It’s Past Time for Another Step Forward

I would love to fully share the optimism Mike Lux expresses in the following article. And in the long run, I do. I mean, it’s not as if the corporate/military/political juggernaut is exactly subtle in the brainwashing, exploitation and violence used to dominate the planet. In time, it seems all but inevitable that a sufficient number of people will catch on, and object to such flagrant, systemic injustice.

But I wonder. Those wielding power and money have clearly grasped the value of cooperation to promote their interests. Sure, most would cheerfully rip out their rivals’ throats. But when facing a greater shared threat, they will unite as necessary to keep us subjugated. Which is nothing new. Abraham Lincoln once said, “These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.” Hell, they’ll even spend money on it. Infamous Robber Baron-era financier Jay Gould claimed, “I can always hire half the working class to shoot the other half.”

We’re all more sophisticated now, and no one would say such a thing aloud. The pestilence of private armies is back though, if it ever went away. But the rich and powerful have also learned all too well the usefulness of propaganda. It’s sad and surprising how eagerly many folks will work to keep their fellows in chains, with or without wages. Only persuade them that other poor people are to blame for their problems, their real enemies, that will do the trick. Divided and conquered!

Now this may sound a bit crazy, but in a way I actually find it encouraging that they can persuade so many people to believe big, obvious lies and distortions. Surely the words and ideas of truth and freedom can have at least as much power, if we learn to apply them effectively. Just remember Winston Churchill’s almost-joke, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” If we live long enough to see positive change, it won’t happen quickly. And it won’t happen painlessly. Lies too often say what people want to believe, so it’s damned hard to dislodge them. And as someone once observed, “The Truth which makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.”

Still, if we want a better world, truth is the most powerful weapon we have. Thoreau said “It takes two to speak truth — one to speak and another to hear”, and the tricky part often lies in finding or preparing such a receptive ear. Yet Alexander Solzhenitsyn asserted that “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.” Solidarity is another indispensable weapon, and sometimes feels like the most difficult to attain. As the great union hymn says, “Poor folks ain’t got a chance, unless they organize.” I also liked a protest sign from the battles in Wisconsin two years ago — “United We Bargain! Divided We Beg.” Laughter is yet another great tool. Oscar Wilde quipped “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.” “The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.” as Mark Twain saw it. And we also need love and compassion. As poet William Sloan Coffin observed, “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love.” The late Canadian politician Jack Layton said, “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world!”

Truth, solidarity, laughter, and love? Who says we’re defenseless? Let’s get to work — we could stand a little progress!

+++++++++++++

Crooks and Liars
Wednesday May 22, 2013 03:00 pm
Inspiring Each Other Forward
By Mike Lux

When I was writing my book on the history of American political debate and change – The Progressive Revolution: How The Best In America Came To Be – in 2008, I was doing some research on the sequence of events in the 1960s, I was struck by the fact that so many big things happened so close together. As I wrote in my book:
“The civil rights movement inspired other progressives not only to help in the civil rights cause but also to come together around a range of other issues and constituencies. A renewed wave of feminism was sparked in great part by Betty Friedan’s influential book The Feminine Mystique. The environmental movement gained broad public appeal when Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring became a best seller. Students began to organize themselves. The Port Huron statement, written by Tom Hayden and others, prompted young people to get involved in politics through the student and antiwar movements. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was founded. Cesar Chavez used many of King’s organizing tactics, as well as new ones of his own, to unionize farm workers in the agricultural fields of California. And as the 1960s wore on, progressives of all stripes looked with growing concern at the Vietnam War and began to protest in earnest against it.
When I was writing my book on the history of American political debate and change – The Progressive Revolution: How The Best In America Came To Be – in 2008, I was doing some research on the sequence of events in the 1960s, I was struck by the fact that so many big things happened so close together. As I wrote in my book:
“The civil rights movement inspired other progressives not only to help in the civil rights cause but also to come together around a range of other issues and constituencies. A renewed wave of feminism was sparked in great part by Betty Friedan’s influential book The Feminine Mystique. The environmental movement gained broad public appeal when Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring became a best seller. Students began to organize themselves. The Port Huron statement, written by Tom Hayden and others, prompted young people to get involved in politics through the student and antiwar movements. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was founded. Cesar Chavez used many of King’s organizing tactics, as well as new ones of his own, to unionize farm workers in the agricultural fields of California. And as the 1960s wore on, progressives of all stripes looked with growing concern at the Vietnam War and began to protest in earnest against it.
What is truly astounding is how many of these movements were created in exactly the same window of time: the publication of Silent Spring and The Feminine Mystique, the Port Huron statement and the founding of SDS, and King’s “I Have A Dream” speech all happened in a two-year period during 1962 and 1963. Chavez’s organizing also began in the early 1960s. It was a flash-point moment in American history, as movements and leaders inspired one another, and pent-up frustrations over injustice came spilling out. It was no accident that the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the War on Poverty, the Fair Housing Act, the Clean Air Act and the clean Water Act, Head Start, the creation of legal services for the poor, the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Roe v. Wade decision, and the end of the Vietnam War all happened in the decade that the Roe v. Wade decision, and the end of the Vietnam War all happened in the decade that followed.”
I feel like we are living in such a moment in history right now, that organizers and activists are sparking off each other and inspiring each other, that there is something building out there that will bring bigger change down the road. And just as it took several years for the seeds planted in those 18 months in the early ‘60s to take root and begin to bring about the changes of the years to come in terms of civil rights, women’s rights, and the environment, it will take several years for the seeds being planted now to fully take root. But I believe more and more that it will happen.
Yesterday, homeowners who have been royally screwed over by big Wall Street banks risked not only arrest but worse in demonstrations at the Department of Justice (capitalize) demanding that DOJ start prosecuting bankers rather than the people ripped off by them. Look at this horrific video of a completely peaceful protester being tased:
The protests are continuing today, tomorrow, and maybe beyond.
Meanwhile, low wage workers who work for federal contractors are doing some protests of their own. Check out this excerpt from the news release announcing this action:
Washington – Hundreds of low-wage workers employed under federal contracts, concessions, and leases went on strike today in several federally owned buildings asking their employers and President Obama to take action and improve their wages and working conditions. These low-wage workers are part of a hidden army of nearly two million low-wage workers across the country employed by private businesses on behalf of the U.S. government to serve the American public—working in the food courts at government buildings like Union Station and the Ronald Reagan Building, greeting visitors and selling memorabilia at the Smithsonian Museums, driving trucks hauling federally-owned loads and making military uniforms for our troops. Earlier this month, the workers announced the launch of their organization, Good Jobs Nation, and called on President Obama to ensure contractors pay a living wage and improve working conditions for all those employed by federal dollars.
Today’s strikes come on the heels of combined fast-food and retail worker strikes in Milwaukee and the largest-ever fast food strikes in Detroit, as well as recent strikes in New York City, St. Louis and Chicago and the nationwide walkout by Wal-Mart associates on Black Friday. Labor unrest is spreading as workers in low-paying jobs are fed up with stagnant wages and a lack of economic opportunity.
“All I want is to be able to support my family, but I can’t even afford to pay my rent on $9.00an hour,” said Ana Salvador, who has worked doing a myriad of tasks at the McDonald’s at the National Air and Space Museum for 10 years. “The company I work for makes big profits thanks to taxpayers. It’s not right that I work hard every day to serve the public, and I have to choose between taking the Metro to work and paying the electric bill. I’m asking President Obama to act so I can provide for my family.”
Low-wage jobs have accounted for the bulk of new jobs added in the recovery, but a recent Demos report found that the federal government is the largest low-wage job creator – with nearly 2 million low-wage workers employed under government contracts, loans and leases, including nearly 100,000 working under federal contracts in the DC area alone. A growing coalition of community organizations, clergy, and labor groups, including Empower DC, the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Change to Win, OUR DC, and Jobs with Justice, have voiced their support for the workers’ efforts…
Federal contracts, grants, loans, concession agreements, and property leases worth hundreds of billions of dollars go to large, profitable corporations that pay their CEOs millions in salaries and bonuses but pay their workers such low wages that they are unable to afford basic necessities like food, clothing, and rent. Instead of strengthening our economy, taxpayer dollars are being used to pad corporate profits and bonuses, while leaving workers unable to shop at local businesses and reliant on public assistance to provide for their families…
Congressional Hearing
Following the strikes, congressional leaders, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN-5), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-7), Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), held a Congressional hearing to investigate and improve working conditions for the nation’s largest low-wage workforce.
Federal procurement doubled in the years between 1996 and 2009, and continues to represent an enormous and profitable industry. In 2012, the U.S. government paid private companies $446.5 billion to provide goods and services in the United States, according to USASpending.gov. Concessions agreements, leases, and grants awarded to private business are worth additional hundreds of billions dollars. Because the federal government sets standards on these contracts and awards, the government is in a position to require that wealthy employers pay frontline workers higher wages that will allow them to afford basic necessities like food, clothing, and rent.
The workers striking are literally risking their desperately needed jobs while doing so. Just like the people at DOJ risking arrest and being tased, these workers are on the frontlines, showing enormous courage and grit under fire. It is a shame that some of our political leaders couldn’t do the same.
Like the non-violent warriors of the early 1960s who fed off each other, these kinds of demonstrations are inspiring and sparking each other. These last few years have seen environmental, immigration, and LGBT activists chaining themselves to the White House gates and pushing back hard against the administration, to great effect; they saw the birth of the Occupy movement, which started in NYC and spread to demonstrations around the globe; they saw the birth of the brave homeowners at Home Defenders League literally occupying each other’s homes to keep families from being foreclosed on; they saw one day strikes at Wal-Marts and fast food chains spreading all over the country. And now in one week, we are seeing low wage workers and homeowners getting squeezed stand up and fight back against the wealthy companies that are treating them poorly. And all these sets of demonstrations and movements are sparking and inspiring each other.
The powers that be are wealthy beyond measure, and are used to getting their own way, so they are bending all their power to keep a lid on all of this. But people are rising up, and in the years to come, we are going to see some real changes.

http://crooksandliars.com/mike-lux/inspiring-each-other-forward

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About l. l. frederick

I'm pretty ordinary, so I find any number of things in the world interesting, among them: books, music, flowers, food, social justice, politics and (sometimes!) people. As for my writing, I've decided that I can be subtle and tasteful when our only problems are esthetic ones. Or when I'm dead, whichever comes first. In the meantime, read at your own risk.
This entry was posted in Civil Rights, Dissent, Economy, Environment, Justice, Law, News and politics, Women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to It’s Past Time for Another Step Forward

  1. Jeff Nguyen says:

    I think Lux’s article read like one preaching to the choir. The question is how to reach the mainstream who are still under the spell of their captors. It may happen when they find themselves on the receiving end of a bank eviction notice or on the unemployment dole for the 14th month in a row. Many Americans are still comfortable enough that they haven’t “hit bottom”. thus, they’re not ready to question the way things are and always have been.

    I like that you temper your optimism in relation to Lux. You’re right that “we could stand a little progress.” Framing the discourse from a “we” perspective enables us to see that we are all in this together. When the Titanic went down, it was no respecter of captain, officer, dockhand or passenger. Every voice is needed in the struggle.

    • You make a good point, thanks. I never understand that lapse in logic, or is it Stockholm Syndrome?, that keeps us from realizing the causes of our problems. Convincing us to blame ourselves, or to blame some trumped-up enemy, if we are not rich and powerful is obviously damned useful for those who profit at our expense. But why do we believe it?

      And preaching to the choir? Probably so. Of course, choirs do need to stay in practice and in tune. As long as that doesn’t become an end in itself.

  2. ileneonwords says:

    Thanks for visiting. I enjoyed Lux’s article. The early 60s were a very exciting time, an inspiring time. You’re right in your response to Jeff that “choirs do need to stay in practice and in tune.” I think blogs have a minor role to play in that.

    • Ilene,

      Thanks so much for your visit, and for your kind comment. I really enjoy your blog. You somehow manage a graceful balance between the dedication to social change and progress, and the capacity to find joy and inspiration in people and art, in the world as it is. I too often careen wildly from outrage to exhaustion. If I ever seriously grow up, perhaps I can also become sane. Getting late in the game for that, though. Guess I’ll have to carry on with obstinacy, which seems to be my best thing.

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