“The First Signs of Rebellion”
The Washington Protests
Protests broke out in Washington D.C. during the inauguration of the controversial 45th President of the United States. A distinguishing feature of this one was that it was not the product of spontaneous pandemonium. This organized event brought together several groups unified in their shared beliefs.
One statement made by this collective was so powerful that it explained succinctly the reasons for the discontent. It was a powerful message.
Seeing a stretch limousine battered and flaming is an arresting image. What made this one potent were words spray-painted on the side “We The People.” The connection between those words and the anger that compelled them to be written was visual, visceral and ultimately vitriolic. Deeply seated resentments and frustrations were writing themselves on the American Psyche, one not accustomed to this kind of populist expression.
Connective tissues shared between this event and the protests in Ferguson, Illinois was their focus on inequity. The key difference was that one addressed a local issue with nationwide repercussions and the other a national one with local repercussions.
Like a forecast of things to come, the Illinois protest set the template of a protest being tied to a specific event that in turn creates a response that addresses many larger issues. They also share the making their objections to the existing systems in direct physical ways.
It was not a convenient coincidence that a limo was the target of aggression. The symbolism between words and vehicle tied exploitation to luxury. Following those connections comes the next observation. Inequality tied to conspicuous consumption results in class separation.
Hiding from view is the aching problem America has with seeing these things. The inability to admit that there is a class problem is “The Problem.” Freedom has been touted as the hall mark of American society. The real foundation of the nation is deeply rooted in the “Mythic American Dream.”
The real “American Dream” is not rooted in freedom. It is rooted in the idea that anyone willing to work hard can create wealth. Anyone who can scale the walls of inequity and become potentially the very kind of person who condones inequality.
Ask any American what they want, and freedom is not the top of the list. Having a home, a car and assorted possessions, those are the important things. Some take this to extremes and build homes that are mountains of egotism and display their success like a potentate from a faraway land.
Those who loose at this game of buy and sell are informed that it is their failings being responsible for their failure, not a system rigged against their success. The shackles of the 21st century are debts. Keeping people demoralized and stuck in a cycle of debt and more debt removes consideration of such things as contemplating questioning the people and systems that keep them silent.
American laziness is not the culprit for the lack of involvement. It is exhaustion. The weakness of America is that citizens are forced into working too hard to live. The prices of things go up, the wages stay stagnate. It is an effective way to keep people from seeing the problem inherent in the system.
Amazingly, there has been sparse criticism of those at the top for hoarding. By making conspicuous consumption the game, the poor see wealth as attainable. They see the uber uber rich as role models, never criminals.
Why destroy the very people the society wants you to become? This system works so well that there has been little complaint, until recently.
Robber Barons went a bit too far. Violence was the answer to worker demands for reasonable working conditions and wages. Bloody street protests brought workers the opportunity to unite and establish safer working conditions, benefits and reasonable pay. It was not accomplished with peaceful demonstrations. Horrific street fights brought about positive social change.
In blood and death they earned the right to negotiate. Years later, that history has been lost. Only the Walter Reuther Freeway is a reminder of that difficult time when hard fights won victories. Now unions have been marketed to the American people as the very cause of our economic problems.
There are few who will admit this, but Karl Marx in “Das Kapital” anticipated the situation we have now. He stated in no ambiguous terms that capitalists would see the massive profits from their companies and become obsessed with earning more. Like some crazed crack addicts, they would crave more and become less connected about the reality of the very people who made their good fortunes possible.
Flash to the 21st century and we live in a world of the money obsessed who are more concerned with profits than the air we breathe or the water we drink. Fracking causes earthquakes and poisons the land, and fossil fuels pollute the air. The industrialists simply do not care. They are driven by profits, even though all of the aforementioned will affect them as much as the hoi poli they resent.
Ills that have come from our political and socio-economic system, coupled with racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and all assorted ways to divide Blacks, Whites and everyone else from organizing. Clever manipulation of the media that paints everyone as the enemy of everyone else has worked. There is no equality here, just dogs fighting for scraps thrown to the pavement by an indifferent masters.
When the ranchers gathered with guns to protest the United States government, the news service presented them as a heroic battle for liberty. Men were leaving their home to join the cause.
The reality is that they were going out heavily armed to protest the U.S. government and kill if necessary. This was projected as a positive thing by our media. They were never presented in a negative light. The violence that they were ready to unfurl was never seen as just a violent mob.
When people armed with spray paint protest in Washington D.C. they are not seen as liberators, but vandals. They are labeled dangerous and slapped with potentially unfair sentences.
Going back in time reminds me of the Black Panthers. Once upon a time in California there was a stipulation that you could carry weapons to the State House. To protest Police brutality in Oakland, a few gathered with guns legally to the courthouse.
Soon after this episode, Ronald Regan supported gun legislation limiting their use in the state house. Gun restrictions, the anathema of the N.R.R, was passed with the support of Ronald Reagan. An ironic twist in American history.
There is a hypocritical response to the use of violence. One group can have an armed standoff and see no repercussions and be praised as heroes. Others are viewed as criminals because their protests are founded in issues that threaten the system’s ability to keep people content with less as some gain more. The flaming limo is a piece of symbolism that says the very will of the people has been ignored. This goes much deeper.
Far deeper than this election, the flaming stretch limo reminds us that a few benefit, while a great deal suffer in silence. The very fact that we have the homelessness, evictions, poverty, unaffordable healthcare, costly education systems, racism, sexism and classism, something the media refuses to even look at, the mere existence of these things on such an epic scale that they have the ability to tear the society apart.
What has been forgotten is that the French Revolution was not the product of the poor only. Those who rejected a repressive punishing monarchy were the emerging middle class and some members of the upper classes. A revolution of this scale is not possible until there is cooperation among various groups.
When the middle class, accustomed to their life style, are threatened to the point where they find themselves having more in common with the working poor than any other group, this is fertile ground for dramatic change. Their numbers will swell and they will have the political power to enact change.
It should surprise no one that at some point things will become violent. The election process this time was depressing, uninspiring and unusually vulgar. There were no great dreams. There were no messages that inspired. Instead of bringing all of us together, the entire American voting system was another ugly reminder of divisions in this country that can be traced to the Civil War, and the botched attempts at healing the bloody bitter wounds in the shadows of enslavement.
Politics has never been easy. The very notion of politics may be off putting, but there is no way around it. Politics is the way people get things done.