(Swans - October 10, 2011) Over 70 years ago, on January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered an oration to the US Congress known as the Four Freedoms speech -- freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Thousands of miles away a 23-year-old man was already fighting the totalitarian onslaught unleashed upon Europe. By 1945, totalitarianism defeated, that young man, who had gone through hardships younger generations cannot fathom, became a member of a small crop of people who, in a Europe lying in ruins and broke, brought us the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, universal health care, free education, jobs, housing, a modicum of social justice, and a more equitable income distribution. Some 65 years later, just about his 93rd birthday in October 2010, this "old man," as he calls himself, ever so young, published a short 32-page pamphlet that has reverberated all over the world and inspired popular protests from Tahrir Square to Madrid, Athens, Tel Aviv, all the way to Lower Manhattan where the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has spread to many American cities, is challenging the elites.
That man is Stéphane Hessel. His opuscule -- Indignez-vous ! -- has been translated in over 30 languages and has sold (to date) more than 3.5 million copies worldwide. I referred to him and his pamphlet last April at the end of my Blips #108 -- Blips that I humbly recommend should be read again as they detail the pain we are all going through, which is a precursor, consciously or not, to the protests that are taking place all over the world. People, especially young people, are at long last realizing the insolence of greed that has caused this devastating crisis -- or, in the words of Hessel, "the dictatorship of the international markets" that are "a threat to peace and democracy." Democracy, I am afraid, is long gone, replaced by some kind of inverted totalitarianism. Hessel notes that "the gap between the poorest and the richest has never been so great; and the hunger for money and the zeal to flatten your neighbor have never been so encouraged." He recommends that the general interest should be imposed over individual interests, and that "a fair sharing of the wealth created by workers should be given priority over the egotism of the power of money." How quaint, how old in an age of nombrilisme ("navel-gazing"), and yet, how real...
His opus was first translated in English by Charles Glass as Time for Outrage and posted on The Nation Web site, unfortunately available to subscribers only. (There is a new, expanded translation somewhere out there.) But Glass appears to have missed the subtle distinction between indignation and outrage. Stéphane Hessel does not call for outrage. He calls for people to get indignant. Indignation calls for rejection and reformation of an unjust social order, without asking for violence to reach one's goal. Outrage inevitably leads to violence (see the police repression in New York), even if the goal is similar. Note, however, that the political and cultural specifics to reach that goal are left undefined.
Actually, Stéphane Hessel proposes nothing either, except getting indignant in the face of the dire reality that is upon us -- rampant injustice, the gap between wealth and poverty nationwide and worldwide, relentless consumerism and self gratification, destruction of our ecological system, unemployment, dismantlement of social services, widespread xenophobia, the management of complexities that no physicist, engineer, or philosopher can grasp any longer, etc. To be fair, Hessel cannot be blamed for his lack of a solution. No one does offer any. He simply and very humanly raises the formidable issues that confront humanity. Still, people from all walks of life are noticing. The world we knew is gone and we do not know what will replace it. That calls for a heightened level of anxiety.
The recent American "Occupy Wall Street" (OWS) movement is a reflection of those growing anxieties. It follows in the steps of the Tea Party groups (which were bankrolled by wealthy reactionary interests) that blame all our ills on the government -- especially one led by a non-white individual -- but differs in that it is targeting not only the government but the 1% of the population -- the malefactors -- that control our destinies and profit from the increasing global misery that is now affecting the middle class in the so-called rich countries. Hessel's indignation is going viral. The elites are taking notice. Ben Bernanke understands the frustration. So does Barack Obama. Tim Geithner sympathizes with the demonstrators. Even George Soros, the über alles malefactor and speculator, expresses "sympathy" for the opinions of the protesters.
Whether the movement can be channeled or whether it will wither when cold and rainy winter days fall on Zuccotti Park remains to be seen, but this inchoate rage is palpable and can also be seen on TV. On August 9, 2011, Dylan Ratigan had his Mad-As-Hell moment on his MSNBC show -- "a wake-up call to Congress" -- in which he denounced the corruption of our institutions, the bought-out Congress, the extraction of trillions of dollars from the economy (banking, trade, taxation, or lack thereof). His message can be summed up with a simple slogan: "Get the money out of politics." Not only has Ratigan carried on with his populist crusade on a daily basis, last week he organized a petition to get money out of politics through an amendment to the US Constitution whose draft reads:
No person, corporation or business entity of any type, domestic or foreign, shall be allowed to contribute money, directly or indirectly, to any candidate for Federal office or to contribute money on behalf of or opposed to any type of campaign for Federal office. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, campaign contributions to candidates for Federal office shall not constitute speech of any kind as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution or any amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Congress shall set forth a federal holiday for the purposes of voting for candidates for Federal office.
The Web site getmoneyout.com has a straightforward message: "Bailouts. War. Unemployment. Our government is bought, and we're angry. Now, we're turning our anger into positive action. By signing this petition, you are joining our campaign to get money out of politics. Our politicians won't do this. But we will. We will become an unrelenting, organized wave advocating a Constitutional amendment to get money out of politics." In a matter of a few days the petition has already received over 155,000 signatures (full disclosure: I've signed it). Ratigan could also advocate the repeal of the 1886 Supreme Court case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, which granted personhood to corporations -- it would render moot the subsequent 1976 Buckley v. Valeo and the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Electoral Commission atrocious decisions. However, much more will be needed to take money out of politics.
About half of US representatives and senators are millionaires (see this Forbes November 2010 article regarding the figures for 2009). Actually, according to The Hill, in 2011 " the 50 wealthiest lawmakers reported a minimum net worth of $1.6 billion, about $200 million more than the lawmakers who appeared on 2010's list." To put these numbers in perspective the Forbes article states: "Only 1% of all Americans have the pleasure of a bank account with more than $1 million." And it's Mitt Romney, the multimillionaire Republican presidential candidate who calls the actions taken by the "growing mobs" (in the words of Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader) of the OWS movement "class warfare." Ming boggling!
It's going to take a singular, historical push by laypeople, more than just indignation, to change the plutocrats and malefactors that govern us...and the policies they implemented over decades, but it's a hopeful start. From Main Street to now the studios of MSNBC, and all over the world, the voice of Stéphane Hessel is being heard at long last. Let's bring back the spirit of the Resistance and the programs that it put in place at the end of WWII. Let's turn back the clock on 40 years of irrepressible and destructive socioeconomic-political policies. Let's have men and women of conscience at the helm of our social construct; men and women not corrupted by greed and power. Let's not have ignorance and darkness carry the day -- it will only lead to barbarism. Let's become humans again. Please, get indignant. It is indeed a start.
"To create is to resist. To resist is to create."
[ed. You can find an approximate English translation of Indignez-vous ! on a Spanish Blog at: http://indignez-vous-indignacion.blogspot.com/p/english.html, but that page may not last for long...]
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