Socialist Worker

Protests show a shift in US class consciousness

by Jonathan Neale in New Orleans
Issue No. 2274

Some 400 people marched with Occupy New Orleans last Saturday. Mostly young, about 50 of them were African-American.

We like the chant, “We are 99 percent. You are 99 percent.”

Lexi Taylor is in her thirties, “I work my ass off all the time,” she says. “I have a degree, and I make coffee.”

Derrick Morrison is handing out leaflets for a rally on Wednesday to save McDonagh No 11 school from being made into an academy. He is the only person leafleting the march.

Derrick is trying to stop a greedy corporation named Louisiana State University from destroying the school.

He says the Occupy Movement is only one part of a global outburst against governments tearing up the safety net for working people.

After Hurricane Katrina they destroyed public housing in New Orleans. They destroyed public health and now they’re destroying public schools.

Derrick comes up later and tells me put in he’s a retired oil worker and a member of the United Steelworkers of America.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is a turning point in US class consciousness. For 60 years, US left and liberal politics has been dominated by the idea that identity and foreign policy are the key issues.

For 30 years, relatively isolated voices on the left and in the academic world have argued that most people are working class, including people who have been to college.

Now a generation is saying that the economy is the central reality, and the great majority of us are the class enemies of the ruling class.

They are saying this in condensed, visual, striking ways. It is an understanding that fits more than 20 years of experience, and that makes sense of our lives.

It cannot be put back in the bottle. And because protesters, many of them with some college education, are defining themselves in class terms, it is easy for unions to respond.

This change in understanding will have enormous consequences.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, a man holds up a home made cardboard sign, “We Are the People We Have Been Waiting For.”

Jonathan Neale is the author of What’s Wrong with America? and Stop Global Warming—Change the World


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