should expect it like the setting sun.
In recent times, every time the populist
ship of state tacks strongly into an issue -- be it the
anti-globalization movement, the anti-war movement, the unraveling of
capital chicanery, or the impeachment of the Bushkovites in Washington
-- something extraordinary happens to
luff our sails and stall the ship's progress.
In September 2001, it was the terrorist attack of 9/11. Coming just when
anti-WTO and anti-globalization sentiment world-wide was a rising tide,
just when Mister Bush's poll numbers were plunging down the toilet, a
diabolo ex machina appeared in the guise of one purported Usama bin
Laden, et. al. to change the subject.
Before the thermited steel trusses of the World Trade Center had even
cooled, before the curious could ever begin to properly analyze the
improbabilities and contradictions of the Official Story, war dogs were
baying for the invasion of Afghanistan and, subsequently, Iraq. The
barking soon drowned out the softer voices of reason and Mister Bush
birthed his Legacy of Perpetual War on Terror.
When the global movement against the occupation of Iraq was picking up
steam in 2003 and 2004, it was the American elections that, once again,
threw leftists' ships off course. Rather than focusing on the key issue
of the moment -- ending The War -- political activists at the grass
roots were sucked into the race for president between Misters Bush and
Kerry, perhaps one of the most dismal, least differentiated political
races of modern times. When the election was over, precious energy had
been dissipated, precious momentum lost, and all in the cause of trying
to get elected a Brahmin-class, keel-less politician who opposed neither
The War nor the theft of his own election.
Whenever world currencies begin to show their insubstantiality, whenever
the skeletons of Wall Street begin their Enron, Long Term Capital
Management or WorldCom danse macabre, some excitable event will
suddenly thrust itself upon the public, like a serendipitous
macro-distraction that will re-focus attention away from the financial
follies. Sometimes the distraction is no more than a miraculous, and
quite irrational rally in the stock market. Sometimes the distraction is
a Hollywood sex scandal. Sometimes, most often, the distraction is a
sudden calamity, a new claim on charity and time that instantly sucks
off the wind from all other long term and important issues.
How does this happen?
Americans, on both the Right and the Left, are a mass of contradictions.
The Middle is merely irrelevant. The Right chatters pseudo-patriotic,
faux Christian claptrap that, with a slight substitution of nouns, could
as well be uttered by hard line Islamic fundamentalists. The Right
champions the supremacy of everything American while denigrating
everything American. The Right routinely confounds democracy with
Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart with Christianity, and Christianity with militarism.
The contradictions on the Left, however, are no less glaring.
We criticize the mainstream press because it is biased, unwilling to
tell full, true stories and unresponsive to anyone except its corporate
advertisers... and then we urge our compatriots to write letters to
the editors as though this same mainstream press will pay any heed to
what we write.
We complain that the courts are slow and stacked with right-wing
enforcers of the status quo... and then we expect the courts to solve
We consider ourselves “activists” and “radicals”... but then we
routinely seek change within the confines of the very system we abhor;
and we seek “funding”, as NGOs, as 501C-3s, as community
organizations that lap up government grant money or corporate funds or
tax-exempt status to sustain our “radicalism.”
We moan that the Constitution is dying and the Bill of Rights ignored,
that the Congress is in cahoots with an autocratic, fascistic
administration... and then we expect that our letters and
constitutional appeals to the Congress and the Bushkovites will,
somehow, persuade them of the rectitude of our cause.
We argue that the elections are rigged, the voting machines' software
contrived, and that the Democrats and Republicans are but two faces of
the same party... and then we get dragged into two-party politics and
demand that we vote -- time and time again -- at these same rigged
ballot boxes for the same old tired candidates of the same old tired
Henry David Thoreau wrote in his 1849 tract Civil Disobedience:
“Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole
influence. A minority is powerless when it conforms to the majority; it
is not even a minority then. But it is irresistible when it clogs by its
Voting is good, if votes are counted; but elections, in and of
themselves, rank among the less significant acts of citizenship and
activism. What counts the most is what you do, how you live, how and
what you think, and the courage, constancy, and truth you express in it
The Democratic and Republican parties, unlike most European and South
American political parties that struggle among many in proportional or
parliamentary systems of government, do not presently exist to drive any
specific legislative or social agenda. Rather, they serve to advance the
interests of their party members, and, in particular, those at the
highest echelons of the parties. The Republicans, for the moment,
support the Christian Right because it serves their needs. The
Democrats, for the moment, support Labor (sort of) and Womens'
Reproductive Rights (sort of) because it serves their needs. Both
parties would ditch their present “constituencies”, however, in a flash,
if doing so proved a direct path to power.
In the process of advancing their own interests, politicians will, as
sops, minimally advance a few matters that concern us, but only a few.
That is why political “leaders” at the top of their game adopt and
disavow positions and policies as easily as their advisers and
consultants change their socks. Their purpose, however packaged and
marketed to the voters, is always to secure the spoils of power for
themselves and their associates. Why, then, do populists and leftists,
so-called progressives and activists, get sucked into the vortex of the
major parties, the Black Hole of electoral politics? Why do we always
rush to luff our sails while supporting the lesser evil versus the
greater evil? Are we collectively a little dingy?
The banal truth is that America's Left is a lot thinner than we think.
The majority, though not all, on the left side of the polit-o-meter
really want the status quo, only Nicer. We long for an
illusory, halcyon age of American innocence, a curious left-reactionaryism
that yearns for a fabled America we were taught to believe in, but that
never was. Most Americans, Left and Right, may actually be afraid of
change and seek either to restore a mythological glory that never
existed; or, they support incremental legislative fixes for particular
issues wrapped in the gold leaf of generic “goodness”.
The American Revolution, although it spawned a paperwork worthy of
greatness, did not, in reality, give birth to a revolutionary nation.
The United States that emancipated itself from the British commercial
empire did not emancipate its own slaves. Despite the noble, and truly
revolutionary, words of the Declaration of Independence, they remained
just words. The New Nation embarked almost immediately on its own
territorial expansion at the expense of indigenous peoples, embarked on
a policy of militarization and, before too many years, took on the
imperial robes that it stripped from Britannia. What we see today in the
occupations of Iraq and in Palestine, in our satrapies of Saudi Arabia,
Egypt, Colombia and Jordan, in our AmerIsraeli war on Lebanon, in our
soon to be launched aggression on Iran, on Cuba and on Venezuela, is the
maturation of a nation that went bad in childhood and grew up not
different, but unabashedly meaner than its imperial parent.
What the American Revolution did inspire, however, was later revolutions
in Europe, Asia, in Africa, in the Caribbean and Central America. Some
sputtered, some died, some are still evolving. Some, particularly in
South America, have just begun. It behooves us in North America to pay
attention to, and to learn from, what others are begetting elsewhere.
The essence of what we do, in order to avoid pointlessly and repeatedly
luffing our sails, to avoid forever running aground on electoral party
politics, is to look beyond party politics.
We need to carefully observe and think about storms that have broken
upon us, and storms that look like they are gathering. They seem to be
of a global nature, and have been developing for hundreds of years.
We ought to have a theory, that is, an explanation, for the origins of
these storms, just as scientists explain the man-made acceleration of
the extreme climatic changes we are experiencing. We need theories and
explanations that go beyond “Democrats good; Republicans bad”. We
also ought to consider solutions, which may or may not occur within
existing structures, but will certainly require of all a radical change
in our way of living. Sound political and economic theory are to
movements what sails are to sailboats – they are necessary to propel you
Our leeward sails are luffing and we are muddling around in circles.
Look for safe harbor and put in for reflection, deep thought and repair.
The day comes when we will have to sail into strong storms, against the
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