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Trying to take care of my little piece of the planet

Coxey Rides Again?

When I was a child, my mother (and probably her mother as well) would, on occasions such as Thanksgiving, use the phrase: “there’s enough food here to feed Cox’s army”. Being in a military family, I assumed that Cox (or Coxey, to whom the phrase originally referred) was some long-dead general, with a lot of soldiers to feed. Not exactly.
In 1894, Jacob Coxey led a populist movement known as “Coxey’s army”, protesting unemployment, in order to push for a public works program to put more money into circulation, thus easing the impact of the recession. Ironically, the similarly-sounding phrase: “Cox’s army” was applied to a 1932 march on Washington, D.C. led by Father James Cox, a Catholic priest. This group of 25,000 unemployed men also hoped to force the government to create a public works project, and to pay for such programs through an increase in the inheritance tax.

See where I’m going here?

Can history repeat itself a third time? And if so, who’s marching this time and why? I’d suggest that it just might, and that such a movement would be comprised of two major groups, with some similarities and some clear differences. The first group, young adults, currently is employed at a rate of less than 50%. And many of those who do have jobs are working as restaurant help, temporary office staff, etc. Hardly the profession that their years of yet-to-be-paid-for college education was geared toward. Instead of climbing a career ladder, they are sleeping on friend’s sofas, or in their old childhood bedrooms. They are frustrated, they are angry, and they are scared.

But there are no jobs. And one small part of the reason why there are fewer jobs is the second group.

These are the boomers. Middle class workers in their fifties and sixties, who listened to the best advice and saved for retirement for decades, only to see it largely evaporate. Consider that roughly four years ago, the Dow Jones industrial average stood at 14,165. Less than six months later, it had fallen to 6627 and it still struggles to hold near 11000. So, a retirement nest egg that was expected to grow at 7-8% each and every year, unexpectedly continues to decline, with retirees nervously living off principal rather than interest, all while our homes are worth less, and the scariest component of growing old, health care costs, continue to climb.

(For what it’s worth, I’d be THRILLED to only be paying $4K each a year for health care; I estimate ours is at least 50% higher….)

As a result of the longstanding economic downturn, boomers like myself, who played by the rules, were forced to delay retirement, or were forced to take on part time jobs to supplement their dwindling resources. Either scenario holds onto a job that would otherwise be held by someone in the younger group.

Regardless of who should have the job in question, like our children’s generation, we are frustrated. We are angry. And we are scared.

And meanwhile, our political system is in total gridlock. Our economy teeters on the brink month after month after month. And major corporations record record profits, which are largely enjoyed by that fraction of a percentage of the uber-wealthy.

That leaves a lot of us, including those on the front lines like Occupy Everywhere, wondering.

Is it time for history to repeat itself?

4 Responses to “Coxey Rides Again?”

  1. > Is it time for history to repeat itself?

    It could be – after all, most processes in nature and society are cyclical.

  2. I know there will be a “be careful what you wish for” moment ahead, but I have wished. And plotted. And now, I believe mass protest is unavoidable, just a matter of time. The upcoming election, the televised debates, the failure of the recovery that seemed to have begun at the beginning of this year…these will fertilize the new growth.

    I wonder what the “be careful” moment will look like and I’m scared to know.

    You’re on a quality roll.

  3. In spite of my apparent radical nature, I’m rather traditional. Anarchy disturbs me; I believe that a system of laws is necessary to maintain order and protect the rights of the few against the force of the many. The mass protests that have taken place in 2011 have often spiraled out of control into violence and looting that has little to do with the ideals that engendered the protest.

    All that said, I find myself wondering if the only path to change is through mass protest. Can this era mount mass protest modeled on the doctrines of Ghandi and Dr. King, a nonviolent model that stays true to the ideology of the protest and doesn’t descend into chaos and violence? Is there a charismatic leader of the mold of a Ghandi or a Dr. King to lead such a movement? I haven’t seen any signs of such a person thus far. Can such a mass protest take place without that type of leadership?

  4. コロンビア 新作

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