Recently I was asked to come up with a quick description of social justice. This morning I noticed two headlines, one that explains how the 99% are experiencing our economic recovery and another that quotes Ann Romney about being rich. In this country we have division lines that have always been present – geographic groups, political groups, ethnic groups – it is just human nature to notice our differences and similarities and group them accordingly. It is a bit misleading though, the grouping that most often matters when determining the quality of life we will have has little to do with geography, politics, or ethnic. They are certainly related, but the real determining factor in quality of life is your economic class.
Occupy Wall Street has offered up another division line, the 99% vs. 1%. That one strikes at the heart of this post. Let’s check in with how we are doing in this “recovery”:
It’s pretty easy to see that the 99% isn’t experiencing recovery in the way that the 1% is experiencing it. Granted, they lost more financially during the recession, but the 1% did not lose basic standards of living the way the 99% did. For the 99% the losses included jobs, homes, and the freedom to use their leisure time for enrichment or leisure. The stresses put on the 99% during the recession caused us all to tighten our belts, make compromises, and downgrade our standard of living. The stresses on the 1% might have forced them to sell some stock they would have preferred not to, sell an extra house, or reconsider a major purchase (like a baseball team or yacht). In other words, the margins for the 99% cut into the quick of our lives, the margins for the 1% still only effected their pile of money.
With the right amounts of cash and cash influence you can expect to overcome any prejudice that previously existed against your skin color, birthplace, or political ideology. It is understood that you are in a class above the worker bees of the world, that your mere presence allows for further commerce, that is people throwing themselves at you and trying to gain favor. You can acquire such a pile of money that you are required to do nothing for it because you can employ a slew of money managers to make your money make money (via stock market tricks like speculating on oil or housing prices). Because money buys influence, missteps that you make may be totally forgiven – missteps that might have landed a poorer person up to their neck in crippling legal issues.
All of these inequities are what cause folks to cry, “class warfare!”. Indeed, a systematic widening of the income gap has happened, it’s no conspiracy theory, it’s in the history books. That system that keeps 1% of the folks living so much larger than the other 99% was created on purpose to serve a few. This might be called “the soft assault of gaming the system”.
In an economically just system, income plot points would be all over the map, but the cluster of points would be around an income that was roughly the midway point between the poorest and the richest. Our rich are so rich that this map could never be. We’ve set up our economic system to reward people obscene amounts of money for tasks that do very little to contribute to human kind. Many times those same money making ventures inflict irreversible damage on our natural human resource pool. Because every tier of our political system can legally be sold to the highest bidder, the poor have a very hard time winning a media battle for the hearts and minds. Those feeling the brunt of social injustices are often consumed with the task of surviving from day to day, it is hard to blend such a life with political campaigns.
What is social justice? Fighting for social justice means fighting to level the playing field. Just because you are poor does not mean that industry should get to dump toxins in your water, land and air. Living in polluted areas aggrevates health conditions which triggers the issue of affordable health care. Working conditions and therefore workers are easily manipulated by employers to make lives excellent or hellish. Social justice is about access to good quality local food. The phenomenon of food deserts are real; good nutrition is how healthy and productive people thrive. Access to education is also important; the links to education and improved standards of living are many. Social justice might involve movements around transportation, taxes, civil rights, religious (or atheist) rights – it’s anything that impacts groups of humans. When a rule is in place that seems to tip favorable results to the same group of people historically, social justice seeks to tip things back to get some kind of balance.
Ann Romney and her husband made 20.9 million dollars last year. She was recently quoted on Fox News saying, “I don’t even consider myself to be wealthy.” That’s $57,260. per day – or more than $5000 over what the median household yearly income was for Americans (2006-2010). It’s insulting. What has either of these people done to actually benefit mankind that merits that sort of income? Social justice looks at these income inequities, measures them against the damage those profits may have been born from, and looks at the amount of work all parties contribute then demand some sort of equity. In the case of kids, the elderly, and infirm, social justice has a heart and recognizes that we are all connected to these physically weaker members of society, and that we have gained or may still gain from their contributions.
Ann and Mitt Romney’s jovial and flippant remarks around their excessive wealth in a time where so many are desperate for stability, remind me of Marie Antoinette (pictured above). The quote may or may not be hers but she is attributed with, “let them eat cake” – something uttered after learning that the peasants had no bread. Obliviousness and dehumanization are the results of such lofty economic status’. Social justice aims to make humans all more capable of empowering themselves.