Revolutions look glorious in hindsight, when the battlefields become shopping malls and the corpses make way for monuments. When the harsh words of revolt become TV jingles for another shopping day, the pain of sacrifice becomes the glut of institution. Rough-hewn human beings become plaster saints, their imperfections glossed over to commemorate a victory long past.
We celebrate the blood spilled two centuries ago by running ourselves toward tomorrow’s debt. But when living beings shed one another’s blood, that moment’s not some Hallmark card – it's just the blade of history.
History is implacable. Its currents wash over the chaos of a moment, freezing bloody faces into pretty portraits. But when that current has been raised by fury and atrocity, no dam holds it back for long.
Righteous anger does not go away.
You cannot sell a lie of freedom to a shackled man forever. Sooner or later, he, and others like him, will rise up. And at that time, their mercy, reason and forgiveness will be based on the restraint of their oppressors. History shows that fury multiplies, and the final sum of the ensuing revolution will be counted in either compromise or blood.
Trouble is, once blood starts flowing, it’s damn near impossible to stop. And when the same government that praises and supports revolt on foreign soil turns gas and truncheons and rubber bullets against its own dissent, it plants the seeds of its own downfall, too. Just look at France, who helped us win a war against England, only to fall beneath Madame Guillotine less than a decade later for exactly the same reasons being protected in the streets today: the unbridled greed of an insulated upper class, and its suppression of the people paying their way.
Time institutionalizes hard-won victories. The atrocities of Selma and Bunker Hill become sale-price holidays when the blood’s long dried and victory has been secured. But to the people in those moments, those Valley Forge soldiers and Deep South Freedom Riders, to the people who face down tyranny, their righteous passions and the surety of their cause are the blades that shape tomorrow. As any student of history sees, the hand that opposes them eventually falls beneath them – maybe a year later, maybe decades later, but it always fucking falls. Maybe history’s not required reading in the Mayor’s Office or the F.B.I., but if not, it should damn well join the curriculum while there’s still time to avoid the worst.
To you who oppose the Occupy movements – you smug Me-Firsters, deluded bootstrappers, Randian supremacists, and just-plain-folks who believe, as Mayor Bloomberg says, that the rights assured to us in our highest law are conditional upon government consent, I ask you this:
Do you think this will all just go away?
Do you think that when hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people rally all across the nation because we are sick and tired of supporting a handful of aristocrats, that a few riot cops and mocking newscasters will make our anger vanish?
Do you think that beating women, gassing kids, shooting veterans of the wars you helped support will somehow be forgotten once the smoke clears?
Do you think that by dodging or buying mass media coverage of a story, you can change the facts and make that story disappear?
Because, if so, you are very, very wrong.
You are raising the blade of history, and then sticking your own head – along with ours – into the spot where that blade descends.
That never goes well. Never.
Am I preaching violent revolt? No – very much the opposite. But then, I’m not the one siccing cops on peaceful protests. I’m just a student of history, and I see where it leads.
History, like anger, follows gravity. And the higher you raise a blade, the heavier the trajectory of its fall.