Monday, June 17, 2013
A Culture of Dissent Or Democracy 451
The revolutionary spirit which laid dormant for decades and centuries was reignited in the Middle East in 2011 with the Arab Spring before quickly jumping over the Atlantic to drive the fervor of Occupy Wall Street. Last night I read about demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro that turned violent when police bum rushed peaceful activists who were simply protesting bus fare hikes. Today I read about Mexico City and Greece where peaceful protestors were also gathering and being repressed. Who knows who I will read about tomorrow. A culture of dissent seems to have manifested in the global culture, but what are we doing here in America?
In Turkey, their uprising started to save a park; In Rio, bus far hikes; In Greece, they are demonstrating against austerity and cutbacks. While I realize that the socio-politico-economic situations in each of these countries is far more complex than the broad strokes with which I am painting them, it has been something relatively small that has ignited the passions of the people and police brutality that has exacerbated the struggle into a People's Movement. Here at home we have a military and domestic police state many many many times the size we need that is paid for with our tax dollars. Meanwhile, corporations and private interest buy our elections and lobby for favors while paying no taxes. Meanwhile, the everyday citizen is forced between working 2-3 jobs at minimum wage and abject poverty. Oh and by the way, all of your communications are subject to search and seizure by your government. These are all serious problems that affections millions every day and are just the tip of the iceberg. What is it going to take for us to pour into the city centers and demand our rights?
Here in Philadelphia we have a plethora of local problems, not least of which is the school situation. The banksters stole hundreds of millions of dollars from our school district which left it with a budget crisis. What was the city's response? Close 23 schools. Meanwhile, there are 400 prison beds opening up outside Philly from the $400 million dollar prison expansion. If the kids can't go to school I guess Harrisburg felt like they needed somewhere to go and for those corporate cronies prison is the best option. Then let's talk about hunger, homelessness, poverty, and our crumbling infrastructure on top of the systematic oppression that has existed for so many for centuries. The list goes on and on. We do not live in a Utopian future where our "leaders" rule wisely while we feast on the byproducts of our greatness. No, inequality has gotten so bad in this country that we let the rich and powerful push our communities to the margins to fade into the background while the Fat Cats feast in their corporate towers. Let me ask you: what do you think they would have done in Turkey, Greece, or Rio under these circumstances? I feel pretty damn safe saying that they would not settle for working groups, rallies, and Facebook posts. I am inclined to believe that they would take to the square and (dare I say?) occupy it until their demands are met.
We do not do that here anymore though. Part of me understands: people have got kids, jobs, and have to put food on the table. Not everyone can gather in the public square 24/7 to provide a space for the people to voice their dissent, but what about those of us who can? What are we doing? I had a beer with some folks today to talk about a potential action on July 4th and our visions were quite different. One of us wanted to put on a creative action outside of a public target; one of us wanted to do some clandestine fun protests to draw attention to issues and share the stories on Facebook; and one of us wanted to try to get everyone and their mother down to a park for a talk. The end of all three conversations was the same: "I am interested in the prospect but I don't want to do the organizing work." We all three are tired of the complacency and want to act, but we a) don't believe that we could muster any amount of people for any kind of action in the current American political climate and b) don't want to put in the foot work to get it done, even if we did believe. United we can make a stand, but divided we will most certainly continue to fall. So, I ask you: what hope do we have?
"Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die." I first heard that phrase while listening to a Gospel song back in my Church-going days. The premise of the song is that everybody likes the idea of going to heaven, living in the new world, or a resurrected pure lifestyle, but they don't like selling all of their possessions and giving the money to the poor, laying down their life for their enemy, or forgiving each others' trespasses. In short everybody wants to be rewarded, but nobody wants to put in the hard work. Is this where we have come to in this country? Has all hope of popular democracy faded? Have we burnt ourselves out in a flame of occupied glory? Or is there something else?
Is there a bright new day on the horizon? What will it take for us to leave everything behind? What kind of conditions do we, our friends, family, and neighbors have to live in before we are fed up enough to fight back? When will rallies turn into revolutions? I don't ask this with any sort of pride. I am honestly humbled to ask such a question because there are so many people who give their lives to this work, but I was first humbled by a capitalistic military mechanism designed to enslave me, you, and everyone you and I care about. Now, I am angry. I am angry and sad. I am angry at my country and I am sad that the vast majority of us are watching it burn. Somebody please tell me what we are going to do. Better yet, meet me in the park and let's talk about it. Anybody want to join me?