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Posted by H2O Man in General Discussion
Fri Nov 18th 2011, 03:04 PM
“We must seek out the spiritual people because only that is going to help us survive. We have a great force – a great brotherhood. This brotherhood involves all living things. And that, of course, includes us all. We are talking about the natural world, the natural force, all the trees, everything that grows, the water. That is part of our force.

“But when you gather spiritual force in one place, you also gather the negative force. We begin to perceive the enemy now, the power and presence of the negative force.

“There is a great battle coming.”
Chief Oren Lyons, Onondaga National

There are many opinions about the OWS movement. For example, I heard Ron Christie say that he understands people's anger, but the demonstrators should really be in Washington, DC, marching in opposition to President Obama. Other talking heads have recommended that OWS needs to identify leaders, and select spokespersons. On this forum, I've read suggestions that the movement participants be registered to vote, as well as claims that the ONLY way to change things is to participate in the election process. And still others, even within the past 48 hours, have asked what OWS wants?

The republican view is obvious. Twits like Christie fantasize about being part of a rebel movement. Representative Peter King – a man who openly supported the IRA – calls the people of OWS mentally ill, drug-addicted, violent criminals. He expresses a particular outrage that they camp out. His sterile mind is so removed by the natural world that he is repulsed by “dirt.” But perhaps the most honest republican assessment of OWS came this morning on CNN, when two young men stated that the current level of income inequality is part of the American dream, and made clear that their thirst for the comforts of wealth had drowned any social conscience they may once have had.

Those who question “what OWS wants” fall into two general groups. The first is those who believe asking this question over and over is a worthy tactic to derail a meaningful discussion. The second are those who, like the kid who sat next to you in second grade, who raised his hand and told the teacher, “I don't get it.” Income inequality is an abstraction that some do not fully grasp as easily as the rest of their class. And while we should be patient with them, we certainly cannot afford to hold the rest of our class back until they fully grasp rather simple math.

Thus we come to what is really the most important of the questions: is OWS a movement that needs to identify leaders, register all members to vote, and support one of the two major political parties? Obviously, I can only offer my personal opinion, knowing that intelliegent and sincere people can and will disagree with parts of it – or even the majority of what I think. And that's the way it should be.

I think that OWS and voter education, registration, and participation are distinct, but overlapping forms of democracy in action. They are two distinct circles, which have areas of “common ground.” (Or, as Rep. King might say, “common dirt.”) I can understand both those who see them as entirely separate, and those who think OWS must morph into a voting machine. Both raise some valid and valuable points.

Some people here nay have noticed that I frequently point to history for illustrations. I'm about to here. But at the same time, I try to make clear that it is important, even essential, that we not be stuck in the past. For while history provides us with many inspirational teachers and valuable lessons, those teachers lived in different times. And while the problems they confronted might have been similar to what we face today, those circumstances were different and will not repeat exactly. So we benefit most from learning the principles – such as telling the truth, having compassion, and seeking social justice – for great principles are constant in any circumstance.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some history that may shed some light on today's situation. I'm thinking of the Civil Rights movement in America. One of the best available histories of the movement is Taylor Branch's trilogy “America in the King Years” (Parting the Waters, 1954-63; Pillor of Fire, 1963-65; and At Canaan's Edge, 1965-68). Branch documents how the movement began as a grass roots, participatory democratic action. Few people today remember the hard work and sacrifice that so many people invested in the movement.

The movement's beginning is more closely associated with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. Despite his reluctance, King was to become identified as the movement's “leader.” The truth about that has been “cleaned-up” by movement supporters, while the opposition has been invested in soiling the reputation of King, as an individual, ever since he came to national attention.

King is famous for leading demonstrations that aimed at equal rights. Among the most important of these was the right to vote, for King and the rest of the movement knew that social justice was impossible if every person did not have the right to vote. In the Deep South, there were many areas, for example, where blacks outnumbered whites; their being denied the right to vote made the democratic process a sham.

Yet, even with the “Civil Rights Act of 1964,” and the 1965 “Voting Rights Act,” King recognized that registering and voting alone did not equal social justice. There were two other issues that King knew had to be confronted: poverty and the war in Vietnam. He knew that even if people were able to vote in every election, so long as the machinery of America was producing poverty and violence, there could be no social justice.

When Martin began delivering this message in 1967, there were many different reactions. Some felt that he was betraying President Johnson. Others advised him to stick to Civil Rights. Many who embraced his new positions wantedhim to run as an anti-war candidate in 1968. Similar to Malcolm X when he was asked to consider running for Congress, Martin believed he could do more good by staying out of elections.

It's important here to remember that there were a range of “anti-war” candidates. We tend to think of Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy as being the only two who ran on an anti-war platform. But there was another candidate – the republican nominee, Richard Nixon, who promised to end the US war in Vietnam. It is particularly important for two reasons: first, the republicans claim that the Democrats “started” that war; and second, a proper perspective shows that it was the Machine that demanded that war – much as it does today in other nations, regardless of who is President.

The April 20, 1954 edition of the Chicago Daily News ran an interesting, though largely forgotten editorial. The vice president of the United States, one Richard Nixon, had a press conference the day before, in which he noted that the French were getting thrashed in Vietnam. Nixon said that the US government was preparing to enter the war against North Vietnam, and would do so regardless of the effort was supported by its allies.

Neither the Democrats nor republicans “started” the US war in Vietnam. It was the Machine, the corporate interests, that demanded access to the natural resources of that region. Uncle Sam footed the bill for France for many years, and eventually sacrificed American youth in that ugly venture. It didn't make a bit of difference if LBJ or Richard Nixon was in the White House. McCarthy couldn't have gotten elected. (And the only two politicians who could have changed the course of American history in Vietnam, JFK and RFK, did not get the chance.)

King understood the Machine. He recognized its nature. And so, quite the opposite of running for office as the “leader” of the Civil Rights, anti-war, and anti-poverty coalition, he opted to try to organize the Poor People's Campaign. It wasn't a march across a bridge. It wasn't a sit-in. He planned to occupy Washington, DC. His dream was to have thousands of poor people – from every background – come together as equals, and to occupy DC. He wasn't targeting Democrats or republicans. Nor was he backing either party. He was focused on challenging the Machine. He was demanding social justice.

Now, I definitely support participating in elections. For many years, I've engaged in voter education, registration, and participation. But I also am 100% for movements such as OWS. I believe in fighting for social justice – nonviolently, of course – and view the ballot box and OWS as the left- and the right hand. In the struggle we are in, I think it would be foolish to tie one hand behind our backs. We need them both.

If people here find this essay worth reading, and worthy of discussion, I will follow up with one on the inevitable inner conflicts that happen when individuals and various groups attempt to work together to reach a common goal. Until then,

H2O Man
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