In my life I have done some things. I have had moments of direction action. I have attended events, meetings, rallies, demonstrations. I have resisted, but never been jailed. And in reflection they pail in comparison to my moments of inaction, apathy, passive-aggressive bullshit and let me be honest: armchair activities.
There are moments when I see or hear someone doing something that offends me and I stay silent. I always regret those moments.
According to what I can recollect of my scorecard: I fail.
Admitting this is relieving but I also know it doesn’t redeem me.
My disturbance with myself is increasing, daily. My excuses are becoming more and more obnoxious and the hot air is leaking out faster than my lungs can handle.
The sad truth is I know too many who can relate.
So racists and ignoramuses filled up DC last weekend to show the world just how angry, hateful and stupid they really are. Their knowledge of reality, not to mention terms like socialism that they like to toss around, was so shallow and twisted that it became a youtube sensation for others to watch with mockery and laughter. (See here and here and here for example.)
When they claim Obama is a racist we are supposed to believe that they are anti-racists, yet we see signs that read, "President of Kenya" and "go back to Africa" and "The Zoo has an African lion and White House has a lyin’ African." This is despicable.
These people are filled with delusions and think they are righteous, yet countless signs were seen that said "Bury Obamacare with Kennedy" or "We came unarmed [this time]." For the former sign I would like to know who made, paid for and distributed those signs. The organizers said the people were simple working class stiffs but working class people didn’t organize or distribute these hateful messages. They may share the disgusting opinions but they didn’t organize it.
The violent-prone, angry mobs of stupid people who couldn’t tell their asses from their faces got widespread media attention too. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show took jabs at FOX for when they cried foul antiwar protesters for being angry mobs comparing the President to Hitler, yet couldn’t contain themselves from praising these protesters.
A common label being applied is "Billionaires for Wealthcare."
And that’s about right. Wealthy people with interests to block any meaningful healthcare reform – which coincidentally the Democrats are NOT proposing (despite various medical professional associations like the California Nurses Associations, Physicians for a National Health Program and as recent AFL-CIO coming out in support for single-payer like Conyer’s HR 676 or Sanders’ HR 1200) – are stirring up empty-headed racists to disrupt townhall meetings and to stifle any possibility of progress.
And what are we on the Left doing? True we don’t have the billionaires or the media on our side and that is a substantial debit, but I cannot help but escape the suspicion that we talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. We seem to be fine with having opinions and tweeting them or leaving comments on message boards or social network sites like Myspace and Facebook.
The infamous shoe thrower, Mutadhar al-Zaidi, was recently released from prison and wrote a beautiful story of his shoe in which he began,
There has been a lot of talk about the action and about the person who took it, and about the hero and the heroic act, and the symbol and the symbolic act.
This was written in singular form, not plural. Why? Because, we abandoned him when the hot topic changed. I stress that I include myself in the guilty. What pride do we find in not walking the walk – or at best, briefly walking and then turning back (here I am referencing how activities were conducted to show support for him but quickly dissipated as if his cause was simply old news)? I know there are better people than us, but I wish there were more. Al-Zaidi is one of them.
And I realize we have busy lives and it can be difficult to make a commitment. Trust me. I get that all too well. I am one of them. That is me. That is I.
But what will our lives (today) be worth if tomorrow is worse and the day after is worse still?
Where is our focus, our discipline, our priorities?
Why do we treat current events like a fashion or fame – are we spectators or participants? We react to media stories, that we know are shaped by Herman’s and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model, with an offered opinion and when the next story comes along we abandon this and move on.
Iran? Memory hole.
Gaza? We will note that the UN Fact Finding Mission found "strong evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Gaza conflict [and] calls for end to impunity" but then into the dustbin.
Honduras? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
Gay Rights? *crickets
Healthcare? Eh, there is still some people making some noise but here soon it will all be over. Max Baucus released his bill and once the government completely fails us we will likely drop it and move on to the environment just in time for the talks in Copenhagen. Then what? Can we expect failure and for us to drop it too? The odds are, sadly, yes. That is, unless we make a change. And that change must include not only disbanding our precious, comfy armchairs but also us taking control of organizing.
Tim Wise recently stressed the following in a recent interview,
It’s not the role of so-called experts, whether they’re white or folks of color, to really do that thinking for the people at the grassroots.
When the SNCC members would get together in church basements in the South in 1961, ’62, ’63, and sit there for eight hours hammering out plans about how they were going to break the back of apartheid in Mississippi, they didn’t go in and listen to a bunch of experts tell them what to do. They went in, and listened to one another, thought it through, framed some of objectives and came out with some amazing plans. And not one of those strategies was handed down by the so-called experts.
Dr. King, James Lawson, all those folks—as important as they were from the motivational angle and inspirational angle and the framework angle—they’re not the ones who really set forward a lot of the strategy. Those were grassroots folks…
This reminds me of something Eugene Debs, the great American agitator, said long ago,
I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the Promised Land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition.
Take the long forgotten, but still ongoing Food Crisis. There is more than enough food produced to feed the hungry yet a billion people are starving. Many of us know that market systems mal-distribute the food to use for bio-fuels or to fatten the privileged because in markets you vote with your dollars. We know that we are ignoring true environmental costs in our production and consumption trends because markets push us to accumulate more so as to ensure dominance of markets shares. I can talk to my local congressman who is a ranking member of a committee overseeing healthcare reform and he tells me that he will "strongly oppose" any effort to get single-payer and I know that that is because he wants to ensure campaign donations to ensure his re-election (by the way, he tells me he is for "limited government" but doesn’t explain why healthcare shouldn’t be included along with education, fire and police services, public libraries, etc, etc). It’s a lot like markets. Any business, or any politician, that decides to be responsible is at a disadvantage since it only takes another to be irresponsible to put them under. In markets there is a dictatorship of capital that dominates economic decisions. In our electoral politics that same dictatorship of capital dominates. If Joe Barton came out in support of single-payer then his opponents who don’t may very well get his campaign donations and thank him in their victory speech. As Michael Albert keeps telling us, "garbage rises."
Okay, we get all of that, so what are we doing about it? Sure we may "care" but for the most part we don’t follow it up with anything substantial. There are some who are dedicated and committed and their children can look to them as heroes but for many of us, me included, we should be afraid that our children will have nothing but contempt for us. Richard Pryor, yes THE Richard Pryor, once said,
Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, and Hercules don’t scare me. The FBI, the anti-American Committee, J. Edgar Hoover, President Nixon, President Johnson, Martha Mitchell and her husband, or her man, or her woman, Ethel Kennedy, all the Kennedy’s, The Bank of America, Chase Manhattan, Rockefeller, none of these people scare me. What scares me is that one day my son will ask me "What did you do, Daddy, when all the shit was going down?"
He nailed it.
I want to be a working class hero because like John Lennon sung to us, it’s "something to be." I want my daughters to be proud of me. I want them to inherit a better world than I inherited, but that is becoming increasingly impossible because folks like me aren’t doing enough to make it happen.
I think we should first start with overcoming a, possibly, instinctual bias: group selection. Too often we assume the worst of others and assume the best of ourselves – others being those we don’t identify with and ourselves being those we do. We need to break down barriers of these "us versus them" mentalities that breed competition and contempt and replace it with compassion and cooperation. I know, easier said than done, but such is life: the right things to do are often the hardest.
We should also take serious the topic of vision and strategy. Michael Albert offers some delicious food for thought.
From there we – people, activists, groups, networks, organizations, coalitions, assemblies, unions, etc – should begin coming together to co-organize our activities, to begin building the future today. If we want to achieve a post-capitalist, post-sexist, post-racist and post-politically authoritarian society then we have to start incorporating practices and procedures that lead us in that direction. We will not likely replace markets and racism and sexism and repressive authority over night, but we can make progress and we must be very careful with the logic that "the end justifies the means." Too often that is not true. Too often the end reflects the means, and that makes sense. Evil begets evil. Structure breeds behavior. As much as possible, we should adhere to the logic that "the means must compliment the end." We can’t use sexism as a means to create a post-sexist society, or racism for a post-racist society. So why would we think that incorporating markets, corporate divisions of labor, hierarchies and so on into our visions and strategy will help produce a liberated society? In the above essay Albert brings up a good point of how tactically secret planning could be useful in certain environments so what I am proposing shouldn’t be taken dogmatically, but as a useful guide. What he said was that anarchists generally oppose democratic centralism because it,
typically has horrible byproducts and a debilitating internal logic that together tends to subvert anarchist aims so that there is a very high burden of proof on utilizing such decision procedures.
I’m sure you get the relation between his point and mine.
Anyway, I am not innocent and so these indictment charges go to me as well. I don’t know who will read this, if anyone, or if you are among the fellow guilty, but we got to overcome being spectators and take action. Yeah, it sucks that it’s an uphill battle for us since we don’t have the billionaires and mass media to assist us, and that we have daily lives we like to attend to. Yup, it’s a bummer that we can see the rightwing crazies foaming at the mouths and getting coverage. Hopefully it turns people off and proves to be counterproductive, but we shouldn’t wait and see. We need to be more actively involved in achieving our own goals and less active in responding to those of our opponents. There is something to the old adage that "the best defense is a good offense."