January 6, 2003
For some unconscionable reason, the wealthiest and most influential people in this country are content with the lopsided nature of our society. Worse, they actively pursue widening the gap, keeping US at a safer and safer distance. This power struggle plays out in numerous ways, but in at least one of these actualizations, WE have the unbalanced power. Unfortunately, we just don't use it.
Three powerful words, grassroots political organizing, are the key to opening up this Earth to real progressive change. If you have ever tried uprooting grass, you know just how stubborn and strong it is -- so pervasive that even when you think you've destroyed every thread, it grows back in a blink. Politics is where our sheer numbers demand that our voices be heard. In word we have representative government, in deed we have government that represents self-interest and an electorate that can't be bothered to vote. Organizing, well, that's what the big boys do well. Sure, they have a lot of resources, but they organize those resources, and that's where their seemingly insurmountable influence starts. The simple truth is that WE don't need money to organize, we just need dedicated souls who try to dedicate more souls.
The naïveté of the general populace -- conservatives, libertarians, liberals, progressives, and the apolitical alike -- must end. Our tendencies toward unquestioning good faith in our elected "leaders," our news "providers," and the captains of corporate exploitation themselves, must shift towards an un-ending critical exploration for the truth. We must become the government, become the media, and become the corporate institutions. Just because our government is wasteful doesn't mean government is inherently wasteful. Government should always be an extension of the people. Yet the same people who profess that big, bad government needs to be clobbered tend to be the ones who push for massive military funding, government subsidized industry, and a myth called "free trade."
What we need more than anything is for people of influence who recognize the perversity of our commercialistic, uninspired society -- which has been, in a sense, pacified through its consumerism -- to stand up boldly in defiance of the status quo. Our elected officials and celebrities who benefit from our dollars should be the first people to target, for they are the most directly accountable. It is as simple as voting out unresponsive legislators from office, and judiciously choosing where we spend money for "entertainment." When these people turn around and denounce the cold-hearted capitalism-as-a-religion ways of our present system, the momentum will start rolling in OUR favor, and any attempts to stop it will be plain to us.
Taking this money-talks thing further, we should vote with our dollars more consciously. McDonald's would have made its menu healthier years ago if the masses ever decided to actively hold them to a higher standard. Well-organized boycotts and well-publicized pro-cotts (let's all frequent Burger King because they have veggie burgers!) could be wildly effective tools of social and systemic change. Of course, WE don't have the media infrastructure to spread the word, but we can build it, and we can get around THEIRs via the Internet, independent print and radio press, and word-of-mouth.
The political halls across America are a corrupt and morally bankrupt jungle. All three branches of our federal government have become infested with selfish prestige-seekers. And the American people have largely and unforgivably given up. With a shrug of the shoulders, Americans who would call themselves patriotic have dismissed the fight against corporate tyranny and its corruption of our political system as hopeless. When Bill Moyers says, "the greatest sedition would be our silence," he is pointing out that this neglect on our part is injurious to the America we believe in.
This turns the Bush brand of patriotism on its head. Democracy thrives not on obedience, but on vibrant discourse, debate, and even dissent. Democracy withers when the executive branch reigns supreme, elite lobbyists are given access to lawmaking, and people's civic participation begins and ends with a vote cast for the most charming and down-to-earth candidate. While this Bush Administration would have you think that putting a flag on your SUV antenna and buying Christmas gifts for your loved ones are two of the most patriotic actions you could take, true patriotism actually requires a challenge. And true leadership includes getting people to do things they might otherwise have not.
Missing entirely from the political establishment is a little thing called courage.
Bill Raftery, CBS sports analyst for college basketball, rewarded courageous players with his highest acclaim: "onions," and fairly bold moves with the cheer "mini-onions!" While there is something disgustingly male about this form of praise, it cuts to the heart of what makes men's college basketball so beloved. Meanwhile, it gets to precisely what is missing in modern American society -- onions!
Instead, we have a President who had spent his entire political career championing states' rights and vilifying big government, reached power trampling Florida's right to determine its electoral college votes, and now presides over an Administration that has taken big-government into big-brother territory. The $2 billion spent by the Office of National Drug Control Policy on anti-drug ads, like those claiming that doing drugs supports terrorism and marijuana is harmful because you can get arrested, is testimony to the fact that Bush's rhetoric is powerful, but his policies and actions are entirely inconsistent with the ideals he trumpets. But he is not the only visible politician lacking leadership qualities. They all are! Bush's rampage through our Constitution and political heritage has been met with barely a murmur from the mouths of Democrats. The incredible hypocrisy of lowering national fuel standards and simultaneously damning our youth for using drugs because they indirectly support terrorism is not challenged by established politicians.
The Bush Gang's scorn for the Bill of Rights, their perverted campaign to end terrorism with terror, and their disdain for Lincoln's "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" should have this nation riled up. But the truth is hidden from public view. Our fondness for celebrity, our desire for consuming, and our naïve acceptance of what gets transmitted through television sets are obscuring how we soak up information. This subtle brainwashing is a powerful contaminating factor in our silence. We are followers, true and blue. Concerned for ourselves, our families, our individual fates. We are capable of responding to challenges, but none have been thrown at us. If only there were someone to engage us like John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr. Until then, or until we can determine for ourselves a new ethical code of decency and justice, we will remain, disengaged, silent, and complicit. Right now we don't even have the mini-onions.
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Eli Beckerman was born and raised in Queens, NY. He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and Wesleyan University, with degrees in Physics and Astronomy. He is currently an astrophysicist and computer specialist at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (since June, 1999). Beckerman is a member of The Mystic River Greens (MRG) in Somerville, MA, a group that focuses on Green issues and is affiliated with the Massachusetts Green Party. He is a regular contibutor to Swans.
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