Friday, July 23, 2010

Which side are you on? #1

“While there is a lower class I am in it; while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” - Eugene V. Debs

I ended a recent post by saying we all have to think, we all have to decide, which side we are on. Because yes there are sides, sides in a very real practical sense, and the lines are becoming both clearer and thicker, if slowly. At some point we will have to choose a side and better sooner (with thought) than later (under stress of circumstance) and the choice will have consequences for how you proceed after that.

It's important to repeat that this has nothing to do with particular individuals on particular issues at particular times and nothing to do with the hard work of knowing when and where to compromise on legislation or policy - and, at the same time, the harder work of knowing when and where to say "this far and no farther, I will not move," a skill that far too many of those who pass as progressives lack.

Which also means this has nothing to do with Democrats and Republicans. Not a freaking thing. It doesn't have anything to do with who controls Congress and it has even less to do with the political fortunes of Barack Obama or John Boehner. Those things may have an effect, but they are not the point.

Rather, it has to do with principles. It has to do with morals, with ethics - with justice. It has to do with the upper class vs. the lower class, the upper dogs vs. the underdogs, the rich vs. the poor, the insiders vs. the outsiders; it has to do with the bosses vs. the workers and the haves vs. the have-nots. It has to do, ultimately, with the powerful vs. the powerless. Yes, each has allies on the other side of that divide, although in each case that is much truer of the former than the latter, but that doesn't change the basic divide. The root question in each case is: Which side are you on? With who do you stand? And you need to think about that, because the answer may not be as obvious as you think.

In the wake of the 2004 election, I commented on an essay by William Rivers Pitt in which he suggested "We are down to the ethic of total opposition." I think that is even truer now. I've said it before (here, for example) but it does bear repeating: We are on our own and the sooner we realize that the better.

And no, for the upteenth time this has nothing to do with particular bills or with electoral versus non-electoral action or compromise or negotiation or whatever other "Yehbut" bubbles to the surface of those who want to avoid having to make the choice. Not a single goddam thing. It has to do, rather, with knowing where you stand and dammit, being prepared to stand there!

And where is "there?" One answer by way of illustration comes from a letter I wrote to a friend in February 1989. Some of the issues may be dated, but the principles remain the same:
Our proper place to stand in the Middle East isn’t with Israel but with those Palestinians (and yes, they do exist) seeking a just, nonviolent settlement, while talking with the PLO and supporting and playing up its moves toward mutual recognition and establishment of a Palestinian state instead of ignoring or undermining them.

Our proper place to stand in Chile isn’t with Pinochet but with the block committees and the Committees of the Mothers of the Disappeared.

Our proper place to stand in Korea is with the students demanding greater freedom and negotiations with the North, not with the government troops tear-gassing them.

Our proper place to stand in South Africa is with Desmond Tutu, not P. W. Botha.
You want it more contemporary? How about these:

Our proper place to stand is with the children of Fallujah, not with those hoping we've forgotten the very word "Iraq."

Our proper place to stand is with the prisoners at Guantanamo, not with those who have given up even pretending it will be closed.

Our proper place to stand is with the innocent civilians of Pakistan and Afghanistan, not with the wielders of drone rockets.

Our proper place to stand is with those who challenge power, not with those who excuse it, cover for it, defend it, abuse it, and expand it.

Our proper place to stand is with those who at least try to defend our privacy, not with those who increasingly seek to invade it.

Our proper place to stand is with the tortured, not with the torturers or those justify them or cover for them.

Our proper place to stand is with those being locked out, not with those closing the doors.

Our proper place to stand is with the impoverished nations of the world, not with the international banks and moneybags who exploit their desperation to keep them in thrall.

Our proper place to stand is with those who hunger but can't afford food, not with those who profit by the suffering of others.

Our proper place to stand is with those who want to resolve conflict, not with those who appear more interested in continuing it.

Ultimately, as I said in that 1989 letter,
In all cases, our proper place to stand is with the oppressed, not the oppressors, with the hungry, not the sated, with the landless, not the landlords.
As I also said at that time, I
[d]idn’t say it’s easy; often it’s not. Didn’t say it’d always work to our selfish benefit; often it won’t.
But frankly that doesn't matter. Because at the end of the day it's not about personal benefit. It's not really even about winning, at least in the short term. (Even Josh Marshall - no radical, he - declared that "the key condition of political success is almost always a genuine willingness to lose well.") It's about actually knowing - and caring - which side you are on.

2 comments:

JayV said...

You've said it better than I ever could on this post, the next one and the the one after that (I, II, & III). In fact I am saving all three this week (bookmarked) to give to Obamaniacs when they say he's accomplished so much.

I hope you'll keep on posting.

LarryE said...

Thanks for the encouragement. I could use it.

 
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