Professors tackle “Class Warfare” for FGWC

Emily Lin-Jones

Skotheim Chair of History David Schmitz and Professor of Politics and Paul Chair of Political Science Paul Apostolidis spoke to a nearly full house in Olin 130 on Sept. 13 on the topic of “Class Inequalities and Class Warfare.” The panel was sponsored by First Generation/Working Class Whitman Students (FGWC) to educate Whitman students and Walla Walla community members about modern economic issues.

Credit: Faith Bernstein

FGWC co-presidents and seniors Omar Ihmoda and Elizabeeth Reetz organized the event in part to address conservative politicians’ negative and dismissive responses to complaints about the current economic climate.

“At a time when we’re at a historic rate of poverty, we have people who are: with a straight face: saying it is class warfare to tax the rich. We’re responding to this total absurdity,” said Reetz.

Ihmoda and Reetz enlisted Schmitz to outline the historical circumstances leading up to the current economic situation in the United States.

“I really thought the main thing I could do was provide context for how we got to such economic disparities in society,” said Schmitz. “I think it’s important because this is a critical issue in American society right now. We’re in a financial-economic crisis that is of a nature we haven’t seen since the 1930s. This is not production recession or a slowdown of spending, this is a fully blown financial crisis that has deep structural implications. It’s not merely an academic concern; it’s a concern for all people.”

In his presentation, Schmitz traced the concentration of wealth and power in America from the end of the Great Depression through deregulation in the 1980s to the present day, blaming the current crisis on lack of historical awareness and unregulated capitalism.

“History can’t tell us exactly what to do, but it can tell us that the government has a role, and that role has to be to restore some kind of balance. There has to be reform, there has to be regulation, and there has to be stimulation of the economy to move out of this type of crisis,” said Schmitz.

Apostolidis followed Schmitz’s lecture by speaking on the use of the term “class warfare” in modern political rhetoric. Apostolidis examined the ways in which right-wing politicians and pundits use the term to condemn movements for government regulation of business and taxation of the wealthy.

“I think that calling a policy proposal a form of warfare preempts any reasonable discussion of the problem that policy-makers or activists on Wall Street are trying to solve,” Apostolidis said.

Citing his research on the lives of immigrant workers in Washington, Apostolidis described situations to which he felt the term “class struggle” could be more accurately applied, such as the pressure placed upon workers not to unionize or complain about working conditions.

“That’s class struggle: when people who possess economic power are using that power in a way that subjects a broad group of people to the need to submit to the conditions of labor that are imposed upon them,” he said.

The lecture segment of the event was followed by a brief question-and-answer session. Audience members inquired about current economic and political issues, including the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“It’s not just about occupying; it’s about organizing. It’s about learning how to organize in new ways to meet the challenges of the current moment,” said Apostolidis on the future of activism for economic justice.

Ihmoda and Reetz said they were pleased with the turnout at the event and hoped it would signal the beginning of a new era for FGWC.

“We’re taking [FGWC] away from just focusing on the Whitman community and the grievances of FGWC students with regards to their Whitman peers and looking at larger political patterns and things that are more conducive to unity than conflict,” said Ihmoda. “We’re trying to stress things that unify us across class lines while still bringing class into the conversation.”