The Line

Over the last few weeks I have been thinking a lot about protests and social change.  There have been protests all over the world, in Egypt, Libya, and Wisconsin to name just a few. These three are very different, running the spectrum from completely nonviolent to armed rebellion.

Nonviolence has always been THE method of protest.  Even though I knew about successful violent protests and uprisings (American Revolution ring a bell?), in my lifetime the idea of violent protest is repugnant.  I completely bought into that.  I don’t think I ever even gave it much thought before the last few weeks.   Martin Luther King Jr. = Good guy. (He is, hands down. I am not saying otherwise. He is one of my personal inspirations). But George Jackson of the Black Panthers = Bad Guy.   Why did I feel that way?  Had I ever researched him? No.  Do I know any people who consider themselves part of the Black Panther movement? I don’t think so.  Did I agree with Jackson’s eventual goal?  Yes, quite likely. And yet when it comes to the Civil Rights movement, Jackson is the villain of the piece.

The concept of nonviolence is a false ideal. It presupposes the existence of compassion and a sense of justice on the part of one’s adversary.  When this  adversary has everything to lose and nothing to gain by exercising justice and compassion, his reaction can only be negative.

– George Jackson, from his prison letters

Do I agree with that? Yes.

I know from experience that people don’t give up power unless they have to.  Let’s say the people being oppressed have a firm stance of nonviolence. They make it very clear that they will not resort to violence and that they will not associate with anyone who does.  Let’s say that the oppressors are willing to use violence anytime they want.  Then what is the motivation of those in power to give up power?   Think about this.   Nonviolence has worked in the past, but the threat of violence was always in the minds of the oppressor.

Have you heard about the recent protests in the UK?  Some estimate that half a million people came to London to protest budget and social service cuts.   That is a huge amount of people; I can’t even wrap my mind around that many people.  But every article I read mentioned the about 200 people who became violent (mostly property damage to start with, like graffiti; police and civilians were hurt, but I don’t know all the specifics).  Everyone is focused on these horrible people using violence. As if in our society violence is so out of place.

We live in violence everyday.   EVERYDAY!!!!!!!    We need to understand this before we can actually even began to think about this issue.  You pay taxes (more than GE anyway).  You vote.  The fantasy I have been led to believe tells me that I (as one of the people) run this country, and pay government and military salaries. So I am bankrolling violence every day.   My employees are out there in some strange land that I might have wanted to visit someday killing people.  Not just violent evil people, but people like me.  Out there somewhere today a 30-something woman is dying because I did nothing to stop it. She is dying because I paid for the means to kill her and because at least by my inaction I condone it.

We can somehow calmly ignore the people who die because of our “necessary” wars, but 200 mostly young people who feel powerless and angry engaging in violence is sinful, evil.

You know what this sort of makes me think of?  Picture you are in Wal-Mart and there is some woman spanking and cussing at her kid, and you realize it is because the kid slapped his sister.  An adult who was abused can stop the cycle of violence, but beating the crap out of your kid is not a good way to teach them not to hit people.   We are the kid who is now crying and scared to death of their mother. The world’s governments are the mother.   If that little kid never hits his sister again do you think that means his mother will never hit him again and will start treating him with human dignity?

We as Americans live in the age of the Prison/Industrial complex.  Putting people in prison is big business.  We have silly laws that apply to some races and social strata more than others.  We trap people with these laws, put them in jail, and laugh all the way to the bank.  In Georgia the prison statistics are disgusting.  We don’t even try to hide our racism, (I can’t find the report I read last week; if I find it I will post the stats) A crazy percentage of prisoners in Georgia are young black men.  I don’t mean 30% (which is still more than the percentage of African Americans to total population), I mean like over 80%.  Do you think these men just somehow happen to be born with the urge to commit crimes?  Is it just chance that most of them come from poor neighborhoods, broken families (often broken by prison) and are targeted by these silly laws I mentioned?  More importantly, do you think they want to go to prison?  Or do we (yes we, don’t think you are not part of this) use violence to put and keep them there?  But violence is bad. It is them being violent in many cases that makes us want to put them in prison using violence.

“When we ask Negroes to abide by the law, let us also declare that the white man does not abide by law in the ghettos. Day in and day out he violates welfare laws to deprive the poor of their meager allotments; he flagrantly violates building codes and regulations; his police make a mockery of law; he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions of civil services. The slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of the white society; Negroes live in them, but they do not make them, any more than a prisoner makes a prison.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967.

During the civil rights movement lots of black people gathered in a common cause.  Most of them were peaceable.  But some were not, and at any moment something could have gone wrong and a flashpoint could have been reached and they could have become violent.  Do you think white people said things like, “Oh, look how polite and orderly these Negroes are? They are just like real people. We should give them the same rights we enjoy.  So well behaved I would not mind eating at the same restaurant as them.”  If you think that you are rather stupid.  What the middle class white Americans were thinking was “Wow, look how many of them there are.  What would happen if they got really pissed off?” Groups like the Black Panthers increased that fear.  A few violent actions of the Black Panthers made everyone look a little more scary.  This fear led to some pretty horrible things, like Reagan becoming president, but that is another post.

Yay! Nonviolence worked and African Americans got all the same rights and privileges as white people. Right?  What about all those nice young men acting as slaves and livestock in our prison systems? Or all those kids who go to the worst schools because their neighborhood is mostly black (I live in Stone Mountain, the schools suck, take my word for it).  What about the strange polarization that turns the African American community against itself?  What about the extremely high unemployment?  Oh, look a black President!   Racism is over! Huzzah!!

If you are black and reading this, I want you to know that you have been tricked; it was slow, and very well done.  Your life is likely not much better and may in fact be much worse than that of your parents or grandparents. But at least in those few minutes between crappy jobs you can eat horrible, unhealthy, fast food in the same Burger King as me.

” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.”

– Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech

Before I get too far off topic, is nonviolent protest the only correct option for a civilized people?  Or is it just the option that those who have power have somehow convinced us that we should use?

Let’s take a trip to the anti-war movement of the 1960s.  For the most part they were nonviolent, and they also for the most part were ignored by those in power and accomplished little to actually stop the war. However, both Johnson and Nixon thought about dropping a nuclear bomb in Vietnam.  Johnson decided not to do it. He pointed out the window of the White House and said something along the lines of “How long would it take 50,000 people to climb that fence and kill the President?”

There is so much to think about there.  1) He could care less how long the war went on; how many people died on both sides; but he cared about if he died.   2)  It was the threat of violence that stopped him. He knew that the hippies had a line, and he did not know for sure exactly where that line was, but he was pretty damn sure that a nuke would cross it.

I agree with Johnson. Had he dropped the bomb, the American people against the war would have become violent.

Am I saying that we should only protest with signs and chants?  Or am I saying that violence is the answer?   I don’t know.   I know that nonviolence only works because the threat of violence is always hiding underneath it, and I also know that nonviolence only works in the short term.    I know that King was right, that you can’t defeat hate with hate; you can’t end violence with violence.   But I also know that Jackson was right; that no one gives up power or wealth unless they have to.  While it is true that beating your kid will not teach them to be less violent, it is also true that a small child can’t stop the cycle of abuse by just being very well behaved. Only the adult can chose to not abuse.

I know that things are getting bad here.  I know that we are running out of energy, that our land, water and food are contaminated.  I know that we are pawns to the big corporations to make them money, while we slip into a poverty that it would take decades of good government (which we don’t have) to get out of.  I know that we spend an insane amount of money to kill strangers, while we cut social services to children, the poor and the elderly.

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? 1967

I know that I feel sort of trapped everyday. That I feel angry to the point of where I wish I could hurt those who make it hard for me to make a decent living. (Keep in mind that I am firmly “middle class;” can you image how those poorer than me must feel?).  I know collective bargaining is a thing of the past, and workers’ right are melting away.  I know that we as a people are getting less educated, less self sufficient, and more indebted to the company store (Wal-mart, GE, the entire country of China).  I know that I feel sadness and grief when I see the destruction that my military brings to those in other places.  I know that I am a part of this system of violence, and no matter how peaceable I am, I can’t get out of it.

I know that I have line, but I don’t know where it is.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Joshua
    Apr 07, 2011 @ 17:37:35

    She is dying because I paid for the means to kill her and because at least by my inaction I condone it

    The same impotence that makes you unable to stop the violence also absolves you of responsibility for it. You can’t hold someone responsible for something they have no power to change.

    Reply

  2. Joshua
    Apr 07, 2011 @ 17:39:58

    Or do we (yes we, don’t think you are not part of this) use violence to put and keep them there

    Derek Jensen’s Premises are relevant here, especially premise four.

    Premise Three: Our way of living—industrial civilization—is based on, requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.

    Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.

    Premise Five: The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below. It is acceptable for those above to increase the amount of property they control—in everyday language, to make money—by destroying or taking the lives of those below. This is called production. If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.

    Reply

  3. Joshua
    Apr 07, 2011 @ 17:45:14

    I know that I have line, but I don’t know where it is.

    Recipe for complacence:

    1 part “I have something to lose”
    1 part “Nothing I do will matter anyway”

    As long as these conditions hold true, you will never find your line.

    From another perspective, you have already found many lines and refused to cross them. It’s a fallacy to believe that there is one “line of no return” and one “primary act of rebellion” that occurs at that line.

    Derek Jensen talks about how most obvious forms of violent rebellion are actually part of the system, and serve to reinforce it, not bring it down. It’s a fucking Gordian Knot.

    Reply

    • kittyavatar
      Apr 07, 2011 @ 18:21:04

      I am only half compliant then, or maybe 33%. Right now I feel like I have lots of things to lose. But I only sometimes feel powerless. There are days when I feel like I have the ability to make a huge difference, I just don’t know how yet.

      Reply

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