My name is Zach Schimel and I am a 17 year old political organizer. I became passionate about politics during the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2020. I bought into Bernie’s message of putting working people first and ending the political and economic oligarchy in the United States. This past summer I gave a speech at the March For Medicare For All in Washington D.C. and I will continue fighting for the people in the future.
“We are the 99%.” This message was displayed on hundreds of signs within the sea of thousands who participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement during the Fall of 2011. The movement demanded a reduction of economic inequality, the end of corporate money in politics, and a government that represented the 99%, not the corporate elites on Wall Street and across the country. The collectivistic, populist, and class based ideology at the soul of Occupy Wall Street was symbolic of the anti-establishment left at the time, and frankly of the anti-establishment left dating all the way back to the French Revolution. These traditional left-wing populist values have always struck fear into the minds of the political and economic elites, and they have responded accordingly. Whether it was Occupy Wall Street itself, the recent attempted rail strike that was shut down with bipartisan support, or the Bernie Sanders campaigns of 2016 and 2020, the establishment coalesces to stop these movements whenever they begin. It is evident, then, that the people with power in America fear class politics, and they fear the traditional left-wing ideology. However, they have convinced the left through their use of party politics, and big money, that those class based values should no longer be our focus. They pushed the left onto a corporate-friendly track using the ideology of identity politics and the liberal side of the culture war.
Whereas Occupy Wall Street directly opposed big business, the left-wing, if you can even call them that, movements of today are often funded by big business. As expected, none of these movements are focused on furthering class solidarity. Big business knows that by framing themselves as progressive social justice advocates they can avoid attracting attention to their exploitative for-profit practices. One example is Nike. While Nike frames itself as progressive, they send their manufacturing to be done overseas for mere pennies, before selling their product in the US at an absurd markup to consumers. Regardless of the grotesque greed of these large companies, they have undoubtedly struck a brilliant business idea. They’ve realized, seemingly collectively, that many of these culture war focused causes don’t directly challenge the capitalist status quo, and that they can now appear progressive on social grounds while simultaneously upholding that status quo. A CEO is a CEO regardless of their race or sexuality, a worker is a worker no matter their identity, and profit is profit no matter who’s making it. Although some well meaning liberals may not believe this, the ruling class most certainly does, and it’s made clear by their lack of resistance to the neoliberal identity politics in question. The ruling class knows that by getting us to hyper focus on identity they can divide the population and distract us from thinking about class. Despite their efforts though, another movement like Occupy Wall Street will inevitably form. One where the fundamental basis of the economic and political system is put into question, and those who have fallen for the false leftism of the ruling class today will be forced to come to terms with reality. The movement the 1% fears is one where the signs say “We are the 99%.”
The shift in focus on the left hasn’t gone unnoticed by Democratic politicians, and they welcome it. Just as the culture war doesn’t challenge the status of the elite business class, it also fails to challenge the power of the political elites. This is of course because our economic and political systems are directly intertwined. In a country where money buys power, those who win the economy also win the government. Politicians, most of them at least, are funded by private big money donors and special interest groups. These elite donors are later repaid for their campaign contributions when the politician is elected and proceeds to work in the donors’ interests, even though the interests of the donor class are almost always opposed to the interests of the people.
So how does this relate to encouragement of identity politics and the culture war? It’s actually quite simple. If politicians can get us to focus on identity politics, which never create systemic change, then they can continue supporting their big money interests. Most of the American population supports Medicare for All, so why don’t our politicians? It may have something to do with the tens of millions of dollars of campaign money they receive from Big Pharma and the private health insurance industry. Of course being beholden to the ruling class is unpopular, but these politicians are able to redirect our attention away from their support of the special interest groups that crush the American people, simply by leaning into the culture war. We will not see policies that bolster working class Americans until we decide to stop fighting fabricated battles among ourselves and begin taking aim at those running out the back door with wealth and power.
We constantly hear that we are more divided than ever as Americans, but while we are divided on the things that the ruling class likes to talk about, we are united on many others. The issues we agree on are the ones the ruling class stands the most opposed to: the class based issues. 66% of Americans believe it’s the responsibility of the federal government to provide healthcare to our people, but the ruling class profits off forcing us to choose between medical debt and passing up a life or death hospital visit. Over 70% of Americans support labor unions, but the ruling class opposes them because they demand higher pay, more benefits, and more power for the workers. Polls taken during the peak of job outsourcing in the early 2010s found that between 80 and 90% of Americans viewed outsourcing negatively, but the business elites do it anyway because it gives them cheaper labor and more profits. When it comes to economic issues that have a real impact on our quality of life it’s not liberals vs conservatives, it’s the people versus the oligarchs, and it always will be. The ruling class is threatened when we focus our attention on healthcare, unions, outsourcing, and why they have so much money and influence. If those in power don’t want us to talk about the economic side of politics, that means we should probably be talking about it… a lot. To achieve the class-based policies promoted by traditional left-wing populist movements of the past, we must begin to organize. The support is there, people are conscious of their economic class, but there is a notion that class and politics are separate things. This narrative, again, is the work of the establishment. Class should be, and we will ensure that it becomes, the fundamental basis of politics. Government should be working to improve the lives of its people, not pretending to fight a smokescreen culture war. Make no mistake about it, we the people have the power to come together and create that government. We must stop accepting politicians that ignore class and focus on identity, stop accepting politicians that refuse to stand up to big money, and become united by our one shared identity as hard working Americans. Then, and only then, will we achieve the shining vision of having a government that is for, by, and of the people.