We Need to Pay Attention, But That’s Not All

Senator Bernie Sanders was in Iowa at Drake University a few weeks ago. This paragraph from an account of his visit caught my eye:

At first it was unclear who the bigger enemy of the people were to Sanders — the Kardashians or the Koch brothers.  The Kardashians, or rather our public fascination with them, represents America’s apathy. Sanders was clear that nothing progressive can happen until people start paying attention.  Sanders told his audience that Americans are getting screwed, and that we had better pay attention and get off our asses.

What the Senator said about paying attention brings to mind one of his colleagues, Senator Elizabeth Warren. The journalist Matthew Yglesias wrote this about her under the heading “What Makes Elizabeth Warren So Great”:

At Janet Yellen’s monetary policy hearing, Warren took aim at the Federal Reserve’s General Counsel, Scott Alvarez. Alvarez is one of the people with the highest importance-to-fame ratios in the whole American government. His existence — to say nothing of his work — is incredibly obscure. But Warren used her considerable celebrity and her dorky charisma to shine a light on it.

And she has a unique knack among today’s elected officials for seizing on things that are languishing in obscurity and making them blow up. The greatest trick the special interests ever played was getting the world to stop paying attention. Warren makes people pay attention, and it’s great.

Senator Warren is terrific. We need more politicians who speak truth to power and are heard when they speak. But Senator Sanders makes a key point in an image on his Facebook page:


We need to both pay attention and get organized.

Is It Bad Enough Yet? Yes, It Is

“Is It Bad Enough Yet?” That’s a wonderful title for an article by Mark Bittman about where we are today:

The police killing unarmed civilians. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure and an unsafe “safety net.” An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.

You get it: This is the United States, which, with the incoming Congress, might actually get worse….

The root of the anger is inequality, about which statistics are mind-boggling: From 2009 to 2012 (that’s the most recent data), some 95 percent of new income has gone to the top 1 percent…

Everything affects everything. It’s all tied together, and the starting place hardly matters: A just and righteous system will have a positive impact on everything we care about, just as an unjust, exploitative system makes everything worse….

When underpaid workers begin their strikes by saying “I can’t breathe,” or by holding their hands over their heads and chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” they’re recognizing that their struggle is the same as that of African-Americans demanding dignity, respect and indeed safety on their own streets….

Increasingly, it seems, there’s an appetite and even unity to take on the billionaire class. Let’s recognize that if we are seeing positive change now, it’s in part because elected officials respond to pressure, and let’s remember that that pressure must be maintained no matter who is in office. Even if Bernie Sanders were to become president, the need for pressure would continue.

“True citizenship,” says [Saru Jayaraman of U.C. Berkeley]— echoing Jefferson — “is people continually protesting.” Precisely.

So warmest congratulations to the fast food workers and Walmart employees demanding a living wage and to the thousands who have marched or stood silently in protest because black lives matter. It’s all connected.

And enough is enough. That’s what Senator Elizabeth Warren said this week. Listen to her talk about Citigroup’s stranglehold on the Federal government and why we need to break up the biggest banks. It’s only 10 minutes and it’s worth watching and sharing.

We can’t directly vote against Walmart or Citigroup, but we can boycott them. Don’t shop at Walmart until they institute a living wage and don’t use a Citigroup credit card or checking account until they’re small enough to fail, because, yes, it is bad enough.