Monday, March 19, 2012

Surely, there must be something better to do...

Surely, there must be something better to do than to get arrested......especially when you know you'll get arrested.

This thought has been running through my head about Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy groups for sometime now. And especially when I heard about the movement's 6 month "anniversary," if that's the word for it.

I wrote a piece for Talon Magazine, the campus magazine I work for, about Occupy awhile ago. The issue in which it is printed just came out recently. A lot has changed since I submitted that piece and its printing. Hearing about the 6 month mark for Occupy made me realize the difference in the way I felt about the movement when I wrote the piece and how I do now.

I've been to protests and marches myself. We made our voice and presence known. We even got media attention, but we didn't have to get arrested for it.

The mass arrest of people exercising their first amendment rights is an abhorrence. The use of police force against such a group of people makes me cringe, whatever their political persuasion may be. And I feel like that is all I see when I see Occupy groups - on Wall Street in Zucotti Park today or in downtown Atlanta - people getting arrested.

If you know that you are going to get arrested over and over again, then maybe its time to change your strategy. The movement got the media attention this way, and I don't think its too much of a stretch to say they had many people's sympathy early on. But now, its time to move on. Sure, this is the part the media covers, but isn't a good media relations arm part of an effective movement?

What else does the Occupy movement do? Do they organize their localities to make change for themselves? Do they provide services to their communities? Or do they just protest and wait till the police show up?

I want to be clear. I know that many of these arrests have been unjust and even unconstitutional. I know a few people personally who have been arrested for ridiculous reasons, or for no reason at all. But it is time to change the tactics, time to change strategy. These groups have been marked by so many repeated arrests that it overshadows their messages. I know the history of the Civil Rights movement. I know John Lewis has been arrested more times than I can count, but it is not 1964. John Lewis was arrested protesting the Jim Crow laws, not occupying a park for days on end.

There is a time to rally, protest, assemble, and petition. But activism, advocacy for real change, should also extend beyond a protest and handcuffs.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Some Econ for the Human

If you like Ronald Reagan chances are you won't like this entry, possibly this whole blogsite. Sorry. And don't worry, I don't like Jimmy Carter...well no one seems to, so I guess that's not quite fair. In my last post I made an allusion or two to Reagan or "Reaganomics," and I realize my terse tone. Intentional, yes. Anything personal towards the guy? No. His, Thatcher's, Bushs', even Clinton's (thanks for NAFTA) economic policies, we have problems.

Firstly, I am not a communist. But George Lakoff, a linguistic at UC Berkley, says I should state what I am or what my cause is, not what it's not. Because, like Nixon's "I am not a crook," nearly everyone thinks he is or was and that I'm communist. I'm not. I'm a humanist, if anything. In economic terms, this would mean I leave more Left because, as history has shown, the rise to the the economic top is and must be at the expense of another; another group of human beings, another country, another culture that has never seen industrialization, etc. And the fist-pumping capitalist says "too bad so sad" and cite lack of moral character if someone looses their home, or can not save enough from the 10cents a day they make in a poultry plant. Just, "sorry, that's the way the game goes" type deal. It's easy to live by this until you or one of your friends or loved ones ends up on the street.

We should try to imagine, not just friends in close proximity, but other humans around the world. In short, for some, this makes me "not a crook" if you know what I mean.

There is no consequence in our consumer culture. If we had to read an account of the person's life that made that shirt we bought at Wal-Mart, we may never shop there again. But we do know it, and we shop there. Why? not because we are inconsiderate human beings but because we are so immensly saturated with Wal-Marts and tons of other brightly lit places to blow our money.

So what do we do as respectable human beings? Now that we know our ability to buy the newest iphone is directly related to someone else not being able to put food on the table. I realize I'm talking about "free" trade here, and I do know that protectionism does not work and it didn't work 50 years ago. I'm talking about communism. Historically proven to be a failure.

But we shouldn't think in quickly fashioned dichotomies. That is, if not capitalism then it must be communism and vice versa. The whole us vs. them, good (U.S.) vs. evil (Russia/Everyone else), capitalist vs. communist doctrine and the frame of mind it's created should be stated for what it is: dangerous anti-intellectualism. Sure, maybe, at one time, the world and all of its issues could be viewed this way. Well, as they say, welcome to the 21st Century.

In the wake of the whole economic_______(you fill in the blank), some things have become exceptionally clear. As Dr. Frank Luntz, a well known author and right-winger, stated in a forum held at the Commonwealth Club of California, "Capitalism almost destroyed this country. And I'm a capitalist." What he is reffering to is the "higher-ups" on Wall Street and the CEOs becoming rich at the expense of their fellow countrymen, that's aside from the rest of world. But that should say something--their own. And they filled their pockets at yours and mine expense. Why? Because free-market, "nail the door shut on regulation," Reaganomic economic policies said that's ok.

So call me a communist. You can even call me what seems to be even worse at the current historical moment, a socialist. If you think you and others deserve something better than the boom and bust, fill the pockets of the rich while you go into bankruptcy paying for health care bills, and rampant "free" trade a.k.a the new economic imperialism that ships your job somewhere else in the world, then you might just be a socialist too. Maybe even a humanist.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

And Health Care...damn it.

That is probably the reaction everyone shares when they hear those first two words, "Damn it." Everyone, even Sean and Rush and Neal and Dennis all know and will actually admit that there needs to be reform. That alone should speak volumes. If those guys want something to change, then we must be up-shit-creek-without-a-paddle. If you don't live in the South, that means: we got problems.

And we do. We all know it. Our (probably) shared explicative reaction comes from the foul taste in our mouths after we say "health care..." Why? Not because person A hates the idea of a public option or because person B can't stand the idea that someone else would be able to buy their third yacht if they dropped person B for a "pre-existing condition." No, I don't think those are necessarily the reasons for the bad taste. It is because the way we've all watched the whole thing go, the whole process, if you can even call it that.

From intentional disinformation--not misinformation but disinformation--to Fox News holding their own parties on the lawn in D.C., to disrespectful outbursts in a joint session of Congress, to people actually convincing themselves that the supposed 800 or 900 billion dollar plan could actually only cost that much, to believing that number could prove "deficit neutral," fill in the blank. It's chaos. I don't even think that sentence made sense. But, there you go (fits doesn't it? damn it). It's almost comic. And yet, it is one of the most serious and pressing issues facing the U.S. and the human individuals that make up the country.

Oh yes, like tons of other issues in the world, there is always a human factor. And really, the "human factor" of health care (reform, legislation, what have you) is the main factor. Find the most Conservative, Right-leaning, free-market/invisible hand-praising, Reagan lover on Wall Street or Main Street and they want health care, they want good health care, they want health care so they can live another day to watch all the idiots on cable television rant and rave care. Damn it.

What I'm saying is that there is capital ($) interest and then there is human interest. In the whirlwind that is the health care debate, these two are at odds. And there are people who love capital interest, love giving tax breaks to the richest people the world that don't need tax breaks, people who dream of the Adam Smith at night, that are concerned about the well being, the health of themselves and of others. The two interest above do not have to be at odds.

I am not proposing that "the entire universe" (read with movie announcer voice) be given free health care. I am not proposing that everything just stay the exact same, and that Mr. CEO of CFO or a fat cat lobbyists gets to buy their 3rd yacht because they denied me coverage. What I am proposing that we, as human beings in the United States, have a common interest, the human one. And we deserve better than what has been the health care available, at a reasonable price--one we hopefully don't have to go bankrupt trying to pay for--and the health care debate thus far.

Let's meet in the middle. Let's stop screaming and yelling about "socialism," and "liberal fascism" (personally, my favorite contradiction yet). Let's stop being dragged around by AM radio announcers that don't even have college educations. Let's stop trying to convince ourselves that we have the means or the pocket for the debt that the public option could create. We should realize our common interest and can do so without asserting that the health care industry and all of its main street workers go to pot, or end up, up-shit-creek-without-a-paddle.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A(n) (In)famous Cuabn Blogger: The Cyber-Iron Curtain

Cuba is no foreigner when it comes to human rights violations. The fact that you can be carted of to jail or be killed for speaking out against the government or Communism is beyond most people. But, this is just how it goes in Cuba. No, its not because they are on Left side of politics and the U.S. is supposedly on the Right: lets drop the cold war linguistics and ideology.

Cuba is a bit like China when it comes to the cyber-world and human rights for that matter. Sure, you can use a computer, but more often than not, you're too poor to afford one, and when you can finally log on there is a convenient "cyber-wall" around the island. Sounds like a familiar scene when we look at Cuban and Cuban-American history.

One person able to pierce this sort of cyber-iron curtain is blogger, Yoani Sánchez. She was jailed and beaten. Another prominent fellow blogger, Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo, was also treated the same way. Both of these individuals were thrown into an unmarked vehicle, beaten, and threatened before being thrown back onto the street.

Why was Sanchez targeted? Because she is exposing the true look of Cuban life, and she has ideas that run counter to what the government there wants going around. They label her a "counterrevolutionary," which is rather hilarious considering what she puts on the internet is only counter THE revolution, not A revolution.

Sanchez cites how ironic the occasion was since she and some friends were on their way to a march against violence, and she has since written about the incident on her blog, "I refused to get into the bright Geely-made car and we demanded they show us identification or a warrant to take us. Of course they didn’t show us any papers to prove the legitimacy of our arrest. The curious crowded around and I shouted, “Help, these men want to kidnap us,” but they stopped those who wanted to intervene with a shout that revealed the whole ideological background of the operation, “Don’t mess with it, these are counterrevolutionaries.” In the face of our verbal resistance they made a phone call and said to someone who must have been the boss, “What do we do? They don’t want to get in the car.” I imagine the answer from the other side was unequivocal, because then came a flurry of punches and pushes, they got me with my head down and tried to push me into the car. I held onto the door… blows to my knuckles… I managed to take a paper one of them had in his pocket and put it in my mouth. Another flurry of punches so I would return the document to them."

What is most hilarious about the Cuban government in this insistence is that this will and has spawned an uptick in readership of her blog. So there Cuban-Commie-government-bastards!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ah Human Nature

Ah human nature and human beings. Some say "hell is other people." Still, others identify themselves as a "people person" or hold philosophical belief for the humanist notion of empathy. My own Uncle once told me, "Just remember, you look out for number one. That's you. Always remember that cuz you're just wasting your time otherwise." My response that I kept to myself was, "That's been the 'one' problem throughout history!"

Sure, it's easy to cite "human nature" for all the misgivings of history and for all in the future for that matter. A few bad apples with several bad ideas and we just as easily call it human nature. Not so fast.

Human nature is an old argument. It is also one that fails to take into account this little thing called "society" and the idea of construction. Obviously, a human being's "nature" would be much different now in the 21st Century than it would be for someone living and breathing in 47 B.C.E. The actual world that surrounds people in a certain and relative place governs their actions, thoughts, and being much more than their given nature. From the moment we humans are conceived we are born into something, in a certain place on the globe, into a certain culture with all of its social (or otherwise) constructs. We are introduced to an array of different ideas that are taught to us as good, normal, and even "natural."

I once had a friend tell me about a movie where a certain group of people were paid to kill other people for money. The next thing that he said was that they killed all these people for monetary gain, thus, demonstrating bad human nature. I asked if money was a part of the natural world, if God had created money. I do not want to be too theological, but (obviously) the answer is no. Humans created, "constructed" money and capitalism for that matter. If you introduce something that exists outside of the natural world can you really blame it on nature?

It has been stamped into our brains from "books" or "the One Book" that we (humans) are evil at our core. We have learned, especially in Western culture, that this is simply, "the way it is."

What if, just what if, we could learn empathy. Or even mere regard. What if knowledge about other cultures, other views, other interpretations, could be regarded in such a way that we could reverse the human nature argument?

But let's look at this with a sort of Melville-esque ambivalence. We can say that humans are flawed, but does that make us evil? We can say that history has shown us the awfulness of human capability; i.e. wars, Atom Bombs, Facism etc, but can't we also say that in the future, and even in the present, there is potential of the greatness in human capability? Certainly if you believe that you are only destined for the worst you will most likely, if not fully, end up there.

So you might be asking what all this has to do with human rights. Well, a lot actually. If we are all, in fact, human beings shouldn't we regard Others has human? Shouldn't we have the guts to speak truth to power when these others' rights are taken away? And even if "human nature" does truly triumph "human construction," shouldn't there be an effort to be involved, informed, and active in constructing something different than the world as we see it today?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Military Contractors

Since Donald Rumsfeld's speech to congress on September 10, 2001 which emphasized further privatization of the US military, military contracting firms have been on the rise. Mostly, if not completely, military contractors or private military firms (PMFs) are fueled by capital and profit; like all private industry, this is the end goal. With this in mind you might wonder: what about the United States military? the real military?

We know that war is never humane. The late Kurt Vonnegut called it "The Children s Crusade." The difference is, in the 21st century, that these crusaders get a sweet paycheck and so do the CEOs of companies such as Blackwater , Halliburton, and KBR.

More particularly, Blackwater's contracts expired back in the month of May and still the Associated Press reported a month later that Blackwater was still present in Iraq. Undoubtedly, they are still there now. Those contracts that expired were for providing security to U.S. diplomats. While "security" is a main pillar of Blackwater, other PMFs still provide infrastructure, logistics, and supplies.

Secondly, the problem is that with the new installment of private military, constitutive laws on these companies and the individuals working for these companies in combat, have not been legislated. So what does that give you? Lawless, private mercenaries, with the goal of making money rather than "completing the mission" or humane regard for civilians.

There have been numerous accounts of civilian causalities in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and certainly not all caused by private contractors. The difference is, there are not even apt laws to hold these contractors accountable. Though there are certainly debates about justice and the law itself, the legislation of these laws are the starting point for sustaining human life and providing consequences for those who unjustly take it.

Below is a link to send an email or letter to your state representative. They do, in fact, respond to emails and letters alike. Its gotta start somewhere!

Take Action!