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4 Out of 5 Oligarchs Give Up Their Money and Power When Asked Politely

Johnny Townsend: In any conflict with the rich and powerful, the suffering is all on our side. Reams of evidence prove that empathy and compassion aren’t motivating factors for oligarchs.

In a recent survey, 4 out of 5 oligarchs said they were willing to give up their money and power if they were asked politely.

Oligarchs Give Up Their Money

Dubious? You should be. But some activists seem to think otherwise, and that’s dangerous for the rest of us.

I received an email the other day from a progressive organization wanting me to sign a petition asking Betsy DeVos to resign. I get these kinds of emails all the time and usually just delete them straight away, but this time, I wrote back. “Can you cite a single example of a person with money and power giving up that money and power because someone else asked them to?” I won’t waste my time signing such meaningless documents, and I won’t donate my scarce funds to organizations or candidates who think these petitions are useful political acts or clever fundraising strategies.

People with power can’t be pressured by the powerless.

In my first relationship, I moved into my partner’s house and started paying him rent. From that moment on, whenever we had a disagreement, such as my confusion as to why the rent I paid was higher than the mortgage payment, or whenever I asked for any concession, like being able to use one of the nine rooms in the house for my own belongings, his response was always, “If you don’t like it, you can leave.”

I didn’t see the obvious for quite some time. The following two relationships left me in the same powerless position. But finally, in my current relationship, which has lasted longer than the other three put together, the mortgage is in my name. I do listen to my husband’s needs and wants, and I feel I make a fair number of concessions. But I’m always aware that I don’t have to. If my husband chose to leave, it would be inconvenient for me (not to mention sad), but I wouldn’t be out in the street, scrambling for a new place to live. Having that little bit of power makes a difference.

In any conflict with the rich and powerful, the suffering is all on our side. Reams of evidence prove that empathy and compassion aren’t motivating factors for oligarchs.

Oligarchs, who have a billion times more power and money than most of us ever will, don’t have to worry about being inconvenienced when we break up with them. And they won’t be sad. The truth is, they won’t even notice, the way we don’t notice when a spider in our closet crawls out of a shoebox and under the bed. We never knew it was there to begin with.

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In any conflict with the rich and powerful, the suffering is all on our side. Reams of evidence prove that empathy and compassion aren’t motivating factors for oligarchs.

When employees complain about a new job duty they hadn’t signed up for, when they protest not getting the promotion they were promised, when they express unhappiness that their request for a transfer or team assignment has been denied, what they often hear from the boss is, “Take it or leave it.”

As leftist voters not represented by the Democratic Party, we are essentially voting in a “right to work” political system that denies us representation or bargaining power. When even powerful unions have difficulty seeing their demands met, a handful of non-union employees signing a petition are likely to be met by their boss’s hearty laughter—right before he fires the lot of them. We may be irreplaceable in our own eyes, but the only view that counts is that of the oligarch.

We might garner enough power to bend oppressive oligarchs to our will if we could organize and sustain massive boycotts and strikes that impact them financially. The Montgomery bus boycott worked. Strikers gained weekends off for many workers. Strikes, or the threat of strikes, gained employees the eight-hour workday, paid holidays, and sick leave. However, cornered oligarchs, like cornered animals, routinely lash out in self-defense. Even a brief review of the history of strikes shows that dozens of them don’t even bear the name “strike” at all but are called “massacres” instead. Prime Minister Thatcher’s oppressive response to striking coal miners severely weakened unions across the UK. Shortly after he took office, President Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers who went on strike in the U.S., and thirty-five years later, workers in all fields still haven’t recovered from that blow. Unfortunately, oligarchs have only gained a great deal more power and money since then.

The rich and powerful are able to criminalize many strikes and protests. Even when we’re legally allowed to participate in these actions, we face a more immediate and drastic economic impact than the oligarchs we’re trying to squeeze. The selection of voting machines and the determination of the boundaries for voting districts are in the hands of oligarchs. It’s possible that even a grassroots effort to “get out the vote” will be ineffective at wresting any power back, especially since many Democratic Party leaders are often oligarchs as well.

It may be that our only viable option is “the revolution” that we hear those on the left making vague references to on occasion. There’s not a ton of supporting evidence, however, that such an action would resolve much. Only a few years after the French Revolution, Napoleon ruled the country. Hardly a decade passed after the Russian Revolution before almost all socialist ideals were replaced with tyranny.

The best, most effective course of action isn’t clear, and we can certainly engage in a healthy debate on the subject. We can make an effort in the courts, at the voting booths, and at town halls. We can march in the streets, boycotting and barricading and striking. We can direct whatever money and power we do possess to candidates and organizations that outline meaningful strategies to help us get through our prolonged constitutional—and existential—crisis. But signing a petition asking Betsy DeVos to “be nice”? We’d have more luck trying to guess the winning numbers for the Powerball.

Johnny Townsend

Johnny Townsend