“In the time of universal deceit telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” —George Orwell
In early 2016, I had a heated on-line debate with a Native American political activist from Minneapolis who was advocating that Native Americans vote for Donald Trump. He said he was personally voting for Trump (who later, for me, became known only as #45). I couldn’t understand the logic of this recommendation. I argued that the likely damages he would inflict on the Native American community—not to mention the rest of us—would far outweigh his reasoning for voting for Trump. After much back-and-forth, this person said “Native American prophesy says that change will only come through chaos. We need an armageddon.” At the time, I thought he was off his rocker and I unfriended him on FaceBook.
There is, today, a “Native Americans for Trump” Facebook page (I am not making this up). They believe Trump will prevent more illegal immigrants—stating that historically Native Americans “ignored” immigration and “now live on reservations.” Their argument is the Republicans support “less” government. The group states: “It was the government policies and gun control that put us Native Americans under government control. Democrats believe that the federal government should have a strong role in how people should live. Republicans suggest that the role of government is to protect individuals’ rights and that individuals and society as a whole are better off when the government is involved as little as possible. We want less government not more government.” This post will not dive into this argument. I cannot put myself in their place. I can not, also, understand how they could be so easily hoodwinked—while being correct about their plight.
“Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.” —Martin Luther King
I am beginning to think there is a sad and warped, but partially accurate, logic to the idea of change resulting from chaos in the political system—even though #45’s record of devastation is tremendous and will literally take years to undo. Despite this possibility, I am still sickened that it takes chaos to create harmony and equality. In addition to his publicly debated debacles and tragic executive orders, his enablers are stacking the courts with ultra-conservative evangelicals that will be in office for a long time (nearly 200 so far.) He has cut and enabled a wide and sad swath of destruction through our communities and Mother Earth. Besides the issues surrounding COVID-19, there is, of course, the death of innocence people at the hands of police. His transparent dog-whistles to white fascist and racist are creating a toxic environment that will take decades, in my opinion, to detox. Yet, the recent protests are legitimate and necessary—although I strongly oppose damage to property.
This post is about equity that is undermined by a president who is a fascist, racist and self-center. His greed knows no bounds.Why do I feel that there may be logic in this chaos theory? #45 may be the most transparent president we have ever had—and the most intentionally disruptive. Everything he does serves only to stroke his ego and reelection. That is the only motive for anything he does. His transparency is enabled and fueled by his overwhelming desire to be the center of attention all the while being naive, unprepared and ignorant of even the basics of our democratic government. He has literally pulled back the curtain on the ugliness hiding in plain site for all who take the trouble to look.
The COVID-19 virus and the George Floyd (amount others, of course) murder has emerged as perhaps two of the most important political change agents in my life time. Even though 52 years ago I was opposed to the Vietnam War, I don’t think my protest had anything to do with its ending. This is not, of course, to minimize the enormous impact of protests or the death of the students Kent State. It did wake me up. It energized my interest in politics and social justice. I read Noam Chomsky’s “Back Room Boys” during college and was changed. As stated in Good Reads:
The Backroom Boys is a dispassionate examination of official indifference and duplicity. Chomsky exemplifies these tendencies by focussing on the image of the United States as reflected in Vietnam and provides a devastating indictment of the way American power operates today.Through a close analysis of the Pentagon Papers Chomsky outlines with great conviction the horrifying detachment and remoteness of those in power from the realities of Vietnam. The essay which follows, discussing the implications of the Paris Peace Agreements, continues this theme showing how Washington, with the aid of the American press, has misrepresented these Agreements to the American public and in so doing has justified continued involvement in South-east Asia.Noam Chomsky is acknowledged throughout the world as one of America’s leading social critics and a major opponent of the Vietnam War.
Stepping back to my youth, I was raised in Fort Smith, Arkansas—living there from 1952 (age 3) until I left for college in 1966. My father owned and operated a Texaco service station on Rogers Avenue. We lived in a converted grocery store behind the station from 1952 until dad replaced it in about 1962 with a house he bought at a government auction—a house that was in the way of the new interstate freeway. Fort Smith was a good place for me to emerge. The city benefited from the booming economy after the war. We had an excellent education system that was populated with dedicated, freshly minted teachers—who cared about our education. It was also a city that was, in my younger years, segregated until the civil rights act of 1964. Blacks had to drink from separate drinking fountains. They were not allowed into Electric Park (now the Kay Rodgers Park) during normal hours. There was a segregated third balcony for blacks at the movie theater. Black neighborhoods were not wired for private phone lines. Prior to 1966, many of the black students attended the segregated Lincoln High School.
My parents raised me to not see color. Dad served all races with equal joy and dedication. Prior to the rise of the “self service” stations, my dad had one of the best (I am biased) full service station in the city. Each of their three sons worked in the station from an early age until graduation from high school. When I reached the age of 16, I would drive customers home so that dad could fix their cars. This included, of course, blacks living in the northern part of the city. The conversations were an important part of my education and awakening. One of my most vivid memories was in 1963. I had written a paper on the evils of the Ku Klux Klan. I turned the paper in to my civics class and that very night my dad’s station was vandalized—KKK was written in large letters on the west facing office window. To this day I think my civics teacher was a member of the KKK and had organized this vigilante act. That teaching moment was important: Dad said “there is hate in the world but we can not hate.” It was my original “woke” moment. I washed the whitewash (no pun intended) from the window and swore to myself that I would fight for justice—peaceably. Thus began my life-long journey. I realized then that I was born (like all humans) without prejudices. Without my parents I could have ended up like many (luckily not all) of my Fort Smith high school friends: racist, evangelicals and ardent supporters of #45.
“Because of who we are and how we’ve dealt with progress when it comes to race, how we’ve been able to sit at the table and iron out differences, how we’ve been able to come together and talk about the things that matter, today, Fort Smith would elect me to be their mayor,” he said. McGill also said it’s important to take time to reflect on the racial progress of the city.“Sometimes we forget how far we’ve come,” he said. “We think of how far we have to go, and that can exhaust you.” Quote from an interview with the first black mayor of Fort Smith George McGill (published in the the Southwest Times Record on February 5, 2019)
Finally, I wonder if the closure of businesses, etc. because of the COVID-19 virus is also a moment of awakening. Have we finally realized that the capitalist system thrives and profits from the exploitation of labor and seductive marketing propaganda.We are brainwashed to instinctively always search out the “bargain” —often for goods we do not really need. The current shuttering of businesses selling luxury goods to people who can’t afford them but want to be like their promoters has revealed how shallow and unnecessary luxury-touting capitalism can be. The piss-and-moan attitude of many Americans about foreigners “taking their jobs” is also disingenuous. While some folks are complaining about losing jobs to “foreigners” they are simultaneously rushing into Wal-Mart to buy goods made by third world people (often children) living in squalid and substandard conditions, with no health care, and being worked like automats for pennies an hour. These workers are invisible. The only thing Americans seem to really care about is saving 5 cents on a tube of toothpaste—often driving to the store at a cost of 40 cents a mile to save that nickel. Without question, this is an illustrative oversimplification of a complex question. But I believe it illustrates that many people have made no connection (or are simply numbed by the system) between the price of goods and the way they are made or priced. They are only interested in the lowest price—not the highest standard of care for the worker. Of course, many people are trapped in a conundrum. They have to watch for the lowest prices—otherwise their minimum wage job would not allow them to live. My rant is not to suggest that we abolish the capitalist system. I am simply saying that maybe with the time to reflect, during this virus closure period, people can rethink their spending priorities: buy less and buy from local businesses. Be aware and act with integrity and social justice.
The takeaway for me is simple: ME v WE.
Selfishness in the form of preserving privilege is the ultimate insult to those without freedom to be who they want to be—and emboldens and enables those in power to continue to suppress efforts of reform. Merchants can make a difference. Consumers can make a difference. All of us can be more informed about what goes on behind closed doors. The preservation of the economic system by those in power is at the root, in my opinion, of the evils exposed through the ruthless murders of the innocent and the COVID-19 virus. 400 years ago slaves were introduced into the capitalist system for one reason: cheap labor. Cheap and exploited labor a cornerstone of capitalism. I hope we have, as a nation, finally awakened to the power of one person, acting in concert with many, to change the system. Unless we change the way we think of our purchasing power, slavery will persist and with it inequality. Every purchase we make that is based on cheap labor is a complicit endorsement of racism.
This is our problem. No amount of empathy will solve the issues facing blacks and the disenfranchised. White folks are the privileged class in this country. Until we shift from guilt-ridden “caring” and “donations” and begin to act nothing will change. It will be just shuffling the musical chairs with the last seat at the political table never available for the minority. It begins by pulling the chairs out from beneath the republicans on November 3, 2020. Now is the time to yank down and figuratively burn the curtain that #45 pulled back. As Adam Nakhla-Thometz (son of my friend Kurt Thometz) has stated on his Facebook page “As white people, we have nothing to lose in this fight. We have everything to gain from listening to our black brothers and sisters and standing by them in this fight to eradicate racism.”
Get rid of all curtains that hide the acts of the “back room (white) boys.”