Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Every Act of Rebellion Helps Tear Down Our Corrupt System

AlterNet, my favorite journalist with a Master of Divinity from Harvard Chris Hedges reflects on his time in Eastern Europe right before the Iron Curtain fell, and what it may mean for us here in the United States today:

The long, long road of sacrifice, tears and suffering that led to the collapse of these regimes stretched back decades. Those who made change possible were those who had discarded all notions of the practical. They did not try to reform the Communist Party. They did not attempt to work within the system. They did not even know what, if anything, their protests would accomplish. But through it all they held fast to moral imperatives. They did so because these values were right and just. They expected no reward for their virtue; indeed they got none. They were marginalized and persecuted. And yet these poets, playwrights, actors, singers and writers finally triumphed over state and military power. They drew the good to the good. They triumphed because, however cowed and broken the masses around them appeared, their message of defiance did not go unheard. It did not go unseen. The steady drumbeat of rebellion constantly exposed the dead hand of authority and the rot and corruption of the state.


We may feel, in the face of the ruthless corporate destruction of our nation, our culture, and our ecosystem, powerless and weak. But we are not. We have a power that terrifies the corporate state. Any act of rebellion, no matter how few people show up or how heavily it is censored by a media that caters to the needs and profits of corporations, chips away at corporate power. Any act of rebellion keeps alive the embers for larger movements that follow us. It passes on another narrative. It will, as the rot of the state consumes itself, attract wider and wider numbers. Perhaps this will not happen in our lifetimes. But if we persist we will keep this possibility alive. If we do not, it will die.

All energy directed toward reforming political and state structures is useless. All efforts to push through a “progressive” agenda within the corridors of power are naive. Trust in the reformation of our corporate state reflects a failure to recognize that those who govern, including Barack Obama, are as deaf to public demands and suffering as those in the old Communist regimes. We cannot rely on any systems of power, including the pillars of the liberal establishment—the press, liberal religious institutions, universities, labor, culture and the Democratic Party. They have been weakened to the point of anemia or work directly for the corporations that dominate our existence. We can rely now on only ourselves, on each other.


Well, that's what I've been saying.

I'm not sure exactly when it was, but at some point in the late 90s I became convinced that the Republican/Democrat political dynamic had been rendered essentially meaningless by the dominance of massive amounts of corporate campaign cash: Republicans were now simply the corporate party to the far right; Democrats were now the corporate party to the right. In effect, there was no longer, for me, any established political institution in existence with any hope of enacting the reforms this country desperately needs.

At around the same time, I was teaching high school, and as my views on education in America were beginning to solidify, it became achingly clear to me that virtually all US institutions were in deep with the corporations, either directly or by way of adopting and pushing the corporate world view. The media, the churches, the schools and universities, big arts institutions, think tanks, political parties (excluding, of course, the Greens), popular music, movies and TV shows, all these entities push, more or less, a corporate philosophy of professionalism, which means pay attention to only the things for which you have been trained, materialism, which is euphemized as "consumerism," free market fundamentalism, and non-community and personal isolation. And our culture is literally drowning in these anti-American and self-destructive messages: it is as though there is no other thought than to embrace corporate America.

It does indeed appear to be completely hopeless. The whole fucking country has become a sick and twisted shadow of its former self, or rather, what it has always, if clumsily, tried to be. How do you persuade an entire nation to change its ways? How do you take on a whole country? The far easier choice is to concede, give in, give up, try to look out just for myself because that's what everybody else is doing. Of course, giving up makes me sick to my stomach, which is a drag because resisting, in the face of incredibly overwhelming opposition, makes me nearly as nauseated.

For years now, inspired by the writing of the late radical historian Howard Zinn, I have tried to content myself with something similar to Hedges' notion that "any act of rebellion...chips away at corporate power," but it has been unsatisfying, especially as I've watched the tentative hopefulness of the Obama era give way, once again, to despair. I mean, you know, it's all I've got really, small time stuff. People are like "great blog, Ron," or "good set, man, great songs," or "wow, you know a lot about this stuff," but I never really get the sense that I've really honestly gotten people to think deeply about their country, about how they feel disaffected from the political system, about how they are oppressed by the wealthy.

But Hedges' essay does a great job of contextualizing and ennobling such acts of defiance. Americans who resist the corporate order, in any way at all, even using simple oppositional rhetoric like I do here at Real Art, are carrying on a tradition that helped bring down the Iron Curtain, Jim Crow, and other repressive regimes throughout history. Resistance breeds resistance. Simply showing that you don't have to quietly accept oppression makes its own statement, "chips away at corporate power," as Hedges says.

Words and deeds, even small ones, have power. They may be all I've got, but history has shown that simple, small-scale acts may very well be enough to do the job, or, at least, start the job.