Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Kvetching toward Bethlehem, or Slouching toward Extinction?

How the history of courage, rage, and change got lost during the Democratic National Convention

      Hillary Clinton had some nerve, harking back to the civil rights and women’s suffrage struggles in her speech before the Democratic National Convention—as if she and the Democratic Party were today’s party of the people, as if she were in a position to equate herself, her Party and the teachers, nurses and police officers she referred to in her speech with those activists of the past! Sorry, Hillary—it’s a specious comparison, and shame on you for your dishonest exploiting of history to propagandize your audience.

      “These women and men looked into their daughters' eyes, imagined a fairer and freer world, and found the strength to fight. To rally and picket. To endure ridicule and harassment. To brave violence and jail...This is the story of America. Of women and men who defy the odds and never give up.”

      This, while outside the convention Cindy Sheehan, Ward Churchill, Code Pink, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and thousands of true activists —today’s equivalents of those who struggled for equal rights and the vote in the past— faced the oppressive forces of Homeland Security, FBI, and nunchuck-carrying, CS gas-spraying, unidentified Denver police—and Hillary ignored it all, making nary a peep about Denver’s “free speech” zones, nor about harassment of dissenters, nor about protest cages...not to mention torture for detainees, secret rendition, illegal wiretapping, violations of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, or any of the other crimes of the Bush Administration.
      Regardless, you would think Barack Obama was the second coming! This, despite the fact that both he and Hillary Clinton have supported “free” trade, with its nasty effects on the human rights of indigenous people and the economic lives of millions of American workers. This, despite his rhetoric in support of “clean” coal, as if there is such a thing, as if the coal industry, “clean” or otherwise, does not damage the environment and the lives of hundreds of thousands Americans every day; this, despite his intention to send more troops into Afghanistan, kowtowing to the delusion that military force and occupation can ever bring peace there; this, despite his support for Israel, which has become what it —and we— despised during the Second World War, that is, a right-wing occupier and human rights abuser of people it doesn’t honor, whose land and property it wants to own.
      Sure, it was wonderful to see an American candidacy for president represented by a black man. This is great. It heals deep wounds. Still, it does not erase certain facts, and Obama’s skin color is less important than his allegiances. And we now know what those are, given his dishonorable and corrupt betrayal of the American people and the 4th Amendment to the Constitution with his Yes vote for the FISA bill, which gave immunity from prosecution to At&T and other telecom companies, for illegal wiretapping of American citizens; At&t, which was one of the corporate hosts of the Democratic Convention. (Funny how that works, isn’t it?)
      Millions of Americans are snagged on Obama’s gossamer threads of rhetoric about hope and change, and from there are taken on a heady ride, where all things become possible. The problem is, that’s not how change, the kind of change that will turn this empire back into a democratic republic, usually happens. It’s not happy, hopeful thoughts, or some supernaturally endowed, great leader, that will get the job done. The powers that be do not care about your hopes, your dreams, or what your charismatic leader thinks would be a damn fine thing to do; it is not by the goodness of their hearts that anti-democratic forces in culture change their ways. No. Change happens when ordinary people get damn angry enough to demand it, and demand it in loud, kvetching, furious, complaining tones.
      The women who fought for the vote did not wait for an Obama, nor did they worry about being labeled as extremists, or radicals, or commies, or socialists, or threats to the all-American, patriarchal family. Nor did they feel they needed to couch their demands in nice, lady-like, diplomatic terms, to avoid seeming like angry hussies, which I’m sure they were called. Instead, their Declaration of Sentiments has a list of seventeen complaints, each beginning with “He has”, and so forth, a list of human rights abuses done for so long by men against women that anger had to be the only proper tone of their declaration.
      We face equal and worse threats to human rights, democracy, economic security —the life of the planet!— today. You would think the people would wake up, as Dennis Kucinich’s clarion call at the Convention so eloquently urged us to do— and take to the streets, or at least support those who do put themselves at risk there. But no. To the average American, to conservative Democrats, which includes Hillary Clinton, and to Republicans in Congress, those activists are “extremists,” “radicals,” “persons of interest,” persons to put on a list of possible terrorists, persons to violate. And so we get the same ol’, same ol’, crap—politicians posing as sweet-talking progressives, likening themselves and their supporters to heroes of the past, who then make a sharp turn to the right, as soon as they’ve nailed the election. Thus, nothing changes, and here we go again, seduced and abandoned, slouching toward extinction.
      I am going to remember that anger over injustice is not a sign of depression or some sort of new psychological disorder needing the latest pill; remember what St. Augustine said: “Hope has two children, anger and courage; anger at the way things are and courage to make them better.”

—L.M. (and please feel VERY free to make a comment)

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