Tag Archives: Arab Spring

Occupy: The American Fall

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“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles, The Communist Manifesto

Has it come?

Karl Marx would have been surprised to see that the revolutions he envisioned began in the East, in countries dominated by emperors and czars. When he and Friedrich Engles wrote “The Communist Manifesto” in early 1848, it was believed that the revolutions would begin not in eastern countries like China and Russia, but in Western Europe and the United States. Communism, he reasoned, was not so much a movement but an organic thing; something that grows quite naturally from capitalism.

Occupy Atlanta

Occupy Atlanta: It has begun.

Inevitably, he wrote, the gap between the rich and poor would grow too wide to breach. When this happens, the poor – left without food, clothing, shelter and other necessities – would turn to the only advantage they had remaining: their muscles, and their numbers. In a great turn, society would dispense with inequality and adopt a structure in which everyone was equal.

In the United States, this inevitable turn has been held back by the middle class – a uniquely American tradition in the vein of Thomas Jefferson’s beloved yeoman farmer. People who own their home have an investment – a substantial one – in the way things are. They may not ever be rich, but they find solace at least in the fact that they are not poor, either. Life is not extravagant, but it is not toilsome and terrifying, either. Life is lived in the middle.

But the middle class has come to wane mightily. People who once had an investment in their community have been disenfranchised. They have lost their jobs and their homes.

Desperation has begun to sink in as it grows ever clearer that corporate bailouts and tax breaks will not spur job creation, and a block of wealthy state and federal legislators remain hell-bent on blocking all legislation at relief for the nation’s growing population of poor. They are taking our Medicaid and Medicare, they are taking our welfare, they are taking our housing benefits. They have the audacity to assert that the jobs and homes are gone not because their friends played fast and foolish with other people’s money and not because so many were conned into buying more home than they could afford by bankers who offered twisted mortgages for short-term profit; rather, it is the fault of the unemployed and homeless.

The middle class has been the only thing between capitalism and revolution, and now, the sign in the yard of the middle class reads “FORECLOSED.”

Now, the streets are filling with people. Wall Street, Austin, Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta – the urban centers of the blight and loss that has defined the past decade. They are speaking words not spoken in public squares in a generation. They are holding signs and standing with upraised fists. In New York, they are going toe-to-toe with the New York Police Department, standing their ground in the face of pepper spray and billy clubs. It seems only a matter of time before the crowd reverses the violence.

Sweeping change does not come easily to this country. The battle for civil rights took decades. Gays and lesbians are only now beginning to find acceptance in facets of society. But the terror now is the growing number of poor.

News in recent weeks have carried reports of the soaring costs of peanuts, which are used to make peanut butter, which is a staple food in many poor pantries. Peanut butter sustained me during the hard years of my life. It is rich in protein, it is nutritious, inexpensive, and it is filling.

The cost of peanut butter is not soaring because of some blight that befell the peanut crop; it is because farmers took advantage of climbing cotton prices and planted cotton instead of peanuts. The farmers chose profit over feeding America, and consequently, thousands of families will go hungry and suffer further malnutrition because they cannot afford to buy from the store, and because food pantries can no longer afford to stock, peanut butter.

And that is but one example. Take petroleum as another, or the cost of clothing, auto parts, electricity, debit card fees, natural gas, and the list goes on. There are hundreds of ways that American families are being squeezed in the name of turning corporate profits. The money is going not to creating jobs, but into the pockets of the ever-slim number of people who can afford to own stock.

And now, the streets are filling with protest.

To a student of history, this is nothing new. It’s happened before. Just, not here.

It’s happened in Russia, China, and northern Vietnam. It’s happened in Cuba and Korea. It’s happened in places where the poor were many and the rich were few and there was nothing between the two.

And now, the middle class is drowning, the lines for unemployment and public relief grow ever longer, and a vocal minority in places of power continue to cut and cut and cut the very programs that have made life livable at all, heaping suffering on the poor (and worse, doing so in the name of Jesus Christ – for shame!).

So the streets are filling, and the protests are spreading. Not as violent as those in London, not as detrimental as those that wracked Europe. But they come on the heels of protests that brought down governments in other parts of the world, and in western Europe, the anger is still kindled.

We are running out of time. We have seen the Arab Spring.

We are entering the American Fall.

Liberating Libya a Just Cause

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In the beauty of the lilies
Christ was born across the sea
With a glory in is bosom
That transfigures you and me
As He died to make men holy
Let us die to make men free
While God is marching on…
— Julia Ward Howe, “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” 1861

War has been called the ultimate failure of diplomacy. But it has also been called the ultimate success of politics, since, broadly speaking, war tends to be a popular way of resolving our conflicts – especially war conducted by the best-equipped and irrepressible fighting force the world has ever seen: the armed forces of the United States.

As a nation, however, we’ve lost our appetite for war. After 10 years of constant combat – of flag-draped coffins and a bill in the billions of dollars and still growing – we’ve simply grown tired of it. I am included. Though I believe it important to stay abreast of world affairs, I’ve grown weary of hearing about and reading about war. When the conflict in Iraq began, I slept with my television tuned to CNN, waking up periodically throughout the night to see how we were advancing on Baghdad. Now, I won’t even suffer through a war update on my radio. If NPR tries to tell me what’s going on, I switch the station.

In a world where might often makes right, the United States has generally found itself in the unique position of being on the right of might. There have been times when we’ve fallen far short of this ideal. We fought to help free Cuba from the Spanish, but continued our efforts to subjugate the Philippines. We stemmed genocide in the Baltic, but sat silent as tribes in Rwanda massacred innocent women and children.

We are on the heels of just such an unjust war in Iraq. There’s no point now in trying to argue the point of whether or not this war was contrived; even those involved in its planning have admitted as much. The war was poorly planned, poorly administered and has now taken far longer and been far more deadly than was expected when forces began that long drive to Baghdad.

On top of that, the war has left us further trillions in debt and served as yet another rock tied about the ankle of an American economy that cannot seem to keep its head above water.

Still, after demonstrating the wrong way to bring democracy to a nation (by imposing it), other nations in the region have begun demonstrating the proper way, with movements growing organically and surging through the population until change and liberty are born in nations that lack a history of either.

The “Arab Spring,” as it’s been titled, has already brought change, first to Tunisia, then Egypt. Today, it appears that Muammar Gadhafi’s four decades of rule will come to an end in Libya, and atrocities continue in Syria that will only strengthen the resolve of those who oppose the régime there.

While we’ve worked through diplomatic channels to influence all these conflicts, we’ve engaged in only one: air support for the battle in Libya. And in so doing, President Obama – upon whose order American forces have acted – has been called out for not going to Congress and for stretching America’s military too thin.

But there is a difference between Iraq and Libya. A stark difference.

In Iraq, there was no open revolt before American forces invaded. The regime there was unpopular and autocratic, and many would rather see it go, but there also was no open desire to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Such has not been the case in Libya, where people have demonstrated a willingness to rage against irrepressible odds and surrender their lives to live free.

In a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, dated Monticello, Sept. 23, 1800, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I have sworn on the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” More than 150 years later, John F. Kennedy said, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

This idea, this notion that, somehow, it is our obligation to fight for freedom, is entrenched in us. We are the lucky ones, we Americans; we were the benefactors of French interference that, to the downfall of the French monarchy, helped to secure our own liberty, and now we owe a blood debt to a world that has acknowledged the sovereignty of a nation governed not by a king of ancient title or claim, but by imperfect people in an imperfect republic who believe in self-determination.

Surely, in World War I, as American General “Blackjack” Pershing landed in France to help fend off invaders, he proclaimed, “Lafayette, we have come,” and twice did young Americans fight and die to cast off the repression of ancient empires and fascism, have we helped to pay back what the French have given us. But still we feel kindred, nigh 250 years on, with other people in other lands that long for freedom, for government that derives its power from the consent of the governed, which produces democracy in its infancy, desperate for the nourishment to grow into a hearty nation of free people.

This flame did not exist in Iraq, which we nonetheless lit and burned the country down. But it glows bright in Libya, where today rebel forces roll into the capital, Tripoli, flying the red, black and green tricolor and hunt for the head of the cowardly tyrant who used his airpower to kill his own people in the early days of protests.

We take for granted, dear reader, our rights. We take for granted that the governing document of our nation is the first of its kind in history that explains not what you can’t do, but what government cannot do; that does not read, “thou shalt not,” but that “government shall not” and then goes on to say “thou may,” “thou can,” and “such is thou unalienable right.”

But we also come from a long line of people – of fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers – who were willing to lay down their lives so others might enjoy the same freedoms as they because – when you’re an American – fighting and dying so others may be free is not just your tradition; it is your privilege.

Tonight, for the first time in a generation, Libyans will sleep no longer afraid of Muammar Gadhafi. We helped, sure, but not as we could have. Not, I believe, as we should have.