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Chronicling the collapse of a failed society
A great idea, but perhaps a little too optimistic:
A plaza two blocks from the White House is being envisioned as a Tahrir Square or Madison, Wisconsin – a place for ongoing, nonviolent citizen protest – under plans by a coalition of activist organizations and prominent individuals. Their demand: withdrawal of all “U.S. troops, contractors or mercenaries” from Afghanistan. …
One of the organizers, single-payer healthcare advocate and pediatrician Dr. Margaret Flowers, told Nieman Watchdog that the group hopes for “a sustained occupation of the square beginning on the 6th of October.” The location, Freedom Plaza, is on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., within marching distance of the Capitol and other federal offices.
“This will not be another rally and march on a Saturday, make home movies, pat ourselves on the back, and go home,” said best-selling author (“War Is a Lie”) and activist David Swanson, another of the organizers. “We are coming to Washington to stay.” …
In announcing the call for the action, organizers said they believed a tipping point has been reached in the American people’s disgust with “the atrocities of U.S. foreign and military policy” and “a U.S. domestic policy that steals from the people to add to the already hideously bursting pockets of the wealthy.” The time is ripe, they said, for a Tahrir Square-style outpouring.
“When the tipping point is reached, it seems at once both unexpected and completely obvious. We are nearing that tipping point in the United States. We have witnessed the Arab Spring and the blossoming of the European Summer. We ask ourselves if now we will experience the American Autumn.”
The problem with American-style protests has always been that we have a tendency to quit too soon; we may show up en masses for a few days, clog the streets of Washington for a while, but then disperse before our demands have even been heard, let alone addressed. The closest we’ve ever come to sustained protest on a scale large enough to effect genuine change was during the Vietnam War era, but as we all know what little progress was attained then was soon swallowed by the dark days of the Republican dynasty that began with Reagan and has continued until now.
The organizers of this protest are absolutely correct in asserting that a more permanent presence is precisely what is required in order to foment genuine reform. The tens of thousands of Wisconsinites who turned up day in and day out for months on end were truly inspirational in this regard, and demonstrated that Americans are in fact capable of maintaining meaningful, sustained protest over extended periods. But I think it is a bit premature to suppose that we are approaching a “tipping point,” at which the masses will suddenly rise from their slumber and demand a revolution, as happened throughout North Africa and the Arab world.
There are vast differences between the United States and the countries of North Africa and the Middle East, but the most important have to do with relative levels of desperation. Things are bad in America and getting worse, but they have hardly reached the scale seen in impoverished, desolate nations such as Tunisia. It’s hard to imagine any American setting fire to himself in protest over widespread unemployment and rising food costs — while poverty exists in America, it simply doesn’t compare with the poverty seen through much of the developing world.
The United States is not a free country, and we certainly do not have a democracy. We lack many of the most basic rights and privileges that are treasured throughout the industrial world — universal health care, quality education, and nowadays even a modern infrastructure — but there is still a level of mindless comfort which exists here that works to stifle the passion, anger and frustration required for a massive popular uprising. Times may be tough indeed, but as long as people have their McDonald’s dollar menu and the latest season of American Idol, the prospect of taking to the streets in open rebellion simply doesn’t rank.
And while homelessness and destitution are becoming reality for millions of Americans, the masses are still managing to stay afloat by working three jobs, maxing out credit cards and taking second mortgages on the family home. Amidst the struggle to survive and the incessant stream of mind-numbing propaganda from the corporate media machine, there is little motivation for the average American to drop everything and hitchhike to DC to occupy the Mall while the family starves at home.
The cold war saw two great empires pitted against each other, generally portrayed as polar opposites struggling to extinguish their evil foe. It was an epic battle of good versus evil, and according to the standard corporate narrative, the good guys one. Democracy prevailed and the autocratic so-called socialist workers’ paradise lost, forever demonstrating the innately superior qualities of our sacred capitalist credo. But in reality, the cold war was not a battle between good and evil, black and white, but rather evil versus evil; it was determined from the start that nothing but evil could prevail.
The Soviet Union was at least honest in its means at establishing and maintaining power: brute force, the staple of fascist states throughout the ages, was used to coerce the masses into quiescence, and though official propaganda claimed otherwise the truth was always apparent. The United States has adopted a more evolved and infinitely more effective strategy at retaining its stranglehold on power. The people are allowed to maintain a basic minimum standard of living, and thanks to a perpetual stream of propaganda from the corporate media machine, they actually believe they are happy and free, and willingly play their part in upholding a pyramidal social order which enables a wealthy few to enrich themselves off the toil of the masses.
And so it will remain.