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The Price of a Good Night’s Sleep
Posted on Feb 7, 2012
If all the political trumpery of Donald Trump finds a more sophisticated voice in Penny S. Pritzker, will we pay attention to the social status of this very woman or to the fact that women too can wield ruling class power? If President Obama beats both Bill and Hillary Clinton at their own game of political triangulation, and goes on to appoint Wall Street insiders to the inner circle of his economic advisers, what is the lesson learned? That race no longer has anything to do with class in this country, or that every ruling class throughout history has learned to “change its colors” or face its own extinction? In reality, this much social change is not inconsistent with the much deeper and growing class divisions that propelled the Occupy Wall Street movement to spread throughout the United States.
If Pritzker’s name is unfamiliar to many readers, that’s because she wields much more power than many more famous rich people (including Trump) and plays an even more central role in the inner circles of the ruling class. Therefore, as befits the classier creatures of that class, she knows by second nature not to advertise her own existence with quite the same brassy bellowing as Trump. Don’t take my word for it, but consult her biography on her website and there you will find this information:
“President Obama has appointed Ms. Pritzker to the President’s Council for Jobs and Competitiveness which advises the Administration on economic growth and job creation. Ms. Pritzker previously served on the President’s Economic Advisory Board. She was National Finance Chair of the 2008 Barack Obama for President campaign and co-chair of the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Committee.”
And you will also find this information:
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But that is too modest. According to George N. Schmidt, writing online at Substance News on June 12, 2011: “The key person persuading Barack Obama to abandon the AFL-CIO’s central organizing demand (and one that Obama had agreed to) was Chicagoan Penny Pritzker, the most prominent member of the billionaire Pritzker family and an owner and board member of Hyatt Hotels Inc. News reports revealed that after teachers and other union workers elected Barack Obama in 2008, Penny Pritzker led a group of the nation’s wealthiest hotel (and ‘hospitality’) owners and executives in urging the newly elected President to ignore his promise to support labor’s ‘Free Choice Act.’ ”
Hyatt Hotels Corp. owns hundreds of properties in dozens of countries. Hyatt housekeepers have the highest overall injury rates when compared with similar groups of workers in similar hotel chains. Hispanic women have higher rates of injuries than white female co-workers. Hispanic and Asian males are also injured at higher rates than white males. Racism and sexism are therefore not only personal prejudices or subjective distortions of reality. Whether we like it or not, the whole complex of attributes associated with “race”—country of origin, color of skin, language and customs—remains a tracking system for class division, low wages, unsafe work and systematic disrespect. And in this sexual division of labor, women are still doing plenty of the heavy lifting and bearing plenty of the pain as well.
Does this mean the more things change, the more they stay the same? Not quite. Cynicism of that kind (especially when expressed in mangled French) is usually a refuge for people who are too comfortable to have earned any real fatalism. The year 2011 may be remembered in the future as a year of great changes, and yet those uprisings and rebellions may rank only as tremors and temblors in comparison to the mightier earthquakes we may yet expect in the global social order. The Occupy movement created much higher levels of class consciousness over the course of less than a year. We, the people, are speaking more honestly about class and power than we were even in the year 2010. And by the year 2020, who would dare predict the scale and depth of popular rebellion from below? If we only notice that the anatomy, complexion and sexual persuasion of the ruling class are not strictly male, white and straight, then we have not yet discovered that the New World is not even new. Just as the older members of the working class may yet remember a time when even the Irish and the Italians and the Jews were not quite “white,” so we are now witnessing the age in which the ruling class changes stripes and colors like a chameleon. Technology is certainly racing ahead at a faster pace than certain age-old strategies of class rule and division.
Some of the dearest people I ever knew are now dead, but they were once lively enough to bust up a “private party” for Bill Clinton in the courtyard of Philadelphia’s City Hall on May 28, 1993. The survivors of that protest will recall that our message was loud and clear: “HIV is not a crime! Why are Haitians doing time?” In certain press and TV accounts at that time, however, the protesters were regarded as little better than terrorists. We were rude, we were determined, and once in a while we won. By June 18 of the same year, the last of the Haitian refugees had been released from Guantanamo, and were greeted in New York and Miami with cheers and champagne. That was a long legal and political battle in defense of refugees who were sweepingly suspected of being mere “vectors” of disease.
And then there was the protest in New York City, when the surging crowd of marchers swept through police lines with this roaring chant: “Arrest us! Just try it! Remember Stonewall was a riot!” Please, I anticipate all you good people with all your good reasons for recommending nonviolence. Civil disobedience I learned long ago from Tolstoy and Thoreau, from Gandhi and King, and from the Quakers who kept me company when I delivered my letter to a draft board in Media, Pa., stating my reasons for refusing draft registration. At the age of 18, I really was a religious pacifist and a Tolstoyan anarchist. Or so I hoped, because that kind of faith is always a hope. Now, at the age of 56, my view of nonviolence still has a wide horizon but is also closer to the ground. We are the 99 percent, but the 1 percent can still hire more hired guns than we can ever afford. In years past, a sane estimate of the balance of power between armed police and unarmed protesters was possible. Nowadays, residents in the White House and even the Supreme Court have made social reason a much more frightening open question. The coordinated police assaults upon Occupy encampments all across the United States will teach us to evolve or perish. People of all ages and backgrounds dared to stake out common ground and to affirm public life. We will not easily be driven back into the old habit of leaving politics to professional politicians.
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