace, and resist when the union collaborates with management against workers and the community. Reforms are short-term gains that can be used to build our power toward a longer-term strategy that is independent from union interests. These networks can offer a more radical and democratic vision of what the workplace can look like.
Housing and Community Organizing
The foreclosure crisis has devastated working class communities nationwide, and its affects have been seen even further in Florida, particularly South Florida. In 2011, 1 in every 396 households were in foreclosure in Florida; in Miami-Dade, the foreclosure rate is at 17%.
We have a chance to take back our communities and fight the banks that helped cause this crisis. There are opportunities for us to go door-to-door and speak to our neighbors who are being foreclosed on. We can build committees of former homeowners that serve as alternatives to the corrupt and useless legal system, with the goal of keeping families in their homes. Across the country communities have joined together to form eviction blockades to ensure that people are not forced out of their homes—this can be done here too if we form networks of people that stand in solidarity with their neighbors.
Additionally, we must not forget about tenants being exploited by landlords. Building tenant committees in buildings that can counter landlords through tactics like rent strikes that can improve living conditions.
Public education is under attack nationwide. School budgets have been slashed, students are forced into unnecessary standardized testing, and teachers are under attack. Its time for students to organize themselves and demand education that is liberatory. The walkouts and protests that took place in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting are inspiring and show the ability that young people have to organize themselves for change.
Students at public universities are facing tuition hikes and massive amounts of student debt with little prospects of finding jobs once they graduate. Across the country and here in Miami students are uniting to form student groups that are challenging these issues on their campus. Student militants need to build awareness and mobilize students to fight these education policies that disproportionately keep poor and working class young people from being able to access higher education. The 2012 Montreal student general strike paints an inspiring picture of the power that students have when they unite to challenge government cuts in education.
These are only a few examples of organizing that have the potential to initiate large social movements that can help transform the society that we live in. These examples that are highlighted are already being built in South Florida. Across the country, people are also organizing around issues such as women’s rights, queer rights, anti-police brutality, and the prison industrial complex. These struggles can be built here too if we are able to come together and build the groups that reflect the future society we want to live in.
Miami Autonomy & Solidarity (MAS)
Miami Autonomy & Solidarity is an organization of anarchists that works to develop the collective power of social movements. MAS works to raise consciousness in the community, develop our own ideas, and strategize for how to defeat exploitation and oppression. Our activities include common theoretical and strategic development of our members; public educational activities such as writing, dialogues and workshops; rank-and-file participation in popular class social movements; and coordination of our activities with other activists, organizers and militants. Our ultimate goal is to contribute to autonomous popular movements struggling against all forms of exploitation and oppression with the ultimate goal of replacing capitalism and the state with a free society organized through direct democracy and an economy that bases economic contribution according to individuals’ abilities and economic distribution according to individuals’ needs.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303815404577331660464739018.html  New York Times. (2009). “Wall Street firms on track for record profits”. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/18/business/18wall.html  ABC News. (2011) “Women lag behind men in economic recovery”.
http://abcnews.go.com/US/unemployment-recession-men-return-work-women-left-economic/story?id=13185406#.T5Qloe08pyU  Applied Research Center. (2009). Race and Recession Report.
http://www.arc.org/content/view/726/136/  This paraphrase comes from Lucy Parsons, an American anarchist organizer of native, black, and Mexican decent. She was the wife of Albert Parsons, one of the Haymarket anarchist labor leaders who was hung in the fight for the 8hr day. May Day celebrates their fight and remembers their martyrdom for the cause of all working people.  WEB DuBois. (1999). Black Reconstruction in America: 1860-1880. Free Press.