Friday, December 16, 2011

Why The Next Great Wave of Unrest Will Come from Working Class Youth- And Why Elites Have Themselves to Blame If This Happens

“Don’t push me, cause I ‘m close to the edge.
I’m trying not to lose my head
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from going under”

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five “The Message”

While the mayors of America’s big cities may be congratulating themselves for their nationally coordinated effort to evict Occupy camps, in the very near future, they are likely to face unrest of far greater proportions that will be much more difficult to control

This time, it will not be coming from underemployed, ex college students laboring under unsustainable student loan debt- it will be coming from young people in working class and poor neighborhoods whose school experiences are being made increasing barren by budget cuts and excessive testing, all to prepare them for a future that consists of little more than entry into minimum wage jobs, colleges that have become unaffordable, continuous police harassment, and a ticket to the nation’s prisons.

The forms this unrest will take may be ugly and frightening, ranging from uncontrolled fighting to school walkouts,, to flash mob robberies, to full scale riots in response to acts of police violence, but when they begin to reach epidemic proportions, policy makers won’t have radical activists to blame. It is their own policies which drove these young people to the wall

The following are creating a “tinder box” of conditions in working class and poor communities which it will not take much of a spark to ignite

1. Repressive school policies. During the current recession, school budgets throughout the country have been cut to the bone, greatly increasing class size, reducing or eliminating arts and sports programs, and reducing the number of social workers and guidance counselors. At the same time these cuts are taking place, students are being deluged with standardized tests which reduce classroom learning into little more than test prep. In working class and poor neighborhoods, the combination of budget cuts and uncontrolled testing made school even more boring and repressive than it was before, creating tremendous resentment among students and teachers. If there was some reward at the end of the day for six hours of pure boredom and repetition, students might tolerate it, but because of the grim news on the job and college front, students are increasingly resentful of what they are being put through, and are beginning to act out by leaving school, or disrupting school routines.
2. A Terrible Job Market. Youth unemployment in many cities is over 40 percent, for Black teenagers, it is often 70 percent. Worse yet, the few jobs available for high school graduates, largely in fast food restaurants and chain stores, involve low wages, no benefits, little job security, no union protection and harsh management strategies. While many young people eagerly take such jobs as the only alternative to unemployment and the underground economy, it does not mean that they are happy about where they have ended up, or are unaware of how much more privileged the growing upper middle class population the gentrifying cities the live in is. As inequality grows more glaring and visible, and as elites continue to blithely line their own pockets at the expense of workers ( the CEO of Wal-Mart Makes $16,000 and hour while the starting wage there is $6.50 an hour), young people facing a lifetime of poverty and low wage work are going to grow increasingly resentful. Don’t be surprised if that resentment explodes to the surface sooner rather than later
3. Unaffordable College Education. In response to budget cuts from state legislatures, public universities around the nation, including community colleges, are raising their tuitions, making them unaffordable for young people from working class and poor families who see these institutions as the one life line out of the school to prison/minimum wage pipeline. When young people from families of modest means find they can’t afford to attend college or are forced to drop out, they confront a job market that offers them little dignity, opportunity, or security. They are quite literally trapped, in a way that smothers what little hope they had of a better life

Now put these things together- oppressive, boring schools, a grim job market, colleges no one can afford, coupled with gentrification, a growing wealth gap and ferocious police harassment and you have an almost ideal set of conditions for unrest, especially since these young people have watched some of their more privileged counterparts mount a revolt of their own.

I have no idea when this unrest will emerge on a large scale, or what forms it will take, but I will be very surprised if we don’t see signs of it this coming spring and summer

I would love to see political activists give this unrest constructive direction, so we might avoid violent actions where innocent people are hurt, but I am not such activists are numerous enough or well organized enough to do this

More likely, we are all going to reap the whirlwind from policies driven by uncontrolled selfishness and greed on the part of the rich and the powerful

Mark Naison
September 16, 2011

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