It’s hard to deny that the past six years have been rough for the American worker.
The greatest economic catastrophe since the 1930s struck out of nowhere in 2008, compounding the negative effects of nearly four decades of economic decline and wage stagnation. Millions were tossed out of their homes and onto the streets as Washington moved to bailout the banksters that caused this mess in the first place.
At the same time, millions turned to an incoming administration to fix the mess that had been wrought. Young people, minorities, women, and all those who had felt the brunt of the right-wing turn in American politics since the 1970s, rallied at the polls in big numbers to reject the kind of big business politics that had brought the nation to the brink.
And yet six years into the crisis, we are faced today with many of the same problems that faced us back in 2008. The financial sector today is more concentrated than it was at the time of the crash in 2008.
Millions are still without homes, without jobs, and without hope. In response, young people have mobilized, as have other groups that have continued to get the short end of the stick in an era defined by bankster bailouts, austerity, and unending war.
The Occupy movement, reflecting the revolutionary currents in the Middle East and Northern Africa, hit American streets in September 2011. From Zuccotti Park to a cramped room at Murray State University, where I was a student, young people made their voices heard.
They denounced the control of government and the economy by the banksters -- the one percent -- and called upon government to make policy in the interest of the workers, the 99 percent. Young people have subsequently acted as the leading force in the protests against police brutality stemming from the tragic slaying of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
I don’t pretend to speak for everybody in my generation, but I’d like to think that these outbursts of activity on our part stem from the realization that something is fundamentally and undeniably wrong with the society in which we live. A college diploma is too often worth less than the paper it’s printed on these days. Millions of us toil for long hours at more than one job to make ends meet. Unpaid internships are the rule, rather than the exception. With all that in mind, what else can we do but strike out at everything allayed against us?
There are, however, others waiting in the wings who wish to take advantage of this mass discontent among young people and workers in the United States. These demagogues blame the victims of the Great Recession for that catastrophe, rather than placing the blame upon the one percent that so rightfully deserves it.
One of these demagogues is the scion of the Paul family, the junior senator from Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul. Like his father before him, Paul talks a good talk on a lot of issues, but these belie his actual agenda.
Many young people were attracted to Rand Paul’s father, former GOP Texas Congressman Ron Paul, in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential election campaigns. Paul the Elder gained something of a reputation as a maverick, antiwar Republican during the Bush years, giving him a base that he might not otherwise have had had his record been more closely examined.
The elder Paul was intimately connected with far-right, proto-fascist hate groups for a good bit of his career, and never shied away from playing on the racism of his support base to raise funds from neo-Nazi websites like Stormfront.org.
His son, by contrast, has attempted to chart a more ‘moderate’ (as far as Republicans go) course. Unlike his father, the younger Paul is not a committed non-interventionist. He’s also been a quite vocal advocate of using the federal government to enact his chosen policies, which the “states’ rights” oriented Ron Paul shied away from during his Congressional career.
For example, Sen. Paul has time and time again attempted to introduce a national version of a so-called “right-to-work” law during his time in the United States Senate, although thankfully these attempts have, for the time being, been beaten back.
The younger Paul seems poised to take up his father’s mantle and seek the Republican nomination next year. Should he obtain it, his candidacy will focus on smoothing out his differences with the Republican leadership while also attempting to make the youth vote competitive, focusing on those issues with which young voters may readily identify: opposition to the ongoing war in Syria, opposition to the War on Drugs, or opposition to mass surveillance programs operated in the name of counter-terrorism.
However, this is just part of the continued Trojan Horse campaign by the Pauls to push their actual agenda: more power and wealth for the one percent.
What would a President Rand Paul, acting in concert with a Republican-controlled Congress, do? He may yet end federal enforcement of the War on Drugs, and devolve that issue to state governments. Further, he may yet cut off funding for anti-ISIS operations in Syria and withdraw troops from the region. But these will be small potatoes compared to what else we can expect from a President Paul.
Those of us who remember the 2010 Senate election in the Bluegrass State will well remember Paul’s flip-flopping on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. First he claimed that the Civil Rights Act interfered with the right of private individuals to conduct their businesses as they saw fit (which, in this case, means the right of bigots to treat minorities as second-class citizens), and after strong public pushback on that antediluvian position, eventually came out in favor of federal government intervention in the civil rights arena.
Still, it makes one wonder how a President Paul would enforce that law and other laws like the Voting Rights Act, which is currently under a multi-faceted assault by Republicans intent on kicking black and brown voters off the voting rolls.
Paul likewise voted against the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would have barred discrimination against LGBT Americans in employment. A 2011 poll conducted by the Center for American Progress found that 73 percent of Americans (including 66 percent of Republicans!) favored barring discrimination against LGBT Americans in employment, putting Paul far out of touch with public opinion on that issue.
Paul opposes universal health insurance, favors the militarization of the border with Mexico and opposes birthright citizenship for immigrants. He is an open, vociferous enemy of organized labor, and will likely do everything in his power, should he be elected president two years from now, to undermine the position of American workers and their unions.
Young people should thus not be fooled by Sen. Rand Paul. Low wages, bigotry, and union-busting will not put a single one of us in a better position. We have to instead fight to break down those barriers created by the one percent which divide us as workers, be they racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other -ism or -phobia which benefit those at the top first and foremost.
And we have to do so in the context of re-building a labor movement that can not only fight for higher wages, shorter hours, or better working conditions, but that can also act as a battering ram for the 99 percent in its ongoing and unceasing conflict against the one percent. That is change that we can believe in, and that is change that we, and only we, can bring.
Editors note: Devin Griggs, who grew up in Marshall County, Ky., is a Murray State University graduate who lives in the Chicago area where he belongs to UFCW Local 1548. The son of Cliff Griggs, a member of the United Steelworkers, Devin received the 2011 Kentucky State AFL-CIO Youth Award.