Where Do The Barricades Go?

The Revolution has begun.  In fact, I believe it’s well underway and will change the face, the tenor, the actual reality of our lives drastically in the next three to five years.  By 2016, we will all be living quite different lives.

Don’t think otherwise.  There is so much anger and disappointment out there that it simply cannot be contained any more. And it’s not just disaffected citizens of countries that traditionally have been ruled with an iron fist – however gloved – who are being revolutionaries.  The riots, the burning, the looting in the UK is just the edges of bitter discontent, a concoction of sloth, ignorance, helplessness, racism and greed that is oozing out of “normal” society.  The fact that it’s happening first in the UK – or rather, first in the developed world – is probably a matter of ‘luck’, spurred on by the draconian changes in the social safety net that has encouraged generations of Britons to use the dole as a way of life.

You’re going to start thinking I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid… or rather, the “tea”, aren’t you?  Well, you’d be wrong.  I believe in the social safety net. I believe that our poorest, our sickest, our  young and our old need to be protected, helped, and kept safe.  I believe that people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own should be supported financially and encouraged professionally to get back into the job market.  Health care is a human right, and so is a good education, and both should be easily, freely accessible by all citizens.  I believe that the richest among us are not taxed highly enough, nor are our successful businesses (although I also believe that the tax code is far too complicated and byzantine), and I also believe that growing sense that the rich don’t pay enough is another spark in the tinder box.

But the Revolution isn’t just about money, class, status or economic fairness.  There is a religious and ethnic component that will, in my mind, make things even worse.  That part is certainly underway right now in the US, where Tea Party members are calling for the return of “their” America, demanding that their political leaders adhere to a narrow, selfish religious line, decrying any change in what they perceive to be the norm  or “traditional values”.  Although I do not believe all members of the Tea Party are knowingly racist, there is no denying this movement began with the election of an African American president – someone whose life experiences are so far outside “traditional values” – that far too many middle-class, middle-aged white Americans really don’t get him, and too many of them are afraid of him, or rather, of what he represents.

And just how far outside “traditional values” is the President?  Well just to start, he’s of mixed race.  He was born and partly raised in Hawaii, to a mother whose political and social ideas were cutting edge for her time and a father who was not American, not Christian, and not white, and who was largely absent.  Another large chunk of his childhood was spent outside of the US, in Indonesia, a non-white, non-Christian country.  He has a sister who is also of mixed, but different from his, races and she also married a non-American.  He’s been a community organizer who graduated from Harvard Law, where he was editor of the Law Review, both experiences being outside the usual for middle-class America.  Just about the only thing that makes  him a man of traditional values is that he loves the occasional beer and burgers!

Aaron Sorkin, a writer I very much admire, wrote the screenplay for the movie “The American President” in which Michael Douglas excoriates his political opponent for encouraging fear amongst the voters, for trying to make them believe that something outside their “traditional values” is to blame for the changes they see in the world.  But it’s not the changes we should be afraid of – it’s the inability to follow them, to accept them as part of the continuing path of development that we all are on. If we cannot see change as a positive thing to make us stronger and healthier and happier and yes, possibly even richer, then we lose what change is – a chance to be better than we are today, but not as good as we can be tomorrow.

The Revolution has begun.  Are we going to fight it?  Accept it?  Turn it into something that will truly benefit us all?  I don’t know.  I hope we can make a positive thing of the next five years, but I’m afraid that we are too weak, and too selfish, to make that happen.  I’m afraid that we will turtle up and become not instruments of change, but victims of it.  It’s going to be an interesting few years….




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