I call him Class Warrior. He stands in front of me at a Circle K station. He is an outsider, excluded from the winnings market free play has placed in the coffers of wealthy insiders. He doesn't look like he's thriving in our capitalist environment.
Everyone in Tucson who looks Mexican, as this young man does, is now suspected of being illegal and must show proof to the contrary. It may be that now the greatest transgressive spirit hangs on the identity of Mexicans, of Chicanos, who are all under suspicion in Arizona's capitalist environment.
I expect anger and here it is, standing right in front of me. Something in the capitalist environment has engineered the bloody politics of revolt that is summed up on the back of the black T-shirt he wears:
“Class war: we have found new homes for the rich,” it spells out in all caps.
The image is of a graveyard, of row upon row of white crosses on a black background. “Look at this,” he says, showing me a swatch of cloth on the other side of his shirt. The message again screams out through capital letters.
“Warning! Rich scum beware! Class war coming soon to a street near you.”
Class Warrior wears his grassroots protest on his T-shirt, while the Tea Party has sent the representatives of their own, very different kind of protest to Congress. The gold earrings he wears in the middle of his earlobes, his T-shirt warning to the rich and suggestions that the capitalists are going to get bloodied are clearly not the winning social engineering strategy here.
For the Tea Partiers, a capitalist environment does not “engineer,” but “liberates” through competition, a zero-sum competition in which one individual does better only at the expense of another. The winners thrive, achieve and produce, while the losers fall back and find solace in non-capitalist traditions, or turn their marginalized status into a platform of dissent and revolt. The losers hang around gas stations and don't wear patriotic costumes.
I tell Class Warrior we're in a tug of war in this country and only the rich are pulling. He likes that. “We should have it,” he says. “We don't have it. But we will.” He's clearly enrolled in a school that's growing. Call it, “The Only Way to Break Free of the Hold the Rich Have on Us Is to Bury Them,” school. This attitude is what the millennial generation might refer to on Facebook as “harsh.” I fear Class Warrior might be unfriended and targeted as a hater. One of the tenets of the “Bury Them” school is that no one with wealth and power wants to alter that state of affairs, nor will they allow others to do so. Class Warrior doesn't wear a T-shirt that reads, “Vote Wealth and Power Out NOW!” or “Vote for Wealth Redistribution NOW!” I guess it's because Class Warrior doesn't have faith in voting in a plutocracy.
Class Warrior believes in a revolt against the rich, but he does not believe that what President Obama recently expressed has a chance of success:
This idea of bringing everyone together and making sure that everybody is contributing, everybody is responsible, but everybody also looks out for one another – that's the idea at the heart of our last campaign. That's the idea at the heart of this campaign. That's the idea at the heart of America.
This American heart, however, clearly has three chambers. The main chamber – and by far the smallest – pumps “tough love” and “creative destruction.” It contains the very few people who win at the expense of the great many who lose. There's the middle chamber, consisting of the 40 percent of the population that votes – 20 percent of whom, at least, are “Independents,” and thus considered crucial to Obama's re-election. These Independents, however, are, in general, Independent, not because they know too much about what's going on, but because they know too little. These folks will line up with whatever clown and circus act from Grizzly Mama to The Donald comes to town. The underclass chamber of the heart, some 70 million Americans, does not join Obama's “everybody” category until the dominating American culture of, “I've got mine; you get yours,” becomes, “Everybody looks out for one another.” That stands as good a chance of happening as the introduction of a viable Democratic Socialist or Social Democratic Party candidate in the 2012 election.
I'm struck by the undeniably socialist color of this, “Everybody looks out for one another,” culture, by how far it is from “Show ME the money!” and by how desperately liberals have been running from their ideological home base. If liberals run from any mention of socialism, the socialist critique of the Wild West capitalist environment we presently enjoy, which could take liberals from defense and provide them with an offense, will be lost. This critique has the potential to move them from “useful idiot” status to real challengers of plutocracy's politics, which are moving us further and further to the right. Liberals have long been like Ciceros in the Roman Senate: providing cover for ruthlessness by haranguing a litany of noble and compassionate considerations which assuage the conscience of a society that must always think itself exceptionable regardless of its ruthlessness. These small, meaningless gestures have not deceived or detoured Class Warrior. His T-shirt is over the top because of the liberal failure to walk the Obama talk. Liberals have helped brew Class Warrior's hatred.
The magical change Obama suggests would abort Class Warrior's mission, which might be like an Arab Spring revolutionary's mission, were it not for a distracted, seduced and baffled middle class in the US which can be mobilized in a wrongheaded direction in a way that Class Warrior cannot be. I am also struck by the fact that Class Warrior's message is an offline message, viewable in the public space of this gas station and anywhere else he wears his T-shirt, because public spaces are where the poor and disenfranchised are. There seems to be room for that space in Tunisia, but not here. I wonder whether any revolutionary, offline efforts here in the US are recognizable, or if, instead, they are already extinct. I wonder whether those who deal with life online can prepare themselves to deal with offline life – call it the “world” – and a human nature that needs real, not virtual, social networking.
While it is clear that the millennials' cyberspace domain has been increasingly colonized by market ideology, it is not clear how deeply social networking, rather than long-embedded political unrest (engineered by long-lasting oppression of the poor by the wealthy) and historical memory affected the Arab Spring revolutions. An accelerant in the way of a more effective means of communication is not itself the fuel, which I take to be the aggregate forces of injustice, oppression, tyranny and impoverishment. These are forces that have not, as yet, made deep inroads into the consciousness of the US population, although, where they have – as with Class Warrior – temperatures are rising.
“We bailed out the rich, man,” Class Warrior tells me. “Bail out. Bail out. Bail out. And the rest of us, all of us, were left hanging. Now the rich want all of us to be all about the debt. Same thing. The debt. The debt. Rich man talks for all of us. But us? We see the poor is all of us and the rich just a few and that's our thing. That's our thing, man.”