[John Brown, Continued]
What a world we live in.
Israeli troops are once again marauding in Lebanon. If you think my wording unjust, consider that over 55 civilians have been reported killed, Lebanon has been invaded, commerce in the area is completely destroyed... and, coming back to the casualty figures, Israel's record as far as reporting the full extent of damage done is hardly stellar.
Why is this happening? Because two (2) Israeli soldiers have been taken prisoner. Lebanon has offered a prisoner exchange. Israel has refused. They say they do not negotiate.
No, they do not negotiate. They only kill. And they are far from done.
Bush, of course, defends them in everything. Israel resembles America closely enough in religion, lifestyle, political attitude, and--above all--wealth. Their militancy, prior to Prime Minister Sharon's withdrawal from occupied territory, was at precisely the stage the Bush regime has been trying so hard to work us up to. The Prime Minister's diplomacy brought that to a standstill... briefly. Now that the Crusade is raging again, the Bush regime certainly isn't going to complain.
Israel buys our tanks, echoes our war cries, and we give them money, weapons, and more war cries in return. It isn't terrorism if you do it in uniform. It isn't terrorism if you aren't a Muslim. It isn't terrorism if you love America. It isn't terrorism if the Burning Bush says it isn't.
What can we do? Those of us without money, who cannot buy a Congressman, a Senator, or a tank of our own? What recourse does the "genius of our imperfect system" (as my infuriating Russian History professor used to proclaim) leave us in the face of our government's complicity with such atrocity?
Shall we have a recall? Shall we impeach him? But we only hold impeachment hearings for stupid things these days, horrible crimes against the country such as sleeping around! John F. Kennedy's Camelot would have gone the way of Arthur's if he were President of these United States, brought to ruin by a simple, widely-known affair.
Shall we write him a letter? Shall we write Cheney? He is, after all, the one running things. Shall we write our Congressmen, our Senators, our designated members of that great vestigial organ of this so-called republic, the House of Representatives? Shall we trust that they will read what we common citizens write, when they do not even read the bills put before them?
Shall we walk the path of Mother Jones? Shall we gather those who share our outrage, march together to the Hill, the metaphorical switch in hand, and say to that moronic figurehead, "George W. Bush! You stop that this instant!" Speaking sharply with all the force of our disapproval, speaking to him and treating him like the overgrown child that he is?
Or shall it be John Brown who serves as a model? Shall some frustrated citizen raise an army of his own and bring to Bush's door the very sort of havoc he so enjoys wreaking elsewhere in the world?
But John Brown is dead. Harper's Ferry was a disaster, impracticable no matter how one looks at it. He became a martyr, became a symbol, became immortal--but by failure. No, John Brown will not do as a model for civil action, even in these times. Armed rebellion will achieve nothing. Armed rebellion in itself rarely does.
All the same, John Brown has been very much on my mind lately. Mostly because of the desperation I feel. I shall continue to vote, and everyone eligible to do so would be well advised to do the same. Corruption and exploitation of loopholes may have rendered the process ineffective in several instances, but so long as it remains our only form of practical resistance, we should do it.
But it is a hard thing to vote, and despair of that vote ever counting.
If an idea, more than a man, can truly transcend time and circumstance, be reborn decades later and succeed where it had failed before--what does that do for us, in this time when we are as powerless as peasants before a tsar? Can it be a source of hope? Or only further frustration?
The idea that a common man can rise up against institutionalized injustice and force the ruling class--so inaccessible to him in ordinary circumstances--to sit up and take notice, can force the nation as a whole to acknowledge that it is injustice (or at least talk about it), and so bring about its end. This is what we can take away from the story of John Brown. This is what we may hope to bring about in our own time--not with broadswords in Kansas or a ragtag "army" in Virginia, but somehow. This is what Louisa May Alcott and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow chose to remember.
And yet the power of an idea can be checked when the possibility of acting on it is stamped out. I have a friend who asserts that civil liberties in this country began sliding down a continuous slope when Lincoln temporarily suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War, and have not stopped yet. Considering the imprisonment of Eugene Debs at the turn of the century, the establishment of HUAC, the government's conduct concerning Guantanamo, and the reinforcement of Patriot in our own time, I am forced to agree.
We can find better behavior models than John Brown, of course. It is wonderful to think of Gandhi, Dr. King, Nelson Mandela, and all that they achieved. I love to go over and over the exploits of Mother Jones and the "Unpurchasable" Eugene Victor Debs. But we are too far separated in terms of time. The world--particularly our country--is too different.
To carry out a sustained, significant campaign of resistance, the group must be able to provide for themselves that which heretofore has been provided by the people one is resisting. Gandhi's followers got their own salt, spun their own cloth. So they brought the particularly potent weapon of economic distress to bear on the occupying government. Dr. King's followers walked rather than taking buses, participated in other boycotts. Even the followers of my two favorite American heroes could do for themselves a while if they had to. Populists, being based in rural areas, had some measure of economic clout in addition to a rudimentary basis for self-sufficiency.
Self-sufficiently is precisely what the Modern American doesn't have. In today's world of outsourcing and mega-corporations, what good will a boycott do? Everything is owned by or affiliated with everything else! If we somehow manage to put some kind of dent in the economy, the businessmen who rule the country will just take it out of our social security (again)--and whatever we have left after that!
Ambrose--who is an idiot anyway--foolishly states in Crazy Horse and Custer that Americans, because we are a specialized society, with everyone doing one thing (a lot, and very fast), are more "advanced" than the Sioux, who taught everyone to do everything, enough to suit one person's needs. Can we produce bigger, faster, shinier, fancier things? Yes. But are we prepared to take care of ourselves if the people who "take care of" us as a society behave like tyrants and do things that can only hurt us? Can anyone appear consistently at rallies that may span months without getting fired? Can anyone march on Washington at a word without suffering the same? We can't afford to miss doing our one thing, a lot, very fast. In this situation, that's not advancement. That's enslavement.
I watched the "Orange Revolution" in the Ukraine unfold with unmitigated joy. It is, I believe, the greatest victory for democracy--actual democracy, not the fiction so enthusiastically touted by the Bush regime--that has been seen in decades. But I despair of seeing such a victory here any time in the near future. Can we hold rallies without permission? Without the threat of getting carted off by the police or ending up on some CIA or FBI watch list, of being detained indefinitely as a "material witness" or having our belongings sifted through or confiscated without our knowledge? Can I post this without a considerable degree of nervousness?
I don't know what we are to do about all this. The CIA is pulling people off of trains in Italy, carting them off to hotels and torturing them. No arrest warrant. No due process. No lawyer. No nothing, as we say un-grammatically down here.
Israel is on a rampage. Palestine, in response, continues to throw the only things they've got at them--bodies and household chemicals, poured together and blown up. Neither wants to stop. Sovereignty has become utterly a thing of the past. Invasion has become commonplace.
"Marriage Protection Acts" won't go away, the Church is giving them money, and some madman with an axe in Boston is walking into bars and enforcing the law the Bush regime can't get passed. We're paying Homeland Security God-knows-how-much to study how likely a flea market in Indiana is to wind up a terrorist target. Colin Powell is gone. Laura Miller is going. Howard Dean is the head of the Democratic Party, but they won't grow up and behave like adults so that he'll have a chance to do anything with them.
Tony Blair remains Bush's lapdog, despite the fact that a good dope-slap from our British allies would be a very welcome thing at this point. Afghanistan's rolling in drugs, and Iraq's a bigger mess now than it was when we went in. It's turned into another Vietnam, and Americans are failing entirely to offer the protest that merits. Few seem willing to publicly make the comparison. Sexual assault cases in that unfortunate country are through the roof--a problem we and the chaos we wrought introduced--and the only people who can do anything about it are proving exceedingly reluctant to do so. No one can provide a reason for going into Iraq in the first place, and no one seems to have a problem with that fact! We just go marching on.
I said before that it seems to me that John Brown's body is still "a-moulderin' in the grave," and so it does. That line led people to action in its day, and action is precisely what is needed--and what is lacking--today. John Brown's "mission" failed--it could not do otherwise--but his message endures. It is the same message written in our Declaration of Independence: that when the abuses of the ruling power become intolerable, it is the duty of the people to rise up.
One does not have to walk the path of John Brown to live the idea he represents. Mother Jones, Eugene Debs, Dr. King, Daniel Berrigan, and countless others have done so throughout our nation's history. I think it's about time we took our turn. I only wonder how--and that is what encourages, enrages, and depresses me at every spare moment.