What is Economic Justice?

Susannah Sudborough
Susannah Sudborough

Remarks delivered at “Music, Peace, and Hoppiness“, sponsored by MAPA Next Gen, August 19, 2018

Hi, my name is Susannah Sudborough and I’m a member of Massachusetts Peace Action Network- Next Generation. We’re a group of young people looking to take on the mission of Peace Action. I wanted to take a minute to talk to you about one of the biggest issues we are looking to combat: economic violence.

As a peace organization, we oppose all forms of violence. We believe that poverty is a form of violence. Economic violence can manifest in so many different ways. It’s lacking the same opportunities to pursue your dreams and find meaning in your work as people in higher income brackets. It’s generational poverty: when your parents and grandparents were denied the social and political power allotted to others, and because of this were denied the same ability to access important resources like higher education. It’s when you are forced to live in areas with underfunded schools, where the police are more likely to harass or arrest you than protect you, and where joining a gang or selling drugs might seem like the most lucrative option for you. It’s being unable to spend the time or money cooking healthy food. It’s being unable to afford housing close to where you work. It’s being unable to afford housing that is safe and quality. It’s being unable to afford to prevent or terminate a pregnancy, or, even worse, being unable to afford a child at all.

Economic violence is having to work 60 hours a week to make ends meet- sacrificing your family, friends, happiness, and health, both mental and physical. It’s when your work is so menial and degrading that you are tempted to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope, and then if you fall prey to addiction, being unable to afford the resources that might help you and being treated as a criminal. It’s when you make a mistake and are unable to afford a lawyer to keep you out of prison, and then if you are lucky enough to get out of prison, being unable to get a job and being denied your fundamental right to vote because of your criminal record. It’s being too poor to afford health insurance and thus putting off treating a medical problem until it is absolutely necessary, and then going into debt because you could not pay for the necessary treatment. In the worst situations, economic violence is dying from not being able to afford treatment without health insurance and dying from a treatable condition. In our own city, a woman trapped under an orange line train begged others not to call a much-needed ambulance because she knew she couldn’t afford it. This should not be happening in a city as prosperous as ours, in a country as wealthy as ours.

Economic violence is taking advantage of workers in countries with less worker rights who work in unsafe environments for minimal wages. It’s using taxpayer money to bail out banks whose recklessness in their pursuit of profit tanked our economy, forced many from their homes, lost so many their livelihood, and ruined so many lives. It’s when those banks are never held accountable for their actions. Lastly, it’s when your income determines your political power.

So how bad is it? It is estimated that the top 1% of income earners own 35% of our total wealth in this country. If you widen that to the top %5, that jumps to 63%. The top %20 of income earners own a whopping 89% of the wealth. And the bottom %40? A mere .9% of the wealth. The bottom 40% of income earners do not own even 1% of the wealth in this country. When you include tax policy and redistribution, we are the second most wealth unequal OECD country (this is a group of countries that include most countries people would consider “first world”). Back in the 60s, the average CEO made about 20x more than their lowest paid worker. Today, the average CEO earns about 200x more than their lowest paid worker. I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe that any one person is worth 200x more than another or could possibly work 200x as hard.

So what is economic justice? What would a world with economic justice look like? We believe that in a world with economic justice, the class and income level you are born into would not determine your future. Companies would not be able to profit off of the needs of others. It would mean righting past wrongs like slavery and Jim Crow. It would mean ending mass incarceration. Your easy of living would not be determined by your productivity or profitability as a worker. The poor would have as much power over our society as the rich. It would mean eradicating homelessness and starvation. And, this may seem basic, but it would mean that those that work still have time for rest and leisure, and eventually retirement. Unfortunately, there are many people in this country who cannot afford those things at this time.

But how can we get there? Well there are a lot of different policies that could help: a living wage, universal healthcare, reparations, investing in infrastructure and education instead of foreign wars, making sure everyone has access to a quality education, ending gender and race wage gaps, free public higher education, enacting policies that ensure affordable housing, decriminalizing addiction, breaking the school to prison pipeline, funding programs that ensure food justice, ending Citizen’s United and enacting policies that limit the role of money in politics, supporting worker rights and the right to collectively bargain, supporting and funding programs that help the underserved like Planned Parenthood, enacting fair trade instead of free trade policies, regulating industries like the financial industry to prevent consumer abuse and crises that affect us all, and enacting policies that increase access to voting.

What can we do for direct action? To be honest, all the Democratic candidates in the primaries coming up have progressive, thorough plans to combat economic violence. While their specialties may vary, most support important policy stances like a $15 minimum wage, universal healthcare, and funding programs like Planned Parenthood. Even Republican governor Charlie Baker was instrumental in passing what people are calling the “Great Bargain Bill” that ensures a $15 minimum wage in Massachusetts by 2023. The only candidate that poses a great threat to economic justice is Republican candidate Scott Lively who wants to dramatically cut funding for social safety net programs and put a doctor who has been convicted of medical fraud in charge of solving the opioid crisis. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like the best solution to me.

There are also two ballot questions coming up in November that are relevant to this issue. Ballot Question 2 proposes the establishment of a citizen commission to push for an amendment to overturn Citizen’s United. This would be a huge step towards limiting the influence of money in politics, so we hope you will vote yes on Ballot Question 2. Near and dear to my heart, unfortunately Ballot Question 3 proposes a repeal to a 2016 law that bans discrimination against transgender people in public spaces. Now, confusingly, even though what is proposed is a repeal, you need to vote “yes” to keep the law and “no” to repeal it. This was likely made purposefully confusing, but if you want to keep this law that bans discrimination and protects transgender people, you need to vote “yes” on Ballot Question 3 in November.

To learn more about MAPA Next Gen, go to http://masspeaceaction.org/act/nextgen/