Old History, New Leaders

I find, reading Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States“, that the idea of the “1%” existed long before the Occupy Wallstreet movement.

“Through all that growth, the upper class was getting most of the benefits and monopolized political power… By 1770, the top 1 percent of property owners owned 44 percent of the wealth,” Zinn writes.

I also discover that discrimination was a tool from the very beginning of our country, to separate people from one another, thus diluting the ability to revolt.

“Even before there were so many blacks, in the seventeenth century, there was, as Abbot Smith puts it, ‘a lively fear that (white) servants would join the Negros or Indians to overcome the small number of masters… The answer to the problem, obvious if unspoken and only gradually recognized, was racism, to separate dangerous free whites from dangerous black slaves by a screen of racial contempt,” continues Zinn.

The small oligarchy of elites in America have always used scapegoats- other marginalized groups to blame the woes of the county on, to distract others from placing the blame on themselves and to prevent the movement building of intersectionality. In doing this, they create a tribalism with fierce loyalty from the common people who believe they are being represented by the elites.

“Those upper classes, to rule, needed to make concessions to the middles class, without damage to their own wealth or power, at the expense of slaves, Indians and poor whites. This bought loyalty. And to bind that loyalty with something more powerful even than material advantage, the ruling group found, in the 1760s and 1770s, a wonderfully useful device. That device was the language of liberty and equality, which could unite just enough whites to fight a Revolution against England, without ending either slavery or inequality,” Zinn states.

We’ve had Trumps ruling our country since the beginning.

In an article published in Foreign Policy titled Backing Into World War III, Robert Kagan leads us through his interpretation of past foreign policy, and the slow descent to where we are now.

The author states that Russia and China are “classic revisionist powers,” meaning that they redefine history and remember it in a different way than the U.S. highschool history textbooks tell it. They challenge the hegemony of the US as the world power.

“It is a myth, prevalent among liberal democracies, that revisionist powers can be pacified by acquiescence to their demands. American retrenchment, by this logic, ought to reduce tensions and competition. Unfortunately, the opposite is more often the case. The more secure revisionist powers feel, the more ambitious they are in seeking to change the system to their advantage because the resistance to change appears to be lessening. Just look at both China and Russia: Never in the past two centuries have they enjoyed greater security from external attack than they do today. Yet both remain dissatisfied and have become increasingly aggressive in pressing what they perceive to be their growing advantage in a system where the United States no longer puts up as much resistance as it used to.”

While I can agree with this to some extent, what this esteemed expert on foreign affairs fails to highlight is that the U.S. has led by example in this “hard power” game. The problem is not that the US is now softening and letting other countries get away with things, the problem is that the US has for far too long gotten away with whatever it wanted to get away with, and not bothered to listen to other countries concerns. And now emerging world powers are going to follow in suit.

We are not fighting to win back our America right now. We are fighting to recreate it.

In a recent Atlantic article, How to Beat Trump, a former George W. Bush adviser muses on why liberal protests such as Occupy Wallstreet and the Women’s March on Washington are not as impactful as conservative movements such as the Tea Party. He argues this is due to liberal movements’ lack of organizational structure and clear leaders, as well as trying to bring too many movements and causes together under the same umbrella.

I would agree that the liberal movements have always lacked the structure that the conservative movements seem to inherently breed. I think this has to do with the effort at intersectionality, showing how all social justice movements are connected. With this effort also comes the conflict that comes with everyone not agreeing on every single issue put on the table (i.e. women who are pro life and felt the Women’s March on Washington was not the place for them, because of the inclusion of Reproductive Rights speakers).

I agree that more structure for liberal movements would be good, as well as more actions to take home and enact after the protests, instead of just beginning life as normal again once your adrenaline is down from shouting chants with the masses. But I would argue that there are also efforts at organization happening now, we just might not be recognizing them in the mainstream media. I believe the problem is the lack of visibility for these leaders, and what they are trying to do. One of my personal goals is to learn more about the marginalized leaders who are not being represented by the media, learn from them and help to raise awareness about them.

One example of a recent leader I discovered would be Winnona Laduke, cofounder of Honor the Earth, an indigenous environmentalist group seeking to raise public awareness and raise funds for grassroots Native environmental groups.

Winnona Laduke had an interview with Democracy Now! a few weeks ago where she detailed the desperation of the Standing Rock movement after Trump stepped over human rights, treaties and laws when he signed the executive order to continue the building of the DAPL pipeline.

“To be honest, it’s pretty much a declaration of war against us all out here. Not just against Native people, but against anyone who wants to drink… The person who’s going to benefit most is going to be Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State…” Laduke lamented.

There are many people like Winnona who are not getting mainstream media coverage, but who are strong leaders ready to be heard.

We need to follow new leaders.

I ask that we not forget the value of art, mystery and ambiguity. Intersectionality and the ability to change and grow and understand multiple viewpoints is an art which we forget when we become too confident in our own perspective, and stop listening to others’.

“People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image. No doubt they sense this mystery, but they wish to get rid of it. They are afraid. By asking ‘what does this mean?’ they express a wish that everything be understandable. But if one does not reject the mystery, one has quite a different response. One asks other things,Belgian surrealist artist Rene Magritte is quoted saying.

We’ve had Trumps ruling our country since the beginning. We are not fighting to win back our America. We are fighting to recreate it. We need to follow new leaders. And we will start raising them up, and asking different questions.

Originally published at everydayembellishments.wordpress.com on February 9, 2017.



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Annie Windholz

Annie Windholz

midwestern librarian, writer, activist