Sunday, July 11, 2004, Paris, France, Europe
Reference: Craig Townsend's good note of 7/9/2004.
Dear Friends and Craig,
Your point about emphasizing the actions of great individuals rather
than the collective actions of members of communities joining together
to make changes or oppose changes? strikes my commoner, activist,
people loving, anarchist soul in more ways than you may think. It also
brings up a point that has been lurking at the back of my mind even as I
go ahead with this.
My choice in these cases is all of the above and certainly that in a
world in which we need more options for sustainability and social
justice. By which I mean that, yes, we must be very careful not to
build a library of glowing profiles of seven Mussolinis. But at the
same time, one of the real accomplishments of people like Jaime Lerner,
Neil Goldschmidt, Michel Crépeau, Enrique Peñalosa, and yes even our not
always loved WTN award candidate Ken Livingstone, and others whose
names are most agreeably starting to pop up here, has precisely been to
reach out well beyond the usual political constituencies and
bureaucracies and work directly with public interest groups and citizens
who are ready for change and ready to take an active role in making it
That said, we certainly have plenty of materials for a second and
probably at the end of the day more important Profiles of Courage, which
starts with communities, precisely as you suggest. And there we have
seen some very interesting examples in our work with the Stockholm
Partnerships for Sustainable Cities
- over the last
For dessert to this exchange, let me share with you this extract that
just slipped in over the transom, form the every energetic, always
passionate and always engaging Howard Zinn (thanks Soros!) It gives us a
nice fit for the rest.
From: Other News - Roberto Savio / IPS
Sent: woensdag 30 juni 2004 20:44
Subject: The Coming Revolt of the Guards
/Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited,
article sent for information purposes./
THE COMING REVOLT OF THE GUARDS
By Howard Zinn
The following are excerpts from A People's History of the United States
The following are excerpts from A People's History of the United States
... the mountain of history books under which we all stand leans ... so
tremblingly respectful [in the direction] of states and statesmen and so
disrespectful, by inattention, to people's movements -that we need some
counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission.
All those histories of this country centered on the Founding Fathers
and the Presidents weigh oppressively on the capacity of the ordinary
citizen to act. They suggest that in times of crisis we must look to someone
to save us: in the Revolutionary crisis, the Founding Fathers; in the
slavery crisis, Lincoln; in the Depression, Roosevelt; in the
Vietnam-Watergate crisis, Carter. And that between occasional crises
everything is all right, and it is sufficient for us to be restored to that
normal state. They teach us that the supreme act of citizenship is to choose
among saviors, by going into a voting booth every four years to choose
between two white and well-off Anglo-Saxon males of inoffensive personality
and orthodox opinions.
The idea of saviors has been built into the entire culture, beyond
politics. We have learned to look to stars, leaders, experts in every field,
thus surrendering our own strength, demeaning our own ability, obliterating
our own selves. But from time to time, Americans reject that idea and rebel.
These rebellions, so far, have been contained. The American system is the
most ingenious system of control in world history. With a country so rich in
natural resources, talent, and labor power the system can afford to
distribute just enough wealth to just enough people to limit discontent to a
troublesome minority. It is a country so powerful, so big, so pleasing to so
many of its citizens that it can afford to give freedom of dissent to the
small number who are not pleased.
There is no system of control with more openings, apertures, lee
ways, flexibilities, rewards for the chosen, winning tickets in lotteries.
There is none that disperses its controls more complexly through the voting
system, the work situation, the church, the family, the school, the mass
media -none more successful in mollifying opposition with reforms, isolating
people from one another, creating patriotic loyalty.
One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of
the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent
against one another: small property owners against the propertyless, black
against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and
professionals against the uneducated and unskilled. These groups have
resented one another and warred against one another with such vehemence and
violence as to obscure their common position as sharers of leftovers in a
very wealthy country.
... Madison feared a "majority faction" and hoped the new
Constitution would control it. He and his colleagues began the Preamble to
the Constitution with the words "We the people .," pretending that the new
government stood for everyone, and hoping that this myth, accepted as fact,
would ensure "domestic tranquillity."
The pretense continued over the generations, helped by all-embracing
symbols, physical or verbal: the flag, patriotism, democracy, national
interest, national defense, national security...
The exile of Nixon, the celebration of the Bicentennial, the
presidency of Carter, all aimed at restoration. But restoration to the old
order was no solution to the uncertainty, the alienation, which was
intensified in the Reagan-Bush years. The election of Clinton in 1992,
carrying with it a vague promise of change, did not fulfill the expectations
of the hopeful.
With such continuing malaise, it is very important for the
Establishment -that uneasy club of business executives, generals, and
politicos- to maintain the historic pretension of national unity, in which
the government represents all the people, and the common enemy is overseas,
not at home, where disasters of economics or war are unfortunate errors or
tragic accidents, to be corrected by the members of the same club that
brought the disasters. It is important for them also to make sure this
artificial unity of highly privileged and slightly privileged is the only
unity- that the 99 percent remain split in countless ways, and turn against
one another to vent their angers. How skillful to tax the middle class
to pay for the relief of the poor, building resentment on top of
humiliation! How adroit to bus poor black youngsters into poor white
neighborhoods, in a violent exchange of impoverished schools, while the
schools of the rich remain untouched and the wealth of the nation, doled out
carefully where children need free milk, is drained for billion-dollar
aircraft carriers. How ingenious to meet the demands of blacks and women for
equality by giving them small special benefits, and setting them in
competition with everyone else for jobs made scarce by an irrational,
wasteful system. How wise to turn the fear and anger of the majority toward
a class of criminals bred -by economic inequity- faster than they can be put
away, deflecting attention from the huge thefts of national resources
carried out within the law by men in executive offices.
However, the unexpected victories even temporary of insurgents show
the vulnerability of the supposedly powerful. In a highly developed society,
the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of
millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going: the
soldiers and police, teachers and ministers, administrators and social
workers, technicians and production workers, doctors, lawyers, nurses,
transport and communications workers, garbagemen and firemen. These people
-the employed, the somewhat privileged- are drawn into alliance with the
elite. They become the guards of the system, buffers between the upper and
lower classes. If they stop obeying, the system falls.
That will happen, I think, only when all of us who are slightly
privileged and slightly uneasy begin to see that we are like the guards in
the prison uprising at Attica expendable; that the Establishment, whatever
rewards it gives us, will also, if necessary to maintain its control, kill
us. Certain new facts may, in our time, emerge so clearly as to lead to
general withdrawal of loyalty from the system. The new conditions of
technology, economics, and war, in the atomic age, make it less and less
possible for the guards of the system -the intellectuals, the home owners,
the taxpayers, the skilled workers, the professionals, the servants of
government- to remain immune from the violence (physical and psychic)
inflicted on the black, the poor, the criminal, the enemy overseas.
The internationalization of the economy, the movement of refugees
and illegal immigrants across borders, both make it more difficult for the
people of the industrial countries to be oblivious to hunger and disease in
the poor countries of the world.
The system, in its irrationality, has been driven by profit to build
steel skyscrapers for insurance companies while the cities decay, to spend
billions for weapons of destruction and virtually nothing for children's
playgrounds, to give huge incomes to men who make dangerous or useless
things, and very little to artists, musicians, writers, actors. Capitalism
has always been a failure for the lower classes. It is now beginning to fail
for the middle classes.
The threat of unemployment, always inside the homes of the poor, has
spread to white-collar workers, professionals. A college education is no
longer a guarantee against joblessness, and a system that cannot offer a
future to the young coming out of school is in deep trouble. If it happens
only to the children of the poor, the problem is manageable; there are the
jails. If it happens to the children of the middle class, things may get out
of hand. The poor are accustomed to being squeezed and always short of
money, but in recent years the middle classes, too, have begun to feel the
press of high prices, high taxes.
In the seventies, eighties, and early nineties there was a dramatic,
frightening increase in the number of crimes. It was not hard to understand,
when one walked through any big city. There were the contrasts of wealth and
poverty, the culture of possession, the frantic advertising. There was the
fierce economic competition, in which the legal violence of the state and
the legal robbery by the corporations were accompanied by the illegal crimes
of the poor. Most crimes by far involved theft. A disproportionate number of
prisoners in American jails were poor and non-white, with little education.
Half were unemployed in the month prior to their arrest.
The most common and most publicized crimes have been the violent
crimes of the young, the poor -a virtual terrorization in the big cities- in
which the desperate or drug-addicted attack and rob the middle class, or
even their fellow poor. A society so stratified by wealth and education
lends itself naturally to envy and class anger.
The critical question in our time is whether the middle classes, so
long led to believe that the solution for such crimes is more jails and more
jail terms, may begin to see, by the sheer uncontrollability of crime, that
the only prospect is an endless cycle of crime and punishment. They might
then conclude that physical security for a working person in the city can
come only when everyone in the city is working. And that would require a
transformation of national priorities, a change in the system.
The prospect is for times of turmoil, struggle, but also
inspiration. There is a chance that ... a movement could succeed in doing
what the system itself has never done -bring about great change with little
violence. This is possible because the more of the 99 percent that begin to
see themselves as sharing needs, the more the guards and the prisoners see
their common interest, the more the Establishment becomes isolated,
ineffectual. The elite's weapons, money, control of information would be
useless in the face of a determined population. The servants of the system
would refuse to work to continue the old, deadly order, and would begin
using their time, their space -the very things given them by the system to
keep them quiet- to dismantle that system while creating a new one.
The prisoners of the system will continue to rebel, as before, in
ways that cannot be foreseen, at times that cannot be predicted. The new
fact of our era is the chance that they may be joined by the guards. We
readers and writers of books have been, for the most part, among the guards.
If we understand that, and act on it, not only will life be more satisfying,
right off, but our grandchildren, or our great grandchildren, might possibly
see a different and marvelous world.
"Other News" is a personal initiative seeking to provide information that
should be in the media but is not, because of commercial criteria. It
welcomes contributions from everybody. Work areas include information on
global issues, north-south relations, gobernability of globalization. The
"Other News" motto is a phrase which appeared on the wall of Barcelona's old
Customs Office, at the beginning of 2003:"What walls utter, media keeps
silent". Roberto Savio