What does it take for Americans to become outraged?
There is a series of mass shootings, leaving dozens dead, and people are concerned, but nothing changes; no gun-related legislation is passed. Where is the outrage?
We watch the invasion of Iraq on television and are told by our elected leaders that their campaign of "shock and awe" will end the war quickly, with minimal loss of life. More than a decade later, after an untold number of Iraqi civilians have died, thousands more die each month (though the war is over), and the country is violently coming apart. The cost for America is thousands of men and women killed; hundreds of thousands physically, mentally and emotionally wounded; over $2 trillion already spent, plus more each day; and a loss of moral and political credibility around the world and at home. Where is the outrage over the needless loss of life and the squandering of much-needed funds and our reputation as a world leader?
The top 1 percent of American earners makes an average of $1,137,684, which is 21 percent of all income, and that same top 1 percent own about 40 percent of all American wealth. In contrast, 48.5 million people in 2011 lived below the poverty line, an increase from 22.7 million in 1993. Thirty-six percent of households make less than $30,000 a year, and 40 percent of female-headed households live in poverty, as do 15 percent of all Americans. Where is the outrage?
The Great Recession was officially declared over years ago, but there are still nearly 10 million unemployed, 4.4 million long-term unemployed (that is, unemployed for more than 27 weeks), and many millions working part-time who want to work full-time. The president and several members of Congress have proposed legislation that would have created new jobs and raised the minimum wage, but a small number of U.S. representatives have blocked any movement on any bills. Where is the outrage?
A few dozen members of the extreme right wing of the Republican Party forced the shutdown of the federal government because they dislike the Affordable Care Act, even after it was passed by both houses of Congress and declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. As a result, millions of people who work for the federal government or whose companies are funded by the federal government, and millions more who rely on the spending of federal money, were out of work. Where is the outrage?
There is outrage that leads to senseless violence and further repression, but there is also the potential for outrage that leads to peaceful protest, as in the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement that I was part of more than 40 years ago. Back then, television played a major role in bringing people together. We all saw the same few news programs every night, with graphic depictions of war and government violence against protestors and community organizers. Gradually there came a tipping point, and the outrage gave birth to peace and expanded civil rights. There were also some victories on the economic-rights front, but not nearly enough.
Today there is certainly the beginning of genuine outrage over the ever-expanding economic inequality in our country, the need for raising the minimum wage and a movement for a truly living wage. The question is whether people can get off their cellphones and other electronic devices long enough to plug into real news that is available from so many more sources now and be part of the solution. Are we "passive people at the end of the day," as singer/activist Jen Chapin sings, or can our outrage not melt away into apathy but fuel a movement for economic justice for all?