Women’s March (Into the Abyss)

I participated in both marches and volunteered at this year’s event. It was inspiring to see so many empowered women as well as a diverse crowd come together to march for democracy, freedom, justice and equality. I also happened to notice that the overall vibe from the crowd and especially the message from the speakers at the podium on stage was to get out and VOTE FOR DEMOCRATS! (We all agree that the big business Republican party is dangerously callous and that Trump is the worst con artist, charlatan, demagogue, puppet president we’ve had yet).

I agree with the long-time progressive activist Dr. Margaret Flowers that pouring our time, money & energy into the corporate Democratic party is not the solution. History teaches us that playing the political game of red team vs. blue, with the pendulum swinging back and forth between the two parties, simply maintains the status quo. We all know well-intentioned people who tell us that we can deal with serious issues after we vote the other party out of office, essentially kicking the can down the road…once their favored party is in power a certain segment of the population then quietly withdraws back to their comfortable lives of security & privilege.

We just finished honoring the life and legacy of Dr. MLK Jr., a man who rebelled against the demands of the establishment of both parties to keep quiet. Toward the end of his brief life King came to the realization that racism, patriarchy, poverty, and violence are deeply entrenched within the structures of society, and that racial justice can never be achieved without economic justice. He condemned a capitalist system that exploits the working class, subjugates women, and maintains an underclass of poor people and people of color. He denounced our permanent war machine economy that drains our vital resources needed to maintain infrastructure and social programs to meet basic human need. As a revolutionary, he understood that his vision for a better world could only be achieved by building a sustained social movement that functioned outside of the political arena. And he recognized that any legislation gained from pressuring politicians was only as good as their enforcement, and could later be repealed.

Calling for more women and people of color to be corporate CEOs and corporate politicians simply puts a more diverse face on brutally inhumane systems of exploitation and oppression. Just as interchanging who serves the role of slave master or fascist dictator does nothing to end these tyrannical power structures, neither will changing who sits on the corporate board or who entertains corporate lobbyists within the halls of Congress bring about an equitable distribution of wealth or power. It comes down to what resistance means to you, and to what end the Democratic party will serve that purpose. Are you resisting an immoral idea or value…a specific political party…or the entire state capitalist system of corporate tyranny?

I submit that to resist all forms of racism, sexism, poverty, exploitation, and domination one must first acknowledge that the common source lies in undemocratic power structures—the capitalist economic system and hierarchical governing structures. To do so is to rebel against corporate tyranny while fighting to democratize the places in which we work (e.g. cooperatives) and the local communities in which we live (e.g. one-person-one-vote delegations linked in a global federation). The goal in any genuinely democratic society is for every individual to have a say in all aspects that meaningfully effect their lives. What those egalitarian structures look like in practice and how they function democratically to distribute wealth & power is ultimately up to the people to decide—NOT a ruling class of technocrats or elites.

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Class & Identity Politics

Throughout U.S. history a perpetual war has raged between grassroots forces demanding more freedom and democracy from below, and authoritarian forces seeking to oppress and control the population from above. Up to this point it has unfortunately been a pretty one-sided battle, as a well-organized wealthy elite have concentrated their capital resources in waging an all-out offensive on working class people and our unions. It behooves those in power to maintain a high level of class consciousness for themselves while eliminating class consciousness from the oppressed working people. That is why it is taboo to talk about class in this country, and doing so makes people feel uncomfortable. People prefer to think of themselves as middle class. In truth, anyone who is forced to sell their labor for money in the wage-slavery market is a member of the working class

Discussing class is taboo in the U.S….whereas people directly experience the discrimination of gender, race, and sexual orientation. Ask any black person and they can tell you a moving story of when they first found out they were black and that being black was different….or, well, lots of women are speaking up now about harassment on the job and there’s a long literature on the inability of women to get to the tops of most professions; and so on…those are daily assaults that are hard to ignore so they are very visible; The great cultural revolution, on the other hand, has successfully made class invisible, sort of a dirty word, mention class and someone will say ‘You’re inciting class warfare.’ (My answer is that the ruling class has been making war on the working class ever since I don’t know when; I didn’t start it; I only make it visible). At the same time, the ruling class has the whole apparatus of the press, the entertainment industry, and the schools to instill their ideology.

Class is made invisible while other forms of discrimination are blatantly visible. A black woman in the black liberation movement experiences the guys saying to her ‘Sister, bring us some coffee–we’ll get to gender issues after we solve the race problem,’ and in the feminist movement the white women saying to her, ‘Sister bring us some coffee–we’ll get to race issues after we solve the gender issues.’ So if you’re a black woman your turn never comes. This is the question the anarchists and the Communists debated in the Spanish Civil War. Anarchists said we have to make a continuing revolution, starting now, by having an egalitarian army, with women, men, blacks [from Algeria] and whites all together with equal rights in the trenches, mess halls etc.; the Communists said, the proletariat has to take power; we’ll get to those other issues after we liberate the government and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. Anarchists said, dictatorship is dictatorship. Communists shot them. The end.

Mao, on the other hand, trying to make a peasant revolution in China, observed that if the revolutionary forces were to receive the support of the peasants, they would have to institute the revolution as they went; in their army and in every area and village they liberated. Landlords may have been useful to the revolution, but they were immediately demoted to peasant status…and so on…but all those are different stories; this is America. My prognosis is not optimistic for any breakthrough of class to visibility; a major problem is that identity politics sucks all the air out of the room.

In solidarity,

CM & EPD

Propaganda

It’s often said that the American people are largely uneducated and uninformed. More accurately, people are products of a system that intentionally dumbs them down and keeps them misinformed. We live in a society in which powerful institutions devise & employ sophisticated techniques of manipulating popular attitudes, opinions & beliefs. The art of thought control has its origins in the first World War, when the U.S. government established the Committee on Public Information (a.k.a. the Creel Commission) to influence public opinion in support of America’s participation in the war. The campaign directed at a pacifist population was tremendously successful in whipping up mass hysteria against the Germans—a result that had a profound impression on prominent figures of the Creel Committee, particularly Walter Lippmann & Edward Bernays.

In 1922 W. Lippmann (regarded as a leading intellectual of the 20th century) wrote in his book PUBLIC OPINION that the “ignorant and meddlesome” public requires the paternal supervision from a superior set of men more enlightened & capable of governing; he insisted that the “bewildered herd” must be told how to think, and should be spectators—not active participants—in the political arena (a process he called the ‘manufacture of consent’). Similarly, E. Bernays (referred to as the father of public relations) in his 1928 book PROPAGANDA described the masses as irrational and subject to the herd instinct; he maintained that the more responsible, intelligent elites should utilize propaganda to manipulate & control the population in desirable ways for the benefit of the public (a process he called the ‘engineering of consent’).

Tragically, many people are the products of an educational curriculum that emphasizes conformity and unquestioning obedience to authority. Conversely, well-educated, well-informed people have often benefitted from the privilege of attending good public & private schools located in more affluent areas (myself included) where we have had the opportunity to learn how to question, analyze, and think critically about the world. Those of us who are more privileged have a responsibility to challenge the dominant narrative & dispel myths while seeking to inform others of the truth. We have an obligation—a moral imperative—to fight for those who are more vulnerable & less fortunate than ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with possessing specialized knowledge and skill. People with expertise should be consulted and their valuable knowledge should be incorporated into the democratic process of deliberation & decision-making. But their specialized expertise does not warrant granting them undue power & privilege to make decisions. To do so inevitably creates an elitist coordinator-class to manage the working class beneath them. The elitist ideology that attempts to justify and legitimize hierarchical structures of domination/ oppression/ control must be challenged and ultimately eradicated.

It’s important to remember that prior to corporate conglomerates & the pervasive public relations industry, there existed a vibrant and diverse independent media in America. The working class, including women & people of color, had their own publications—including a variety of pamphlets, periodicals, & newspapers—which were widely circulated by a well-informed readership. Lively discussions and debates took place amongst ordinary working people. Point being that it’s not natural or inevitable that people remain in the dark, uninformed and incapable of making decisions regarding public policy. They have been indoctrinated, deceived, and lulled to sleep by a vast & sophisticated corporate-state nexus of propaganda aimed at controlling the population in the interest of power & privilege. These institutions of elite control & domination must be challenged and ultimately dismantled. In their place, we must build more just & humane institutions guided by the principles of freedom, justice, equity, ecological stewardship, & democratic self-management.

Together we can work to increase the sphere of freedom and democracy (collective ownership & decision-making) as much as possible in our daily lives. I am not suggesting that such a social transformation is an easy task or that progress is inevitable, but this struggle must take place if humanity is to survive in any dignified mode of living on this planet.

For more on this topic, check out the documentary REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM accessible on Netflix.

In solidarity,

CM

Democracy?

The brilliant public intellectual Noam Chomsky often cites a study conducted by political science professors Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University comparing public attitudes and government policy. Their extensive analysis revealed that the majority of the U.S. population is effectively disenfranchised. About 70% of the population, at the lower end of the wealth/income scale, has no influence on policy. Moving up the scale, influence slowly increases. At the very top are those who pretty much determine policy. In other words, the vast majority are powerless to shape government policy when their preferences diverge from those of the affluent, who pretty much get what they want when it matters to them. The resulting system is not democracy but plutocracy…or perhaps more accurately, what political philosopher Sheldon Wolin refers to as ‘inverted totalitarianism’ in his book DEMOCRACY INCORPORATED: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges describes this phenomenon well in his book WAGES OF REBELLION: The Moral Imperative of Revolt, “Unlike classical totalitarian movements, the corporate forces behind inverted totalitarianism do not boast of replacing decaying structures with a new, revolutionary structure. They purport to honor electoral politics, freedom of speech, the right to assembly, and the Constitution. But they so corrupt and manipulate the levers of power internally that democracy is extinguished. The Constitution remains in place but has been so radically reinterpreted by the courts and by the executive and legislative branches of government, all serving corporate power, as to be essentially nullified.” In other words, America is a sham democracy with an outer shell of decayed democratic institutions and a rotten core controlled by a totalitarian corporate state.

Democracy is the most powerful mechanism to potentially achieve social, economic, racial, & environmental justice. Poll after study after poll indicate that the majority of the population favor progressive policies e.g., big money out of politics; a diversity of candidates rather than the ‘choices’ preselected by the two corporate parties; corporations & wealthy pay their fair share in taxes; transition away from dirty fossil fuels toward a clean renewable energy infrastructure; universal single-payer healthcare; decrease the exorbitant spending on weapons manufacturers & the military-industrial complex…on and on. Capitalists (any ruling elite with concentrated wealth & power) understandably fear democracy, as majority-will would inevitably redistribute wealth & power in a more equitable manner. The founding fathers were profoundly aware of this fact, so they intentionally designed the system, in James Madison’s words, “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority”. Further evidence of the ruling elite’s fear of democracy can be found in the now infamous ‘Powell Memo’ of 1971 in which Lewis Powell (in response to the social movements of the 1960’s) warned the business community of an excess of democracy. For more on this subject, check out the informative documentary REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM accessible on Netflix.

In solidarity,

CM

Vision for a Better World

Democracy means that power is in the hands of working people, who collectively control the institutions within society for the common good. State socialism violates democracy by centralizing decision-making power in a small group of ruling elites, which inevitably leads to self-serving behavior and corruption. Corporate capitalism also violates democracy by concentrating wealth in the hands of a ruling class who use their privileged access to resources to corrupt the executive, legislative & judicial process to further their self-serving interests. In both systems, wealth & power are unjustly distributed in hierarchical (vertical) rather than egalitarian (horizontal) structures controlled by a ruling elite.

The engine that drives capitalism is the profit-motive, with the name of the game being to cut costs (including labor costs) to compete on the market, or risk going out of business. It is a destructive system built on the corrosive foundation of greed, which inevitably leads to human exploitation. It is a toxic system that violates human dignity and poisons the environment. It worships money while disregarding human need and the well-being of the ecosystems that sustain us. We can do better, and we must.

Social organization is an evolutionary process…feudalism transitioned in to capitalism, and an unsustainable, failing capitalist system is currently in the beginning stages of transformation. Our challenge, our collective responsibility to each other and to future generations, is to work together to envision and build a more sustainable system…a more humane system rooted in the values of solidarity, freedom, equity, justice, diversity, and ecological stewardship…a more democratic system in which we have the power to collectively self-manage our own affairs, to collaborate as active participants in planning & determining the direction in which we will progress, and to have a real say in the decisions regarding all aspects that effect our lives at work and in our communities.

For more on working to create a better world, check out Democracy@Work and the Next System Project websites as well as books by Richard Wolff (Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism), Gar Alperovitz (What Then Must We Do?: Straight Talk about the Next American Revolution), and Michael Albert (Practical Utopia: Strategies for a Desirable Society).

In solidarity,

CM

Anarchism, Existentialism and Anthropology by Paul Durrenberger

Beyond the borders of states, in the contested interstices between them were places where people learned to live with each other as people, granting that all people were like themselves, equal and consequential beings who could fashion their own lives from the materials at hand. Thus lived most people on our planet from the time we walked out of Africa until recently.

Archaeologists tell the stories of how, in fertile valleys and deltas agriculture grew and then cities and governments crystalized and began to regularize life with their twin agencies of force and religion, military and church. These grew rapidly and inexorably from their centers in the Near East and China, toward Europe and sprang up again in Central and South America after people had arrived from Asia. Where states met they clashed. And defined borders, either the impermeable ones they defined with maps and governors or the permeable ones where their influence waned outward from the center.

Archaeologists also tell the stories of people without writing, those remnant peoples who lived with their prophets and shamans in the borders.  But because they leave but scant evidence behind them, the stories are sketchy at best.

Cultural anthropologists go to the borders to live with similar people and tell stories of how they live by codes they developed in the living without benefit of school, church or government.

In today’s world such places are few and far between, dangerous places where the world’s states search out and destroy their enemies. But before that time, the borderlands were less foreboding, places the regularizing reach of states had bypassed because they were not worth the effort. To them went those castoffs the states threw off in their great drives to define and unify: prophets, anthropologists, missionaries, and more recently revolutionaries and terrorists.

Many who have lived in those areas return with stories of human potential, encouraged by what they have seen of the power of our species’ humanity. That encounter haunts people of states after they return to their own lives enmeshed in those systems of writing and religion, their codes and recipes and rule-books of everything from justice to salvation, their standardized languages of ethics, law, religion, sexuality and life.

In their imaginations they can see a potential that the states blind from birth, the potential of life beyond the borders. And, infected by the sanity of the madness they have witnessed, they are compelled to tell the stories. When they do, whether in Bolivia (Conzelman 2006,2015), Thailand (Durrenberger 2014a), or Madagascar (Graeber 2004) they are stories of anarchism as people live it, not as one among many political philosophies or doctrines but as a way of being and living.

David Graeber (2004) has written the book on anarchist anthropology and James C. Scott (2014) has written the book on the ethnography of anarchism. Living with people who are anarchists but do not profess to be has to change a person. People like David Graeber, James Scott, Caroline Conzelman and I have seen anarchism in practice and know the look and feel of egalitarian life. I saw it in my fieldwork among Lisu in northern Thailand (Durrenberger 2014 a).

In her struggles to define herself with respect to religious practices when she was young, my step-daughter, Ayshe asked me if there were people who respected the power of nature, of mountains and stones and weather and the sheer vivacity of living things like grass and trees. I explained to her that we anthropologists know them as animists but those people have no name for their religion because to them it’s just a way of life. Anarchism is like that.

When I lived in central Pennsylvania and again here in eastern Iowa I have enjoyed the company and friendship of a number of people of the Quaker faith. They don’t put themselves above others. They are strongly egalitarian, hence the resistance to setting a clergy above the congregation. They are hard-working and frugal but recognize that not all hard work pays off in material rewards; hard work is its own reward as are frugality and simplicity. These virtues are foreign to the ruling ideology in the United States, meritocratic individualism  (Newman 1988,1993;Durrenberger,2001). Quakers aren’t judgmental and they aren’t preachy. I am not sure about the finer points of their theology or doctrine, but I know their everyday practice.

Aristocracies assigned rank according to birth. But in democracies nobody is supposed to be any better than anybody else. The ideology holds that an individual’s merit is earned by hard work and determines a person’s standing. So, Lave argues (1988) schools provide a means for assigning merit according to academic performance. Just as every American knows s/he is equal to everyone, everyone knows their standing in their high school graduating class and quite possibly in their university class. Schools of education devote untold effort to determining how best to measure merit via various kinds of examinations.  To annually assess the merit of the professors as a basis for their salaries, university administrators develop elaborate systems that appear to be empirical metrics for computing human value (Durrenberger 2014a).

I mention the Quakers only because their practice runs so counter to the common practice that is highlighted in universities by our systems of merit pay and grading that all comes down to putting one person above another, to valuing one more than another. And I find something fundamentally inhumane about that practice.

In his 1963 Culture against Man, Jules Henry saw the pervasive and pernicious influence of this meritocratic ideology. It dictates that by our intrinsic merit and hard work we deserve what we get and get what we deserve. Newman’s (1988) ethnography has shown how, because of no fault of their own when they lose the jobs upon which their sense of accomplishment depends, people who credit that ideology destroy themselves. My experience as a person and as an ethnographer indicates to me that this ideology is in every sense wrong.

That and my secular outlook define me as an anarchist.

An occupational hazard of being an anthropologist is an outlook that comes from trying to shed my own cultural conventions to better understand those of other people. The only thing that can make any sense of what any people say and do is a vast sea of assumptions they are never supposed to question. Anthropologists call these “culture.” It’s a revelation to learn that we have one, just as different, reasonable, sensible and reality-based as those assumptions that helped Aztec, Inka, Maya, Nazis, and every other people that has trod our planet make sense of their worlds.

When you question those assumptions that define your realities your world begins to waver. That’s what anthropologists do. This askew view of the world that lifts up a corner of any culture to look underneath makes me an existentialist in a philosophical sense. What does that mean? Accepting the absurdity of living in a world we can never fully understand and continuing to try even though we know we can’t. To fully understand the world, you can take the leap of faith of a political ideology or a religion, a kind of intellectual suicide. Or you can despair of the whole enterprise and kill yourself. Or you can accept the absurdity of it all and appreciate the sense of passion, humor, goodwill, generosity and intensity in life; a sense of heroism and humanism (Camus 1955, Durrenberger 2014a).

But I am an American. No matter how much we try, we can never really shuck our cultures. Americans believe all people were created equal. That should make us all anarchists who reject hierarchy and authority. We also believe that a corollary to equality is democracy. That should settle the matter for once and all. So to me, anarchism is as American as apple pie.

It’s one thing to take seriously the idea of describing cultures or economic systems and developing the methods and habits of observation that make that possible. Trying to explain those things leads to a kind of formal academic writing that I’ve done in scholarly papers and books. But something else happens when those habits of mind ricochet and bounce back on the stuff of your own culture, the stories of daily life we hear and read about in the news or themes that you see repeated so often they become commonplace.

Have you ever heard of a university that strove for adequacy? No, every one of them struggles for nothing less than excellence. What kind of culture calls a retail worker that makes too many mistakes stupid and fires her while giving massive bonuses to bankers who do the same thing and calls them smart? Why are Americans so busy? Why are there so many conspiracies about so many things? Can corporations own people? Why are there still witches among us? What is the American Dream? What gods do Americans hold to be so holy that we sacrifice human beings to them? These are some of the questions I grappled with in radio commentaries and informal essays through the past twenty years and collected in American Fieldnotes (Durrenberger 2014b).

Anthropology aids and abets the American tendency toward egalitarianism and anarchism by sanctioning our sojourns in the borders as well as an existentialist outlook by demanding that we examine the assumptions that underlie all cultures. If you question rather than just accept your and everyone else’s culture, if you reject authority that justifies itself, that’s where you land with both feet.

So, to my mind anarchism, existentialism and anthropology go together or mutually imply one another as a philosophy, a political outlook, and as a way of understanding the world and the people in it.

 

 

 

References Cited

Camus, Albert

1955 The Myth of Sisyphus and other Essays. New York. Vintage.

Conzelman, Caroline S.

  1. Fieldwork in Coca Country: Investigating Democracy and Development in the Bolivian Andes. In A. Gardner and D. M. Hoffman, eds., Dispatches from the Field: Neophyte Ethnographers in a Changing World. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press. Pgs 119-136
  2. This is What Democracy Looks Like. In P. Durrenberger and S. Erem, eds., Anthropology Unbound: A Field Guide to the 21st Century (third edition). New York, Oxford University Press. Pgs 223-224.

Durrenberger, E. Paul

2001  Explorations of Class and Consciousness in the U.S.  Journal of Anthropological Research      Vol 57(1). Pgs 41-60.

2014a At the Foot of the Mountain: A Journey through Existentialism, Anthropology and Life. West Branch, Iowa, Draco Hill Press.

2014 b American Fieldnotes: Collected Essays of an Existentialist Anthropologist. West Branch, Iowa, Draco Hill Press.

Graeber, David

  1. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Chicago, Prickly Paradigm Press.

Henry, Jules

  1. Culture Against Man. New York, Random House.

 

Lave, Jean

1988    Cognition in Practice:  Mind, Mathematics, and Culture in Everyday Life.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.

Newman, Katherine S.

1988    The Experience of Downward Mobility in the American Middle  Class.  New York:  The Free Press.

1993    Declining Fortunes:  The Withering of the American Dream.  New York:  Basic      Books.

Scott, James C.

2012 Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play. Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Activism

There are essentially two branches of activism: electoral campaigns and social movements. Voting & the electoral process can potentially, if sufficiently pressured by outside social movements, lead to reforms (progressive taxation, regulation, etc.) that attempt to lessen inequality and mitigate the most harmful effects of capitalism on workers, consumers, & the environment. However, we must acknowledge the limitations in trying to effect meaningful change through the political process…formal institutions such as the Democratic Party eventually serve to corral social movements and channel the energy into the mainstream political apparatus where it can be safely contained without threatening the existing power structures.

On electoral politics: The American sociologist C. Wright Mills studied the relationships & class alliances of the power elite, and concluded that there’s a shared elitist culture within the privileged group of people who walk the halls of congress, sit on the corporate boards of interlocking directorates, and comprise the top brass of the military. Powerful internal forces within the system serve to corrupt, co-opt and crush any opposition that dares to challenge the existing power structure. Political revolution will not come from within the formal institutions of this centralized bureaucratic power structure which permits only minimal reforms.

Mills saw this in the 1950s and wrote about a good guy who wanted to change things, got into government to work from inside the system, etc. …and step by step got totally corrupted and co-opted…he had become a senator, but a corrupt one. His case study? Richard M. Nixon. The name of the article, in a book called Power, Politics and People is “structural immorality in government.” His point was that immorality is built into American (any) political system. Thus, he advised people who wanted to make a difference, stay out of it; don’t get into it because it’ll always win. Stay out, understand it as best you can, develop the critique. And work with other people face to face.

On social movements: The late, great American historian Howard Zinn warned us that “when a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them.”  Zinn argued that we have a responsibility as citizens to demand what is morally right and just—not what is deemed ‘feasible’ or ‘winnable’ by the speculators, politicians & pundits.  He urged us not to sacrifice our progressive principles for the sake of ‘compromise’ or ‘pragmatism’, but rather to maintain our values and integrity.  He reminded us that when a law is unjust, we have a moral obligation to defy it through acts of civil disobedience.  He highlighted the important truth that the rights & freedoms we enjoy today were achieved through the collective struggles of the activists of the past.

In studying social movements, we know that radical change never comes from the top down but from the bottom up with grassroots participatory democracy, direct action, & mutual aid.  The seemingly insignificant acts of love, compassion, empathy, and solidarity that we make on a daily-basis have an accumulated effect.  Our collective strength lies in our numbers.

To sum up why I won’t be running for political office: Personally, I feel that I can be more effective by playing an active role within social movements. I don’t feel that I’m equipped to be a politician. I’m more of an action guy—meetings bore me. The formal attire and manner of speaking & behaving don’t appeal to me. There’s an unspoken social code within the professional class that makes working-class folks like myself cringe at the polite phoniness and obfuscatory language (Joe Bageant explained this well). I also can’t stand lying, compromising values & principles, or sacrificing moral integrity. Anyone with a conscience, for the reasons mentioned above, doesn’t last long in that game.

You can find me wherever working class people are striking, marching, demonstrating, defying, rebelling, and revolting against exploitation, inequality, injustice, and oppression…anywhere people are fighting for freedom and democracy over corporate tyranny…but one place you won’t find me is sitting comfortably within the halls of power. In fact, I think we should be wary, hypervigilant even, of any charming, smooth-talking, charismatic figure seeking to climb the latter to a position of power & privilege. We don’t need to depend on noble & benevolent leaders to solve our problems (the savior complex). Instead we need to work together to build democratic governing structures that allow us to collectively decide how we will deal with the issues relevant to our lives, both within our workplaces & in our communities.

In solidarity,

CM

Reflections on our current SOCIAL ORDER and possibilities for SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION

We in the progressive movement must coalesce around a positive vision for the future.  The common thread running through all our progressive causes—from fighting for our freedoms and civil rights to battling for social, economic, racial, and environmental justice—is the struggle for democracy itself.  Participatory democracy means decision-making power in the hands of the people.  In a functioning democracy, the opinions of ordinary working people influence policy; government carries out the actions determined by the general population.

Throughout U.S. history a perpetual war has raged between grassroots forces demanding more freedom and democracy from below, and authoritarian forces seeking to oppress and control the population from above.  Up to this point it has unfortunately been a pretty one-sided battle, as a well-organized wealthy elite have concentrated their capital resources in waging an all-out offensive on working class people and our unions.  It behooves those in power to maintain a high level of class consciousness for themselves while eliminating class consciousness from the oppressed working people.  That is why it is taboo to talk about class in this country, and doing so makes people feel uncomfortable.  People prefer to think of themselves as middle class.  In truth, anyone who is forced to sell their labor for money in the wage-slavery market is a member of the working class (or to use the term made popular by the Occupy Wall Street movement, ‘the 99%’).

From the outset of the republic, the elitist-minded founding fathers believed the governing system should be designed to place power in the hands of a wealthy minority of property-owners. These slave-owning aristocrats considered themselves the noblest, most responsible set of men in society who were alone capable of governing the masses. They feared that if the working-class population was granted too much power, they would get together and organize to take away the property & privilege of the rich.  Perhaps the founding father James Madison best summed up this elitist mentality in the process of devising the institutions of government when he said, “They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” In 1787 a group of 55 wealthy white men gathered at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and proceeded to establish a federal government that would preserve and protect their power & privilege from the threat of democracy.  Senators were appointed from the wealthy class rather than elected by the people.  Conspicuously excluded from participating in the democratic process were laborers, women, minorities, slaves, and Native Americans.

Flash forward to today and our political and economic systems remain in the control of a wealthy few who pursue policies that serve their interests at the expense of the many.  The ruling class (the 1%) have amassed obscene concentrations of wealth & power.  Corporations and mega-wealthy campaign donors have a stranglehold on the political process by purchasing politicians to do their bidding.  Through a process of legalized bribery, corporate lobbying and groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) draft model legislation (deregulation, tax cuts, etc.) that further consolidates wealth & power in a vicious cycle.  The ruling elites have intricate alliances throughout corporations and government.  The same individuals who sit on multiple boards of corporations (interlocking directorates) shuffle between business and government (the revolving door).  Corporations not only influence regulatory policy but also implant their lackeys within government agencies so that they are essentially regulating themselves (regulatory capture).  Corporations are state-created legal entities that function more like fascist institutions than democratic ones.  They are certainly not persons and it is absurd to grant them constitutional rights of persons as the courts have done.  Money is not speech and corporations should not be allowed to spend limitless amounts of money on elections as the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case in 2010.  These appalling court decisions are an assault on our democracy but exactly what we should expect when judges are appointed by reactionary presidents installed by the ruling class.  If the general population allows this process to continue to its logical conclusion it will end in corporate tyranny.

The primary function of any democratic government should be to provide for the needs of its citizens (the welfare state).  If we are going to agree to pay taxes to our government to fund essential public services (the social contract) such as schools, libraries, infrastructure, healthcare, etc. then it should be a democratic process by which we have a say in how our contributions to society are spent (participatory budgeting).  The problem is that we entrust elected officials to make these decisions on our behalf—crooked politicians who take money from corporations and billionaires and are consequently beholden to the ruling class agenda rather than representing the interests of their constituencies.  There are notable exceptions (Senator Bernie Sanders comes to mind), but most sell out to the rigged political system.

During the post-WWII years, New Deal regulations served as a check on big business while social welfare measures such as the G.I. Bill allowed many returning veterans to attend college for free.  Tax rates were much higher on the 1% than they are today, as corporations and the super-rich were made to pay their fair share.  The 1950’s and 60’s saw a period of unprecedented economic growth, which was relatively egalitarian with the bottom fifth of the population prospering at about the same rate as the top fifth.  But such rates of economic growth are unsustainable and growth slowly declined as markets became saturated and resources depleted. In the 1970’s industry began outsourcing productive manufacturing jobs overseas in search of cheap labor, while financial institutions & insurance companies grew exponentially to take over a large sector of the economy.  Massive tax cuts were granted to corporations and the wealthy. New Deal regulations were rolled back, including provisions of the Banking Act (Glass-Steagall) that separated commercial and investment banking.  Universities shifted the cost burden from government funding to the individual students who, unless they come from privilege, are burdened with enormous loan debt to pay for the exorbitantly high tuition rates.  The American dream was destroyed.

Lured by lucrative salaries, the financial sector siphons off our bright, young students (the corporate brain drain) who go off to Wall Street to waste away their talent, conjuring up sophisticated algorithms such as complex derivatives and subprime mortgage loans to bilk people of their money.  Hedge fund managers are permitted to profit by playing games with money, devising duplicitous financial schemes that move money around in complex ways without contributing anything of value to society.  Goldman Sachs and other unregulated investment banks are permitted to make risky speculative deals.  When the system collapses, as it inevitably does, they are deemed ‘too big to fail’ (and as columnist Jim Hightower notes, ‘too big to jail’) and bailed out with our tax dollars.  Combine government bailouts with massive tax breaks & government subsidies (corporate welfare) and you get what the American writer Gore Vidal referred to as, “free enterprise for the poor and socialism for the rich.”  The wealthy are protected from market principles while everyday working people are brutally exposed to the harsh forces of the market and told not to expect any help from their government.

The dominant ideology, neoliberalism, represents a fanatic religious-like belief that individuals seeking to maximize their own self-gain in a free market will ultimately benefit all of society. Neoliberal economists such as Milton Friedman place an irrational faith in the market’s ability to regulate itself and believe that it will efficiently allocate resources and effectively distribute wealth without any intervention from the state.  Like something out of an Ayn Rand novel (for whom there is a cult-like worship among prominent neoliberals such as Alan Greenspan and Paul Ryan), neoliberals envision a global order constructed on the principles of market fundamentalism in which a self-indulgent power elite is free to amass obscene riches while the impoverished masses are callously left to die homeless and hungry.

The ruling class attempts to justify the free-market enterprise system by making it all seem natural, inevitable, and superior to any potential alternative.  They created schools of economics to bestow professional titles of PhDs to lend credibility to their ideology and further legitimize it as a science.  To control the population, those in power attempt to influence attitudes and beliefs by shaping culture to reflect their own neoliberal worldview.  They fund right-wing think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, and the Heartland Institute to craft neoliberal messaging that is then disseminated through schools, churches, and the media.

As the Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges points out, the power elite control the narrative by pumping out their neoliberal ideology through the mainstream media which serves as the mouthpiece for the corporate state.  For example, when government wants to go to war the corporate media (Fox, CNN, MSNBC, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, etc.) fall in line lockstep.  In a functioning democracy, the press (The Fourth Estate) serves a vital role in holding power accountable by demanding transparency & independent investigation while keeping the public well-informed.  In authoritarian regimes, the press is made to serve as the propaganda wing of the ruling class while critical inquiry and dissenting views are suppressed.  In the U.S., the ruling class does not permit public discourse that challenges free-market capitalism.

Neoliberalism isolates and controls individuals by turning them into passive consumers who crave superficial material gain.  The advertising and marketing industries fabricate desires, creating uninformed consumers who make irrational choices in purchasing stuff they don’t need. The public relations industry runs our elections in the same manner, creating an uninformed electorate that votes irrationally—even against their own interest.  As the economy breaks down, people are made to turn on each other in self-destructive ways.  The message is to hate and fear others, care only about oneself and don’t worry about anyone else.  The basic human emotions of sympathy, solidarity, and mutual aid are driven out of peoples’ heads and replaced with greed. This phenomenon is corrosive to social relations, family and community.

For the past several decades, the ideology and policies of free-market capitalism have spread like a cancer throughout the advanced industrialized world.  Neoliberals talk of trade deficits & balancing budgets as a guise for implementing their austerity agenda—cutting funding for social welfare programs that benefit ordinary citizens while spending lavishly on corporate boondoggles and gifting the 1% with huge tax breaks.  In the process of globalization, developing nations fall prey to World Bank-IMF Structural Adjustment Programs which issue loans on the severe conditions that countries cut social welfare spending and open up their markets to privatization & deregulation.  Multinational corporations then swoop in and exploit these poor countries for their cheap labor and resources.  The local people do not benefit from the foreign-owned business firms which drain the wealth from their country.  Capital is free to move about the globe while workers are trapped within arbitrary national borders.

Economists Richard Wolff, Joseph Stiglitz, Michael Hudson, Yanis Varoufakis, Ha-Joon Chang, Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, and others tell us the free-market ideology is not based on empirical evidence and, in fact, people do not behave in accordance with the economic models. In truth, capitalism is neither natural nor inevitable.  It grew out of specific circumstances that had much to do with colonialism, the discovery of the Americas, and merchants & manufacturers seeking to gain from the exploitation of people & natural resources.  Economic historians such as Karl Polanyi discovered that for most of human history people bartered and traded within the context of the larger social and political framework.  Polanyi warned that labor (human activity/life), land (nature), and money (token of purchasing power) are fictitious commodities and that any civilization that treats them as such is destined for massive internal disaster. Anthropologists such as David Graeber point out that for thousands of years human beings were only able to survive by working together while those who did not cooperate well with others perished. We are innately social creatures and for thousands of years economic transactions were guided by socio-cultural norms, religious & moral codes, and political structures all rooted in community values of solidarity, mutual aid, reciprocity, etc.  It is only recently in human history that economic behavior has become disconnected from the social fabric of life.

Human nature is not inherently good nor evil.  We are all capable of love, compassion, empathy, and selfless acts of generosity, but we are also capable of selfishness, bigotry, deception, and horrific acts of violence.  There is an expression within the scientific community regarding the nature vs. nurture debate that “nature loads the gun while environment pulls the trigger.” Neoliberal capitalism brings out the worst in our nature.  Greed is glorified and lying, cheating & stealing are rewarded.  People are encouraged to follow what the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith referred to as “the vile maxim of the masters of mankind: all for ourselves and nothing for other people.”  Working people are forced to compete globally with one another, driving down wages & benefits in a race to the bottom.  This downward spiral of stagnating wages & job insecurity leads to chronic poverty, stress, anxiety, drug addiction, crime, violence, mental illness & misery.  We in the progressive movement are working to build more humane systems that provide the necessary conditions for nurturing the better part of our nature—firmly rooted in the principles of cooperation & community.

We have been misled through propaganda to falsely equate capitalism with freedom, democracy, and innovation.  Regarding freedom, we live in a highly-controlled world which presents us with the illusion of free choice. For example, choosing between the Republican and Democrat parties is like choosing peanut butter at the grocery store—same packaging with a different label.  These two corporate-sponsored parties (the Republocrats) are more alike than different, yet actually-existing alternative points of view are marginalized and excluded.  Rules, laws, and regulations…lawyers, judges, courts, and prisons…cops, military, FBI, CIA, NSA, and Homeland Security (the deep state)…all serve the ruling elites within the corporate state while continuing to strip the 99% of our rights and freedoms.  Courageous whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden have sacrificed their own comfort in an effort to inform us of the sweeping dragnet collection of our private information by the security & surveillance state.

Capitalism is antithetical to democracy.  Corporations are totalitarian in nature, with hierarchies that concentrate power in the hands of a few directors who make all of the important decisions that affect the lives of employees (Democratized workplaces such as cooperatives enjoy worker owned and managed operations which share equally in the wealth & decision-making power). Capitalism inevitably consolidates wealth in the pockets of corporate oligarchs who engineer elections and control the political process to impose their neoliberal agenda.  These billionaires purchase politicians to pass legislation that further concentrates ruling class wealth & power while undermining our democracy.

People have been creative innovators from the inception of our species, long before capitalism arrived on the scene.  Knowledge is collective, with each successive generation building upon all that has come before.  For thousands of years, people have been sharing innovations without the capitalist concept of intellectual property rights.  For example, who created the first Acheulean hand axe, and how would our world be different had the first stone tools been patented?  People will continue to use the power of imagination and ingenuity to create new innovations regardless of the economic system.  The economic system is simply the mechanism that distributes the products & services, as well as the resources & wealth within a society.  Automation has the potential to enhance our lives with less work and more time for leisure, but only if we collectively own the advanced technology and equitably share the wealth that is generated.

Let’s use the creation of Facebook as an illustration of what innovation looks like within the framework of the capitalist system.  The creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, had the privilege of attending a private high school where he was the captain of his fencing team.  He then followed the prescribed course for similarly privileged white kids, attending the elitist Ivy League school of Harvard University.  Capitalism has allowed Mr. Zuckerberg to amass a grotesque sum of wealth ($60 billion), with a lot of money coming from advertisers given access to our private internet information.  Internet activists believe knowledge is a common good rather than a commodity, and continue to fight for a free and open internet (net neutrality).  If free market capitalists have it their way we will all be paying to use internet sites such as Facebook, and only those privileged enough to afford it will have access.  When distributing resources, capitalism does not account for human need or the common good—only profit.

Meritocratic individualism, the belief that success is based on merit, is a self-congratulatory ideology which serves the ruling elite.  It values some people over others.  Those with a certain intellect and skills are given just enough power & privilege to keep them content while the rest of humanity, including the working poor and most vulnerable, are left to fend for themselves. Capitalism creates a stratified class system in which a few ‘haves’ gain privileged access to a quality education and thus the upper echelon of high paying jobs, while the many ‘have nots’ lack access to the better school districts and are consequently condemned to a harsh life of struggle with stagnant wages & job instability.  Think of all the potential innovators, all the potential Mark Zuckerberg’s, who are lost to the system because they aren’t born within the affluent zip-codes where the best schools are located, and don’t get the chance to realize their creative capacities.  Now imagine a classless society in which all people are provided with the basic necessities of life and are truly free to pursue their passions in the process toward what humanist psychologists such as Carl Rogers refer to as ‘self-actualization’.  That is the world we progressives are fighting to achieve.

We’re taught in school that capitalism is natural and inevitable, while words like socialism and anarchism are demonized and their proponents vilified.  We learn to associate anarchism with violent chaos, and socialism & communism with centralized bureaucratic governments & brutal dictators like Stalin.  With a lack of understanding of political economies, and with all dissent repressed, we’re made to believe there can be no better alternative to capitalism.

Here’s what we’re not taught:

The brilliant political philosopher Karl Marx was way ahead of his time in his critique of capitalism.  Marx accurately analyzed how the capitalist class brutally exploits workers’ labor to concentrate vast profits in the hands of a privileged few.  He postulated that capitalism, being based on an unchecked growth model, is unsustainable and will inevitably collapse and that the working class will ultimately rise-up and overthrow their oppressors.  Marx did not believe that a capitalist society will magically morph overnight into an ideal world in which all people are truly free to pursue their creative passions.  Instead, Marx suggested that society will first require a transition to something akin to social democracy, in which working people will control the means of production and a participatory democratic government will serve to meet the needs of its citizens.  Gradually, as people gain direct decision-making power in all aspects that effect their lives within their communities, the formal institutions and apparatus of government will wither away as they are rendered increasingly futile and obsolete.  In the words of the preamble to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) constitution, the working-class will achieve revolution by “forming the structure for the new society within the shell of the old.”

And here’s some more of what we’re not taught:

Any government with centralized power is prone to the evils of inequality, injustice, deception, and oppression—a fact that anarchists, from writer/orator Emma Goldman to public intellectual Noam Chomsky, are quick to point out.  That is why anarchists oppose not only the inhumane exploitation of capitalism but also the brutal oppression of the state.  Therefore, anarchists strive for democratic horizontal (egalitarian) rather than authoritarian vertical (hierarchical) power structures.  Anarchists believe the burden of proof is always on those in positions of authority to justify their power over others.  All forms of authority must be critically examined and any found to be illegitimate should be dismantled and replaced with more egalitarian structures to bring about a freer society.  The noble aim is direct democracy, as manifested in worker cooperatives and general assemblies which honor free association and put into practice the process of consensus.  The British writer George Orwell fought alongside anarchists (before they were massacred by the Communists) against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War, and wrote in awe of the classless society they had established in the region of Catalonia.  Anarchists reveal through their actions the truth that viable alternatives to the corporate state are numerous, all sharing a firm commitment to human need, the planet and peace over profit.  They remind us that all meaningful change throughout history—the abolition of slavery, the labor movement, women’s rights, civil rights, environmental protection, etc.—has come, not from the electoral process, but through the direct action & mutual aid of grassroots people’s movements.  Through an unwavering moral courage, anarchists keep alive the rebel spirit encapsulated in the words of the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

Capitalism is founded on the principle of greed which inevitably leads to unchecked growth in the relentless pursuit of new markets & profit.  The profit-motive places the desire for money above human need and the well-being of the planet.  Naturally, this process has led to massive levels of wealth & income inequality, with obscene riches for the privileged few and abject poverty & misery for many throughout the world.  Corporations negatively influence our public education system, from the development of school curriculums and the co-optation of university research & development programs, to the diversion of funds from our public schools funneled into voucher programs as part of the neoliberal agenda to privatize education.  Private insurance and pharmaceutical corporations dictate the terms and prices we pay for our healthcare and medications, as thousands of people go bankrupt due to exorbitant costs and thousands more die without needed healthcare services.  Industrial agriculture poisons our food & water, while rendering much of our agricultural lands infertile.  Finite natural resources including water are being depleted.  Species extinction and destruction of ecosystems are rapidly accelerating.  Global warming from the burning of fossil fuels has led us to the brink of climate catastrophe, while polluting corporations lobby to repeal environmental protections and funnel millions of dollars into a strategic campaign of climate science denial.  The fossil fuel industry locates dirty extraction and refinery sites nearby our working-class communities where they pollute our air, soil, and drinking water.  They use our minority communities as dumping grounds for industrial waste.  More and more of our working-class brothers & sisters are incarcerated for petty crimes to the benefit of private prison corporations (the prison-industrial complex), while Wall Street hucksters who scam millions from the public and crash the economy get off scot-free.  The military-industrial complex runs up an appallingly large budget, diverting our tax dollars from social programs here at home while waging perpetual imperialist wars of empire abroad which destabilize entire regions, creating terrorists as well as mass waves of displaced refugees (to whom we then deny asylum).  Under the patriotic guise of spreading freedom & democracy, the ruling elites capitalize on war not only for profit & power but as a means of distracting the American people and diverting attention away from domestic issues.  Tragically, it is our working-class brothers & sisters who are sent overseas to kill and be killed for the enrichment of rapacious war profiteers.  It is important to remember that all these atrocities—from the neoliberal assault on our education & health to the ravages of industrial pollution and war crimes—are being perpetrated contrary to the will of the people.  Capitalism is unsustainable and, if allowed to run its course, will inevitably end in disaster for our species and the planet.

The one democratizing force that has traditionally served as a barrier to corporate tyranny is the labor movement (Working people fought and died to achieve the gains we have today, including: minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, child labor laws, the weekend, the middle class, workplace safety, and pensions.)  For that reason, unions and worker centers are reviled and relentlessly attacked by the ruling class.  The progressive movement must work to strengthen our unions and band together with organized labor to transform our economic system so that it works for everyone rather than the 1%.  At the same time, we must work to build viable alternatives to the capitalist state such as worker-owned and operated cooperatives, local organic food co-ops, and other democratic projects of various scale.  For example, the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) is removing land from the speculative market and agribusiness such as Monsanto, and turning it over to young sustainable farmers to grow healthy food.  On a larger scale, within the Basque region of Spain, the Mondragon federation of worker cooperatives are thriving under the humanitarian principles of solidarity, mutual-aid, and reciprocity rather than competition & greed.  To explore gift economies (see Charles Eisenstein), slow money (envisioned by Woody Tasch), and other alternatives to capitalism in more depth, check out The Next System Project.

It is not just a coincidence that government is largely composed of rich white men.  Dr. Cornel West, Angela Davis, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Van Jones, and other prominent figures in the racial justice movement call attention to how structural racism serves to relegate black & brown-skinned people to neighborhoods of chronic poverty where they are subjected to police violence and incarceration for petty crimes.  Working class people of color lack access to a quality education, effectively excluding them from participation in government and other social institutions.  Women are subjected to a glass ceiling, denying them access to positions of power. Women are paid less than men for equal work, and are subjected to a misogynist culture that subordinates and objectifies them.  The widespread acts of violence perpetrated against women largely go unnoticed.  The LGBTQ community is stripped of their rights and civil liberties while being relentlessly persecuted by religious fundamentalists on both the left and the right.  We stand united with the Black Lives Matter movement, the intersectional feminist movement and our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in opposing the racist, patriarchal corporate state.

We must acknowledge that the problem is not immigrants, Blacks, Russians, Mexicans, Muslims, Jews, socialists, communists, anarchists, protestors, guns, gays, abortion, drugs, criminals, terrorists, welfare chiselers, unions, taxes, government regulations, or any of the other scapegoats used to scare us, divide us up, and divert our attention.  The problem does not lie in any individual or political party, nor can the solution be found in them.  The root cause of our collective woes is the system itself—a political economy controlled by the ruling class (a fraction of 1%).  Systemic problems require systemic solutions.  At the heart of our movement for progressive social change is the recognition that sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other forms of hate stem from a brutally inhumane economic system and the patriarchal corporate state.  All oppressed groups are vital to the functioning of the economy and should share equally in the generation of wealth.  All must prosper, or none should prosper.  As the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) remind us, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”  Ours is an inclusive movement of solidarity that welcomes working people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, colors, ethnicities, and religions.

We believe all human beings have a right to the basic-necessities of life, including: clean air, water & healthy food; affordable housing; quality education & healthcare; free association (the right to form unions); humane work that pays a living wage; and a dignified retirement. Education is a common good that benefits all of society, not a for-profit commodity to be purchased on the market.  We demand a well-funded public education system—steeped in the progressive ideals advocated by American educational philosopher John Dewey—that is free to all students from pre-K through higher education.  Health care is not a for-profit commodity to be purchased on the market by the privileged who can afford it.  We demand a universal single-payer, Medicare-for-all health care system that guarantees lifetime comprehensive coverage for all people.  A single-payer system publicly funded through progressive taxation and accountable to a democratic government will eliminate greedy insurance companies along with their wasteful administrative costs as well as expensive premiums, co-pays, deductibles, and surprise medical bills.  We demand environmental stewardship and a transition away from dirty fossil fuels to clean, renewable sources of energy.  We heed the words of the great orator of the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who warned, “A nation that continues year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”  We demand nuclear disarmament and a diversion of funds from the bloated military budget to be invested in social programs that lift up our battered down communities.

Government policy is always rooted in values, principles, and ideology.  Currently the dominant values and principles are greed & competition within a self-regulating free market—an ideology referred to as neoliberalism.  Most working people do not subscribe to those values & principles, and want the world to move in a direction that values human need over corporate greed—or in the words of the Green Party slogan, ‘People, planet, and peace over profit’.  People do not want to live in a social-Darwinian world but rather one that values solidarity, mutual aid, and reciprocity…a world in which the dignity of all people is valued based on the communist principle of distribution, ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need’.  Democratic socialism is a very real possibility if the 99% work collectively to bend government to the will of the people.

The desire to make the world a better place for our future generations is not some pie-in-the-sky fantasy.  It takes some idealism and vision to imagine a freer, more just society but we can all take practical, realistic steps toward getting there in our everyday lives.  We can use our progressive values as a guide, consciously examining our daily actions to ensure that we are furthering the principles of freedom, justice, equality, and direct democracy.  We have an innate sense of justice that we can foster in our children.  Unfortunately, when our kids indignantly declare that something is unfair the knee-jerk reply is often to tell them, “Too bad but life’s not fair.”  Although the intentions may be good, this is a dangerously misguided response as the message is to passively accept injustice rather than do anything constructive to change reality. Instead, we can encourage our children to embrace their inner sense of fairness and empower them to act in ways that make their world a more just place to live.

The late, great American historian Howard Zinn warned us that “when a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them.”  Zinn argued that we have a responsibility as citizens to demand what is morally right and just—not what is deemed ‘feasible’ or ‘winnable’ by the speculators, politicians & pundits.  He urged us not to sacrifice our progressive principles for the sake of ‘compromise’ or ‘pragmatism’, but rather to maintain our values and integrity.  He reminded us that when a law is unjust, we have a moral obligation to defy it through peaceful acts of civil disobedience.  He highlighted the important truth that the rights & freedoms we enjoy today were achieved through the collective struggles of the activists of the past.  In studying social movements, we know that radical change never comes from the top down but from the bottom up with grassroots participatory democracy & direct action.  The seemingly insignificant acts we make on a daily-basis have an accumulated effect.  Our collective strength lies in our numbers.  We must unite to resist and dismantle the fascist/authoritarian institutions of oppression that seek to take away our hard-won freedoms & civil rights.  We must organize as a powerful force to wrest our democracy from the ruling class oligarchs and forge a government of, by, and for the people rather than corporations.  At the same time, we must all work together at the local level to build more democratic institutions and a freer, more just & equitable society.

The American sociologist C. Wright Mills studied the relationships & class alliances of the power elite, and concluded that structural immorality is built into the political system…that powerful internal forces within government corrupt, co-opt, and crush any opposition that dares to challenge the existing power structure.  We are not overly-optimistic nor do we suffer from a sense of false hope that revolution will come from within the institutions of a centralized bureaucratic state which permits only minimal reforms.  We are fully aware of the limits to which any degree of meaningful change can be gained through the narrow parameters of the political process.  True freedom can only be won when we put an end to our brutal exploitation from the capitalist class and abolish our enslavement to the oppressive corporate state.

The French philosopher Albert Camus posited that we search in vain for meaning and clarity in a cold world that offers none.  Faced with this predicament, we can acknowledge the absurdity of our existence while choosing to act with courage & integrity in rebelling against our current condition.  We are battling an overwhelmingly powerful juggernaut and the odds are not in our favor, yet we choose to struggle on against seemingly insurmountable forces…not because victory is assured but because, regardless of the outcome, it’s the right thing to do.  Rather than give in to despair, we choose to embrace the hero within each of us.

Those who study empire and systems of political economy tell us these processes play out over the course of hundreds of years.  These same experts recognize that capitalism as well as American empire have passed their zenith and are now in the final stages of terminal decline. Multinational corporations are quickly usurping national governments and building a massive security & surveillance apparatus in the march toward corporate tyranny.  The question is not whether it’s practical, realistic, or feasible to transition to an alternative social order but whether people power will organize the strong democratizing movement desperately needed to bring about such a radical transformation of society.  Until that day comes, capitalism will continue to collapse and be bailed out by our tax dollars, and climate catastrophe and nuclear annihilation will continue to loom heavy over the fate of humanity.

In solidarity,

CM

Independent progressive media sources that practice journalistic integrity (not corporate mainstream media which serves as a mouthpiece for the corporate state):

Common Dreams  http://www.commondreams.org

Truthout   http://www.truth-out.org

Alternet   http://www.alternet.org

In These Times  http://inthesetimes.com

Popular Resistance   https://popularresistance.org/

The Intercept     https://theintercept.com/

Jacobin Magazine  https://www.jacobinmag.com

Democracy Now! (video)  https://www.democracynow.org/

Pacifica Foundation (radio)  http://www.pacifica.org

Progressive organizations doing good work:

International Workers of the World  http://www.iww.org

Democratic Socialists of America  http://www.dsausa.org

Democracy at Work  http://www.democracyatwork.info

The Next System Project  http://thenextsystem.org

350.org  https://350.org

Sustainable Iowa Land Trust  http://silt.org

Organic Consumers Association  https://www.organicconsumers.org

Anarchist Black Cross Federation   http://www.abcf.net

National Lawyers Guild  https://www.nlg.org

Southern Poverty Law Center   https://www.splcenter.org

American Civil Liberties Union   https://www.aclu.org

Doctors Without Borders  http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting   http://fair.org

Brave New Films  http://www.bravenewfilms.org