Seeing the videos coming out of the streets of Cairo of women stripped half nude and being stomped and kicked and beaten with sticks heavy enough to break bones just really troubles me. It is troubling in and of itself just for its ability to place upon one’s consciousness an awareness of sickening violence, but even more so it is also troubling in terms of the future that is in store for all of us.
I have great difficulty being optimistic about the Egyptian revolution. I’m afraid that there is a new standard for morality being set now in the world and the U.S. and Israel are behind it. The massive clampdown on the Occupy movement across the country is but one small piece of evidence that we have a government with a PTSD mindset that seems to spill out in extreme cases like U.S. Army Ranger John Needham, another video that is making the rounds and one which I could only read the notes on and refused to watch.
This is horrible. The individual instances like Needham’s in which this occurs are a reflection of a much deeper mindset that has infected our entire government and military establishment, and not only that, our entire population. We’ve acquiesced to a level of violence perpetrated by our government that has become normal and forgivable, our entertainment in the morning paper, because it is only apparent that we go on with our normal daily affairs and do not physically invade the grounds of the White House or the halls of Congress and just fucking demand at the top of our lungs that this come to a screeching halt. This is what our wars have done to our country, our people, our future. This is what we have deeply engrained in the minds of a whole nation that has become willing to lay down for this travesty year after year. This is what we have done to the world as well. Our violence is a shrill clarion of who we are as Americans with our violence-filled Hollywood movies and video games that pass along to our youth the same standard of morals we spread like a filthy disease all over the globe.
For progressives, fundamentally, it’s an issue of sovereignty. Is it ours or is it theirs? Who has the right to represent you? To whom have you vested power? Sovereignty, or a power over land and its people, has been around since bigger men realized they could intimidate small men — and women — a certain elite that claimed a right to rule over “lesser” people. Here in the U.S. it goes back to the American Revolution in the 18th Century when various wealthy individuals, among whom were our founding fathers, bought up this country’s war debt for pennies on the dollar and put a stranglehold on our government. A ruling class has always been around in Egypt as well, but the U.S. has in the past held up an obviously sham representation of an ideal of power, or sovereignty, emanating from the people through representative democracy, and along with it the threat that we would defend that principle everywhere. Presumably, it has been a restraint against countries like Egypt in the past from excessive autocratic rule because the higher moral standard of democracy and greater freedoms that were implied by that were seeds planted in the minds of its own citizens that threatened the privileged lives of the elite with upheaval and revolution if they didn’t conform in some degree.
Unfortunately, the torch we bear is fueled by a different kind of oil these days. America’s own pretense has been dropped since 9/11 with the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, Guantanamo, targeted assassinations against our own citizens, and wars everywhere. With the recent enactment of the NDAA, and its anticipated endorsement of the President, we have even become a police state with martial law in which the military is now going to be used to intimidate us and restrict our freedoms through logical self-censorship our free speech, assembly, and acts of resistance and civil disobedience. This isn’t a formal declaration of martial law, but that will be next. Fascism and violence to sustain it is the new model now that we demonstrate to the world as being the torch of Madam Liberty. Egypt, as Syria does now, may see no need for restraint, because there are deals to be made, and Egypt has probably been bought and probably threatened as well. The power that emanates from the bastion of freedom is corporate money, profits ahead of people, above principle or ethics, without a shred of concern for human rights, which induces those of poor character in our own Congress — isn’t it almost all of them?– and government to compromise their own values, if they ever came with any.
Who enables this? What makes all this possible? The very citizens of the U.S. will not demand better because life is still too good here, despite growing levels of poverty and unemployment. The Occupy movement is inspiring, but it doesn’t come close to the kind of strength needed to change the direction we are headed. The evidence for that is staring us back in the face with the NDAA vote which has occurred since Occupy became a word to be noticed. There’s still a good 85% of Americans who are doing well and not ashamed of it. They continue to buy their SUVs and BMWs every other year and they go home to their well-manicured homes, turn on CNN and say, “oh isn’t that horrible, look what’s happening over there. Honey, let’s watch American Idol tonight. I feel like turning it all off.” And they continue to vote year after year for the same jerks who lie, who play upon their ignorance, their need for security and safety, and their hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt which has them locked into the status quo because they can’t strike or jeopardize their incomes, they can’t walk out, they can’t do anything but go along and work for the same bastards who run everything. The most common reason that many do not join the Occupy movement is exactly that they have jobs to go to. That’s a reasonable excuse, but it’s also a sellout for a pot of porridge, and few can escape it. What is absolutely astounding to me are the number of Democrats who are willing to re-elect Barack Obama for another four years of an even more downward spiral into even greater ignominy. Where is the quest or vision for something greater? I am ashamed of my country. I’m ashamed of the cheap plastic and tinsel we are willing to sell our souls for.
What we need to do now is to reclaim our sovereignty, but not all at once and not through a revolution, and certainly not through the prevailing Occupy movements, but through a strategy of taking block by block, street by street, city by city, of a carefully planned kind of “occupy” in which control over resources and land becomes a gradual but nevertheless relentless and insidious process. What we need is a more humane version of what Israel has done in Palestine. Israel, aside from its complete disregard for human rights and the sovereignty of an indigenous people, represents a case in which a distinct minority of people took over a land house by house, tract by tract, at first legally, through purchase, through a gradual immigration of Jews to Palestine, and eventually through violence and intimidation. We see the same thing happening in neighborhoods across America by other cultures and races. States including California and Texas now have minority populations of whites. This occurred one family and one house at a time. If you want a country, it’s obvious: you’ve got to go out and build one from scratch. The Occupy movement has shown that new communities and new strategies for living can be discovered through demonstrations and protests, but we need more sustainable solutions that will preserve these somewhat spontaneous communities and build upon this kind of value with real resources that we can hold and maintain.
Sovereignty was at issue on Wall Street, as it has been in every occupation. Sovereignty is fundamentally about land. At question was, Whose land is this being occupied? It would be nice if we could rely upon pithy maxims and universal truths, but a deed is a deed in a court of law, unless of course the state has decided to exercise the rule of pre-eminent domain. Land gives definable geographic borders to a politics and way of life. Remember: This land is our land, and we must find a way to claim it. It’s time for progressives to band together and unite by methods that go beyond the internet. The vision must be for collaboration among us to create real communities where progressive values can be built into our way of life and we can gradually simply set aside the overarching governing institutions by simply not participating in them and making them functionally irrelevant. It’s called delegitimizing government.
This is a far reaching vision that cannot occur overnight, but must be seen as a long term generational goal that must be passed on to our children and their children’s children. Our greatest realization is that we must see that we are in the grips of a power that cannot be taken from the top down but must be taken from the ground up. It cannot be resolved through the legislature, because they will not change laws in ways that will deprive them of their channels to wealth and power. Over time, we could gain control of enough districts to move the legislature in ways that benefit us, but that would be like selling tickets to a jazz concert in Bulls Gap, Tennessee. Plan on some foundation support.
Again, the essence of the problem is that we are a minority. We must sell our values by example, not by tyranny. It cannot be solved through revolution because the people can never be expected to confront the military might in the hands of the oppressors. All of that must be set aside. The place for revolution is the ground that you stand upon, or I stand on, or a better one if there is a better one to find. Think of buying a home and building a family there. Better yet, think of buying a neighborhood and building a community there. Think of making it progressive with progressive values. You must unite with people who think just like you do, who value the same things you do, and begin to build a new foundation, a new ethics, a new country, and a new way of life as a form of bacteria, for lack of a better metaphor, that will eventually consume everything around it. We’re talking about real estate, businesses, homes and land, not just a Facebook account. You could start with a rooming house.
As in the case of the Jews, progressives are a distinct minority not only in the U.S. but in every country in the world. Progressives must realize that we will never impose our values on the majority, and it should not be expected or envisioned. A progressive yoke around the neck of a strident capitalist will only end in disaster. Being an example means that we must lead in ways that create peaceful secure boundaries for ourselves as well as for them so that they can continue with their tragedy as we move on to our more deliberative drama, hoping like hell that it won’t become just another comedy. Unfortunately, as much as we idealize about human worth and value, our abilities and efforts to work and live together still remain a great experiment that will yet include, as it has in the past, many more failures before there is recognizeable success.and a utopia we can all agree upon.
Paul Barrow is director of policy and communications for United Progressives.