On May 25, 2020, white police officer Derek Chauvina choked the life out of George Floyd, a black man in Powderhorn Park neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota. That act laid bare the deep-seated dissatisfaction with government policy that favors the wealthiest white Americans against everyone else.
The killing sparked people from many different persuasions to express their righteous anger against systematic racism and white on black violence by what they wrongly feel is out of control police officers.
While targeting the police and focusing on the lives of one race over another is understandable, it misses the more significant point.
Edward Palmer Thompson (1924-1993), British historian, writer, socialist and peace campaigner said it best. He argued that riots are a form of “collective bargaining” aimed at forcing the powerful to take note of issues they had previously ignored.
In a perfect world, “collective bargaining” would take place at the polls, and the electorate would have long ago rooted out elected officials advancing the special interests of the wealthy over virtually every other class of American citizenry.
But wealthier people tend to vote at higher rates. Harder and Krosnick (2008) [[i]] point to motivational differences such as ability, lack of energy, time, or resources as potential reasons for low voter turnout by the less wealthy. On the other side, they suggest that affluent people believe that they have more at stake in voting than those with fewer resources or income.
Political actors know that advancing policy favoring wealth-holders matters to their survival. As such, they willingly sew discontent into the fabric of society.
Benjamin Page and his fellow political science researchers (Page et al. 2013) [[ii]] studied the top 1 percent of US wealth-holders. [[iii]] They found them extremely active politically and much more conservative than the average American when it comes to taxation, economic regulation, and social welfare policies. They argue that these distinctive policy differences may account for deviations in public administration from what most US citizens want from their policymakers.
Politicians focusing time and energy on collecting campaign funds from the wealthy and pushing their special interests makes “collectively bargain” through civil disobedience inevitable.
All lives matter. But systematically favoring the wealthy 1 percent over 99 percent of the population invites civil disobedience and raises serious issues for democracies.
[i] Harder, J. and Krosnick, J. (2008). Why Do People Vote? A Psychological Analysis of the Causes of Voter Turnout. Journal of Social Issues, 64(3), pp.525-549.
[ii] Page, Benjamin I., Bartels, Larry M, and Seawright, Jason “Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans, American Political Science association, March 2013, at https://www.jstor.org/stable/43280689
[iii] With $ 40 million or more in net worth.