Saturday, June 20, 2015

Mass Murder Now What


Always, following events like the handgun murders of nine African Americans in Charleston, SC, this week by a racist young White male, Americans try to make sense of the latest American on American massacre. There's talk about gun control. In this case some talk about race relations, and about the Ku Klux Klan flag adopted by the South Carolina state government and other southern state governments in reaction to the Civil Rights movement. Then it's back to business as usual.

#BlackLivesMatter's Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi (Divulgação)
By "Americans" I mean the few Americans who have something coherent and cogent to say and have media and internet platforms from which to say it, because when things like this happen most Americans can only shrug and look to the media or bloggers to find out what they should think. We aren't a nation of scholars, to put it mildly. We never acquire critical thinking skills. We know popular entertainment. We "have a team" when it comes to professional football.

The fact that Americans aren't deep thinking people brings up topics we could discuss, if we could discuss them, but even if we could, the fact would remain that what most Americans think, and what the media and bloggers say, is pretty much irrelevant.

I was reminded of this while reading what that well-informed, genteel voice of the left wing of the Democratic Party, The Nation magazine, had to say about Kshama Sawant, the Socialist elected to the Seattle City Council member in 2013.

Kshama Sawant (Independent Political Report)
I was reminded of the irrelevance of the masses of Americans by reading what their opinion leaders in media and on blogs were saying this week about the rising popularity of Bernie Sanders, the Socialist running for president as a Democrat whose steady increase in polling numbers has forced them to recognize his existence and rush out some articles worrying whether he poses an actual threat to Hillary Clinton who they've been proclaiming the nominee for years.

I'm reminded of the irrelevance of most Americans and how little their media and blogosphere thinking devices know about what young African Americans are doing to organize and resist racial oppression, people like DeRay McKesson from Ferguson, MO, who has 156,000 followers on Twitter, or the three women who originated the #Black LivesMatter movement Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi.

When change does come to America it's because of people like them, and Sawant, who's been having some success in galvanizing Seattle public opinion around issues like housing and wages, and because of the kids in the Northwest who are blockading oil rigs with their kayaks and the people Freedom Flotilla members who are for the third time sailing toward Gaza in old trawlers, none of which causes a blip in the national news and blogosphere where tepid reforms are argued over while things gradually get worse.

America the Exceptional

Most Americans, when forced to stop and think about it, will say the USA is OK, at least better than those other countries. This echoes the stance taken by the media and punditry although to be fair it's lacking the unspoken nationalism -- which we prefer to call "patriotism" -- that always informs the media and punditry, whose members by and large live much more comfortable lives than most Americans do and therefore have more at stake materially and are more emotionally inclined to be conservative and nationalistic.

DeRay McKesson (Mediaite)
This national narrative, that things are pretty good here, is temporarily altered by things like the Charleston massacre to "Oh, we could make a few minor adjustments but things are pretty good here". The required reforms are dutifully listed, and are irrelevant because they are far removed from where the struggle over power occurs. It's the mere flapping of jaws.

Things are OK here not because of anything any average American does, or anything any blogger or media pundit or politician ever wrote or said or did. Things are OK here because at various times certain people figured out how, under their current conditions, to organize and to otherwise take on power in significant ways -- which in the case of the USA means the power of Capitalism -- and to force power to concede something -- privileges, benefits, money, whatever it was, but some of its power.

The USA that's "pretty good" has the current form it does because prior to now -- primarily in the first part of the 20th century -- people took on power; some unions took on power, some African Americans, some anti war resisters, some women, some gays.

For nearly 40 years now power has been on a counter offensive. Since Reagan. Since he began popularizing sentiments like those being expressed in places like National Review magazine and in documents like the Powell Memo. Basically, the people who have power and exercise it figured out why they were losing ground, regrouped, and pushed back, with Democrats meekly conceding and sometimes leading the way in redistributing power, and the wealth and privilege it brings, back upward.

Yes, the country retains much of its late 20th century form, but unions are weakened, there's massive domestic surveillance, police mete out violence at will, living standards for the masses are in decline, and institutionalized and structural racism is still rampant, and it all occurs against the backdrop of an ongoing and endless foreign war that serves both as propaganda tool and another means for the massive redistribution of wealth upward.

Those of you going around saying that the USA is pretty good, it still is, perhaps, but not because of anything you've done. The pictures accompanying this post are of people who most people who read this post will never have heard of, but who are devising new ways to take on power and are thereby shaping and creating the America that will exist 20, 30 and 50 years from now. If and when change comes to America it will be because of them.

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