Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honest with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
The videos from the student protests in Britain are inspiring. Of course, some will dismiss them as a minority of troublemakers. Well, thank God for the troublemakers. We live in terrifying times. The planet is burning up, species are going extinct at unprecedented levels, and the number of poor people on this planet is growing. In the wealthiest countries on the planet, the rich are crushing the poor and taking the last bits and pieces from the people.
Meaningful protest is what we need, and it is what we have needed for decades. The American people have been distracted for years by reality television, faux-scandals, false populist rhetoric on the right, the pressing bills piling above their heads, etc. etc. The American left has been relegated to the sidelines. We have meaningless stands of righteousness. We blog about how absurd the new tax deal is, how deranged the right is, how corrupt the politicians are, what liars the media are (I am aware of the irony, yes). We really show them, man! Meanwhile, the multi-national corporations are juggernauts which do not rest, and their mouthpieces are driving the folks on the right wing to new extremes.
I’m all for listening to heroes like Bernie Sanders. But we need to back him up. It’s not enough for us to know what he’s saying. The nation needs to know what he’s saying. They know by seeing, and the only way they’ll see is if we get out there and show we exist. Stewart’s rally was a farce, but it showed there are those of us still willing to show up, and that’s a start.
We on the left have been thinking (and I’m guilty of this myself) that online discussion is a sufficient replacement for activism. It is not. “I am what I do,” wrote C.S. Lewis. Writing is something, discussion is something, but to risk ourselves, to brave the cold, the jeers, the police – that is to truly stand for what we believe in, rather than sit in the warmth and wag our fingers at the naughty ones. The situation reminds me of a scene where Gandalf chastises the cynical Denethor in The Lord of the Rings:
The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?”
The exchange is one we would all do well to remember. There’s been far too many TLOR analogies in the world, but spare me one more. We are all of us responsible for our planet, we are responsible for resisting evil, and we are responsible for the deeds done in our name. We are all stewards. The task upon is not to stay home, but to go out in defense of the good, resting not.
I agree with Ian Welsh’s sentiment in this post. The situation seems all but hopeless. To leave, to preserve what we can seems our only option. The system seems intent on self-destruction. But I also have a deep fondness for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor who did not flee Germany when his fellows did, but remained to protest the Nazi state, and was executed for his pains. He once wrote, “Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and action.” And so we, whatever we call ourselves, are also called to line up our actions with our beliefs. This is the society we’ve been born into, and it was not all evil. I’ve had much happiness here, and I don’t want salvation outside it while others suffer and the leaders continue to accelerate the pillaging of the planet. We’ve had too many people flee for new futures in our history. We’ve had a perpetual frontier mentality, pushing on in search of more, rather than staying and challenging the way things are. I think it’s time to change ourselves in response to the faultlines in our history.
Charlie Strauss notes in this interesting post (the link taken from Gerry Canvan) that:
We are now living in a global state that has been structured for the benefit of non-human entities with non-human goals. They have enormous media reach, which they use to distract attention from threats to their own survival. They also have an enormous ability to support litigation against public participation, except in the very limited circumstances where such action is forbidden. Individual atomized humans are thus either co-opted by these entities (you can live very nicely as a CEO or a politician, as long as you don’t bite the feeding hand) or steamrollered if they try to resist.
In short, we are living in the aftermath of an alien invasion.”
Maybe it’s impossible to resist. But it’s the right thing to do. How do we start a protest of this tax deal, or use the shocking information we’ve received from Wikileaks (see: Shell and Nigeria) to force our government and corporations to stop committing crimes in our name? I want to do more. How do we get started?