Much to protest…and much work to be done to make it right

Riots in Rome, a huge protest in Times Square, New York, and rolling protests from New Zealand to London to L.A. Things haven’t been this globally lively since the 2003 protests against the imminent U.S. invasion of Iraq.  Where is it all leading?

None of us know.  But the police are getting out their riot gear, and it is very possible that there are going to be more violent clashes, as there were in Rome today.

As the protests gain momentum, it’s important to keep our eye on just what all the anger is about.

Business Insider, of all sites, published a very interesting set of charts and commentary last week promising to explain just what all the fuss was about down in Liberty Plaza.  Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Here are a few of the most damning charts:

The U.S. ranks below China, Iran and India in terms of income INEQUALITY.

Five percent of Americans own 69% of financial wealth.  The top 1% own 42% of this country’s financial wealth.

And the tax rate of these fabulously wealthy people is about the same as everyone else’s. That’s why they continue to get richer and richer, and everyone else slides inexorably downward.

While CEO pay is up nearly 300% since 1990, average workers’ pay is up 4%.  I don’t know about you, but the modest increases in my salary over the past decade have been totally absorbed by higher expenses, from food to gas to health insurance premiums and everything else.

So hell yes, there is something to be angry about!  There is a lot to protest!  There is a lot of work to be done to turn this country and this world around. The question is, how far will we go to rock the comfortable cruise ship of the one percenters?  And how far will they go to keep the status quo the way it is?

Police forces have always done the bidding of the wealthy in capitalist societies; is there any chance this could change?  The police are workers just like the protesters; is there any chance they will break their indoctrination and side with their own class interest?

Seems unlikely, but let’s not underestimate the forces of change.  Who would have believed, even six weeks ago, that people would be turning out in the thousands across the world to protest corporate greed and social inequality?

Look at this crowd.  It’s pretty clean cut, isn’t it?  This doesn’t look like a case for the riot police.  By and large, these people don’t want revolution. They just want to be able to live decent lives in a country they can be proud of.

Is this too much to ask?

No.  But, and this is a BIG BUT: what we’ve come to consider “a decent life” is going to have to change in the 21st century, given peak oil, the impending collapse of industrial agriculture, and the climate crisis.

So much will depend on our being smart enough to put these pieces together with the economic injustice we perceive so clearly, and see our way clear to a new, sustainably grounded society.

This is not too much to ask either.  But it will be a challenge to move from the fist-in-the-air stage to the creative visioning, and most of all to the implementation of a more just and sustainable economic system.

We have no choice but to meet this challenge.  Our global future as a species depends on it. This is the central task of our time.

What President Obama and Eve Ensler have in common

President Obama did something really, really good this week.  He sent 100 Special Ops military “advisors” to Central Africa to help local government forces get rid of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group of crazed, vicious thugs who have been terrorizing people in four countries for as long as many in the region can remember.

The New York Times reports: “For more than two decades, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women and children in central Africa,” Mr. Obama wrote in a letter to Congress announcing the military deployment. “The LRA continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan that have a disproportionate impact on regional security.”

You don’t even want to know what kind of atrocities he’s talking about.  Joseph Kony and his men are depraved, sick torturers, rapists and murderers who have been at it so long that I doubt they can ever be rehabilitated.  They are part of a long cycle of violence in Africa that begins with the kidnapping or luring in of young children, boys and girls, who are then drugged, beaten and raped into total submission to the authority of the adults, and grow up indoctrinated into the lifestyle of terror.

For an inside story, read Ismael Beah’s memoir A Long Way Gone, or the chapter in my anthology African Women Writing Resistance by former girl child soldier China Keitetsi, whose memoir Child Soldier is available in an e-book edition.

I can’t help but think that there is an element of racism in the fact that it’s taken so long for the international community to unite behind the mission of bringing true security to Central Africa (including the Democratic Republic of Congo, where some of the worst human rights violations in the world are taking place daily, with women and girls disproportionately targeted.)

When Bosnian men were massacred, people thrown out of their homes, and women and girls imprisoned in rape camps by the Serbs, the Clinton Administration waged an all-out war to stop it.  All that and more has been happening in the DRC and neighboring countries for decades.  Decades.

Eve Ensler has done a tremendous amount to get the word out about the impact of all this violence on women, not just in Africa but throughout the world.  I particularly admire her because she has used art as the medium for her outspoken calls for solidarity and resistance with victims of rape and violence–starting with “The Vagina Monologues,” and moving on through a host of books and plays.

She’s also used digital media to get her word out and build a global movement to end violence against women, and I don’t think anyone does it better–check out her website, vday.org, to see for yourself.

Eve Ensler is a great example of a woman of privilege who has used all of her talents and gifts to reach out and help others–and not through begging, cajoling or guilt-tripping, either, but through the sheer power of her spoken and written word.

President Obama has the power to send in the military, and it’s good he’s at least taken the first step in that direction.

We ordinary people have power too, more than we often realize.  We can open our eyes to what’s really happening in our towns, our country and our world, and then allow our hearts to show us the way to action for positive social change.

There is no more urgent task for each of us in our lifetimes.  This is what we came here to do.

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