Monday, February 7, 2011

Joel Olson on What It's Really Like to Live in Arizona

As usual, our reader Canukistani is sending in some great information. Here is a brilliant article on what it feels like to live in Arizona. Many of the sad developments in that state became a lot clearer to me after I read this article. I will quote some excerpts, but you can read the entire article here.

With the passage of the notorious anti-immigrant bill SB 1070 last spring, the outlawing of ethnic studies as of January 1st, the gutting of the school and university systems, the collapsed housing market, the high unemployment rates, and now the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, you might be wondering what it’s like to actually live in Arizona right about now. In short: it ain’t easy. But it helps to put Giffords’s shooting in historical perspective, which is defined by two things in Arizona: corruption and class struggle. And ironically, this perspective gives me hope about the radically democratic future of my home state. Arizona’s economy was founded on the Five Cs: copper, cotton, cattle, citrus, and climate (tourism). These Cs were controlled by big mining and agricultural interests and real estate developers. Corruption was commonplace as they manipulated the political system for their benefit. A group of these capitalists, called the Phoenix 40, controlled state politics until the 1970s, when the political establishment opened up some. But even after their rule, the state capitol has always been a place to lie, bribe, and scam your way to what you want. If the names Don Bowles, Evan Mecham, AZscam, Fife Symington, or the Keating 5 (which included Senator John McCain) mean anything to you, then you know that corruption is as plentiful as the parking here. And I haven’t even mentioned Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio or State Senator Russell Pearce, the tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum of racist nativism. SB 1070 and Giffords’s shooting, in other words, are but the latest in a storied history of corrupt cowboy capitalism. Such dangerous tomfoolery is part of the class struggle in the Grand Canyon State. Three classes matter in Arizona: elites, the white middle class, and the working class. The elites come mainly from the agriculture/mining, tourism, and construction/real estate sectors (with an emerging tech sector); they are the masters of the corruption I’ve described. But in a system of majority rule, elites need a junior partner to dominate.
Nothing happens in a vacuum. It isn't accidental that Arizona is at the forefront of every scary, racist development in this country. Olson's analysis dove-tails with what I've been saying for a while: where the pressures of an encroaching modernity become too much for the unprepared people to bear, craziness ensues. The traditional ways of living in Arizona are crumbling down due to the changes that are transforming every developed society. As a result, people lash out in rage. They aren't exactly sure what it is that bothers them so much, so they blame ethnic minorities.

I'm sure I don't need to remind anybody about this European country that was dragged into modernization and didn't find any other way to deal with the trauma of that process than lashing out against its ethnic minorities. 

1 comment:

eric said...

Olsen's absolutely right. Actually, the way I would describe the class situtation in AZ is: either your're getting by on $7.0o an hour, or you're some rich semi-retired lawyer. As far as minorities go, the Hispanic population has been there for a long time (Tucson was founded in the mid-1600's), and the Native American population goes back much, much further, obviously. Class/racial conflicts in AZ are nothing new--they are just taking a new twist.