by Eli Beckerman
(Swans - December 18, 2006) Fear, bloodshed, tears, despair, destruction, corruption, and conquest. These are words that are beginning to describe every year since 2001. Of course they describe much of the history of humankind, but the global north has oftentimes been able to isolate itself from the torment. I imagine the contrast between a white American family "purchasing a slave" in the 18th century to make life a bit easier, and the utter devastation to that African's family and community and continent and self. While fear is pervasive across the United States, it cannot possibly stack up to the deep and daily terrors faced by those living in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. But the little that Americans are exposed to through the airwaves and newspapers has reached some sort of tipping point. The great myths have been shattered, but the alternative narratives have not yet been told.
While the year 2006 will be thoroughly reviewed and clearly assessed by many, for me it was a blur. I cut myself off from information in a way I haven't done since I opened up those receptors in the year 2000. Simply put, I hit a saturation point and stopped following the main streams of the world's events. My lens for the year was a deeply personal one -- and it is only through what Gilles d'Aymery depicts as "navel-gazing" that I can process it.
Starting the year in Venezuela at the World Social Forum gave me a perspective that is near impossible in the United States -- that people are alive and hopeful and engaged in a simple process of taking control of their lives. That the human spirit is thriving in certain pockets outside of the US of A came as a complete surprise. My assumptions of global despondency were biased by selective sampling.
After returning to the U.S., my thoughts were dominated by the question, "how can we bring the Bolivarian Revolution to the United States?" The streets of Venezuela were alive with political expression, political struggle, and the kind of daily democracy that I dream of in the United States. The opening march of the World Social Forum through the streets of Caracas was one of joyous resistance; powerful and fun at the same time. A street protest organized by the Boston Delegation to the Forum ended in salsa dancing with complete strangers who happened to join in with us, and they were the same Venezuelan people who told us they live in daily fear of a US invasion. Back in the U.S., every march, rally, and vigil that I had seen since we invaded Iraq had grown stale and impotent.
And then it happened. After quiet organizing in response to anti-immigrant legislation passed by the US House of Representatives in December 2005, the streets of the United States came alive. In March, 300,000 people -- mostly Latino immigrants -- marched in Chicago and took the nation by storm. Thirty thousand people followed in Milwaukee. And in Los Angeles, somewhere around 1 million people crowded the streets to protest the draconian Sensenbrenner-King bill. By April, the fever had reached Boston, and with tens of thousands of people in the streets -- people and flags of all colors and backgrounds -- there was a spirit of vitality and hope that had been missing from the progressive "movements" of the last few years. In an increasingly repressive anti-immigrant environment, there was a short-term triumph over fear. On the streets of Boston, I felt like I was once again in Caracas.
The feeling did not last long. Immigrant rights organizations, on the heels of enormous successes in mobilizing immigrants across the country, fell victim to fear. Reacting to the nationalistic backlash, subsequent rallies prioritized American flags and melting pot themes, and protesters were asked to not carry their home country's flag. And when the Los Angeles March 25 Coalition put out a call for a national "Day Without Immigrants" on May Day, immigrant rights groups across the country balked at supporting it. Successful strikes and boycotts were due to local organizing without the support of the national coalitions. And ever since, the sleeping giant has returned to hibernation.
Just before May Day, United For Peace and Justice co-sponsored an anti-war march in New York along with the People's Hurricane Relief Fund, the National Organization for Women, the Climate Crisis Coalition, and others -- showing an expanded focus of the anti-war movement. Hundreds of thousands of people participated, and yet hundreds of thousands more might have been a part of it if the dots had been connected. The raw material for a mass movement is more evident than it is has been in decades, but the usual fault lines are there. The connections between neo-liberal economic policy, mass migration, environmental destruction, and war are not being made, and the various struggles are not being linked.
An Inconvenient Truth came out and saw nearly $24 million at the box office -- raising awareness on global warming and pushing people, incrementally, in the right direction. But with the consequences of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melting so dire, incremental change in awareness might not be enough. And so it goes with the Democrats sweeping back into power in both houses of Congress. And the Iraq Study Group. And Robert Gates replacing Donald Rumsfeld. And John Bolton being forced to resign.
We have incremental changes happening in the nation when what's needed is more of an uprising. We have an economy and way of life that is 100% unsustainable, we have continued movement towards a corporate-backed police state, we have complete fraud at all levels of government, and we have a dominating illusion that things might change now that the Democrats are in. If there is any lesson to learn, it is that if things do change, it will not come from the corporate two-party system. If the Democrats take any real steps to save our dying planet and end our destructive imperial madness, it will be because the people demanded it. Let us learn from the people of Venezuela who took to the streets when they heard Hugo Chávez hadn't really resigned in 2002; from the people of Bolivia who kicked Bechtel out of their country after privatizing their water systems and later elected Evo Morales; and from the people of Chiapas and Oaxaca who took back control from the corrupt mandates of their "elected officials."
According to an October poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, only 16% of the country approves of the job that Congress is doing. While the great myths are being shattered, the alternative narratives have not yet been told, and we are -- I am afraid -- running out of time. There is an urgent need for a rebirth of some very basic ideas and institutions -- we need to figure out how to have a government of, by, and for the people, how to communicate with our friends and neighbors, and how to take care of ourselves on a small scale without abusing the ecologies of our communities. We need to create and communicate the alternative stories, and drown out the money-driven marketing machines of corporate capitalism.
For over a decade we've brought you uninterrupted ad-free advocacy work free of charge. But while our publication is free to you, we are long on friends and short on cash. We need you, our readers, to help us financially. Please consider sending anow. Thank you.