(I should preface the following by saying I’m no political expert, just someone who agrees with Thomas Jefferson in thinking, ‘every generation needs a revolution.’ I am not equating the Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring by any means. It’s just that, one food seller setting himself on fire has seemed to inspire millions to set alight policies and regimes of old in various forms and forums.)
Aristotle once said, “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.”
It seems an apt thought for the world this past week. I don’t think Aristotle was talking about poverty in the terms we think of nowadays; a grinding poverty that is so wide-sweeping in many developing and least-developed countries that it almost becomes anonymous and easy to ignore. I don’t think he was simply referring to a financial poverty, but one of freedom, of ambitious mobility, of self-expression, poverty of a heard voice.
The violence, the clashes with police, and the anger are no longer just ‘over there’ though, but seem present everywhere. Between pepper spray at UC Davis, Occupy Wall Street clashes in NYC, and the seemingly violent chaos of Tahrir Square in Cairo, I find myself asking once again, how is the world such a crazy place with such cold, removed power inciting reactions as hot as fire?
I admit I was, and to a certain degree still am, skeptical of the Occupy movement. I wondered, what are the movement’s goals? What exactly is being protested besides general inequality? Equality is certainly a worthy cause for which to fight, but in this age of hyper-information, I feel that a fight without a purpose and plan will never be won, by either side.
I hope as the movement matures there will be a better articulation of what is hoped to be achieved. But even a group of people, whether audacious or naive, assembled does not deserve to be quashed before a cogent voice can be heard. That, at least in the States, is their right, not just a privilege.
In Tahrir Square, the demands are much clearer. An election, a choice for change, is all that is asked. It’s dangerous in its simplicity and complicated in the means of execution.
In my opinion, the ‘establishments’ exhibit the same characteristics of the movements they ridicule, fight, kill. Steadfastly, stubbornly standing their ground in the Republican seats of Congress instead of Zucotti Park. In the Cabinet instead of Tahrir Square or Homs.
During the last two months of ‘Occupy’ there have been several criticisms of the police, starting in Oakland. I was quite vocal about their role, not at all defending their violence, but saying that they too, as people, are part of the 99%. I defended their inability to just walk away from their duty of non-violent crowd control. I asked citizens, if you have a job in this economy with benefits, a pension, and relative security, would you be able to say no to your bosses’ demands?
However, this past week may well have changed my mind. Excessive, disproportionate force is never necessary against the non-violent; pepper spray against kids and grandmothers; Cairo’s thrown stones should not be met with tanks, tear gas, live ammunition, and reportedly, machetes. You can hear the ironic cries of those on the videos, tweets, interviews: I thought the police and military were supposed to protect the innocent.
Yet we’ve seen it for generations of revolutions, all over the world, from Amritsar to Alabama. From Benghazi to Berlin. Soldiers – in this case bankers, lenders, the financial community, police, and countless others, of a sort – following orders from those above. It’s the way the world works, the apex of the bell curve that is socio-political change.
Change, that’s the key word, isn’t it? They seem so vehemently resistant to it. It’s not shocking. George Orwell wrote in 1984, “No one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end.”
Of course, the actions of establishments in the Middle East have been far more violent, cruel, and crushing than those in the United States, but my point follows.
Revolutionaries accept they are, at least for a time, subject to a star-crossed fate. To the Powers That Be, I ask, are really ready to fight those that have built up an immunity to losing health, wealth, and heart? Are you ready for the world’s scorn? Sanctions? Arab League dismissal? Lost elections? Political backlash? Drain on resources day in and day out? These are possible, if not inevitable. Are you ready to keep your country in economic doldrums and continue to lose your sons and daughters in unnecessary wars? You are showing the real lack of patriotism in my opinion. You are the ones who do not want to see your own country succeed. You don’t care about the very flag you claim to represent by not compromising for the greater good.
We often say to protesters, what are you even fighting? Just keep your mouth shut, accept your fate, keep what’s left of your dignity and you’ll survive.
Maybe someone should say that to those being protested.