We Can't Give in to the Culture of Fear and Apathy — Channel Your Discontent into Positive Action
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Retired CIA Officer, now a peace and justice activist, Ray McGovern recently wrote in an article called The Moral Imperative of Activism that “This is our summer of discontent. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether that discontent will move us to action. Never in my lifetime have there been such serious challenges….”
These serious challenges exist in the form of the multiple crises and the obstacles we face in overcoming them. Powerful forces are aligned to maintain the status quo, even though that means increasing poverty, injustice, war and environmental destruction; and are adept at preventing disruption of it. Corporations control the political process, the courts, think tanks, the media, education and many non-profits. The vast national security apparatus monitors us and does what it can to prevent effective resistance actions through infiltration of activist groups, as was recently discovered in Washington, DC and Oklahoma.
These challenges are not insurmountable if we educate ourselves and are willing to join the many who have already stepped out of the culture of fear that is being propagated and are taking courageous action. Some activists have a solid understanding of the political situation and are able to act intuitively as long-time environmental activist Diane Wilson has done repeatedly. But this is not true for most people. The very forces that protect the status quo, which make up the corporate-security state, have been effective in misleading and distracting the public, often misdirecting their energies into futile activities.
A case in point is the confusion being caused by the upcoming March on Washington to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom. Though it is being organized as a celebration of an historic event, the grievances that existed during the original march continue in some forms today. Poverty and unemployment rates are high. Racial disparities exist for education, jobs and health, and for treatment by the police and judicial system. And hard won rights to vote are disappearing.
How odd to be celebrating a march that came out of real struggle when those struggles remain. The march is an opportunity to air grievances, and some groups, such as the Labor Fightback are urging groups which attend to call for a national jobs program, Medicare for all, funding for domestic programs instead of war and more. Will they have a platform for their calls to be heard?
The answer is no. This is not that kind of march. Though the celebration is being organized by the same groups that planned the original march, this is where the similarities end. At the time of the original march, the organizing groups were heavily involved in the civil rights movement. They had differences in strategy, but they were able to unite around a set of ten common demands for economic and racial justice.
Speakers at the original march came from the movement, from the front lines of struggle. There were no politicians, because the marchers were there with the purpose of confronting power. Dr. King, who delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, represented the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which believed that the march was an opportunity to raise issues which Kennedy was not addressing. King believed in remaining independent of the two parties of his era, both of which were dominated by segregationists. His view was summarized in his quote, “I feel someone must remain in the position of non-alignment, so that he can look objectively at both parties and be the conscience of both—not the servant or master of either." Today, we face two parties dominated by money and corporate power and must remain independent to be effective.
Unfortunately, the groups organizing this rally have aligned themselves with the Democratic Party. Speakers for the celebration include Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and presidents of unions and others who are the greatest supporters of the Democratic Party. President Obama is scheduled to speak on the actual anniversary, Aug. 28th, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. King spoke. The only speakers from the front lines of struggle will be the parents of murder victim Trayvon Martin and the Dream Defenders, but they will be surrounded by the very people who have done nothing to end racist policies in our nation; and who have aided the wealth divide and failed to confront the jobs crisis.
Instead of facing the reality that a new civil rights movement is necessary, as Mark Vorpahl writes, “There will be pressure not to embarrass the President, though the effects of his policies and inaction are what need to be unambiguously opposed. The 1963 March on Washington was about speaking truth to power. Its 50th Anniversary must continue this tradition rather than choke it which would bolster the calculations of President Obama and his big business party.”
There are groups on the front lines that are organizing and speaking truth to power. Low wage workers at fast food restaurants have been striking all across the nation to demand a living wage. They’ve announced plans to escalate their actions this fall. Other workers are demanding paid sick leave. And some communities are simply demanding that their local hospital not be torn down to build condominiums.
The American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC), which is behind many harmful policies such as the misleadingly named “Right to Work” and “Stand Your Ground” laws, met in Chicago this past week. They were greeted by large protests which closed surrounding streets. Students and teachers protested to expose ALEC’s agenda that is privatizing and destroying education at all levels. Student organizer Sara Fitouri said, “We see people fighting foreclosure in our communities, college students and recent graduates fighting debt, and K-12 organizers resisting high stakes testing and the school-to-prison pipeline. We realize our success is all tied together.”
Connecting our struggles is critical to success as is the use of tactics that do not appeal to power, but either directly face it or delegitimize it. In Pennsylvania, a coalition of students, their families and religious institutions is planning a boycott of school until sufficient funds are provided by the state for education. In Washington State, local residents that have been fighting the extraction and export of fossil fuels in the Northwest kayaked and marched to the Army Corps of Engineers office to say, “Since the Corps is incapable [of] address[ing] the real concerns of the people, we the people are relieving them of duty.”
In fact, Jeremy Brecher writes that when governments do not protect the public, then it becomes necessary for people to challenge these failures through nonviolent civil disobedience. He states that “climate protectors [are] upholding the law, not violating it.” As we wrote last week, there is a broad climate movement that is exposing collusion between the government and the dirty energy industry and people who are placing their bodies literally on the machines that are destroying the planet.
Many indigenous people are leading the fight against the radical extraction of resources for energy. At the same time, Indigenous leaders are also making connections between the theft of land and resources that began when Europeans came to America and the same behavior that continues today. The Hopi Prophecy tells of a time when people must choose material wealth or protection of the planet.
In Overcoming the Global Order of Oppression, Fear and Paranoia, Gilbert Mercier writes, “We have been enslaved by our own fears and paranoia for the benefit of corporate global capitalism. The ultimate form of capitalism is slavery, and our history is in the process of regressing to this. The turning point might be when a large majority of people have nothing to lose. Perhaps then, we can reverse the tide, return to a sense of ownership over our own destiny, and embrace the deep belief that the human spirit cannot be kept permanently shackled and will triumph against all odds.”
We have an opportunity to confront corporate global capitalism right now in a way that unites our struggles. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is entering its last round of negotiations in Brunei starting Aug. 22. Following that, the White House and leadership will pressure Congress to give Trade Promotion Authority (Fast Track) to President Obama so that he can sign the agreement and Congress will only have the ability to vote yes or no on it. Stopping Fast Track is essential to stopping the TPP. And stopping the TPP is fundamental to protecting all of the issues that we care about.
Activists concerned about a broad variety of issues such as food safety, worker’s rights, the environment, internet freedom, health care, immigrant rights and more are demanding that members of Congress promise to vote ‘No” on Fast Track. Actions are being planned to either “Thank” or “Spank” members on September 17. There are more information and tools available on FlushtheTPP.org.
The TPP is a corporate power grab in the form of a free trade agreement. Some call it “NAFTA on steroids.” Like NAFTA, if the TPP passes, it will do so against the consent of the people. When NAFTA went into effect in January, 1994, the Zapatistas in Mexico declared war on the Mexican government.
Nearly ten years later, “having exhausted the road of dialogue with the government as well the one of a ‘big R’ Revolution that would overthrow the Mexican state — the Zapatistas of Chiapas decided to ‘abandon the politics of demands, and with it, all contact with the state.’ Instead, they chose to concentrate on building their own autonomous, horizontal forms of self-government within their own territories and with their own means.”
The Zapatistas are celebrating ten years of autonomy with a “Little School” to share what they have learned with others. They invited everyone to join them online for the school. Classes are conducted in Spanish. Alternatively, articles are being written each day in English on the topics discussed and we are posting those on PopularResistance.org.
John Pilger writes this week about the neoliberal assault on public institutions such as the postal service and utilities in the UK. Similar assaults are occurring in the US. PopularResistance.org is supporting efforts to protect and expand the US Postal Service. Pilger is concerned about the normalization and acceptance of the theft of public institutions and the smear tactics used to destroy those who take a stand. He concludes, “Momentous change almost always begins with the courage of people taking back their own lives against the odds. There is no other way now. Direct action. Civil disobedience. Unerring.”
And so, let us go forward in this summer of discontent in solidarity and with a clear understanding of the forces that will attempt to distract, divide and discredit us. We have the ability to confront power directly and demand change, and if that is not successful, to delegitimize institutions of power and build our own. Either way, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves, connect our issues and protect people and the planet together.