Where Are We Going? Backwards or Forward?

By: Rich Feldman

I have read about half of the book: “Blessed Unrest” by Paul Hawken.

Thanks, Grace and Shea, for pushing this book. It is the first book that begins to explain to me why so many of the young people in and around Detroit Summer have moved beyond the thinking of the New and Old Left. They have been raised in the closing decades of the epoch in human history that began with the destruction of indigenous people and the slave trade through industrialization (or the beginning of the destruction of the environment). They are coming of age at the beginning of the new era, moving beyond imperialism and the nation-state to corporate globalization, resistance to which entered a new era with the Zapatistas and the Battle of Seattle in 1999.

It is a book that should be read along with Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine and the book, THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE FUNDED: BEYOND THE NON-PROFIT INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX! edited by INCITE! Women of Color.

Blessed Unrest raises tremendous questions about concepts of movement building and, for me, raised the issue of the uniqueness of movement building in the 21 century. In Revolution and Evolution in the 20th Century, James and Grace Lee Boggs clearly emphasized the uniqueness and particularity of each revolution, based on the unique history of the country.

The history of the U. S. is very different from the history of Europe. Europe emerged from feudalism; the U. S. did not. The U.S. was founded at the beginning of the epoch when the main goal of western societies was economic growth and increasing productivity. The fundamental contradiction within our nation’s founding is the struggle to advance economically and technologically at the expense of those at the bottom: Native Americans, African Americans, small farmers and the working class. Simply said, Slavery advances the economy while destroying our humanity and our political and social consciousness.

As I was reading the book, it became clearer to me that the work around the
Beloved Communities Network and the concept of organizing, discovering and creating communities that forms the basis of Cities of Hope is the Boggs Center contribution to these amazing times.

How do we create new relationships on a local, regional, national and international basis as we empower, transform & heal ourselves, and deepen our concepts of Work, Education, Politics, Security and Citizenship?

This leads me to the discussion of Hillary Clinton & Bill Clinton who are
encouraging people to go backwards in time by blaming others for the fears, bitterness and insecurities of the white working & middle classes. When Sean Hannity praises Bill Clinton for speaking out against Obama (claiming that Obama “used the race card against Clinton”), we see a significant deepening and expansion of the right-wing to openly include a growing sector of the Democratic party.

We can and must intervene at this time if we recognize that growing numbers of the white working class are also supportive and respectful of Obama. They want a positive change. These are very fluid times. At the same time, a substantial number of white workers are moving beyond George Wallace/Reagan Democrats to the Clinton Democrats who are drifting toward the ideas of counter-revolution. The Clinton democrats are a natural extension of the Reagan democrats. – from Reagan’s trickle down economics to Clinton’s war on poor women via welfare reform among other things.

Hillary Clinton recently was quoted in the NYT as saying:
“They came for the steel companies and nobody said anything. They came for the auto companies and nobody said anything. They came for the office companies, people who did white-collar service jobs, and no one said anything. And they came for the professional jobs that could be outsourced, and nobody said anything.”

This is a great formulation but the alternative to silence is not solutions from the past or empty rhetoric about solidarity. Resistance without vision is doomed to failure. Our silence is more complicated than self-centeredness or selfishness.

We are silent because we think and act like consumers. We are silent because our only solutions are past solutions based upon the myth that a higher standard of living is inevitable and desirable for future generations. We ignore the fact that our standard of living is a result of our post-World War II empire status and the global domination of U. S. corporations. We are silent because we think and care about only about ourselves We have built our society on this kind of self-righteous individualism and we have internalized the values of our society., not about the environment or about the billions of others in the world who are dying of hunger and disease while we care only about maintaining or raising our standard of living. We have traded principles and values and our sacred honor for an ever-higher standard of living, for the Almighty Dollar.

Unless they were involved in the movements of the 60s and 70s. large numbers of workers have no memory of collective caring. Most industrial workers and white collar workers were involved in the labor movement only for higher wages and their own economic security; not to bring about social change and a new non-exploitative society.. The white working class and middle class believed they had reached security because they had made it into the American Dream of jobs, overtime, credit cards, larger houses, social status. They have no memory, no concept, no vision of security coming from a social movement to advance our humanity and the well-being of everyone. The attempt to equate union membership with the union movement of solidarity continues to fail because we see success as $$$ and security as $$$.

We need to acknowledge the fear of workers on the picket line at the American Axle plant in Detroit who have been on strike for more than 2 months, or the workers who have lost their jobs in the steel mills and textile mills, or who are currently losing their jobs to telemarketers overseas. Their fears are very real. They want answers from their government, but too often they want simple answers like Fair Trade and stop corporations from leaving this country. They want to protect their past. They believe that it is their right to be on the top of the ladder because they are Americans. They want their fair share as compared to a CEO earning hundreds of millions of dollars per year. BUT

  • They blame African Americans for “taking” their jobs because of Affirmative Action.
  • They blame Mexican Americans for coming to this country and Mexicans in Mexico for taking the jobs that relocate to their country
  • Previously, men blamed women but since in the past 30 years women often work an the same sites as men this argument has decreased.
  • They blame the union for not stopping the outsourcing of the jobs or for accepting concessions.
  • They blame the government. Some blame the liberals for backing higher wages that drive employers overseas and growing numbers also blame Republicans and Bush for not challenging windfall profits and failure to create jobs from subsidies.
  • They also blame the greed of the CEOs and the corporations.

They want security for themselves but they are not concerned about the security of those left behind. For some, there was security in the 1990s during the technology boom - and they credit Clinton for this economic security. The people losing today and being thrown overboard by technology, sourcing and globalization have short memories. They don’t remember the 1980s when another layer was displaced as the US economic empire weakened and global competition expanded. In the 1980s it was competition from Japan. Today it is from China and India. Today’s economic crash is the natural result of Clinton’s policies that they thought brought them prosperity in the 1990s – the housing crash is the result of his bank deregulation and facilitating predatory lending, etc)

In the U.S. we don’t look at those left behind until it happens to us. For the first time in human history every human being is not necessary to the economic system of production and consumption.

The challenge for activists, progressives, union folks is to learn to listen to the fears and despair so we can then engage in conversations about hope . This is the first step to becoming citizens who take control of our local economies and our communities.

We have to rely on each other and give meaning to solidarity. A solidarity not only of mobilization but of transformation. A solidarity of hope, not of fear.

Too many white workers and middle class people believe that:

  • Obama is not patriotic enough?
  • Michelle Obama is not proud of her country?

While this is taking place Hillary Clinton’s campaign ties Obama to Farrakhan, Ayers and Wright and she is eager to express her commitment to bomb and obliterate Iran. As she plays on fear and with international security issues, she is trying to out -McCain McCain

The strength of the counter-revolution can be challenged if we recognize that our fears and our insecurity (economic and international) can only be reduced if we recognize that workers and all American voters are human beings searching for security and they/we will either go backwards or forwards.

For them to go forward, we need to engage honestly with them and explain that we have reached the end of the epoch when increasing productivity and economic growth can be the goal of any society, any nation.

At the same time, because of the information revolution, there is now a potential for a new dream and a new quality of life that is defined by the principles and values that pervaded the vision and sermons of MLK.

  • We need a radical revolution in values;
  • We need to struggle against the triplets of racism, militarism and materialism.
  • We need to recognize that there will not be any jobs unless we create a new local economy based upon new principles of sustainability.

There will not be any reduction in the global threat from terrorists until we join the community of nations and become global citizens.

As Americans,
our communities can be the basis of Love rather than Hate, and
our communities can be communities of Inclusion rather than Exclusion. We can create a new American Dream that involves new kinds of Health care, New kinds of Education, Work, food security and personal security - IF we recognize that we have reached the end of the old economic dream and therefore can and must create a new dream that provides security and dignity for all. But we must be willing to imagine this dream and then work for it and make it happen.

If, instead, we act like victims, blaming others and refusing to become the makers of change and history. we will be left behind, whining, complaining and ultimately at the mercy of demagogues.

Those Americans with various measures of privilege who also claim to care about racism, sexism, classism, and materialism DO have the responsibility to explore/reject unearned privilege, identify the ways in which our privilege draws on exploitation of others and in the process inherently dehumanizes us, etc.

We can longer separate the transformation of our values from the transformation of our institutions as we become global citizens and local citizens in our commitment to the next American Revolution.

Obama is giving us the opportunity to move the conversation forward on Race, Class and National Security

It is up to us to engage in this conversation, learn to listen and leave behind the categories, the labels and the solutions from another era in our nation’s history. In the 1930s Germany continued to live in the past and ended up with Hitler. In 2008 we can go forwards or we can go backwards. The future is in our hands.

2 Responses to “Where Are We Going? Backwards or Forward?”

  1. amazing analysis

  2. One thing that Rev. Jeremiah Wright said on his appearance with Bill Moyers is that:
    on the slave ship you had the slave holders on the top of the boat praying for the success of their venture, and in the deck of the boat you had thousands of Black men and women praying that the boat would crash ashore, turn around, run aground, etc. It is a significant theological question: which God is real? or Where is God in this picture?

    Of course, the slave masters would say the slaves were “not patriotic enough” if they knew a fraction of their true aims. The Rev. Wright points out that it is a political struggle as well as a question of cultural and religious orientation.

    The culture and religion helps define who people will identify with and who we will see as “other” or “foreign.”

Leave a Reply