I recently read this piece that said that charted the decline of union membership and the decline of american middle class incomes over the past 50 years. At first, I was dismissive: correlation does not equal causation.
A few days later, I watched an episode of the newsroom where they continued to ridicule and underestimate the Occupy Wall Street movement. Of course Aaron Sorkin and the audience know that Occupy would will eventually become a huge movement, so the point of the story was to explore how the media first struggled to grasp its importance. But the crux of the characters’ argument against the Occupy protesters was that they weren’t organized. No clear leaders or spokespeople, and no clear demands. The protesters would argue that this groundswell movement was a response to problems too great, and emotions too fundamental, to create a short list of demands. And that it was part of their communal idealogy to not designate any clear leader. The producer argued that they need organization, clear and reasonable demands, and a spokesperson, in order to interface with the political system and the press in a way that will bring about real change. She didn’t state it that clearly, but that’s how I understood it. And that resonated with me.
A few days after that, my very liberal cousin Pavni posts something that I had never really considered before: an anti-gun lobby that rivals the NRA.
According to the NYTimes, The problem is that congresspeople who might otherwise stand up to the NRA are afraid of attacks by SuperPACs. In 2012, the NRA outspent the Brady Campaign (the leading anti-NRA lobby) 73-to-1. And today, the financial might of the NRA is so well understood that the mere threat of being targeted is enough to keep congresspeople from talking about gun regulation. Why didn’t I know that? Why is the NRA a household name but the Brady Campaign isn’t?
If the Brady campaign were better funded it could act as a counterweight to the NRA and put money behind congresspeople being targeted by the NRA, or even go on the offensive. But the Brady campaign would spend that money on advertising, with the hope of winning votes. So my first reaction was that we should all donate to the Brady Center. But then, I realized – if money is just a proxy for votes, why not go directly to the heart of the matter and organize votes? What about grassroots mechanisms of organizing voters?
Again, I came back to this idea of “getting organized.” Perhaps the millennial generation isn’t apathetic – that isn’t the right world. They are empathetic, and filled with rage, but they are disillusioned by traditional organizations and political parties and traditional press. They express frustration on social media and through groundswell movements like Occupy – they think of unions only in the context of history books and stories about Teddy Roosevelt and factory jobs. Unions sound old fashioned and depressing. The only organizations this generation can relate to are student groups in high school and college – most of which are merely bullets to put on resumes – nothing that truly made a difference. Unions aren’t sexy. And no other organizations have sprung up to organize Millennials to get them to vote. No new machinery was developed that existing politicians can make deals with in order to deliver these groups at the polls.
So perhaps it is a legitimate point that the wealth of entry level workers has declined because of the decline in uinons. Perhaps the important function unions once served was to be that piece of political machinery that protected the interests of entry-level workers and worked with political leaders to counteract special interest powers of the wealthy.