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The Gross National Debt

Friday, February 17, 2006

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos)

Thunderstruck

That's what I am - thunderstruck.  I am reading a book - nonfiction.  I'll give the details after the substantive body of the diary because I don't want any distraction from the message that floored me.

There has been a lot of talk here lately - much of it very valuable - that centers around the leadership of the Democratic party, the state of the American in which we find ourselves living, and dedication to righting the wrongs we see in front of us.  Attendant to these diaries is a great deal of frustration - a sense that many of us are hanging on by our teeth, fighting the good fight, but becoming slowly worn down by the news, by our perceived (and often very real) lack of progress, and much gnashing of teeth and clenching of fists about the future that lies ahead of each of us.  Things are hanging in the balance.

Allow me to provide a little bit of thunderstruck relevance through historical perspective and then apply that to the challenge we face today.

This begins after the fold.

The book I'm reading has been very enjoyable.  It really has nothing to do with politics, though it is nonfiction and provides history commensurate with the story it is trying to tell.  To wit, allow me to share this excerpt, which I read this morning:

(Speaking about the political and cultural climate of the early 1900's in America)

Forging prototypes of the modern corporation, [the robber barons] built the backbone for America's twentieth century almost entirely without government interference or regulation, and with even less regard for individual human lives.  The resulting Midas-like riches they hoarded exclusively for members of their own class, and greeted protests they should do otherwise with sneering contempt.  By the turn of the century, through the influence of their various "trusts" - i.e., strangleholds - the super-rich controlled virtually every level of the country's financial and political life.  All that was about to change.

Inspired by Teddy Roosevelt's presidential activism and led by a crusading younger generation of reformers, during the new century's first decade the growing labor movement mounted a stand against robber baron capitalism.  A war for the hearts and minds of the nation's middle class ensued.  Newpapers owned by the bosses presented money's side of the argument to a complacent public conditioned to believe what they were told.  The Dickensian realities of the sweatshop and slaughterhouse, the mine and mill, wouldn't be given a national voice until the intellectual muckrakers of Greenwich Village found theirs.

I don't know about you, but I was immediately thunderstruck by the parallels I see to the struggle in which we are embroiled today.  Allow me the conceit of re-writing the above excerpt with relevance to the state of things today:

Forging prototypes of the modern corporatocracy, the Republicans built the backdrop for America's twenty-first century almost entirely without government interference or regulation, and with even less regard for individual human lives.  The resulting Midas-like riches they hoarded exclusively for members of their own class, and greeted protests they should do otherwise with sneering contempt and tax cuts for the wealthy.  By the turn of the century, through the influence of their various "corporate interests" - i.e., strangleholds - the super-rich controlled virtually every level of the country's financial and political life.  All that was about to change.

Inspired by grass-roots activism and led by a crusading younger generation of internet-savvy reformers, during the new century's first six years the growing accountability movement mounted a stand against Republican capitalism.  A war for the hearts and minds of the nation's middle class ensued.  Newpapers and media outlets owned by the bosses presented, almost exclusively, money and security's side of the argument to a complacent public conditioned to believe what they were told and react fearfully.  The Dickensian realities of the state of civil rights and the plight of the working middle class, the mine and factory, wouldn't be given a national voice until the intellectual muckrakers of the blogosphere found theirs.

A close inspection, I hope, will show that I didn't change that many words and that, conceptually, the two paragraphs are remarkably similar with the only variant being historical context.

The point is, although things are bad today - our rights are being shredded; as a population, we show an amazing lack of alarm at a secretive and intrusive government; we seem unable and/or unwilling to demand accountability with an effective consolidated voice - you can insert your most dire issue(s) - things have been bad before and the only reason anything improved was the unwillingness of a group of educated and motivated people to sit down and shut up.

Think again in the context of the modern labor movement of the early 1900's and the suffrage movement of the late 1800's and early 1900's.  Upton Sinclar (among others) was the voice of the labor movement, exposing and giving concrete form to abuses suffered by the workers who built the rising industrial Era.  Alice Paul chained herself to the White House fence and undertook a hunger strike, once incarcerated, to shed light on the egregious treatment of women evidenced by their lack of a right to vote.  There were many other voices who raised the collective awareness for these issues into the general public.  The mouthpieces were activists who probably felt, many times, that they stood utterly alone, screaming into a vacuum.  But their words and their cause broke through despite all the factors that were unfairly stacked against them.

I generally believe that I can't point to a politician, today, who has fully demonstrated the capability to remove themselves from politics enough to lead this cause for change.  But I am aptly and gratefully reminded that it was average people, citizens who picked their heads up just long enough to see what was really wrong, who took up the cause for change and led our nation into a new era.  I'm sure they despaired at times - I'm sure also that they even considered giving up, so precipitous were the forces aligned against them.  But they didn't.  They held fast to the fundamental and inseparable conviction that things were wrong and had to be made right.

I believe with absolute conviction that this is a purpose we can serve effectively.  Look at all the media and political rhetoric we cut through here at Daily Kos.  Look at all the fine works of investigative journalism, unbound by corporate pressure, to which this site has given a platform.  Look at the rise of attention given to blogs and to bloggers in the traditional media within the last year alone.  Look at the influence that we can and have wielded and the attention this brings us from elected representatives.  Look at it.

And realize that the change has to be driven and nurtered and developed - it will not just happen - and resolve yourself to play whatever part you can in that change.

It's coming - make sure you stay on board and keep working at what your heart tells you is right.  The stakes are immeasurably high.  If you remember nothing else from this diary, remember that others have traveled your road of frustration and have gone on to do great things -  injustice and just plain wrongness can't stand forever.

And incidentally, the book is The Greatest Game Ever Played and it's about GOLF - a legendary match between Harry Vardon and Francis Ouimet that happened in the 1913 US Open.  I didn't want to lead with the book for fear that some readers might find a golf book not sufficient to provide inspirational political guidance.  But that's what I read in it, and I thought it was important to pass along.



posted by RenaRF at 1:50 PM 3 comments links to this post

3 Comments:

Blogger NYBri said...

I'm not going anywhere, but DAMN, it's frustrating.

I've been a student of history and understand its cyclical nature. In order, however, for the masses to rise up, it's going to have to get much worse, I'm afraid.

10:02 AM  
Blogger RenaRF said...

I coudn't agree with you more on any of your points. I am trying to steel myself for the "worse" part. Hard to imagine, but you're totally right.

Good to see you. :-)

10:07 AM  
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10:26 PM  

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