Poverty and Protest
It’s part of the reality of working-class existence in our country, it is the experience for many, many people of being hungry and of living on the street and being unhoused, at least in some part of their life. We had a saying when I was a union organizer--and I think it's still true and a lot of people say it--and that is, ‘we're only one paycheck away from living on the streets’ which I think is true for an enormous number of people. The purpose of documenting this is also to show what people do about it. The social struggles and social movements they organize not just to affect their own personal situation, but to change the world for social justice.
The growth of globalization in the American economy during the 1990s and 2000s has led to vast communities of protest and of the unhoused across the United States. Corporations in the United States have outsourced millions of jobs, and industries previously protected by labor unions have shut down operations and moved manufacturing plants to developing countries such as China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines. These economic changes decimated and eliminated living-wage jobs as well as social support networks. In combination with the exponential increase in the cost of living over the past 30 years, this situation has led to a dramatic spike in the unhoused population in the United States.
David Bacon’s photography captures America’s changing economy through images of protest, displacement, and homelessness. One of the largest anti-globalization protests in the United States was the massive mobilization of protestors that surrounded the 1999 Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle, Washington. From November 30 through December 3 of that year, approximately 40,000 protestors representing local, national, and international organizations surrounded the convention center while the police made massive arrests, shutting down the meeting early. Bacon documents both the impact of poverty, the organizing going on against evictions and among unhoused people themselves, and broader protests, like those in Seattle, against the economic changes that make poverty so universal.