Kareem Abdul Jabbar wrote a very good op-ed in Time this week about Ferguson. This seemed to me to be the key paragraph.
The U.S. Census Report finds that 50 million Americans are poor. Fifty million voters is a powerful block if they ever organized in an effort to pursue their common economic goals. So, it’s crucial that those in the wealthiest One Percent keep the poor fractured by distracting them with emotional issues like immigration, abortion and gun control so they never stop to wonder how they got so screwed over for so long.
If you think about Ferguson as a microcosm of this problem, you have ask yourself “how come in a city that is 80% African American, is the city council 90% white?” The answer is fairly simple. The voter participation rate in the last city election was 12%. So most of the whites voted and most of the African Americans did not.
If the One Percent wanted to construct a “democracy” where they could hold most of the political power, despite their micro-minority numbers, they would need to do more than just distract the poor with issues like immigration. They would need to convince both the poor and the lower middle class that there is nothing to be gained by participating in politics. If you have ever been to a political fundraiser in Washington, where the lobbyists are swarming the candidate and his staff like groupies, you know that for the rich there is a real self interest in participating in politics. Political influence pays direct benefits in the form of tax breaks or decreased regulations. But for most people, there seems to be nothing gained by participating in politics and one could argue that the Republican strategy of total obstruction was partially calculated to enforce this perception amongst the average citizen that nothing gets done in Washington, so why bother.
But there is another part of the distraction business, which is the role of the media. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the government keeps the populous in a passive state through a combination of immersive mindless entertainment (The Feelies) and daily doses of drugs (Soma) that mimic the effects of both Prozac and Viagra. One could argue that the people are too damned busy watching Real Housewives of Atlanta, while washing down their Oxycontin with light beer, to get up off the couch and vote.
Of course when someone tried to address this issue last week in Ferguson, the idiots at Breitbart jumped all over them. We will of course watch many Republican legislatures try to make voting even harder in the next few months.
Finally, it occurred to me in the last week that the Civil Rights movement desperately needs a new generation of leaders. When you see camera hounds like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson hogging the spotlight in Ferguson and not a single local young black leader, you have to despair. Martin Luther King was 39 when he was killed, after a decade of struggle. Where is the 29 year old Black leader that can impress on a new generation the “fierce urgency” of getting out and voting in November?