THE PUBLIC EYE:Class Warfare: Which Side Are You On?

By Bob Burnett
Friday February 17, 2012 - 11:11:00 AM

Are we in the middle of a Class War? Billionaire Warren Buffett thinks so, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” Most Americans agree; a recent Pew Poll found “Two-thirds of Americans said they think there are ‘very strong’ or ‘strong’ class conflicts in society.” But there’s a notable lack of enthusiasm for making fundamental change. 

One would think that with the success of the Occupy Wall Street movement, there would be a strong push for radical social reform. After all, 49 percent of Americans believe the US economic system to be “unfair.” But a recent Gallup Poll found that most Americans are not militant on this issue; they would rather promote policies to “grow and expand the economy” than they would to “reduce the income and wealth gap between the rich and the poor.” 

This result is perplexing. Time Magazine asked respondents if they agreed with the positions advocated by Occupy Wall Street and discovered extraordinary concurrence. 86 percent agreed that, "Wall Street and its lobbyists have too much influence in Washington." 79 percent agreed that, "The gap between rich and poor in the United States has grown too large." 71 percent agreed with "Executives of financial institutions responsible for the financial meltdown in 2008 should be prosecuted." And 68 percent agreed that, "The rich should pay more taxes." Nonetheless, there was a 45-50 percent enthusiasm gap, because many Americans, who expressed these strong positive sentiments, didn't support Occupy Wall Street. On the one hand the 99-Percent are concerned about the growing economic divide, but on the other hand they appear unready to do much about it. 

Perhaps working Americans do not understand how grave the situation is. A recent Mother Jones article graphically illustrated the problem: in the last 30 years the income of the one-percent has quadrupled and everyone else has experienced no growth. The Washington Post noted that in 2008, the average family income for the bottom 90 percent was $31,244 and that was a 1 percent DECLINE from 1970. During the same period, the top .1 percent saw their income increase by 385% to $5.6 million. (The wealth divide is even more extreme; while the top 1 percent earn 21 percent of the nation’s income, they now control 36 percent of our wealth.) 

The good news is that there is growing awareness among the 99-percent that they’ve been ripped off; that they’re engaged in a decades-long class war and their side is losing. As a result working Americans are in favor of raising taxes on the 1-percent. And there’s some evidence that the 99-percent are waking up to the problem of big money in politics, the problems caused by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. The bad news is that this may not be enough to save our Democracy. 

Over the last thirty years, the United States has been looted. The rich and powerful, the 1-percent, have taken a disproportionate share of the economic gains that we’ve all worked for. As a consequence America is teetering on the brink of Plutocracy. To remedy this inequity and restore Democracy, fundamental changes must be made. 

The first step is recognition that we’re in a class war and must take sides. Recently ani difranco updated the words to the old Union song, “Which Side Are You On?” They aptly summarize the current political situation: 

Thirty years of diggin’  

Got us in this hole 

The curse of Reaganomics 

Has finally taken its toll. 

Lord knows the free market 

Is anything but free 

It costs dearly to the planet 

And the likes of you and me. 

I don’t need those money lenders 

Sucking on my tit 

A little socialism 

Don’t scare me one bit! 

Which side are you on now 

Which side are you on? 


On one level, the 2012 election will be a referendum on the economy and Obama’s leadership. But at another, deeper level the election will be about class warfare: are Americans prepared to stop the looting? Are they prepared to take sides? 

Barack Obama is not a perfect candidate but at least he is willing to talk about class warfare and to propose common sense steps towards economic justice. That’s a big difference from Mitt Romney who doesn’t think we have a class problem or issues with economic fairness and says of people who suggest this “[It's] about envy. It’s about class warfare.” 

Which side are you on? 

So are we just consumers Or are we citizens? 

Are we gonna make more garbage 

Or are we gonna make amends? 

Are you part of the solution 

Or are you part of the con? 

Which side are you on now 

Which side are you on? 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at