A Few Good Apples Can Overthrow an Oligarchy
My Mother quipped by text message today:
‘It’s like we are watching the world burn.’
I responded in a second: ‘Good.’
Maybe you see looting and cars burning on your filtered Facebook feed or your pick of cable news channels and you think all might be lost — it makes sense. The mainstream media lives and dies by ratings, hence the adage: ‘If it bleeds it leads.’
I see something different. I’d suggest what we see is people confronting the corruption they inherit as an American.
Protest movements are always seen to be messaging a single issue, stemming from one or more atrocities. Human beings with families and futures are simultaneously reduced to cardboard symbols and immortalized as accidental martyrs.
In the case of this past ten days, the most present issue is certainly police violence but fervent in the air is a rage against injustice as a construct.
It was about a solid week into mass protests before the whisper down the march became rumors of lists being made — we have a list of demands.
I’m all for incrementalism but less so the wasting of a window to overthrow our common overlords without firing a shot.
Take back ownership of government from corporations.
Dismantle and reorganize those institutions complicit in the corruption.
My ideas are as good and bad as the next person but I know of two fundamental truths when it comes to substantive change in a community of any size.
First, progress is only sustainable when led by someone who lives next door to the problem, with context to the nuances and access to their neighbors.
And second, to quote Margaret Mead from my hometown of Philadelphia, an educated, outspoken and controversial Woman back when it was even more dangerous to be so:
‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’
I can tell you from experience that the skill of this game is in organizing decentralized groups of consistently increasing numbers of people.
9 people can block a highway.
90 people can close down a racist store.
900 people can fund a charitable project.
9 million can change a federal or state law.
90 million can overthrow a tyrannical government.
Our last, best, hope and change President, Barack Obama, said it best: ‘We are the change we have been waiting for.’
Your country has been stolen from you and not by immigrants or poor people, but by corporations. By Halliburton and Shell, by Proctor + Gamble and Monsanto, and, yes, even McDonald’s.
They changed the rules to fit their interest(s) and then played the game very well while we were ordering cat food from Jeff Bezos on the free internet in Starbucks and taking an ironic selfie outside of the Trump Tower.
Make no mistake, their business model is servitude. It isn’t slavery, no, but only because they can’t get away with that nonsense anymore.
The vast majority of the people that hold any kind of real power in this country don’t care about your color or gender or your hopes and dreams. To them, we are all the equivalent of 18th Century Russian Serfs: generations of relatively nominal wage labor that will never own anything that could reasonably build comparable wealth. You are not here to compete. To them, we are here to work on the factory floor, dry clean their clothes; deliver them food, and take them to the airport.
I’m cynical as I think many of us are about what might happen next or more so, that nothing will change, but today I’m hopeful that we will never find our way back to that place of widespread, permanent complacency. I believe in Democracy. I believe that preserving what remains of it and building on top of its most virtuous components is worth more than a modicum of world-burning.
I’ll end with a personal observation about this moment in time in the city that adopted me.
I arrived in Detroit from Philadelphia in late 2011. I caught the tail end of what long-timers affectionately refer to as Old Detroit.
Nine years later, I’ve changed and so has the city. It is better and worse and the same all at once, like myself.
However, these past ten days in Detroit, for me, has been like reuniting with a former lover. And I’m here for it as long as she will have me.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Photo credit goes to Joe Gall aka Camera Jesus. I urge you to support his art.