Revolt: Part 3
Citizen Activism At Home:
Citizen activism is a form of action on the road to revolt. It’s necessary, but not sufficient to enact change. Many organizations that pitch “citizen activist’’ agendas are well-meaning, but often lack clout. They are motivated more by popularity than effective change.
Global Citizen, a website that boasts an audience of 20 million, loves to rile people up on political issues, and then email results to get leaders to act in more humane ways. Progressive pollsters, likewise, conduct a survey after survey to sway representatives.
The problem for citizen activists in generating real change isn’t picking up the telephone or sending emails or texts or survey results to our representatives.
The problem is that an ignorant elite of privileged people has hijacked “the government of the people, by the people, and for the people”. Nothing short of revolt will tip the scales in favor of an agenda worth supporting.
The majority of American people, on every major social issue surveyed—climate change, gun control, women’s reproductive rights and equal pay, support for public schools, and health care for all in some form, are moving forward as genuine citizen activists further agendas of change.
Progressive messages are reframed in conservative terms, blocked or trashed. This is designed to create a sense of defeat. Michael Moore, a progressive filmmaker, has made this point for years.
On The Road To Revolt:
Our model for democracy is ancient Greece. However, approximately 20 percent of the population actually participated in civic affairs: slaves, women, and the poor were excluded. It was ruled by elites and its base of popular support was limited and precarious.
Voter suppression, lack of voting stations, gerrymandered districts and Electoral College are all evidence that the less laudable remnants of Greek democracy are alive and well.
The U.S., in fact, is a republic and not a democracy; if it were one-person-one-vote, Hillary Clinton would have won the election over Donald Trump by almost three million votes.
A series of revolts—not call-ins or write-ins— over the last 100 years has expanded the definition of citizen to include all genders, races, and socio-economic classes. This translates into significantly larger populations of enfranchised people who are further capable of revolt.
In other words, without revolt—social action tied to social innovation– the concept of ‘citizen activist’ would be emptied of its more profound meaning.
Genuine citizen power is causing corporations, special interest groups, and the Supreme Court to move against such things as class action lawsuits, collective bargaining, and labor rights.
Citizen commitment to effective change has multiplied, but so has the suppression of our social and economic rights. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction to maintain the status quo.
Revolt In Chile: The U.S. Legacy:
Genuine citizen action is underway in Chile. It ranks as one of the most unequal economies when compared to a group of thirty of the world’s wealthiest nations. This inequality has been measured by the Gini index; the most widely used international measure of inequality.
Monthly wages for about half of the country amount to $550.00. Raising train fares ignited student protests, with sympathy by a broad base of middle and working-class people. This problem is contagious; spreading to issues of affordable housing and quality education that only a few can afford. Many of the issues being fought for are applicable in the U.S.
Years ago, the U.S. was quick to recognize the brutal military dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew the democratically elected government of President, Salvador Allende.
Professor Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize winning economist, University of Chicago, was the unofficial advisor to Pinochet’s economic team, most of whom he trained. Dr. Friedman, who was a rabid promoter of classical—unfettered— economic capitalism, junked the entire social, collective, and protective gains made under Allende.
The inequality protested in Chile today was designed into the economic system years ago. Three cheers for this form of capitalism can be found in the U.S. and the results—devastating inequalities—-are similar.
A New Theory of Genuine Citizen Action:
Theories of revolt are hard to come by. They are overwhelmingly ad hoc, based on events that trigger them. The Arab Spring started as a series of anti-government protests. It spread across the Arab world, from Tunisia to Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain.
Genuine citizen activists fought against oppressive governments and low standards of living—high unemployment, rates of poverty, and corruption. The rising cost of staples, in some instances, provoked a movement toward redress of grievances.
The revolt in Hong Kong, known as the Umbrella Revolution, was triggered by the Hong Kong government’s Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill, (amendment bill), 2019.
This would have allowed the extradition of wanted criminal suspects and fugitives to be tried in territories like Mainland China and Taiwan, which Hong Kong lacks extradition agreements. The undermining of civil liberties—the fear of extradition of political suspects and prisoners—-and domination by China, drove several million people into the streets over a period of one year. It continues still today.
Rising Levels of Expectations:
Citizen insurgencies, and revolutions in Central America, Ecuador, Algeria, Sudan, and historically, East Germany to mention a few, reveal a somewhat surprising fact: it’s the rising levels of expectations that trigger revolts, not pain alone.
While pain alerts individuals to the need for change, unless they are able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, depression or despair sets in. Rationalizing the pain of existence feeds inactivity: triggering the thought what’s the use of trying to change things, they’ll never change. The most effective organizers are able to open people’s eyes to what’s possible, beyond the moment and into the future.
The founder of Pussy Riot in Russia, Nadya Tolokonnikova, is full of admirable energy and foresight. She spent her days protesting in the street, pre-Coronavirus, evading police, and sometimes ending up in jail. Her expectation is, it’s Monday, it must be scale-the prison-walls-day, invite your friends. This ethic of ‘can-do’ in the face of a police state is noteworthy.
Medea Benjamin, founder of Code Pink, is another voice of sanity and foresight, leading protests worldwide. Years ago, I was in a meeting with her former husband, a call came in from Medea, “I’ve got to take it, she most likely needs help; she’s probably in jail”. Medea’s not shy; please see videos of conversations with her.
What Revolt Is Not:
Sometimes it’s easy to confuse revolt with acting out. This is a dangerous tendency, and only demeans the power of revolt to lead to social innovation and address problems.
The recent gangs of right-wing armed men and women who think it’s their right to march on state capitals and refuse to wear masks to reduce exposure to Coronavirus, for example. These people have nothing to do with “revolt”. They are not genuine citizen activists; they are acting out some fantasy that they are ‘rebels’ promoting freedom while increasing the potential for violence and death.
A security guard at a Family Dollar store in Flint, Michigan was shot and killed after he ordered a maskless customer to leave; many others across the country have received bodily injury.
President Trump who refuses to condemn those that put others at risk and/or cause violence during the pandemic is endorsing their behavior. In a way, he’s just sanctioning behavior that his father found acceptable when he marched with the Klu Klux Klan in New York; like father, like son.
It’s time for genuine citizen activists to log onto Zoom, join a group, and plan for the future of our world. After all, the future of tomorrow is in your hands today.