The Next High-Water Mark in Elections

2016 will be the high-water mark of target-rich environments for anyone desiring to point out the dysfunction of our current political system. Comedians will be hard pressed to top the daily sound bites that pour from the various campaigns. John Michael Greer likens it to that tiny car that pulls out into the center of the Big Top, disgorging more than a dozen clowns who then vie for your attention.
Comedy aside, we see a fascist at the top of the Republican candidate polls. This echoes Germany in the early 1930s: *We are destined to rule the world because we are exceptional people; the only thing in our way are those people over there…*, and Trump at various times points to immigrants or women or those of a different religion; all are fair game to those of this ilk. Some people have asked, *why didn’t the Germans stop Hitler from coming to power?* We might get to find out, here at home. At this point, Trump is polling as if more than a quarter of voters would choose him in the general election. It also echoes Germany that so many are so dissatisfied with our current situation that they will turn to someone who is, however offensive or incompetent, at least outside the normal political class. An explosion must be close….
He appears to be countered by the blessed, appointed, *liberal* successor to Obama: the continuation of the Bush/Clinton multi-generational lock on nominal power, this time named Hillary. If she loses her destiny to scandal it will hardly remove any corruption or rot from the system, although voters will likely think otherwise. But those voters are in denial about most things political already; what’s one more? Name one substantial thing that Hillary has said she will radically change; you can’t. She’s not running an issue campaign; she’s planning her inauguration and trying to look good on camera while not answering the hard questions about her past. She’s campaigned many times before; she’ll go through the motions and be swept into office as the other party self-destructs like in 2012. I won’t fail to mention Bernie, although all I will say is this: if you didn’t learn in 2008 how incapable one person is of changing the direction of capital and its beneficiaries then you will continue to waste your time and energy and will allow yourself to be distracted from the approaching extinction cliff by the charade of *choice* as if it matters. Sanders is no panacea for what ails us now.
Dmitry Orlov compares the US today with the USSR in the late-1980s: an expensive, daily less effective, international imperial presence, using nuclear threats to backstop an arsenal and troops that are incapable of winning against an insurgent force, while defending an ever-louder proclamation of exceptionalism atop the cracked and crumbling foundation formed from economic corruption and moral abandonment. When did you last think about the amorality of drone assassination or of market front-running or currency and interest rate manipulation? Or question what is causing our younger generations’ future to dim so quickly? All politicians walk a tightrope dedicated to more of the same because any massive change in course will topple this whole house of cards. Any talk of change by any bona fide candidate can only be propaganda now, as useless as a promise to your ten-year old that Santa Claus still lives at the rapidly disappearing North Pole.
It is telling that unlike America’s other three major existential crises: Revolutionary War (1780), Civil War (1861), and the Great Depression (1932) ; the left today is bereft of visionary solutions that will lead us out the mess that has arisen from the unforeseen consequences of our last batch of solutions. The right inherently wants to go back to some past *glory*, not evolve into something new, fresh, and for at least another 50 years or so, sustainable. They won’t have answers, they will only ever oppose or negate. I take that first statement back: the left does offer two competing visions: collapse and extinction. Neither is a solution, only an outcome. Increasingly, people from both the left and right are becoming depressed and frozen in place as they ponder what science is under-predicting when it comes to climate change and ecosystem collapse, and economists are under-predicting about economic collapse. But one doesn’t win a battle by pointing out the opponents faults and asking that they change; one wins by taking the initiative, and forcing them to change their plans to adapt to your strategy. Don’t get in front of a car trying to run you over and then push against the hood to make it stop; get off the road and go on a path where the car can’t follow you!
Unfortunately, today’s American liberals are part of the global 3% and cannot imagine or bear to see that status change in any meaningful way even in the face of collapse. A majority of adults do not vote; and before you get outraged at that statistic, know that they gave up when it became apparent it was a useless charade anyway. There are a few emotion-filled issues over which the two parties pretend to disagree; but regarding the important issues: war, nuclear weapons and power, poverty, toxic contamination, amorality, incarceration, inequality or scarcity, bank regulation, oil extraction as cheap as possible and damn the environment for failing us as a result, on all these important questions of this system every winning candidate does what they are told by the corporations who paid for the campaign. Of course, those who don’t vote then serve as admirable and useful targets that candidates can use to blame or ostracize. Liberals fighting against the *conservative agenda*, and its opposite, are just the ways by which the status quo maintains itself.
We can hardly get white settlers, descendants of those who conquered the peoples already living on Turtle Island, upset about damage to ecosystems caused by logging, *resource* extraction, dams, fracking, or just plain vanilla *development*; this is all completely out of their sight and incomprehensible as a result. It is white privilege, that which sustains and grows white supremacy, that ignores the impacts these travesties have on both Nature and human communities: forced relocation, loss of health and even life itself, loss of jobs, lack of safety, lower income, and shattered family structures. Just as it is problematic for an all-white activist group to protest a small, traditional, tribal hunt as harming an ecosystem while ignoring industrial *harvesting* of food animals, it is also problematic for a white person to hold up a sign reading, *All Lives Matter* at a Black Lives Matter protest. Sometimes effective struggle means stepping quietly aside and letting the heretofore silenced people finally have a turn at the microphone. Sometimes it means allowing these voices to be heard at times, like during a candidate’s speech, that seem inconvenient to you, the white person who wants to have things go on as they always have. You may be too comfortable with the old order to see the need for a new one.
One of the biggest differences between liberals and conservatives in 2016 is climate change. And although you might claim that voting for the Democrat is the only sane thing to do (which it is not) if this is a critical issue (which it is), keep in mind that no Democrat has yet done anything about defending the Earth that has had any meaningful long-term effect (other than maintaining corporate profits at the expense of our planet); nothing that is, except talk about it. It is possible that 2016 will be a watershed year, and having the first election in 8 years where there is not a black candidate running, and having experienced 8 years of having a black President that allowed white supremacy to become more openly violent than the days of unpunished lynchings, one of the Democrat’s most cohesive voting blocs might decide to sit this one out. And likewise, with immigration being one of the Republicans’ most popular talking points, even as the sitting Democratic President deported more undocumented workers and broke up more families through incarceration in extra-judicial detention facilities than any other President ever, the Latino voting bloc that is also traditionally Democratic might also sit this one out, too.
This is an incredible void: no true vision of a sustainable future that solves war, corruption, patriarchy, white supremacy, and overall oppression of the poor; all in the service of capital and profit. Most of us can’t envision how we could manifest this future without voting for a Democrat or Republican; or we can’t see how to bring this about with voting, period. This then, is our true challenge: finding the path forward, that lies on the other side of the swamp we call democracy. Clearly, the first step is to not get mired in the swamp, spending time and energy fighting the muck and the snakes. Bypassing the swamp of democracy altogether is the only clear path to take now.
Viable alternatives to arrest society’s death and destruction include organizing that calls forth natural mutual aid tenets that feed, cultivate, and grow a new culture of resistance. In other words: deep ecology, social ecology, and localization; EarthFirst!, Idle No More, and Black Panthers are some of the more well-known, but hardly the only, groups who have done or are doing this work.

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Collective Shadow

[written in late 2014…]

Numerous situations around the globe challenge us with their brutality and oppression. I think immediately of Israel and Gaza, Ferguson Missouri, the *Taliban and other Muslim Terrorists* as it is manifesting in several hotspots from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, and the new poster child of despicable terror: ISIL in Syria and Iraq. If it is true, and I sense that it is as I am doing the inner work that makes this so apparent, that the world *out there* is only reflecting back to us what our own inner world looks like, then this often-called *shadow* is what needs to be addressed if we are to have peace in our world. Quantum Physics tells us that consciousness is our only tool we can use to investigate consciousness; in this hall of mirrors we use human activity in order to investigate human activity. Our observation makes manifest a particular energy potentiality; the collapse of the wave function happens in congruence with our observational energy. We see *outside* what we have pushed away from our own inner sense of ourselves: we see our shadow.
What do we see in the Middle East? We see one nation, Israel, so fearful for its continued existence that it has been oppressing, occupying, and even at times ethnically cleansing the Palestinian peoples whose only crime is that they continue to try to inhabit their ancestral lands. Palestinians were forced into refugee camps when Britain, then still a global colonizer, *deeded* large swaths of Palestine to the new nation state of Israel, to become the *homeland* of the Jewish people. This action was the result of decades of campaigning by *Zionists*, mainly in Europe, who happened to be Jewish. Not all Jews are Zionists; in fact, there are many Jews who are so not-Zionist that they have stood up against the immense pressure of their culture and refuse to perform their compulsory military service in Gaza.
On the other side, there are the Palestinians. Many still hold the paper *deed* to homes that have been in their family for generations; conveying control or ownership over orchards, gardens, and residences, many of which have been destroyed since 1948 when Israel took over. It is important to point out that there never was a Jewish *nation*; Zionism was never about returning a people to their state. One who views these facts from a distance might expect that when someone loses such longstanding claims to property that they would be fairly compensated. In this case, that person would be wrong. Is it any wonder then that 65+ years on there might be some amount of resentment on the part of the Palestinians for the way they have been, and continue to be, marginalized and oppressed by their *conquerors*?
So what does all of this have to do with our collective American shadow? How is our view of this situation a reflection of some part of our national psyche that doesn’t fit into our view of ourselves? Why are we so vocal in either our support or our condemnation of either side in this Middle Eastern conflict? Think back to the founding of our country: the land here was occupied when the first *colonists* arrived on the Eastern shores. America was not an empty, vacant land awaiting Europeans. In a very similar fashion, the settlers were more willing and able to oppress the native peoples than the natives were willing and able to fight back. The colonists used disproportionate force, much as we see Israel doing to Gaza today, to force the natives off their ancestral lands and onto tiny, inadequate *reservations*. Trade was severely circumscribed and, as the colonists’ economic system had no relevance to the native peoples’ economy, largely a sham that covered up *trade* that can only be called theft if we are honest about it. Twenty-four dollars’ worth of beads and baubles to buy Manhattan? If you are descended from Europeans, you think, “What a steal deal!” If you are from Native ancestors, you think, “My people didn’t *own* the land in any sense of the word as it was used by colonists…we didn’t *sell* anything. We accepted a gift of some beads.” The clash of cultures is rarely understandable by either party.
Have I written words here that affront your sensibilities? Sit with those feelings for a moment; of course I represent here a perspective on history that is slanted in favor of the oppressed; but has the story that our dominant culture has created around the situation in Israel and Palestine managed to lead to any solutions to the continual violence there? Palestinian supporters are quick to defend the freedom fighters as a rational reaction to oppression. Negotiation, the tactic tried for several decades, hasn’t worked. In 2006 when Hamas won an election in the West Bank because the people were tired of the corruption and inadequacy of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Israel focused on the stated goal of Hamas to push Israel off Palestinian land as the *ultimate threat* to its existence. If you think, like Israel, that Palestinians should be quiet, accept their fate, and each and every year concede more territory to Israel then you must also be against the American Revolution. The Minutemen, those guerrilla fighters sniping at the British soldiers from behind cover, and the Boston Tea Party, a riot that destroyed other peoples’ property, are revered as reasons *America is great*. We celebrate these freedom fighters every year with fireworks and a national holiday. Supporters of Israel are quick to point out that as long as Hamas is leading a resistance that is dedicated to destroying Israel, there can be no thought of peace. This quickly slides into a defense of *any means necessary*, excusing disproportionate force that results when the world’s fifth-largest military, armed and trained by the most war-like nation on Earth, attacks a territory that hasn’t seen a budget, let alone military funding, for several generations. Kind of like Cowboys-and-Indians, if you see my point.
Again, back to the lack of a solution: what would make you happy, if you were a negotiator for the Palestinians? Could you accept anything short of either an end to the occupation and a return to your ancestral home or fair and just compensation for its loss? What would that look like, besides impossible? And from the other side, would Israelis be satisfied if they could randomly pick 1800 Palestinians, including 400 children, put them into a gas chamber, and end the reign of Hamas? Yes, I know I am provoking a reaction; but why is bombing to death acceptable when gassing to death is not? Does it make it even more scandalous, this murderous, bombing behavior, in the fact that it has yet to accomplish Israel’s stated goals? And back to our collective shadow: if compensation for stolen land is what it would take in Palestine to right past wrongs, what would it take in America? You are likely unable to even process the cost, who would pay, and the results of giving the Native Americans who have managed to survive genocide their fair and just compensation. The topic of reparations comes up from time to time in mainstream media; and is quickly squelched by an uproar that is loud, quick, and efficient. What else can possibly solve this crisis in the Middle East? Besides recognizing that it is Zionist v. Hamas, not Jew v. Muslim, and that any solution rests in finding what is fair and just for all humans, not just one faction, I mean.
Is what we see today in the Middle East a reflection of something even deeper? Do we, the collective *we*, let our anger spill over into violence and death because that somehow feels easier than facing our true problems? If a just solution for all involves the fair distribution of our community’s needs, necessities, and *wealth*, wouldn’t that contradict the separate, individualistic, profit-driven economic system we now depend upon for our very life? Wouldn’t we have to work to supply aid convoys instead of tanks and drones? Wouldn’t we have to offer doctors and drugs rather than military advisors and ammunitions? Wouldn’t we have to see *life*: all life, not just humans; as more valuable than profit or property? Wouldn’t we have to finally acknowledge and address our shadow?
If you’re still with me, the same approach works in Ferguson too. Our focus is on the militarized police, as if putting on military camo and driving armored vehicles on city streets has generated a *new* brutality in Ferguson’s finest. Shooting unarmed men of color happens every day in America, and has for centuries. Our collective shadow would rather not admit that still, today, in our modern world of high technology and *diversity*, you cannot get a fair and just chance in life if you are not white. People of color are not shocked by Ferguson, mothers everywhere in America worry every time their son leaves the house that he might run afoul of some white person with a gun. A white person who will be forgiven for killing *a threat to my safety*; completely marginalizing the black youth who should have an equal chance at life. Women shot on front porches while knocking on the door to get help after having a car accident: what threat could that have possibly posed that deserves bullets in response? In a *Stand Your Ground* state, of which we have 21, it goes without saying that whites can get away with horrible judgment like this.
Yes, the police now have upgraded their ability to apply disproportionate force in ways that make for good video, if you like camo and fancy gear that is. When we look at what has happened in Ferguson and point fingers at the heavy-handed, fear-driven response to peaceful demonstrators asking for accountability, really we are just reflecting our own history of over-reacting to emotional upsets. We too have *gone postal* on someone unable to defend themselves, who didn’t deserve it, and who we will force to continue to accept our domination and abuse, just because we can. Missouri came close to getting it right: several days into this event they appointed a local officer to take over and he went straight out into the streets to ask the people what they needed in order to feel peace. But even this sensible approach was unable to overcome the fear of looters; the rights of property once again supersede the rights of human beings and late that night the tear gas once again began to fly despite the orders issued by the person nominally *in charge*. Guess he wasn’t in charge after all; maybe that was just window dressing? We all have been there: oh so close to doing the right thing, only to fall back into habit and make a fist and strike out when peace was sitting in the palm of our hand. Again the question is: what does it look like, when peace and justice descend over Ferguson? Again the answer; we have to confront the demons that dwell in our own hearts, that drive us to lash out, that leave us judging and stereotyping and oppressing and killing the *other* that we haven’t even tried to understand. From 40,000 feet in the air we don’t see *national borders*; we can’t tell if someone’s skin is white or black. When we finally can see anything of life, we see humans and animals and plants all just trying to raise their offspring with as much dignity and hope as can be mustered in whatever situation we have found ourselves in. At least those of us who get it see that; those who don’t only see people oppressing, killing, rebelling, exterminating, or merely surviving. Which view is yours?

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Open Letter to All Legislators about Trade Agreements

I write to you today because I am deeply troubled by recent news. In a decision that ignores environmental standards and negates democracy, the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 18 May ruled that U.S. labels on packaged meat indicating where cows, chicken or other animals were born, raised and slaughtered are in violation of international trade pacts because they place foreign imports at an economic disadvantage.
“This is a chilling reminder that our very democracy is at stake in these trade deals. Congress should reject calls to Fast Track new trade deals to maintain its legislative autonomy, rather than creating new trade tribunals that can wipe out U.S. laws.” —Wenonah Hauter
While this is worrisome because it means the WTO can declare null and void any law you choose to pass as our duly-elected representative, an even worse ramification quickly surfaced: Japan filed a case with the WTO two days later to prevent South Korea from labeling all food imports from its radiation-ravaged neighbor as originating in Japan. If this meat label decision, which is not able to be appealed, is viewed as a precedent, then Japan will win the right to grow food in contaminated soil and rather than poison its own people, ship it elsewhere for profit. This nasty food could even be shipped to America, with no recourse for us.
Bottom line: not only do we, all citizens and our representatives in government, have to stop the trade deals that are in the pipeline and may soon be ratified, we also need to end our association with the WTO. Our democracy, not to mention our health and the health of our children and grandchildren, is at stake. I hope you agree and will work to end this nightmare that has made a mockery of our democracy.

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Do you see linkages throughout your day? Ways that seemingly unconnected events form a cohesive whole? I do…yesterday for instance. Over a six-hour period…every word true…
The keynote speaker asked us to close our eyes and take a deep breath. I did. On the second breath, he asked if, when we exhaled, could we laugh? Timid laughter began, then silence. *Again* he asked, and this time the laughter was more free, more cheerful. *One more time*; and now it sounded genuine as laughter filled our room. He pointed to what we have long known: laughter is a healing force. He asked that we begin our day with this exercise; and that throughout the day, we look for chances to laugh.
Mere hours later, I get on the train to come home. Just in front of me, three young people are rehashing the day’s events; apparently they triggered a case of road rage during which their friend was literally choked by another driver. From across the aisle an older lady interjects her opinion that the rager might have been scared out of his mind by the triggering event: a football crashing into his windshield, a receiver thankfully not crashing into his bumper at the last second. As that conversation wound down, the man in the group of three continued to talk with her. As she told him that she had been a high school history teacher, then a lawyer, and had finally retired to adopt and care for her only son, the two ladies of the group began to laugh hysterically over a youtube video of people projectile-vomiting. At least that is what I think it was, based solely upon their comments.
The young man told the older lady that he had just, the day before, passed an exam that meant he could now apply to medical schools. She asked why he wanted to be a doctor, as Obamacare has lowered the amount of money they can earn. He said he’d always wanted to be a doctor, especially since he had been a Boy Scout. She offered that her son, now 12 years old, was deep on the path towards becoming an Eagle Scout. He said he hadn’t quite made that, he fell just short. She said her son was on a mission: his cousin had gotten Eagle just two weeks short of his fifteenth birthday, so her son wanted to beat that. “Sadly”, she says, “I won’t know if he will reach his goal. I have brain cancer, and less than a year to live.”
I look sharply at her; I see no outward sign that she is or even has been ill. He asks about an operation; she says she’s had three and the next one carries a 70% chance of leaving her unable to walk or talk. She’s not interested in living like that, she says, and so she’s just making her arrangements and saying her goodbyes instead.
Her phone rings, she excuses herself and takes the call. It is her mother; they chat for several minutes as she recaps her day. At one point she replies to the unheard question that she *didn’t bring it up and no one asked how she was doing*; she says she didn’t feel like having people cry for her out of pity. She soon hangs up and the young man says “I’m jealous: your mom calls you”.
“Just get brain cancer and I’m sure she’ll call you every day, just like mine” she says. The train pulls into a station, and the young man and one of the ladies, who he now introduces as his sister, stand to disembark. After standing up, his sister heads to the exit while he leans down just inches from the lady’s face. They speak for a moment, too quiet to be heard from six feet away. Then he touches her on her shoulder and walks away.
Immediately the two newly-vacant seats in front of me are filled by an older couple. As the train begins to pull away from the station, the remaining young woman laughs once again, still focused on her phone. The older man asks her what she’s watching; she says she’s streaming an Australian comedy from her Netflix account. They begin to discuss TV shows, and find one that they all like. Or did at one time; the young one admits she grew bored with how long it was taking to get to the climax. The older lady offers a spoiler alert and then describes how near the end, the father in the story is told he has less than a year to live because of cancer. He then kills the man who was abusing his daughter; so that she would be able to have a better life after he (her father) had died. “The judge took pity on him and only sentenced him to two months in jail”, she says. “I really like that he did that”, she says.
I look over at the real cancer victim. She is staring out the window, face impassive. Maybe she’s wondering what murder or scandal she might commit, now that she has such a close date with death. Maybe she’s weighing the difference in world views between the few who truly understand that we all die and may die sooner rather than later and the majority who don’t understand, or even think about, death at all. As the conversation on my side of the aisle drifts to other shows, she pulls out her phone and begins to swipe. Once we are past another station, she begins to smile as she focuses on her phone. Then the smile broadens. And suddenly she bursts out in laughter, only to cover her mouth and stifle it with her hand after hardly a full second. And I think: what a blessing, laughter. It heals us in so many ways.

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Forgetting History

My family moved to Santa Clara County in California when I was 8. What has become *Silicon Valley*: home of the tech giants like Apple, Google, Intel, Cisco, HP and hundreds of various and sundry other hi-tech start-ups, existed then as a few scattered towns surrounded by orchards. More trees than houses, literally. Today there are trees in yards, trees on school grounds, and trees in the scarce parks that break up the concrete and asphalt of a modern metropolis that rings San Francisco Bay. When I tell people what it was like, *back in the day*, they scoff. It is unimaginable; like reminding them that people used to live satisfying, fulfilling lives before electricity or indoor flush toilets. That people won’t die from internet-abstinence. Or that science is only four hundred years old.

Waaaaiiitt a minute there…you mean there was civilization before science? You mean humans made cultural, emotional, and even intellectual progress before there was science? You mean shamans weren’t just always blowing smoke up their tribe’s rear ends? Of course: that is what is meant by *evolution*. But it is important to understand that progress doesn’t always lead to heaven; to borrow an image from John Michael Greer, sometimes we find ourselves in a dead-end alley with the grill of our car pressed up against the brick wall that blocks our way forward. Sometimes the only way *to progress* is to go back. Sometimes it pays to acknowledge that although one end of the spectrum might well be *do you believe in magic* that the other end, one just as problematic in fact, might be *do you believe in science*.

Waaaaiiitt a minute there…what’s wrong with science? Without science we’d all be dead before the age of thirty, right? Without science we’d all be starved and freezing, right? Without science who’d be able to restart our heart after that stress-induced heart attack, right? So I’m going to ask a few questions that are very difficult to face. Nature is fractal, science is linear: can humans be successful, as a life form on Earth, if we insist in remaining linear now? Science can’t explain gravity; oh it can use what it observes about gravity to send men to the Moon and return them to Earth all right, but how it works…no clue. Think we might not always be successful controlling events that happen inside a gravity field if we don’t understand everything there is to know about gravity? Or what about light…is light a particle or a wave? Sometimes it acts like one sometimes the other. Which is it? In fact, and this circles back around to forgetting our history, science has been trying to answer this question about light for a very long time, nearly the whole four hundred years that logical, replicable experiments have been de rigueur in our culture. As far back as a hundred years ago the physicists at the leading edge of research into the nature of light made startling, counter-intuitive discoveries as they probed light while trying to control it: light changes its properties and behavior depending upon whether or not it is being observed. Even worse, science has spent too many dollars to count trying to find that tiny ultimate piece of matter that is the fundamental building block of the Universe, the little piece of stuff that everything is made of. To no avail…

…because it seems that energy, which we sense as light, or heat, or sound, or even as something solid is not made of anything solid. This is the counter-intuitive part: the screen or the paper you are reading this on; the chair or the floor you are sitting on; even the can or the glass that contains the drink you are holding while reading this…not solid, none of them, and not really *out there*. It is a result of the observation of the universal energy field by consciousness. Until science acknowledges that there is more to life, more to our world, more to each of us than the *mere* physical, objective, determinate matter that we *think* we see around us; until that time that science brings consciousness into physics as the most important facet of our world, we will face that wall that is blocking the grill of our car from progressing out of the alley.

In matters of matter consciousness matters.

Ready to dive in? Haven’t been frightened away, or totally confused, or balled up this paper and thrown it against that *solid* wall nearby? Then ask yourself this: when was the last time you changed a deep, fundamental belief, like believing in science as our only way to explain our world? Or, have you ever made a change that radical? If you have though, what triggered that dramatic, forceful change in world view? What happens when you allow that maybe, just maybe, subjective trumps objective? Waking to reality is a process and none of us are as awake as we will be. Question what you are being told. Enjoy the ride!

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Syriza: Problem or Solution?

In the euphoria following Syriza’s electoral win on 25 January 2015, little has been said about the implications of their rise to prominence within the Greek political system. Is it the best that can happen for the Greek people? Or is it rather a continuation of the historical pattern of the last century’s struggle to abolish capitalism; a pattern that sees opposition rise and then be absorbed and co-opted by the capitalists’ power structure, ultimately furthering the concentration of wealth in few hands?
As people around the world are pushed into poverty by the increasing wealth inequality inherent in late-stage capitalism, movements are building everywhere that aim to bring relief to the people. Most begin as single-issue struggles: student rebellions, protests against environmental damage from extraction processes, or anti-war demonstrations for example. But as long as movements struggle to gain power within the paradigm of government, a government built and bolstered by and for capitalists, the best we can hope for is limited respite or temporary relief. For in every historical instance where a leftist or progressive political party has taken the reins of power, the leaders find themselves shackled by the system itself, and while small reforms may be instituted, as soon as the progressive party loses its power in a subsequent election, the backlash is swift and severe, and any gains immediately wiped out.
Worse, much of the strength of the movement that brought the progressive party their initial electoral victory dissipates as the protestors assume they have won a great victory, and that their party will right all wrongs and end the need for struggle. We saw in Brazil the gutting of the land reform campaign Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (MST) when Lula came to power in 2002. The necessities of governance prevented Lula from enacting the very land reforms he campaigned upon and promised to provide; despite any desire to fundamentally change the system, the system’s defenses held fast and Lula became just another politician, rather than a radical in government. The MST has virtually evaporated; Brazilians are worse off today in terms of any real political movement or party that addresses the needs of the majority of its citizens, thanks to this usurping of the will of the people by capital and its enforcers.
Syriza rose to prominence with its promises to end austerity, to dismantle the most brutal of police units, to leave NATO and to leave the Euro. Yet to win the election, it softened its stances on these issues, offering instead to merely renogiate the national debts, to only disarm police in direct contact with demonstrators, to remain in NATO but not cooperate with foreign assaults, and to remain in the Euro just under new tranches of debt. Seen from the perspective of someone who feels the capitalist system needs to be abolished and replaced, these compromises only ensure that Syriza will abide by the rules of the game. Of course capitalists are happy to have such a new partner on board with the program; those citizens unwilling to take direct action are placated, thinking that their problems will be solved, and those citizens willing to act can be even further divided, marginalized, and easily apprehended or silenced. Upon entering the halls of power, even radicals turn their backs on the movement that won them entry and commit to perpetuating the very authoritarian institutions they claim to abhor in the name of retaining what power they think they now have. Syriza will deliver far less than they have promised; and capitalists don’t need to stage a coup to perpetuate their system of oppression. In the end, no political party can work within a democracy, real or imagined, and still manage to end the problems created by capital and state. Just being part of the political process, defined by capital to meet its needs not those of the people, re-invigorates the system itself.
It is perhaps inevitable that as a party grows large enough to have any impact on an election that it begins to model the very power structures it hopes to eliminate. It is difficult to maintain a process of consensus when a group contains many dozens of participants. Transparency falls by the side of the road as there is a perceived need to hide strategies and tactics from the powerful eyes of the police state. These adjustments to beliefs are rationalized as being pragmatic or the result of scaling up. Representational government by definition is not horizontal; and when we need a charismatic leader like Lula or Tsipras or Iglesias or Chavez, we acquiesce to hierarchy without considering its consequences. Depending upon donations or grants in order to fund the work leaves movements vulnerable to fulfilling the wishes of their donors, not themselves. And acquiring the trappings of the capitalist economy, like salaries and pensions, ensures that no one wants to work themselves out of a job. Under these conditions, it should be easy to see why progressive movements that hope to merely reform the structures of capitalism are doomed to fail.
Because we are quick to forget, we seem to focus on today’s issues and fail to see what is happening as just another step in an ongoing cycle of protest and assimilation. When protests don’t bring relief, we turn to the latest leader who says the right words and we give him or her the sceptre of power and hope for the best. But in each case, what seems pragmatic today inevitably leads to more and deeper oppression tomorrow, as long as capital and its minions remain alive and we work within the system they contrive. And as long as the majority of protestors get on with their life following an electoral win like Syriza has managed in Greece, those of us still fighting for real, radical change, and a dismantling of capitalism at its roots, will be left more isolated and exposed than ever before. This can hardly end well, at least as long as the majority of humans remain disenfranchised and disillusioned, and overwhelmed with feelings of powerlessness. This is our challenge then: to wake people up and show them the power we hold together. We can only work to ensure that the failure of a political victory like Syriza’s does not open the door to a fascist backlash that pushes us even farther from the world we know is possible.

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Moving Forward into 2015

When we frame an issue locally: protecting homes from foreclosure, police brutality, or even the broader civil rights issues that are ignored by authority; we open ourselves up to problems. We have limited impact even when we succeed; we may get a particularly brutal officer fired, we may save one in a thousand homes from the clutches of a greedy bank, we may even get a job back for someone illegally fired. All wonderful accomplishments, to be sure, and transforming individual lives is always a good outcome of struggle, but these local battles do nothing to change the system within which no one has any real human rights. Just in terms of housing, let’s not forget renters displaced by foreclosure, or by gentrification, or by just the rising cost of rent. Using a system that is designed to oppress in order to stop oppression cannot work in the long run. Police will continue their task of protecting property by using laws and even our Constitution, all of which are designed to protect property, not human rights. Using the oppressor’s court to sort out transgressions will not make the transgressions stop, because the court is designed to protect the system, not our rights. We cede our power when we fall back on the limited ways we are *allowed* to advocate change. Police have shown through their interactions with white people that they know how to be civil. They even manage to take white mass-shooters safely into custody for trial. Why is it that they are unable to ticket a black man for a busted tail light on his car, without resorting to shooting? Even if it appears that we will be successful using the system’s laws against it, those very laws are first ignored, then quickly changed. By basing our work on human rights though, even these situations can change, and change for many people, not merely a few. Also, when we base our demands on human rights, then international support is possible; no longer do we see charges that *outside agitators* are *causing trouble*.
Today we are seeing a trend: white backlash. When it appears we are making progress towards equality and solidarity, white rage finds new ways to oppress and isolate us. When we seek equal opportunity in education, they make all schools equally *bad*. When we come together as neighbors and in solidarity with myriad struggles, they use mass incarceration to shatter our families and shame us back into separation. When more and more of us are unemployed, media fans angry fires against undocumented workers, not the greedy corporations bent on profit at any social or environmental cost. They tout that we have a black President as proof that we are past racism; but he is a product of a corrupt political system and is completely owned and manipulated by Wall Street, where the only color that matters is the green of the current fiat currency. Not to mention the explicit, stated goal of the other party to obstruct any meaningful change he might try to implement, providing cover for the utter failure of Obama to craft *change we can believe in*. When it appears we might make gains towards a more equal society, they provide military-grade equipment and training to local police, ensuring they know the key aspect of their job is repression, whom to repress, and that they will have immunity from prosecution as they carry out this mandate. We tout that we live under the *rule of law* but ignore that the law protects the privileged, not the downtrodden. When too many people complain that the banks are breaking the law, they change the law. White rage ensures that white privilege will be protected: by militarizing the police, forcing non-whites out of work and out of homes, and by using class, race, sexuality, and gender to divide and conquer us.
Unless and until we address human rights we may succeed in outlawing or preventing oppression against a few people using one tool today, but we will not make the radical changes needed for a permanent solution. You can outlaw discrimination for entry into a university, but if you make tuition so costly that you have to have access to resources to apply, then you limit students to those of the white upper class. Today, legally, discrimination has ended. But if we don’t fund the regulators who enforce the laws, they might as well be non-existent. And there are too many ways to continue to discriminate in ways that can’t be enforced, even if we wanted to: using class, race, sexuality, gender, age, religion, country of origin, income and wealth, and so on.
This is the essence of solidarity: connecting disparate actions and people into a broader movement that seeks all human rights. The U.S. is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; we already have the tool we need for this work. We have not been told what it means, what it contains, what it might do to further our push for a life that matters; all because it is anathema to the system as it exists today. The immigration debate is merely cover for racism and xenophobia. Those who oppose open borders have internalized a logic that claims U.S. laws supersede human rights. How can we frame the debate to ask about our right to work, our right to feed and shelter our families, or our rights to health care and education? We see movements today aimed at ending oppression that focus on one aspect, foreclosure for example, that contain people who on one hand insist on their right to housing but also who vote or work against programs that provide housing to people who aren’t homeowners. Using human rights as our frame we would support all who need housing, not just those going through a foreclosure. Thinking in terms of human rights opens pathways that connect diverse people and movements, but it does not guarantee that we overcome our isolated and separate, judgmental programming. Solidarity around the issues of human rights is sometimes mistaken to mean we have to include every point of view: we do not. When an energy company like Exxon funds an NGO working to stop fracking, the result is less than stellar. We see this frequently among the larger organizations; those with a payroll and pension plan to fund will take whatever money, and the marching orders that accompany it, they can get. The key to solidarity is sharing values; we can’t be sharing a value that protecting Nature is paramount, while drilling and injecting toxic chemicals into Earth. We have to remember whose side we are on.
Remaining in the power structures, the *legal* framework, the social conditioning that is America, will leave us unsatisfied. It has only proven to be ineffective; tiny successes trigger a response that obliterates that path from being used again. Continuing to seek justice in the master’s courts is insane. As long as we fail to question the very need for police, we will be at the mercy of whomever makes the laws and gives police their orders and priorities. Do the demands we articulate address human rights; applicable to all, or a more narrow, and usually privileged, particular desire? Ask, if this campaign is wildly successful, will that success impact everyone? Demands should alter the power dynamic in a way that supports human rights and meets real human needs. This implies that we see the government not as the ultimate power; rather we see humans as having that power. Human rights question (and possibly punish) the action (police shooting an unarmed teen) and not the intent (out of fear). Our freedom lies not in replacing the 1% with a new 1%, or an all-white or all-black police force. We demand solutions that address both the human rights of individuals and the human rights of communities and Nature itself, Honoring communal and natural rights brings power back to where it belongs: our neighborhoods.

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