Yes, we must tax the rich. Yes, we must wrest political power from the rich so that they don’t have it all. But if we ever want to have a less divided society, we must also go to where rich people cocoon themselves, and break that shit up.
Live in the world with everyone else. It’s mandatory.
I grew up in the South, where people with money segregated themselves geographically, in suburban cul-de-sacs, in subdivisions with guard gates, in houses in the country. When I first came to New York City, I was so impressed with the way that the absolute density of the place seemed to make even rich people mix with everyone else—on the sidewalks, on the subways, on the streets. Even rich people lived in apartments—and those apartment buildings still had graffiti on them, in some cases! This made a big impression on me, a young idiot.
Of course, spending more time in major cities teaches you that the rich people in NYC, and DC, and San Francisco, and LA simply find other ways to insulate themselves from the common hordes. In these cities—cities where we should be concerned about the lives of the rich people because these are the rich people who control things like the media and the financial system and the government and the entertainment and technology industries, which affect everyone immensely—rich people can simply restrict new construction and price everyone else out, or they can build big tall buildings and insulate themselves in their welcoming cage of steel and glass and luxury. The effect in either case is isolation. The rich in San Francisco can live in beautifully preserved single-family homes in neighborhoods completely drained of the middle and lower classes; the rich in New York City can purchase apartments in towers with doormen and security guards and in-house theaters and gyms and saunas and pet walking areas that enable them to live completely within an artificially constructed work that need never intersect with the dirtier world outside. If they need even more separation, they can be sure to move to entirely new planned urban neighborhoods, built from scratch, featuring only luxury towers and luxury dining and luxury gyms, so that even when wandering the streets of their immediate surroundings they need never encounter the sort of unapproved people who may fill other neighborhoods in their fair city. They can travel easily in Ubers, shunning the crowded trains; they can work in inaccessible urban offices; and they can come home again, creating a full circuit of life that exists physically within cities but psychically apart from them. Even to the ever-diminishing degree that urban spaces were melting pots, the rich (and merely the very affluent educated urban professional class) have now found a lifestyle that allows them to separate themselves from all that, while still retaining the imprimatur of the city and the ability to go see fucking Broadway shows, or whatever people in Manhattan do.
The top one percent of the wealth distribution in America currently control nearly one third of our nation’s total wealth. The top ten percent controls 70 percent of the wealth. How much of our nation’s wealth does the lower half of our population control? The answer is one percent. One half of our population controls one percent of the wealth, and one percent of our population controls one third of the wealth. This is the situation in America today. It has not “always” been like this; it hasn’t been like this for a hundred years. This is the crisis of inequality, that keeps on getting worse and worse and worse. This is the thing undermining everyone’s faith in our national myth and allowing Donald Trump to become president. This is the thing that enables and encourages and propels the pattern of development that creates secure bubbles of wealth within our greatest cities, undermining the nature of those cities from within. Nobody together. A sealed-off luxurious urban bubble for some, and a dirty, faraway mess for the rest. With broken subways.
“Massive redistribution of wealth and power” is an action item that is perhaps too large for today, so let’s start with this: break up those impermeable life bubbles that allow the rich to exist in a separate, idealized world from the other residents of their cities. Have your protest marches in the rich neighborhoods. Make your noise in the restaurants where rich people are. If you must riot, riot where the rich live. If you write graffiti, write it on a building that houses the rich. Rally in Hudson Yards. March in Beverly Hills. Play incredibly loud protest music in Pacific Heights. Make it socially unacceptable to live in a towering cocoon of wealth. Make the rest of the city so good that people must come out and visit it. Enact rent control. Build more housing. Regulate Uber. Raise wages. Unionize everything. Let normal people have the best parts of the cities. Protect and expand public space. Refuse to visit your friends in doorman buildings. Fuck your doorman. Fuck your security guard. Go outside. Be outside. Boycott the luxury stores. Don’t join Equinox. Go for a fucking run. And run through the lobby of glittering high rise, in dirty shoes. And when they complain, yell something really cutting but also insightful about the class war. I can’t think of what. But something.
If you have money, don’t live in a bubble. Live in the world. And if you don’t have money, and you are angry about it, focus that anger not just rhetorically but geographically onto where rich people are. The more inequality increases, the richer rich people get, and the easier it becomes for them to warp the physical world to accommodate their own needs, leaving less for everyone else, and reinforcing to them a false notion that all is well. All ain’t well. And the only way that rich people are going to realize that is if we yell it at them, all the time, where they live, and wherever they go.