August 16, 2004
"Activism is not a journey to the corner store, it is a plunge into the unknown."
(Swans - August 16, 2004) In her recent book, Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit makes the point that progressives often miss the chance for success because they demand doctrinal purity:
"There's a kind of activism that's more about bolstering identity than achieving results, one that sometimes seems to make the Left the true heirs of the Puritans. Puritanical in that the point becomes the demonstration of one's own virtue rather than the realization of results." (p. 15)It is one thing to be pure in one's thoughts, but quite another when faced with war, cold or hot. In war, we need all the allies we can get. In war, we need to savor what victories there are and keep moving. We are never defeated unless we stop moving and acquiesce.
In general, Americans have the thought that conflicts end in victory or defeat. Conflicts never end, but are a part of a continuum. One needs to take pleasure in small victories and continue on. If it is a mistake to rest on one's laurels, it is also a mistake to rest on one's failures, grousing and complaining about the futility of it all.
Progress, then, is never guaranteed; it is the product of sweat and persistence -- even in the face of failure. As Mohandas Gandhi once asked: "Do you think anything in the world can be done without trouble?"
Today we find ourselves in the "Anyone But Bush" controversy, realizing that corporate America has covered all the major party bases, leaving dissenters to run back and forth until they are "tagged out," or are safely grouped behind razor wire in a "free speech zone."
A "Free Speech Zone" in America! Who would think of it?
Well, we know now, don't we? There are cages for the recalcitrant, or the disfavored ones. Why Americans didn't see it coming was most likely because they didn't look. The cages were always there, in various forms, tucked away just out of sight, little knots of people roped and cordoned off, far away, so as not to offend the "Prince" -- if I may call him that. In Boston the intention of our rulers became more visible, rope corrals morphing into chain-link cages ringed by razor wire.
And to guard the cages, police in riot gear, looking for all the world as Schutzstaffel (SS). When I was a child, men in dark blue/black uniforms, wearing German-style helmets were Nazis. Now, our soldiers wear helmets that look like Nazi helmets and some of our police do too. They are affectionately called "Fritz helmets." I can't get used to them. The symbolism is too much for an American boy who grew up during World War II to endure.
In Michael Moore's film, Fahrenheit 9/11, there is a scene where an American patrol breaks down the door of an Iraqi home in the middle of the night and enters, forcing women and children to the floor at gun point. The troops were looking for a "suspect," who happened to be upstairs. These men were wearing "Fritz helmets." As I watched, I was transported back to newsreels of Nazi troops shaking down Polish citizens during World War II. I remember, particularly, a clip where a young Polish boy was shaken down and potatoes fell from under his coat. The Nazi soldiers laughed as he shivered in fear.
It seems that some things never change and lessons are never learned. Do Americans realize what is being done in their name? Of course not. Does that mitigate our guilt? Absolutely not.
As a child, I was taught to believe that all America was a "free speech zone" and that the police were our friends. I remember stories about how frightened displaced persons were -- many of them right out of concentration camps -- to see dark uniformed police when they arrived in America. "Do not fear," they were told. "This is America!" "You can be who you are and say what you think." "America is a free country." I guess they were brought around to believe that -- maybe.
A good child, I believed these slogans to be true.
How naïve can one get?
But that was then and this is now. As Bob Dylan said: "The times they are a changin'."
There have been many warning signs over the years, but most of them occurred in American fiefdoms and were unreported by the so-called mainstream news. Even so, I was shocked to see the photos of the war protesters in Oakland, CA, who had been shot with "non-lethal" wooden plugs on April 7, 2003. These were innocent people who were exercising their right to free speech, people who backed off and tried to evade the police, yet were shot at point blank range.
Wounds on the neck of a young woman! Wounds on the back of a man who tried to get away! Wounds the size of a large orange, leaving scars that will not go away. Vicious wounds administered to people who were peaceful and could not fight back.
Do you think the Oakland police enjoyed meting out pain and suffering to these "evil doers," or do you think they were afraid of the unarmed group of protesters? Make a guess. It isn't as easy as you might think. Perhaps it should remain an open question, for we'll never know for sure.
After the tragedy of the Vietnam War, with its accompanying domestic violence, including the killings at Kent State University, I thought such things were past. But, they were not past. They will never be past. They will never be past, because the Beast within humanity never dies.
I know people who think the Oakland protesters deserved to be shot.
Hate and fear of the "Other" is good growing weather for the totalitarians amongst us.
But I digress... Back to the cages. There will be more cages if Americans allow them. There will be cages to contain protesters in every major city in America -- maybe even in small towns.
Americans need the courage to confront a leadership who control through fear. Noam Chomsky, in his 2003 book, Hegemony or Survival, wrote:
"That tactic [fear] was employed throughout the Reagan-Bush years, as the leadership conjured up one devil after another to frighten the populace into obedience." (p. 115)Sound familiar? It should. The ongoing non-specific "orange alerts" should hit a nerve. The latest one, issued during the Democratic Party Convention, was based on information that government agencies had before September 11, 2001. Does anyone care about this chicanery? Do you?
Rebecca Solnit is correct. Progressives must break out of the cage imposed by their own ideology, or physical ones provided by enemies, and seek victories where we can, when we can, temporary or not, and keep moving.
But as we move forward, the question is: who is the spider and who is the fly? The above-mentioned cages evince a paranoid fear on the part of the ruling class. The layer of bubble environments that surround our "rulers" confirm this, whether at the Democratic Convention in Boston, or the White House in Washington D.C.
This does not bode well for the future, to say nothing of liberty.
It is wise to keep an eye on those who fear dissent. The example of the Oakland Police was intended to create fear among the war protesters, yet what was actually displayed was fear on the part of the authorities. The powerful, desperate for control, fear free people who confront them. While they may promote Orwellian slogans about freedom and democracy, these are the last things they have in mind. Inside, these people are controlling and fearful, cowards if you will, bullies who deal wounds and hurt to those who cannot fight back. And they loose assaults upon the populace using those who possess a Cossack or Schutzstaffel personality profile.
Sadly, none of this is new.
We must work for small victories, shared victories, and hold tight to our ideals in the face of defeat. But one is never defeated until he or she accepts defeat. Perhaps one of the main American traits is lack of patience. We must buck that trait. Poise and patience are virtues that we must cultivate, for it is not just important to know how to move forward, but when.
It will take great courage. Heed the words of Hunter Bear Gray:
"We cannot run away from the Winds of Challenge and Change. We have to take History and ride with it. Always ahead, always toward the Sun. And always aware that Democracy is natural and, given half a chance, it will always flourish. We have big fish to fry and we're going to have to do it in an American skillet -- over a long-burning fire from the timber of our own forests."
· · · · · ·
Courage II - by Richard Macintosh
Courage - by Richard Macintosh
America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Richard Macintosh on Swans (with bio).
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