Cops and Landlords

I’ve been put in mind, over the past several days, of a song by Woody Guthrie called ‘Jesus Christ’.  I’ve posted it at the end, but the essence is fairly simple: Jesus Christ as a working man’s prophet, preaching peace, ultimately murdered by ‘one dirty coward called Judas Iscariot’ and ‘the landlord and the soldiers that he hired who nailed Jesus Christ in the sky.’

For weeks now, crackdowns on the Occupy Wall Street protestors (and I put into that category everyone across the country, from Oakland to Denver to Atlanta to the campus at UC-Davis) have reached an all-time high.  Although I am well aware that there are some bad elements in those protests (there always are, no matter where you go), I am appalled by the behavior of the police and the civil authorities.  Everyone with a heart is.  The protestors have been called terrorists for exercising their constitutional rights.  They have been lambasted, insulted, beaten, and pepper-sprayed.  The cops, whose job it is to protect the people (not the oligarchy), have committed violence that I did not believe I would see in this country.  I am waiting for the Kent State of my generation.  We almost saw it at UC-Davis, when the police pepper-sprayed and forcibly arrested peaceful protestors.  There is no justification of this.  I don’t give a damn how long a cop has been working or how frayed his nerves are.  There is no excuse.

This marks out the true and great divide in this country.  The landlords are still the great power, politically, socially and economically.  Fuck the middle class (let’s not even talk about the working class); to hell with people in poverty, I want my bonus check.  These people must be anarchists, hippies and unemployed slackers.  In reality, they are students, moderates, professors and even the occasional police chief.  These are not socialist revolutionaries; they are people who only want fairness, who protest that we cannot call ourselves Americans and this the land of liberty when the 1% control the wealth.  And not only the wealth.  The police.

The police in this situation do have a choice.  So far, they have chosen to work on behalf of the oligarchy, to take their orders from the rich and powerful.  They are not paid well — certainly not well enough.  They are all members of the 99%.  Why do they persist in defending only the rights of the 1%?

Why is the Tea Party permitted to carry weapons to political meetings and the OWS is met with police batons? Why is pepper-spray being used on 18 year old students? Why are heads being broken? Why are peaceful protests met with riot gear? Why is there blood on the ground at Zuccotti Park? And why, in New York City on the day in question, was the New York Times more concerned with Herman Cain’s sex life than with the violence occurring down on Wall Street?

This is not to say that there are not undesirable elements within the OWS.  I’m certain that some of the arrests have been completely lawful and justified.  And there are many good cops who have not responded with untoward violence.

I went down to Zuccotti Park a few weeks ago, long before any kind of violence had erupted.  A police officer talking with a reporter stood at the side, staring into the morass of tents.

“They’re Americans,” he was saying.  “I might not agree with them, but this is their Constitutional right.”

The OWS are not exactly Jesus Christ.  But they are the disenfranchised.  They — as much as Fox News, the political parties, the Tea Party and Mayor Bloomberg would like to deny them — are the much vaunted People.  When they bleed, when their rights are violated, we all give up a part of ourselves.  The Constitution guarantees the rights of the People; it does not specify which people.  It’s time we took back those rights.

I fear that this will get worse before it gets better.  Occupy Wall Street has been dismissed, time and again, as a leaderless movement without a clear message.  But the oligarchs are running scared.  There is a seething anger in this country.  The American Dream was long ago co-opted by the greedy.  But this country does not belong to them.  It’s ours.  And we have to take it back.

“If Jesus was to preach like he preached in Galilee, they would lay Jesus Christ in his grave.”

Gentlemen, You Refuse to Understand Us

Every year on the 4th of July, I sit down and watch 1776, a musical (!) about the writing of the Declaration of Independence.  It never fails to make me feel good about my nation.  But this year was the first that I actually felt affected by it.  Perhaps this is because I have spent almost year out of America, the longest I have ever been away from home.  I’m used to spending 3-6 months at a time away from home, and have been since I first started attending college at St. Andrews when I was eighteen years old.  But a whole year outside the nation of my birth, and the nation that I still feel a deep and abiding connection to, definitely has affected me.  So on the 4th, watching 1776 had a peculiar resonance with me.

It wasn’t, amazingly enough, about the actual object of the Revolution.  It was about what it means to be an American.  I found myself focusing not on what the characters of Adams, Franklin and Jefferson were saying, but on what their opposition said.  Not that I agree in any way with the opposition, rather that I began to consider what it means to be an American, in all our eccentricities, our values, and our contradictions.  For our nation was born out of contrast and contradiction, a dedication to tradition given us by our British forebears, and a hope for the future and progress that came with not only ceasing to be a part of the British Empire, but also with the curious mix of ethnicities and races that make up the weird and wonderful place of the United States.

This came home to me watching the arguments that 1776 puts forth.  While not the most historically accurate of films, it does give a sense of the very real controversies underlying American independence.  Most specifically for me, it comes in the character of Edward Rutledge, the delegate from South Carolina and one of the leaders (in the movie) of the opposition.

I’ve become positively fascinated by Rutledge, and not just because he gets one of the best songs in the movie (or that John Cullum has one hell of a baritone and looks good in ruffles).  Rather it is because both he and Dickinson, as the most stalwartly opposed to independence, express an element of America that we tend to either vilify or ignore.  ‘Molasses to Rum’, although not historically accurate (the historical Rutledge did not oppose any sort of anti-slavery clause in the Declaration and Thomas Jefferson did not free his slaves until after his death), is a powerful polemic against hypocrisy.  While it is easy to vilify Rutledge as a slave-holder, it is a hard pill to swallow when he points out that commerce in America was built upon slavery.  That while the South may have held the whip, the North reaped the rewards of an economy built on blood and suffering.  As white Americans, there’s not one of us that gets to take the high road on this one.  And as a Northerner with numerous Southern relations and background, I feel quite aware of the question.

But beyond the slavery question, the character of Rutledge provides one of the more interesting points of 1776.   America might be divided along North/South, East/West/Midwest binaries, but we are all (and here’s the bombshell) Americans.  This country does not belong to the flag-waving creationists.  But it also is not the sole property of eastern liberals.  Claiming that one man does not (and cannot) understand another because of the location of his home, the state he was born in, the color of his skin, how long ago his ancestors came to this nation, what his first language is, etc, etc, is quite simply a cop-out.  We won’t take the time to listen.  Not to the pundits or the politicians, but to each other.

This is not to say that we’re all going to agree.  We’re not.  Nor is it to say that we should bow down to ignorance, bigotry, or the curtailing of basic human rights.  But, as Americans, we’re stuck with each other.  I’m not going to move to Canada, like some of my liberal friends have threatened (especially after Bush was elected).  Because this is MY country.  I love America.  And I believe in it enough to want to understand the people here.  I have a strange hope that if we were to only stop, all of us, and face each other as Americans, to accept that we are all a part of the same nation, we might actually discover that we don’t disagree quite as much as we think we do, or that at least those disagreements are not as earth-shattering as we make them out to be.  As it is, we refuse to understand each other.  It’s not because we can’t.  It’s because we won’t.