Many years ago, when I was young, vibrant and, I thought, sexy, I learned an important political lesson . . . the powers that be couldn’t care less what we, the people, felt, wanted, or needed.
During the 60s, the time of the Civil Rights Movement and the anti-war movement (Vietnam), Washington, DC, was my second home. I marched, I shouted the slogans, I carried my placard. But I refused to sing the songs because I couldn’t sing on key. And, then I went home to realize that nothing had changed.
The war continued, Vietnam was being destroyed, millions died, including over 50,000 US military personnel, dogs continued to be unleashed on those marching against racism, civil rights activists continued to be targeted for attacks and murder, black children were refused entry into what had been all white schools, etc., etc., etc. . Meanwhile, “our” leadership in DC, Congress as well as the Executive Office, remained both impotent and unwilling to take meaningful action.
The turning point for me was at a DC demonstration, a demonstration that turned out, not thousands, not tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands of people (it was estimated that there was 250,000 of us). It was one of our peaceful demonstrations.
This march in Washington was very well publicized . . . they knew we were coming. But, what did we find out at the end of the day? . . . almost every member of Congress, as well as the president, had left Washington, DC, and headed home while the president hid at Camp David.
What did The New York Times, the paper of record, think of our efforts? The next day, an article appeared on page 17 of the Times, indicating where, in the order of importance, our action rated. Imagine, 250,000 Americans marching against the war, and it only rated page 17 buried among the other irrelevancies. This is the newspaper that claims it prints all the news that’s fit to print but they don’t let us know where they will place it.
There comes a time when we must recognize that marching, chanting, or petitioning is not enough. Such activities do not get the attention or invoke anxiety among the ruling class. It’s only when they realize that it will cost them financially do they respond.
I remember that in 1967 there was an outbreak of “rioting” in Detroit, Michigan, centered in a section of a low income African-American community. At the time, there wasn’t much official response to support the Civil Rights movement.
The 1967 Detroit “Riots” were among the most violent and destructive “riots” in U.S. history. By the time the bloodshed, burning and looting ended after five days, 43 people were dead, 342 injured, nearly 1,400 buildings had been burned and some 7,000 National Guard and U.S. Army troops had been called into service.
Although the “riots,” in and of themselves, did not accomplish much, the response of the ruling class stays in my memory bank. There was much anxiety that the “natives” were restless and out of control. The absentee landlords and merchants were in danger of losing money. These riots made page 1 of the N.Y. Times as well as the Washington Post. Quite a different response from the 250,000 peaceful anti war marchers in DC wouldn’t you say?
I would like to clearly state that I am not advocating violence. In a violent confrontation, we lose. What I am advocating is strong, continuous actions that include civil disobedience and that will prevent business as usual in the country. We must bring this country to a standstill, not to make capitalism gentler and kinder but to erase capitalism from our lives and develop a system that empowers the people.
History shows us that the rulers are very willing to placate us when we are unhappy as long as they can maintain their wealth and positions of power and influence. But the thrust of capitalism is to subordinate the masses of people for the benefit of the top 10%.
Therefore, it is predictable, and history supports this, that whatever gains we the people are allowed by the rulers will disappear within a short period of time.
Capitalism is a predatory system and it is its nature to use and exploit the people for the benefit of the capitalist class. It will allow gays in the military but deny us universal healthcare, it will allow us some economic upward mobility but ensure that we have a large enough poverty class to supply them with cheap labor, it will allow us inadequate public education systems throughout the country but not guaranteed affordable housing that would eliminate homelessness.
There is much more I could say but I hope you get the point. They placate us with small victories as long as we do not challenge the system.
THERE WILL BE NO MEANINGFUL CHANGE IN OUR LIVES AS LONG AS WE ACCEPT THIS CORRUPT, CRIMINAL SYSTEM.
Dave Alpert has masters degrees in social work, educational administration, and psychology. He spent his career working with troubled inner city adolescents.