Category Archives: Activism

Slipping Into Darkness Again? The Death of RFK

A Poem on the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

Trees are never felled… in summer… Not when the fruit…

is yet to be born… Never before the promise… is fulfilled…

Not when their cooling shade… has yet to comfort…

 

Yet there are those… unheeding of nature… indifferent to

ecology… ignorant of need… who… with ax and sharpened

saw… would… in boots… step forth damaging…

 

Not the tree… for it falls… But those who would… in

summer’s heat… or winter’s cold… contemplate… the

beauty…

— Nikki Giovanni

It was 48 years ago today that Robert F. Kennedy spent his last day on this troubled earth. I remember it well. I was 5 years old. Tears flowed at home. This great one, who had already lost his brother to the bullet, met the same awful fate on that terrible night in Los Angeles. Two months earlier he had delivered the news of MLK’s murder so eloquently…

In this election year of 2016, where we’ve seen violence on the campaign trail not equaled since the turbulent decade of the 1960s, we would do well to stop in our tracks and consider that all the hateful rhetoric– the racism, scapegoating, conspiracy theories and war-mongering– leads to no good end. If we think it can’t happen here, again, we are fooling ourselves.

For Memorial Day

Into sunlight they marched,
Into dog day, into no saints day,
And were cut down.
They marched without knowing
How the air would be sucked from their lungs,
How their lungs would collapse,
How the world would twist itself, would
Bend into the cruel angle.

Into the black understanding they marched
Until the angels came
Calling their names,
Until they rose, one by one from the blood.
The light blasted down on them.
The bullets sliced through the razor grass
So there was not even time to speak.
The words would not let themselves be spoken.
Some of them died.
Some of them were not allowed to.

—Bruce Weigl

Wouldn’t it be something to live in a world with no memorial days….

How We Fight

Voltaire once said “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Sadly, the number of examples throughout history to support his claim fill entire libraries. The most recent, Iraq and Afghanistan (and associated mayhem), are still burning through the fabric of humanity like the Alien’s acid-like blood burnt through the decks of the spaceship Nostromo. Yet where is the outcry? Where are the forces in society with enough clout to expose and blunt the absurdities- the Press and protestors in the streets?

We are in the midst of another election season and absurdities abound in the rhetoric. The saber rattling, while always present in a militaristic society like ours, has begun to escalate. Recently two exiting Generals claimed in their goodbye speeches that Russia is the biggest threat facing America– Russia? Really? I guess there ain’t no money in ISIS and Al Qaeda folks. You don’t need strategic bombers, huge mechanized armies and aircraft carriers to fight them. Guess where those two guys are likely heading next for work?

The presidential candidates appear to cover the gamut with regard to the projection of US military strength internationally– Trump is called a loose cannon and supposedly dangerous because of his unpredictability, Clinton is called a hawk and supposedly dangerous because of her predicability and Sanders is called a dove and supposedly dangerous because his idealism ignores realism. We hear little about ending the war on terror though. We even had one extremely belligerent candidate, Ted Cruz (thankfully banished, a positive outcome of Trump’s success), who proposed carpet bombing an entire country into submission, even though we have empirical evidence going all the way back to Dresden that this never has and presumably never will work!. Was he challenged on this madness? Superficially at best. Again, where are our gatekeepers whose job it is to check the facts, challenge the claims and expose the absurdities? Why are we the people so silent?

Another famous French author once summed it up pretty well:

“A poor man in the world can be done to death in two main ways, by the absolute indifference of his fellows in peacetime or by their homicidal mania when there’s a war. When other people start thinking about you, it’s to figure out how to torture you. The bastards want to see you bleeding, otherwise they’re not interested! The patriots kept clamoring: Guns! Men! Ammunition! They never seemed to get tired. It was an obsession which prevented the best of our fellow citizens from breathing, eating, or copulating. But it didn’t seem to prevent them from swinging business deals. Morale was doing all right on the home front” — Louis-Ferdinand Celine Journey to The End Of The Night (1934)

If you know about Celine then you know that even he was taken in by an absurdity later in his life. Yet his quote remembering his experiences in WWI is as relevant today as it was back then.

There was one moment in our history when the barricades were stridently manned and the constitutional tools at our disposal were put to good use in the battle against the purveyors of absurdity. It was a short moment to be sure, from about 1960 -1973, but during that period we saw important social strides made through the Civil Rights, Free Speech and anti-Vietnam War movements. It was a time before the rise of today’s corporate dominated mass-news media that values the interests of its owners and sponsors above its critical responsibility as the peoples’ watch dog against corporate and governmental over-reach. In the sixties the advent of television news, with its immediate images beamed into living rooms before being sanitized for docile consumption, caught the elites completely by surprise. Suddenly they had lost control of the frame and it cost them. Of course it was good for society, we haven’t seen accelerated social change like that ever since, but it seriously damaged ruling class interests at the time. They learned the lesson– think about embedded reporters for example, now they can only report what their keepers let them see. No more Morley Safers or Malcolm Brownes. A tamed sycophantic news media eagerly goes along with it.

We the people would do well to study those lofty days when people took the law into their own hands and took to the streets to force change. Take heed of the tactics used by those regular folks who spoke up and put their hands on the gears of the machine and follow in their footsteps:

RIP Morley Safer…

Click here for more information and media on those who spoke up against the Vietnam War

Livy’s Class Warfare – 2700 Years and Counting…

livy_historyofrome_165x260_1Livy, Latin in full Titus Livius (born 59/64 bc, Patavium, Venetia, Italy —died ad 17, Patavium), with Sallust and Tacitus, one of the three great Roman historians.

The History of Rome (Books I-V) – a foundational work in the history of western thought – covers the earliest history of Rome, from the arrival of Aeneas and the myth of Romulus and Remus to its capture and burning by the Gauls in 386BC. Livy’s storytelling radiates in vivid accounts of constant class warfare interspersed with military adventure. Here we learn about the Rape of the Sabine Women, the Alban Compact, Coriolanus, Cincinnatus, the Fabii and the slave Vindictus, the rise and fall of the Tarquin kings, the battle of Lake Regillus, the Commission of the Ten (the Decemvirs) and their law-code known as the twelve tables, the coming of the consuls and the tribunes, the winter soldiers, and finally the Gallic sacking of Rome and Camillus’ memorable speech echoing the foundation of the city.

Livy recorded his history of Rome at the end of the first millennium, hundreds of years after many of the events he describes, in a period when Rome was just emerging from nearly a century of civil war. His retelling of these traditional stories handed down from ancient times was heavily influenced by political strife more contemporary to his day. Myth, history and tradition fuse together within a political superstructure that depicts early Rome in perpetual turmoil, featuring constant power struggles between the masses (Plebeians) and the elites (Patricians). He writes in 2.23, “Nevertheless, danger was threatening the city’s peace . . . [in the form of] ever-increasing bitterness between the ruling class and the masses. The chief cause of the dispute was the plight of the unfortunates who were ‘bound over’ to their creditors for debts.”

The author interweaves the entire narrative with this class-warfare theme. Plentiful throughout are stories about pressure from below for political and economic reform vigorously countered by ruling elites. Over and over we read that the primary method for bolstering the bulwark against popular change was the manipulation of external threats to divert popular opinion. Nowadays we’ve heard the standard refrain all too many times, eerily similar to that of Livy– an enemy, real or perceived, threatens the national safety so an army must be raised. Senate (Patricians) can vote for war, but the Tribunes (Plebeians) can block the troop levy. Brinkmanship ensues, lines are drawn and scapegoating begins, political vacuums emerge and are filled, frequently by dictators, then more war. Dictators rise and fall, heroes are worshipped and human frailties frowned upon, gods are angered and placated with religious offerings, consuls and tribunes come and go. Through it all the populace is kept in constant fear of the barbarians just outside the gates. Rinse and repeat.

History reveals that the Plebeians have not fared well on average over the years in this environment. On the rare occasions when popular sentiment won the day the victors sometimes gained only the appearance of more power. Take the story of Servius for example. In it Livy explains that there was fairly broad suffrage among men in Rome, but that each vote did not carry the same weight from class to class. “The political reputation of Servius rests upon his organization of society according to a fixed scale of rank and fortune. He originated the census, a measure of the highest utility to a state destined, as Rome was, to future preeminence; for by means of its public service, in peace as well as in war, could thence forward be regularly organized on the basis of property; every man’s contribution could be in proportion to his means.” Livy states that “this had the effect of giving every man nominally a vote, while leaving all power actually in the hands of the Knights and the First Class.” (Livy, 1.44) Hence a narrowing of the field upon which the struggle for power is contested to a small number of privileged property owners. 

Now think about how the US Congress is stacked against the popular will. By the time each Congress comes to order for the first time we the people have already surrendered a significant portion of our popular will by allowing ourselves to be winnowed down to 535 representatives (plus DC’s 3 electoral votes), some of whom stay on for decades. This narrowing of the target range to a manageable size creates a distinct advantage for influence peddlers (lobbyists and their benefactors). Then we double down by giving the less representative Senate the filibuster, thereby allowing a determined minority to kill bills that might emerge from the popular passions of the more representative House. The founding fathers did this by design to offset the tyranny of the majority. This is one of the famous checks and balances, and to be clear, by itself it is a strong philosophical concept and a serious requirement in a democracy. How else to offset the rule of the mob? In an oligarchy unfortunately it becomes a device to lock-in the desires of the ruling class. So, in the Senate, Wyoming has just as much power as California. Two senators each. Again the targets are narrowed even further for those fortunate enough to be allowed on the shooting range. Add a pinch of Citizen’s United and a dash of Gerrymandering and just as in Livy’s day there is broad suffrage, but most power actually resides in the hands of the Knights and the First Class. In that environment it is easy to see how the hopes and aspirations of the many can easily be hamstrung by the wishes of the few. Any wonder that it took one hundred years after the Civil War, and numerous failed attempts, to pass a civil rights act?

Livy writes in the preface: “The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see: and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings: fine things to take as models, base things, rotten through and through, to avoid.” 

The class struggle still exists, and it is still rotten. For the Plebeians hope is the dope their masters keep pushing, but it’s a weak dose, just enough to keep ’em strung out. The Patricians meanwhile continue to sit high on the hog. The history is there for all to see, but the power elite owns powerful tools to blind people from seeing it, and hence learning lessons from it. They keep a nice clean the sheet of the collective memory. When is the last time you saw a history of American labor on the TV? We get barraged with content on the history of war, and capitalism, and politicians, and celebrity, but you will be hard-pressed to find anything on the struggle for unions, equal rights and fair wages and better working conditions. If you go to the Newseum in Washington, which is supposedly the national museum on the history of the American media, you will find precious little material on those topics. How much of this information were you taught in school? How much is in the textbooks? Yet most of us spend a large portion of our waking lives laboring. I imagine you will hear plenty about ISIS today though. Not much has changed in the 2700 years since Livy’s tales. RF