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Saturday, January 28, 2012

If the dust only wouldn't fly

"The squatting tenant men nodded and wondered and drew figures in the dust, and yes, they knew, God knows. If the dust only wouldn't fly. If the top would only stay on the soil, it might not be so bad. The owner men went on leading to their point: 'You know the land's getting poorer. You know what cotton does to the land; robs it, sucks all the blood out of it.' The squatters nodded—they knew, God knew. If they could only rotate the crops they might pump blood back into the land." - John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Opportunity Dust BowlThe plains of American promise have become a wilderness, sucked of their sustaining dollars by those who have moved on to riper riches, and abandoned by those whose dreams are as dead and dry as the grey sand that bites at their eyes. It's the dust bowl of upward mobility, blowing in rolling black blizzards over the dried, overworked earth of middle class labor that once yielded bumper crops of opportunity. Now, the middle class is an icon, a legend, like Jesus or the Fountain of Youth, easy for many to believe in, but hard to prove ever existed.
Indeed, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) said in a New Hampshire debate, earlier this month, that the term middle class "is something that should not be part of the Republican lexicon."
"We're a country that doesn't allow for titles," he said. "We don't put people in classes. Maybe middle income people."
Today, the empty space where the "middle income people" used to be has been taken by bankers and bailouts, the honest hard work moved to China and other emerging economies. "Long before the recession, jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores," President Obama noted in his State of the Union speech, Tuesday. "Folks at the top saw their incomes rise like never before, but most hardworking Americans struggled."
These days, we are all Okies, but unlike the Great Plains farmers of the 1930s, the former middle class doesn't have an emerging domestic economy out west in which to seek their fortune. Instead, we fade into the streetscape, the coffee shops and bars, the food banks and food stamp lines, and watch the dancing shadows of the capital gainers and offshore bank account holders, disappearing below a distant sunset horizon.
"Now, the banks aren't bad people. They're just overwhelmed right now," the One Percenters say, echoing GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's words to a Florida audience, last Tuesday, as they continue their march away from the dying middle class. But even depression era, dust bowl land agents knew that wasn't the case. As John Steinbeck writes, in Grapes of Wrath:
"No, you’re wrong there—quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it."
Who owns the American Dream? Is it scrawled in the cracked earth of the middle class' economic dust bowl, or locked away in the safe of the one percent, earning $50,000 a day in interest and dividends?
The money for the middle class recovery has to come from somewhere, and it's not coming from the capitalists who are more concerned with creating wealth than creating jobs. Bitter Tea Party shouters and stimulus doubters destroyed the political will for public funding, and the private capital that funds our freedom to enterprise, that made this the Land of Opportunity, is being hoarded by the few who see themselves as the lynch pin to America's success, but instead, have become the firing pin in the bombardment on our economy. They've bought all they can buy, leaving the rest with nothing.
One day, the wealthy will turn around to ask for a cup of coffee, or to get some dry cleaning done, or get their car repaired, and there will be no one there to service them. Their shouts and demands will echo into the evening, and dissipate over the acres of lost opportunity. If they want us, they will have to put their hats in their hands and come find us, for we will all be far away, across the dry gulch, our backs to them, greeting the new sunrise.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Boycott 2012? A political system on the razor’s edge

Boycott 2012? A political system on the razor’s edge

“We deal in illusion, man! None of it’s true! But you people sit there — all of you — day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds — we’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe this illusion we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think the tube is reality and your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing! We’re the illusions! So turn off this goddam set!” – Howard Beale, “The Mad Prophet of the Airwaves,” from the movie “Network,” by Paddy Chayefsky (Sc. 122)
Welcome to the media helicopter. Join us, as we fly over the political landscape. Below, to the right, you see the mountain that the Republicans have constructed, that if you were standing, with your feet on the ground, you would notice is actually a molehill. But don’t worry. Up here, we’re not afraid to blow everything out of proportion. Their memes make it so easy, and it seems the rest of the country takes to our words like pigs to slop.
You can track the landscape beneath us like a map. That’s President Obama’s motorcade on the road to the left, driving on what is, for sure, a bumpy trail that leads back to the White House. The DNC work crew is busy filling in the potholes with Obama’s patchwork accomplishments. They want the road to look good, at least, as they are counting on a convoy of support to fall in line, nostalgic music blaring “Yes, We Can,” the New Day “O” logo flying from banners, bumpers and car antennas.
There remains something strange about the landscape we tour from the helicopter. It maintains a certain sameness, where light and shadow seem never to change, no matter which direction the activity below us seems to be moving. It’s like, if you zoom in to Google Earth, and change the axis on your neighborhood view, there comes a point when all you get is a stretching out of roof lines, because the satellites are presenting only the tops of the houses, and not what goes on beneath the eaves.
The more you stretch it out, the closer you get to a single, thin, nearly invisible line. It is along that line our national politics play out, merely moving back and forth, side to side, or up and down. In its reluctance to embrace the texture of our varied and difficult lives, it seeks to flatten us, compress us, force us into the assimilation of a single political continuum: left, left of center, center, right of center, right.
And while there is plenty of blame for the dysfunctional breakdown of the engine of government that can be laid at the feet of Congressional Republicans, the executive branch is deep under the hood, up to its elbows in gears and grime, and the president cannot show his face as if it is clean of grease smears. Plouffe and Axelrod can dump a cooler of Go-Jo over the commander-in-chief as if he just won the Superbowl, but there’s still that puddle of dirt at his feet. Between now and November, every step he takes tracks damp and dingy traces of the mistakes and missteps of his presidency.
Americans, then, abandon the government issued vehicle at the garage, where they expect nothing good to happen, walk next door to the Greyhound station, and take a bus on a journey through the political wilderness. At least that way, they can chart a course that’s not as one dimensional as the one in which, the system insists, we are participants. Instead, they call for a new ideal, a new set of tools, a new “shining city on the hill.”
There are serious activists in this election cycle who are calling for a boycott of the presidential ballot. Their dissatisfaction will not even be placated with an idyllic third party run – it’s just putting questionable oil into the same engine, and there is no confidence it would go smoothly because, their Facebook event page declares, a third party has “no possibility of winning the Presidential election due to corporate control over the media and the electoral process.”
“Third parties and third party candidates are unable to establish an alternate party or see a candidate to victory,” explained political activist Terri Lee, in an interview with Political Context’s Matt J. Stannard. “We know it, the third party candidates know it and The Establishment knows it too. Boycotting presidential elections does no harm to them because there was no chance for victory from the onset.”
“I can’t believe people are talking about voting,” one recent Facebook commenter wrote, in referring to the bias with which Americans react to news about the inappropriate and unethical behavior of their political enemies. What does it take to go that far in one’s mind, to imply that not voting will send any signal at all?
“It’s desirable to The Establishment to have us follow these silly elections,” Lee said, “to have us believe in the illusion of choice, and to have the public think ‘that’s politics’ and busy ourselves with phone banking, fundraising, canvassing, etc which is all FOR THEM! Intentionally, purposefully, and loudly not-voting is an act of defiance.”
“We do not struggle for control of organizations, social circles, and government,” declares the Vote for Nobody Campaign, on its website. “We do not lobby the State for favors or permission to control those with whom we disagree. Rather, we advocate freedom.”
The question remains, though, by giving up your vote, are you not abdicating that very freedom to the forces you eschew? This may be one tool in the belt, but the only way to create change in this country is to “lobby the State.”
Even if you want to change the entire government system to, say, a parliamentary one, as Ms. Lee advocates in her interview, a Constitutional Convention is necessary. To convene one, you have to lobby for it. One must distinguish, then, between inaction, as “an act of defiance,” and action, as an act of engagement.
Ignoring the November ballot, or even just the presidential sections (and I am not advocating that, yet) is not and cannot be the only solution one chooses to create real change and “freedom” in our country. It can, though, be a catalyst to get activists moving to produce the right kind of revolution, one that serves our social, economic and diplomatic future.
“You say you’ll change the Constitution.
Well, you know, we all want to change your head.
You tell me it’s the institution.
Well, you know, you better free your mind instead.”
- Revolution, by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
It’s the irony of revolution, that to change it on the outside, we have to change it from within; to move the surface, you have to start at the core. In our country, that’s the Constitution. I haven’t given up on that process, yet. Maybe Howard Beale and the Beatles are right – the media want to change my head, want me to free my mind and go along. They want to give dimension to the illusion of choice. I get that. But the real choices, when you get down to it, are either follow the Constitutional process, or engage in forceful, possibly armed, resistance, and if that’s in the mind of any of these movements, as The Beatles sang, “you can count me out.”