Could an "Arab Spring" type of upheaval be brewing in the United States? Is the frustration and anger toward our dysfunctional politics and economics beginning to reach a tipping point where young folks begin to push for profound change? Has our democracy become so broken that citizens are going to find creative avenues to express their feelings? Will we pass through the holidays and winter of our dysfunction to arrive at a spring of change? I sense a movement of social unrest growing strongly and quietly towards our own version of the Arab Spring.
Let's take a look at some of the factors that might be pointing in this direction. This past week the GDP showed very positive growth (up 3.6 percent in the third quarter), corporations are booking huge profits, the stock market is at an all time high, and we have more multimillionaires and billionaires than ever before. So why does 70 percent of the country believe the United States is off on the wrong track? Why is trust of our economic, governmental and political institutions at a historic low? Why is the poverty rate back to a historical high?
For more than a generation, the middle class of this country has not seen any significant improvement in their financial situation. In fact, when you factor in inflation, the majority of the country has actually seen a decline in their economic status over the past 25 years. The wealthiest 5 percent of America has basically garnered nearly all the gains we have seen in economic growth over the last few decades. Many in New York City, Washington, DC and small enclaves around the country have done very very well, while the rest of America is either stagnant or in decline. As we reflect on Nelson Mandela's passing it is time to ask if we have our own version of apartheid here - not by race, but by economic status.
And all the above has occurred as the presidency and Congress has been lead by both political parties and ideologies including conservatives and liberals. Young Americans have put their hopes in presidents of both political parties who said they were going to change Washington DC and bring a new kind of politics, and have come away very disappointed and frustrated. Recently polling shows these young Americans (along with other citizens) have gone from overwhelmingly supporting President Obama to now incredibly upset about another politician who said one thing and did another. And the economics and dreams of their own life has been set back once again.
So here we have a majority of Americans at best no better off in more than a generation. Citizens with an incredible distrust and disappointment in the federal government, Wall Street, and both political parties. Citizens who have tried voting for each party, but come away worse off and more disillusioned. And citizens who are still searching for authentic leadership where words and actions are integrated and one. It is no wonder the simple yet powerful and authentic message of Pope Francis has been applauded by both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
The main activists in the Arab Spring were young people (and especially young men) who grew very frustrated and finally took to the streets. So why haven't the young men (and women) of main stream America taken more to the streets here and pushed their own version of a revolution? Maybe it is because they tried making change through regular politics and have now seen it hasn't worked. Maybe it is because they so far are preoccupied with video games which give them an outlet and a sense of control, but will soon tire of this as they realize there is more to life and want meaning.