When we dig deep into the environmental problems humanity is up against right now, it quickly becomes apparent that the problem doesn’t stop with just traditional “environment” issues. This isn’t exclusively about polar bears. There are people issues that we’ve got to solve.
I haven’t found a good sound-bite label for these people issues, so I made up my own: disenfranchisement.
Yes, it’s a mouthful. But when you parse out what that long multisyllabic word means, it pretty much describes the issue.
Disenfranchisement means casting aside. There are many classes of people being cast aside in our society right now.
The first major way people are being cast aside is racism. In its many noxious forms. The events surrounding the horrific murder of George Floyd reminded many that racism against black people is extreme and ongoing. As the summer of 2020 progressed, the racial reckoning expanded to include people of brown skin, and the term BIPOC came into wider usage. Events in 2020 into 2021 showed us that racism against Asian and Pacific Islander people remains a problem.
Through it all, there’s been ongoing discrimination against, and oppression of, LGBTQ+ people. Mental issues continue to be a stigma. We continue to have an ableist society. It can feel like the list of groups being excluded is growing.
But turn that around. What does that mean?
It means that there is a concerted effort to preserve rights for only a specific, elite group of people. White, male, cis, christian, educated …
All other people are being pushed aside — disenfranchised.
There’s another way that disenfranchisement is happening in our society. It’s insidious, and it’s gradual. It’s like the old story of the frog in the pot of water who doesn’t notice the temperature going up until he’s fried. This is economic disenfranchisement.
And it’s coming for you.
Economic disenfranchisement is the expand-o category. Economic disenfranchisement is where people who are sliding into lower economic classes can no longer afford to participate in the benefits of the broader society.
The capitalist model is constructed to move economic wealth toward the capitalists — the ownership class, the elite. In late-stage capitalism, more and more of society’s wealth is shoveled toward the extreme elite. What this means is, more and more of the wealth value held by average citizens is disappearing. Forever.
More and more citizens are falling into that category of not being able to afford … can’t afford health insurance. Can’t afford computers or Internet participation. Can’t afford basic housing in major cities. Can’t afford healthy and nourishing food. The list grows.
The list of people being cast aside grows and grows.
In the What We Can Do project, I use the term “disenfranchisement” to refer to all these ways that people are being cast aside, all of the above: racism and discrimination in their various forms, together with economic disenfranchisement.
This is one of the major problems in front of us to solve.
This post is part of the What We Can Do series — see the full project.