Thinking for Ourselves and Rethinking Work

September 19, 2011 / Comments (0)

Civic News Uncategorized

Thinking for Ourselves
Economic Future
By Shea Howell
Last week President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress to press for the adoption of the American Jobs Act. He called for a combination of tax cuts and targeted spending designed to intervene in the continuing deterioration of our economy. He advocated incentives to businesses to hire veterans and people who have been out of work longer than 6 months. He proposed spending on infrastructure, including rebuilding roads and bridges, repairing schools and hiring teachers, police officers and fire fighters. He argued the proposed $447 billion package could be paid for without adding to the deficit. Many people who support President Obama greeted the speech with joy and relief. 

Paul Krugman of the New York Times who was bitterly disappointed in the last stimulus effort said: 

“First things first: I was favorably surprised by the new Obama jobs plan, which is significantly bolder and better than I expected. It’s not nearly as bold as the plan I’d want in an ideal world. But if it actually became law, it would probably make a significant dent in unemployment.” 

Another commentator noted that this was “an enlivened President Obama…impassioned, indignant, non-professorial.” Others still called the speech “politically dexterous” and were glad it expressed “a fairly unquiet anger at Washington’s—meaning Congress’—failure to act.” 

The Republican leadership, perhaps attentive to the polls that show their approval rating is lower than the President’s, greeted the speech with restraint. By the beginning of the week the opposition had rallied. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor slammed the recommendations on closing loopholes for oil and gas companies and tax breaks for the wealthiest. He called this a “massive tax increase.” Speaker John Boehner claimed the plan lacked “bipartisan spirit” and vowed to break it into several parts. 

I welcomed the speech. We are facing a crisis unlike any since the Great Depression. Here in Michigan we are on the brink of a catastrophe. As a state we account for nearly half of all jobs lost in the country as a whole. Now we have a republican governor and legislature who are tearing apart the basic supports for the most vulnerable among us. 

I applauded when the President said: “What we can’t do — what I will not do — is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades. I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety. I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back protections that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules that keep our kids from being exposed to mercury, or laws that prevent the health insurance industry from shortchanging patients. I reject the idea that we have to strip away collective bargaining rights to compete in a global economy. “ 

But more important than the fate of this specific proposal is the long term concern that President Obama raised. He said: “Now, the American Jobs Act answers the urgent need to create jobs right away. But we can’t stop there…We have to look beyond the immediate crisis and start building an economy that lasts into the future … 

We now live in a world where technology has made it possible for companies to take their business anywhere. If we want them to start here and stay here and hire here, we have to be able to out-build and out-educate and out-innovate every other country on Earth.” This is the question we all need to urgently address: how do we create an economy that sustains our people, our communities and our planet? What do we think that future should be?

Rethinking Work

We are the children of Martin and Malcolm, 
       Black, brown, red and white, 
Our birthright is to be creators of history, 
Our Right, Our Duty 
       To shake the world with 
       A new dream! 

At this time of mass unemployment and foreclosures, failing banks and failed states, floods, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes and global warming that threatens all life on this planet, I often find myself recalling this poem and wanting to share it. I helped to write it in the spring of 1982, nearly 30 years ago. 

Three of us, one African American, one Polish American and me, were sitting in my car following a National Organization for an American Revolution (NOAR) meeting. We were talking about and planning to participate in the June 12 March for Unilateral Disarmament in New York’s Central Park. Out of the blue one of us (I don’t remember which one) came up with the first line. The other lines then followed as naturally as water from a faucet. Our poem was published on the front page of the broadsheet that NOAR distributed at the Central Park March. A million people, about one out of every 250 Americans, participated. 

Many historians believe it was the numbers and energy of these Americans that inspired Mickhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to initiate glasnot and perestroika at the 28th Congress of the party in 1986, thus contributing to the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later. 

As T.S.Eliot put it, “History has many cunning passages.” 

I share this poem now because it seems to me that we are at a time on the clock of the world when the children of Martin and Malcolm are beginning to shake the world with a new dream. 

They/We are doing it in cities all over the country by growing our own food and by bringing the neighbor back into the ‘hood to create beloved communities.’ 

We/they are beginning to make a life, not just a living. We are also doing it by Re-imagining and Re-defining Work, so that in the words of Matthew Fox, our Work is “an expression of the spirit at work in the world through us.” 

Over the last weekend in October the Boggs Center, together with over 15 community organizations, is hosting a gathering in Detroit to re-define and re-imagine Work. Individuals and groups from all walks of life will be showcasing and discussing the many ways in which we are being challenged by our “wounded Earth, the one billion unemployed, the billions of despairing young people who see no guarantee of either work or jobs, and the needs of other species around us to, as Fox writes, “shake the world with a new dream of Work.” 

October 28-30. 

Rethinking Work – Taken from posting ‘Rethinking Work’ 9/19/2011

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