June 6, 2020
Literally every commentator that I’ve read has decried the property destruction and looting associated with (some of) the mass demonstrations going on across the U.S. (and indeed the world) in response to the George Floyd police murder. For the most part, I’m in agreement; no one but the looters seem to like looting.
But let’s not be selective in our castigation, denouncing only looting by protesters and the poor; let’s condemn all looting, especially looting carried out by the powerful to the detriment of everyone else.
A brief history:
When Europeans landed in North America, established domination, and gradually pushed their way across the continent, they looted the native peoples of everything they had, murdering most of them in the process.
When Americans built the wealth of the new nation on the backs of imported slaves, indentured servants, and desperate immigrants, they looted tens of millions of men, women, and children of their free labor, their capacity to build wealth, and often their very lives.
Remember the late nineteenth-century period of the “robber barons”? A whole lot of looting by unregulated monopolies going on then, for sure. In many ways, the Gilded Age (the heyday of Social Darwinism and the racist eugenics movement, by the way) established the paradigm for future waves of legal looting.
After working people, black and white, brown and yellow, had achieved a measure of civil and economic protection – through mass and often violent struggles, it so happens – in the mid-twentieth century decades, Ronald Reagan led a right-wing counter-reaction aiming to bring the New Deal era and its progressive policy achievements to a crashing close. What were Reagan’s rampant militarism, attacks on labor unions, cuts to social welfare programs, and tax giveaways to the corporations and the wealthy class but so much looting of the common purse and the common good?
The looting of the vast majority of Americans, working people and the poor – and yes, almost always with people of color bearing the worst suffering – has gone on more or less unabated for the past forty years, though Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Off-shoring of good-paying jobs, breaking of unions, tax cuts for the wealthy and monopolistic corporations, and austerity for everyone else. Call it what you like, that’s looting on a grand scale.
When the financial system went into free fall in 2008, the big banks got bailed out, while millions of working Americans lost their jobs and homes. That too was looting.
Now, as COVID-19 throws a massive monkey wrench into economic activity, producing 40 million unemployed virtually overnight, it’s “deja vu all over again,” with trillions in Congressional rescue packages for connected corporations and stock market speculators, but crumbs, comparatively, for the working class (pushed to go back to work, despite the continued raging of the coronavirus pandemic, and the paucity of protective workplace measures). More looting.
The critics are right – it’s high time the looting stopped in America!