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"Seven Sustainable Mayors": Profiles of Courage

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  • eric.britton@ecoplan.org
    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
    Message 1 of 4 , Jul 11, 2004
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      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 Mussolini’s. 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 –
      http://www.partnerships.stockholm.se/jury_index.html - over the last
      several years).

      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.

      Eric Britton

      -----Original Message-----

      From: Other News - Roberto Savio / IPS
      Sent: woensdag 30 juni 2004 20:44
      To: metz@...
      Subject: The Coming Revolt of the Guards

      /Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited,
      article sent for information purposes./


      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
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