An excerpt from an conversation curated by Tim Shenk, a co-organizer of The Poor People’s Campaign (a ten-day tour of the Midwest from May 17-26) who interviewed John Wessel-McCoy, a Poor People’s Campaign Program Organizer for the Kairos Center, and Willie Baptist, Poverty Initiative Scholar-in-Residence and Co-Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development for the Kairos Center, about the strategic importance of the Midwest in building a movement to end poverty. Below is Willie Baptist’s response to Tim’s question about the underlying economic forces at play in the Midwest:
…it’s very important to take into account the strategic minds of big capital, which have recruited some of the most experienced political strategists coming out of the military and the National Security Council, for example. These people are gathering in formations called think tanks, from the Council on Foreign Relations to the Rand Corporation to the Brookings Institute. They are paid big-time money to figure out how to control, contain the struggles of the masses of the people and direct the interests of big capital.
At every stage in the history of this country, biggest section of capital has been able to gather the resources to elevate itself to power. At one time it was slave capital, based on cotton wealth. Then industrial capital emerged, connected to the big banks, which came out of the Civil War and into the 1930s. Of late, we should look at big capital in terms of the unprecedented technological revolution that has enabled globalization. Today, big capital is global capital. It’s very important to understand the forces that control the country. Their reaction to the ebb and flow of the economy and society really dictate policy, because they’re the most organized and they’re in power. We have to constantly proceed from there.
Part of the Midwest Tour is to challenge the prevailing notions of a bland and shallow populism that understands that a 1 percent exists but doesn’t understand why they’re the 1 percent and why we’re the 99 percent. If we don’t know why, we can’t get to a solution. Because of our pragmatic culture, we tend to be satisfied with the most superficial glance and find real solutions counter-intuitive. The powers that be have think tanks to think. We don’t have that — we just do. We’re essentially fire brigades, constantly reacting to each crisis situation as it comes up, not proactively and strategically anticipating.
I’ve made a whole lot of mistakes in my life, based on shallow thinking and impatience. We feel we don’t have time to think. We don’t organize our schedules to think.
Big capital is globalized today and is having an impact on dictating all policies. This is a moment of confusion for them — there is a lot of debate going on in those upper ranks. But they do take lessons from history. Especially since the global crisis of 1997, they have been quoting Aristotle, who said that “where the middle class is large, there are least likely to be factions and dissension.” There was a whole body of strategists and analysts who concluded that if they were going to survive the global crisis, there had to be some consolidation of the middle class. The larger the middle class, the more ability you have to govern.
Big capital has drawn on the middle strata to manage the commanding heights of the economy. The officer corps of your civic bureaucracy on the federal, state, and local levels, as well as the military and police forces — their families are middle income. They’ve tended to be stable. Yet now that stability is being dismantled because increasing sections of the middle income strata are being thrown into poverty, and the 2008 crisis and its aftermath is throwing them into a real bind. So this middle strata that has been the social base of political power and the social base for stability in the economy has started to crumble.
We don’t think about the hurt and pain this system is causing to increasing segments of the population. I want to be clear about this point, that the interests that are contributing to our suffering, and to the world’s suffering, are a globalized big capital, owing to an unprecedented technological revolution. They have to secure a middle class that is being dismantled by the technological revolution. In the Midwest, we’re watching the industrial belt turn into a rust belt largely because of the deindustrialization caused by technological innovation. And there is a lot of hurt and pain.