Does Someone Have to Set Himself on Fire to Spark a New American Revolution?

  The unrest in the Middle East is a classic revolt by thousands or even millions of people saying no more to the injustice they are suffering.  Egypt ousted a dictator through peaceful means.  Libya tried the same thing before their own dictator decided to slaughter them and then it turned into the armed conflict we see today.  But we could possibly see the spark that set the Middle East on a fire of democratic revolution through a single act of self-sacrifice.

Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year old family man in Tunisia set himself on fire in protest after his produce was taken by police because he was selling them without a permit.

Unemployment is the weak spot, at nearly 14 percent last year. The situation is worse outside the capital and tourist zones, in regions like Sidi Bouzid in the center-west, where Bouazizi lived.

It’s also worse for educated youths. In a country where schooling has been emphasized for decades, 80,000 educated graduates enter the job market every year, and there isn’t enough work for them.

The desperation was clear.  If one is left without options the most irrational in a person comes out.  Setting oneself on fire is a suicide attempt – an irrational act.  But done in protest of policies or living conditions it can serve as a terrifying call to the plight of every day people.  Bouazizi’s attempt did just that in Tunisia.  He’s not alone either.

Will it take an act of self-immolation to spark a revolution of sorts in the United States?  Not an overthrow of the government but a reawakening of our moral compass.  The budget deficit debate in D.C. has shown how deeply out of touch our elected officials have become in recent years.  Despite an amazing growth of our economy in the last 30 years middle class wages have stayed stagnant while the cost of essentials have increased.  The ability to climb the socioeconomic ladder has decreased.  We are closing in on the death of the middle class.  Does it come down to someone taking their own life in protest to actually grab national leaders’ attention?

Robert Cruickshank noted the suicide of Rigoberto Ruelas after he was rated a poor teacher through a flawed measurement.  There was also an employee of the City of Costa Mesa, Huy Pham, that jumped off a roof after being part of a mass layoff by right-wing council members.

Prior to reading the two diaries I had never heard of either person.  Ruelas and Pham’s despair did nothing to prompt any kind of social outrage comparable to Bouazizis.  Life went on for everyone else but their family members.  Our country continues to punish American workers.  The anti-labor movement pushes full steam ahead.

American people continue to be left behind.  D.C. moves on with its pro-corporate agenda.  What are we to do?  If we take Ruelas and Pham’s deaths in any way as a protest against this war on the working people then we can see it was done in vain.  Would a person setting themselves aflame on the foots of the Capitol Building do any better?  While it may garner the attention of cable news for a couple days the reasoning behind the self-sacrifice would undoubtedly get lost behind right-wing hysteria of it being a lone nutcase and the sensationalism of finding out who the person was by interviewing a grieving family.  Policy agendas of interest groups and politicians would go unabated.

We can look at the pro-labor rallies and protests instead and see the fire burning in the activism of people.  Exercising free speech and free assembly.  That is the fuel for a fire of change.  Speaking louder and more frequently and growing the movement – it is like a wildfire refusing to be put out.  The anti-labor movement can continue trying but working class people must keep putting the pressure on the power that be.

Despite the spark of Wisconsin, Ohio, Washington, Florida, Indiana and elsewhere the fire burns slowly because change happens slowly.  There are many layers of injustice to burn through.   We do not need a martyr to uncover the layers – just more people to each take their turn until there is no more. / By Aaron Krager

Posted at April 15, 2011, 9:56am

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