Today is Monday, February 22. I’m sitting in my bedroom office in Austin TX. We haven’t had water service since last Wednesday, and the word is we won’t have it until tomorrow at the earliest because first broken pipes have to be mended and a search has to be made to locate any that haven’t yet been found.
My husband and I were lucky, in that we were among those who had electricity during the Great Freeze. We conserved as much as we could to help keep the load down. It helps that Austin has one of the three remaining actual public utilities in the state. We’re told we won’t be facing the obscene electric bills those who thought they were getting a bargain by signing up with privately-owned electrical companies are now getting.
They shouldn’t be. Those bills are the direct result of price-gouging initiated by natural gas providers on the commodities markets. Some were even recorded in business media chortling gaily over the fat profits they were pocketing. What happened with the people who produce electricity was unconscionable.
Meantime, the usual suspects in the so-called “liberal media” and opportunistic New Democrats were busily driving the focus from the real root cause of the Mess in Texas—the same neoliberal free-market economic system they love and support—onto blaming Republicans and anyone who dared to vote for them. SSDD.
So, having been provided with a major weapon to use against neoliberalism, how to we on the left keep the focus where it belongs while the establishment is already turning Texas into just another Democrat vs. Republican team food fight? How do we get through to the Comfortable Class well-intended who think advising people facing horrendous electrical bills where to get financial assistance is being helpful, and who take umbrage when you point out there’s not going to be enough “assistance” anywhere to deal with something of this scope?
The last time the working class went up agains the corporations, there was a network of 1000 newspapers and 40,000 traveling lecturers able to help voters connect the dots. The former came to create the National Reform Press Association for mutual support. Now, we’re watching similar news sources being deplatformed by their main sources of connection, while journalists with the courage to defend everyone’s right to free speech are routinely attacked to undermine their credibility.
I won’t even start on the active campaign to do likewise against the small but steadily growing number of Populists in Congress. On second thought, yes, I will. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has become the punching bag for the right, the New Democrats, and every spoiled brat who has their pet issue (Tristram Shandy called them hobby-horses) and thinks that, despite having no knowledge of how politics work, nevertheless demands she march to their tune, raised $5 million in three days to help people. She lives in New York City. She did it while one Texas Senator was tripping off to Cancun, and a Democrat politician with eyes on being governor did a Zoom phone bank to see how people were doing.
I don’t want to make light of Beto O’Rourke’s effort, because those calls mattered. There’s just something about the way they became a major PR moment right after the media announced he was thinking of running that’s unsettling. He has a dog in the political hunt. AOC didn’t and doesn’t. And she brought usable resources rather than simply sending people to whatever was available. (See previous comment about Comfortable Class well-intended).
Yet over and over AOC was attacked on social media, her effort demeaned because “she’s just taking money from people when the government should be doing it”. There were even implications some of the money would go to her staff, or for political purposes. Or that she was the one doing a PR stunt. Never mind that she’s done similar fundraisers all year long, both for people in her own district and elsewhere.
All of which feeds into the way we are once again being distracted from the real villains—the corporations and the financiers and the hedge-funders and the speculators—to place the blame on their enablers while diminishing how hard some of the people most harshly criticized are working to do good for the average human being. It’s what they do. It’s how they keep the majority of us with our shoulders to the wheel and our nose to the grindstone generating profits for them to store somewhere else and avoid paying taxes. Ever try to have any fun when you’re in that position? Well, it’s not great for getting people to revolt that way, either.
We’re at a crucial moment in the effort to change everything for the people’s advantage. If we fail to take advantage of it, or allow our voices to be shouted down and silenced, will we ever again be in such a strong position to wake the sleepers? I don’t mean a general strike, although if ever we had a reason for one what’s happened in Texas qualifies. The problem is, we don’t have the resources yet for that. Or the general support.
Still, we can take every opportunity to call out those who want to deflect from the real cause. Many single voices add up to one loud one.