I was recently savaged in several blogs and symbolically elected worst person in the world, for suggesting that, despite some grievous reservations about the President’s policies and Constitutional violations, I intended to vote for him and urged others to do so as well. My argument was fairly simple: the Constitutional violations for which I fault the President, though grave, have virtually no national constituency and would require long-term struggle to even educate people about. The short term emergencies like Global Warming, carbon in the atmosphere, women’s right to choose, Third World disparities of income and opportunity, employment, etc. are so immediate and grave, and the distinctions between the President’s philosophies and those of Mr. Romney’s so different, that I couldn’t in conscience vote for a Third Party in a swing state as an act of ‘protest.’.
This was taken by a host of anonymous bloggers as evidence of a) political timidity; b) hopeless bourgeois consumerism; c) a denial of ‘history’ and the philosophy of an obvious shit-head. Reasonable people could disagree about the viability of Third Party candidates, but there was nothing ‘reasonable’ about the tenor of these arguments, but what they had in common was the notion of ‘resistance’---the idea that you are either part of the solution or part of the problem. Obviously, those who are ‘part of the problem’ in the eyes of others, are fair game for criticism, calumny, and contempt.
This idea of resistance has become interesting to me however and I wanted to pursue it a bit at Daily Kos. I come from a long-line of labor organizers, Socialists, and Communists, and a counter-culture history of ‘resistance.’ Members of my extended anarchic family in the Sixties were Weathermen, SDS, anarchists, members of Huelga and the SEIU. The idea of ‘resistance’ was based on challenging specific injustices in a public and focused way, and they were quite successful at changing the narrative of social issues to re-define them to the public as injustice.
However, as the Buddha said, “Everything changes!” and despite the multi-generational efforts of my forebears and long-lines of resistance fighters, the situation in America today is much as it was during the Golden Age of decadence and excess in the 1920s. Unions are weakened, wages are stagnant, jobs are disappearing, and the 99% exists at the mercy of the 1%. I can understand the fervor, frustration, (and the desire to distinguish oneself) on the part of those who attacked my ideas. I have in the past and continue to share the same revulsion for injustice and unfairness that they do, but the tenor of the attacks reminded me of the internecine wars of the 60s, where SDS, the Weathermen and other factions of the Left savaged one another, decimating possibilities of cooperation, and the collaboration on realizable, tangible goals. So I’m reexamining those ideas of resistance to see how applicable they are to our new 21st century reality and would like to understand what my compatriots on Kos think.
It is easy to see Syrian Revolutionaries as classic Resistance fighters. They are armed, out in the streets, attacking the power structure from which they have been excluded. It is understandable that such a model would influence the thinking of those in my own country equally excluded from power, and access to wealth. None of those domestic ‘freedom fighters’ are picking up weapons, assembling IED’s and car-bombs however.(For which I am grateful.) They are instead savaging one another on points of ideology and political practice. And while they are doing that, they are, to my way of thinking, actively collaborating in their own suppression. How?
We all flip the same light-switches. We all fill our cars with the same fuels. We all use the same credit-cards and money. We all pay sales and income taxes. We all (to the extent that we are able or inclined) participate in the consumer culture. I do not notice fewer iPhones and Droids at Leftist gatherings than elsewhere; do not notice fewer Macs and iPads, and certainly even among bicyclists, the space-age vehicles being ridden today are 50 times the cost and complexity of the bicycles in my youth.
This observation is not meant to spread ‘blame’ or discredit resistance, but to suggest that our understanding of 'resistance' may be misplaced. The United States ‘owns’ violence world-wide. There is nothing that could be levied against systemic injustice that could approach the violence that we wreak in Iraq and Afghanistan on a daily basis. The idea of resisting that by force of arms is a mental pet.However, between ideological savaging and armed confrontation there are other possibilities that we, the 99% are not exploring.
Consider non-profit credit cards. Suppose it take 4 points to cover the cost of running a credit card business, and our Resistance Corp charges nine points? We’d still have the cheapest card, and every six months, the aggregated profits woulc be distributed by a board---half local half national---to causes voted on by customers. This would aggregate our power; remove it from Amex and Visa and direct it specifically to causes and issues we choose to support.
Consider non-profit banks, or removing your funds from BankAmerica and putting them in Co-ops.
Consider dropping out of status competition by buying nothing new and wearing what you have, trade, or make as badges of honor.
Consider laying vehicles aside one or two days a week to cut down on fuel consumption.
These are just a few-off-the top possibilities, but they address what I feel is the core dilemma of ‘resistance’ thinking----namely that there is some place outside the system that you can stand in righteous purity if your ideas are only hostile enough to the system. This was the animating idea of the counter-culture, and it condemned its members to marginalization. The fact that ‘we’re all in it together’ is actually a blessing of sorts. While grandiose ideas to start a Third Party, or shift to a Parliamentary system may be comforting, long-term projects to keep us occupied, or distinguish ourselves from more timid, less sincere 'revolutionaries', might we not be spending our time better, organizing with the vast majority of Americans who are sickened by the amount of money in the political system? Might we not be demanding, along with them:
Full Federal funding of elections
`Free air-time for qualified candidates
Prohibition of Corporations dedicating their treasuries to influencing national policy by contributing to elections.
These are just ideas I’m advancing for discussion. I’m not convinced that these specific examples will work, or that they are the best. I am fairly well convinced however, that throwing away my vote away on a Third Party that will never receive press coverage, or debate standing and consequently will have little effect on public policy dialogue, is not a useful strategy either.
It seems to me that the levers of resistance are available to each of us right where we live our daily lives and press up against the system---in what we buy or don’t; in what we spend or don’t, in the trends we choose to support or don’t. That is where the young in particular have real social power over the engines of capitalism. You don’t have to surrender to an ideologue to notice that high-fashion, expensive consumer toys, cars and houses and status-competition are the building blocks of the Empire everyone says they loath. So why don’t we, as best as we are able, simply let them go?