Liberals and progressives often wonder why working poor can support right-wing GOP candidates who could care less about the poor and whose policies help keep them poor and struggling. How is it that the oppressed are manipulated into voting for their oppressors? Why would anyone vote to have their jobs shipped overseas, their wages cut, be forced to bail out Wall Street banks, have their children denied an education, and to pay for illegal wars overseas for the benefit of the wealthy?
A recent article on Salon.com provides some perspective. It’s entitled, “The Secret History of Jaywalking: The Reason it Was Outlawed – And Why We Should Lift The Ban.” In short, the issue of jaywalking was about economic class. Over a century ago, city ordinances favored pedestrians over motorists. In fact, the original pejorative, “jay” (an old expression referring to someone who was dull, uneducated and otherwise lacking in sophistication), was applied to motorists long before the term “jaywalker” was coined.
Back then, the automobile was considered a “rich man’s toy.” However, thanks largely to Henry Ford and the Model T, the automobile was transformed into an “indispensable” mode of transportation for the masses. Ford and other players in the nascent automobile industry were focused on building a market for their product. Toward that end, auto companies quietly started buying up trolley lines and removing them, while industry lobbyists pushed for legislation making city streets less pedestrian-friendly. Organizations such as the American Automobile Association, backed by moneyed interests and the auto industry, started propaganda campaigns, “educating” people about the “dangers of jaywalking.” By the 1930s, everything had flipped: jaywalking had become a misdemeanor offense in virtually all cities and towns, and the laws were rigged in favor of motorists. (Check out the article for some horrific accounts of how these laws have played out today.)
The Salon piece may focus on the history of jaywalking, but that story is only one piece of a much larger issue – namely, how the 2% has convinced so many of the 98% to do their dirty work for them. Thom Hartmann, Randi Rhodes and Michael Moore have often commented on how the old “Horatio Alger” myth has been perpetrated and used by vested interests to convince the masses to support their agenda. It goes something like this: “Hey, you don’t want to vote against millionaires and billionaires – after all, you might wind up being one!” There are also the endless “wedge issues” that have nothing to do with vital matters such as economic security, health care and environmental well-being: abortion, same-sex marriage, religion in the schools, so-called “morals,” etc. The ruling class has made a science out of employing wedge issues in order to get support for their own agendas.
If there is a silver lining to this dark cloud, it is that increasing numbers of people are starting to see through all of this. Bernie Sanders, possibly the most honest candidate we have had since Jimmy Carter, is cutting through this garbage. By focusing on the real, economic and environmental issues that are about not only our well-being, but our very survival, he has been opening more eyes and ears than any other statesman in a generation. Predictably, the corporate elite is doing its level best to minimize him and draw attention away from his message and his campaign.
Let us hope that more people hear Sanders’ message and realize how the 2% aristocracy has been manipulating them for generations – and do our part to make certain that message is heard.