A year for the history books
For me, 2011 will always be the year that democracy took a deep breath and long stretch on its way to awakening. That this was a global movement inspires me with awe. That this awakening began with a fruit peddler in Tunisia rather than in an American university or political think tank is even more revealing of the nature of man and the tenacity of humanity’s greatest idea. Through this we learned that freedom, equality and a respect for basic human rights and dignity are the driving forces for all people all over the world, regardless of culture, religion or heritage. Democracy is not the exclusive domain of “Enlightened” western Christians; it is also the hope of a Muslim, North African working man who was willing to give his life for an ideal. From Tunisia, to Egypt, to Iran to Madison, Wisconsin, to Liberty Square, NYC, the principles of democracy have re-awakened after generations of repression.
The United States opened its sleepy eyes to its own anemic democracy. It became obvious that the game was rigged when the government stumbled all over itself to bail out corrupt corporations from their own financial malfeasance, then left common people to suffer while our so called representatives debated the most reasonable austerity measures for the struggling masses. In cities throughout the country, we heard protestors shouting, “They got bailed out! We got sold out!” What used to be the bailiwick of the radical left, that our government is nothing more than a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporate elite, is now a topic of mainstream discussion.
This is thanks to the outstanding Occupy Movement. In the Occupy Movement many and disparate voices came together in assembly to redress their grievances. Perhaps they were anarchist, socialists, progressives. Often they were just young people wondering if there were any opportunities left in America; young men and women who did what they were told, worked hard, went to school, did their homework, only to be told that they were just going to have to settle for less than their parents hadausterity
times are tough, don’t you know. Some were the same folks who were shaking their fists in Chicago, 1968 and Seattle, 1999. There was union support, teacher support, even police support. Many voices added to the growing chorus of democracy throughout the United States saying, “here we are! You cannot ignore us anymore! We are not leaving!”
In some cases the homeless joined the ranks of the Occupiers, perhaps in solidarity, but more likely for access to food, shelter and security. After all, the homeless, regardless of circumstance, are still part of the 99% so lauded by protestors in the streets.
And yes, there were the dingbat Zionist conspiracy theorists and requisite loons that go with any movement and seem to get the lion’s share of attention by the media. We cannot, in fairness, discount them.
Regardless of who showed up for the General Assemblies, who populated the many and varied working groups, who arrived on the scene to showcase their own opinions, the underlying theme was the same. There’s something fundamentally wrong with our country when the overwhelming majority of people are left to fend for scraps that fall from the bounteous tables of a tiny, elite minority.
This is what Mohamed Bouazizi was saying when he set himself on fire, his immolation giving birth to the Arab Spring. There is something wrong with my country. This is the refrain of protestors in Madison, rioters in London, Paris and Greece. There is something wrong with my country that it does not represent me, my neighbors, or any universal principles of human decency when it demands that the masses suffer for the largess of the few. This was the message, which the media refused to acknowledge, of the Occupy Movement.
The corporate controlled media, the fourth estate, sneered at the occupiers, whining that a growing protest movement throughout the nation was without a message. Without a message? Without a message? Yet the corporate media could not explain how a movement without a message was spreading so rapidly. Of course, there was a message, one that the corporate elite refused to acknowledge. The message was, “there’s something wrong with our country.”
There’s something wrong with our country when we must bribe the “job creators” to create jobs; and after they take the bribe without creating more jobs the only suggestion made by our punditocracy and price-tagged politicians isbribe them some more. There’s something wrong with our country when a corporation is recognized as having the same rights as an individual, but real individuals trying to speak, to assemble, to vote must struggle to against the state for a fraction of that recognition. There’s something wrong with our country when there are almost four million homeless people in a nation with eighteen million empty homes. There’s something wrong with a country that would sacrifice its teachers, police officers, firefighters, nurses, social workers before it will raise the taxes on the wealthy even one quarter of one percent. There’s something wrong with our country when politicians are willing to poison hundreds of thousands of people, countless ecosystems, just to maintain a dying petroleum industry. There’s something wrong with our country when those who crashed the economy of the entire world can continue to live in lavish luxury while thousands guilty of nothing more significant than smoking the wrong kind of plant languish in jail. There’s something wrong with our country when corporate executives, responsible for killing countless people throughout the world, destroying the lives of millions more are allowed, nay encouraged, to perpetuate their corruption, while men like Troy Davis are executed based on tarnished evidence.
For the most part, the assessment of what was wrong with the country was accurate. Our nations have put their faith in markets rather than in people. Our wealth has been squandered in search of short-term profit, investment schemes, dwindling resources rather than being invested in the long term best interests of everyone. We have so called republics that represent the smallest fraction of the top 1% while the 99% are belittled as lazy, uneducated, unmotivated. The economic crisis was blamed on poor people, black people, civil servants and teachers, rather than on the very culprits who caused the crisis. Not surprising. You don’t accuse your dining buddies of skullduggery, especially when they are certainly guilty. It’s uncouth. Our world is, more and more, settling under the thumb of a great corporate behemoth. Governments fall in line, becoming inconsequential in addressing the needs of common people.
The democratic demand of people all around the world was “represent us!” Again, the corporate run media refused to hear. Like idiots, mindlessly repeating the last thing they heard, they kept asking, “what are their demands? They have no demands.” And the people in the street shouted through the human microphone “represent us! REPRESENT US!!” and the mindless media trumpeted in return, “what are their demands? They have no demands.”
Last year also revealed what those of us who believe in democracy are up against. It’s one thing to gather en masse in tri-cornered hats, prattling nonsense about watering the tree of liberty and second amendment remedies. If you are regurgitating far-right, conspiratorial talking points about saving the country from socialism and Kenyan/Muslim Manchurian candidates bringing Fascism to America by taking over health-care, even if you are armed, then you are not considered a problem (and, of course, you shouldn’t be). Your rights are protected so long as you exercise them for nothing more than spouting absurdities.
If, however, you have the audacity to demand a redress of legitimate grievances, and you refuse to stop demanding redress, then all the power of the state will come down on you. Throughout the world tyrannical governments did everything they could, through propaganda, through violence, to suppress the democratic voice. The United States was no exception. Peaceful protestors throughout the nation were subject to ridicule and lies, called dirty hippies, spoiled children, criminals. They were tear-gassed, pepper sprayed, clubbed, beaten, shot with rubber bullets. This done in the name of “public safety and sanitation,” as if littering was an excuse for paramilitary assaults.
Regardless, the legacy of 2011 will always be the rise of democracy as a global phenomenon. This movement does not end with the coming of a new year. They are ongoing. In the US, Occupy has laid the groundwork and networks for limitless, innovative forms or activism such as occupying foreclosed houses. In Egypt, religious uncertainties and an entrenched military aristocracy challenge democracy. People are still dying in the streets of Syria. In Europe, people are waking up to the cold realities of failed austerity programs.
The foundations are set for a global mind-shift toward democracy, toward an awakening of human self-worth. Yet many obstacles remain in place, dented, but unmoved. It is impossible to know the direction this new route of history will take us. One thing is certain, however. Where democracy takes flame, where human beings act collectively to demand respect and a recognition of their rights you can expect that corporations and the states that represent them will use any means in their power to stamp the fires down.
It is also certain that such trespasses of power won’t work in the long run. We no longer quietly accept the lies and constraints of governments. We no longer have faith in markets. Thanks to 2011!