By Mike Whitney
My email exchange with Dr. Bede Vincent Curley
March 16, 2009 “Information Clearing House”
Mike Whitney: I have been beating the same dead horse for three or four years now and many people are getting tired of the endless iterations of collapsing markets, rising unemployment and growing pessimism. What’s needed is a vision of the future and a concrete plan of action, but I don’t have one. So, tell me, what is to be done?
Bede Vincent Curley: I do not know what is to be done in the US…. Thinking people can see that most Americans veer between manic-depression and paranoid-schizophrenia. While they know they are getting kicked around by the rich, there’s such a strong tradition of obedience to authority in America that most people just take it in stride and just get on with their lives. This is a population with an severe “abuse” problem. I compare it to the compulsive behavior among women and children who’ve lived in abusive relationships. The sickness passes from one generation to the next without interruption. It is a condition that has to be treated, which means creating a process where the person can see that the violence being done to them is violence and not love. America is a nation badly in need of therapy.
The US is full of such abusive notions as “tough love” which only reinforces dependence on the violent parent or partner. There is absolutely no way to confront the situation constructively except by raising awareness to what is happening and pointing out as clearly as possible that this crisis was created by the rich and imposed on the rest of us. And, as soon as you say that, you risk being marginalized– especially among the I-Generation.
There’s almost no discussion about class in the US, even among the Left, and yet, the chasm between rich and poor has grown wider in America than anyplace in the industrial world. The rich get richer and the poor own nothing. The middle class–the class of illusion–is committed to defending the so called American dream and believing whatever the rich tell them in order to sustain their own very tenuous existence. Remember, George Carlin said that “They call it the American dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.” Just try to convince someone in the middle class, some working man or woman, that the US kills and exploits the rest of the planet to serve the narrow interests of 10% of the population, they just point to their college educations, their cars, and other trinkets and shrug it off as unimportant or plug their heads back into the sand. What do they care? They have their Starbucks and their I-Pods and their flat-screens.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that the US is a very big country. If reactionaries (militias?) can seize territory (as they routinely do in the South and parts of the West) why not revolutionaries?
Americans should take the constant erosion of civil and economic liberties in their country over the past 30 years seriously. They need to ask themselves who has benefited from the enormous investment in more police, prisons and military, than in schools and hospitals or affordable housing? These developments were not inevitable or automatic. That means that other choices were and still are possible but they must be made consciously and they require action to implement them.
The banks aren’t going to feed and house people or provide them with anything except shinier chains. The poor and black will get rusty chains, tent prisons, and brutality, like they always do (especially given the host of government incentives for the private prison-industrial complex). The next time someone brings up our “post racial” society, just remind them of Katrina and the thousands of poor black people who were herded into the Superdome at gunpoint. The evacuation and “reconstruction” of New Orleans bear an uncanny resemblance to forced removals imposed by apartheid South Africa under the infamous Group Areas Act. Apartheid’s founders drew explicitly on US segregation practice. Don’t think it can’t happen here again.
What is needed is a different kind of civil disobedience aimed at regaining local control of ECONOMIC resources…a whole new model of social and human responsibility focused on localism and community.
The way the financial crisis is unfolding, we’ll all have to focus on saving our own environment “close to home” without help from the government. We should remember what Malcolm X and others who were murdered in the struggle for justice in the US had to say about human dignity and self reliance; we’ll need it.
People should organize to solve real material problems. Forget about overthrowing “the government”. That’s nonsense. They should focus on defending their homes, strengthening their role in the community, and staying alive. By any means necessary. There will be plenty to do just assuring that basic needs are met. For example, a person facing eviction has no chance to resist by himself, but if the community comes to his defense, then the sheriff’s department will have to back off. This rule can be applied elsewhere, too. Small victories can inspire tenacity, too. The “strike” was never a privilege granted by Congress. It is a weapon of self-defense against abuse that involved the whole working community and not just union members. A factory closing is an opening for resistance. Crowds prepared to storm a WalMart for Christmas shopping sales should be able to storm the doors and occupy the buildings to protect jobs like they did in Chicago earlier this year. The same thing happened in Argentina after their meltdown.
Financial crisis is an opportunity for political mobilization, but people have to pull together and work for a common goal. If a supermarket chain threatens to shut down or lay off workers; it should be boycotted. At the same time however, local farmers should be organized to set up community-supported alternative stores to provide affordable food. These are all politically charged actions that have been tried in the past with some degree of success. Not everything will succeed, but what other choice is there? People are losing their homes and livelihoods. The system is breaking down. It’s time for community politics to take precedence over “identity politics”. As Benjamin Franklin was reputed to have said, “We must all hang together, or surely we will all hang separately”.
You can’t educate sedated and misinformed Americans overnight. But resistance is a process, and it’s a process that improves one’s chance for survival. Look at what happened in Gaza. The main cities were bombed mercilessly by the Israelis but they managed to keep the hospital open. If the Palestinians can accomplish that, then it ought to be possible to take over a local clinic and keep it running even if supplies are cut off.
Of course, this will require an alternative media to succeed. People will need to be updated regularly by reliable independent sources. There could be corporate and government manipulation and attacks on citizen access to the Internet and other alternative media to disrupt activism. In fact, the Pentagon already has plans for nearly every imaginable scenario. And, of course, the MSM will try to discredit the so-called “troublemakers”. The government will do everything in its power to crush grassroots resistance, but history tells us, that when a system breaks down, the central authority gets weaker and weaker while local groups step in to fill the power vacuum.
The country is simply too big for a domestic force of a couple hundred thousand soldiers to manage. Just look at Iraq; there were only 25 million Iraqis and it still turned into chaos. There are over 300 million people living in America; it cannot be done. Besides, on the odd chance that rioting breaks out, there may be reluctance among some in the elite to deploy soldiers visibly to major cities, for fear that foreign capital will flee and further aggravate the capital markets. Still, groups should establish redundancies to stay connected and better endure disruptions.
I’ll stop here, since there’s enough to think about in this rather long and sermonizing message. I am an optimist though, because it isn’t over until we die. As long as people have a will to live there is a reason to resist. There are things that can be done that don’t require blind hope. People need to see that their communities are under attack and that their future is no longer certain. The economic problems of feeding the top 10% are not going away, in fact, they’re getting worse.
The only standard by which an economy ought to be measured is whether all the people who live in it are fed, housed, clothed, educated, and receive care and rest– if that cannot be done then the economy has failed and has to be rebuilt to meet that standard. We’re at war, and the enemy is not the government per se, but the super-rich corporatists that run the government and who prevent the economy from serving human needs.
(These comments were edited for grammar and readability. Dr. Curley is the nom de plume of a friend who wishes to remain anonymous)
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