How Real Change Works

Successful social movements never fixate upon political power as its ultimate goal. Insofar that it champions an exploited class or a disenfranchised group, these movements seeks to pressure those in power to do the right thing. Politics then, is little more than a game of balances and pressures.

This is why activism and political power do not mix.

Example: When Barack Obama spoke of “change”, he was too good a politician to define its specific ramifications and manifestations. He simply evoked its sentimentality as a reasonable campaign tool in a post-Bush America. Real social/political change cannot be so easily evoked throughout history. They are never gifts from a savior that rewards the public for electing him/her. I say that as a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit, as such change never happens without sacrifices by ordinary people who do not make the history books.

These movements seek political change, not political power. Thus, I believe, it is vital for activists today to refuse to follow the instructions of political figures who call for an activism that unconditionally cooperates with power, thus never engaging in criticism of it.

It is glamorous and popular to follow high profile figures within politics and pretend that by “engaging” with them, change will follow. I believe that activism speaks for those who are disenfranchised, mistreated, oppressed, or exploited. These deficiencies within society often accumulate with the preservation of the status quo by those in power. The reasons may vary from maintaining party solidarity, to lack of vision, or to securing funds for an electoral campaign. It is imperative that people look beyond the façade of, for example, “Obamamania”, and realize that those who work diligently at social and political change receive ridicule and ignorance much more often than accolades, camera time, or praise. If history is any guide, the wheels of justice turn slowly, and victories are few.

Here is an example of the courtiers and courtesans of the 21st century, those who help politicians achieve increasing political power without questioning their motives and circumstances: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsV2O4fCgjk. It is clear that in this day-and-age, such courtesans can only exist and function within celebrity culture (as is their goal sometimes). They are not politicians, and while they may seem well-intentioned enough, their method is to be one of assistance to power rather than challenging power. This disease is mainly present within the corporate media, but I see it seeping into the young activist communities too, as more and more media-induced tendencies work their way into our homes.

This type of passivity and appeasement will ultimately end in failure at achieving the political and social changes that activists really want (with respect to Obama for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T16vCwf2ooc). Anger from frustrated citizens will increase, and the failure of progressive movements to reach and champion the causes of such populations will end in the rise of opposite-movements, who are itching to fill the vacuum left by the progressives who are too busy championing the latest “hot candidate”. Case-in-point: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/16/us/politics/16teaparty.html?em=&pagewanted=all

My point is not to ridicule, condemn, or belittle politicians, but simply to remind them of their mandates and priorities. It is a noble thing to represent a people or a constituency, and those who live within those constituencies have the duty to hold their elected officials to the highest degrees of honesty and decency.


War, Woe, and Wikileaks

“The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” – Chris Hedges

When Christopher Hedges resigned from the New York Times as its Middle East Bureau chief, he had covered conflicts in Central America, the Balkans, and the Middle East. After twenty years of war correspondence, Hedges discovered that war was more than just the clinical and deodorized military conflict it was presented as on television. For those involved in the heat of battles, war was a force that provided meaning, comradeship, and purpose. It obliterated the trivialities of life, so common in a post-industrial society filled with media-gossip and meaningless distractions. War produced the most powerful sense of comradeship (not friendship) within people, erasing the alienation and isolation endemic in civilian life.  So after he resigned from the New York Times for speaking out too loudly against the Iraq War in 2003, Hedges knew that he did not miss war. He missed what war brought.

On April 5th, 2010, the international watchdog organization, Wikileaks, published a highly classified video filmed from an Apache helicopter in Iraq during the chaotic year of 2007. It depicted the murder of twelve Iraqi citizens, virtually unarmed, and posing no danger to the firing squad perched on the Apache helicopter. Among the dead were two Reuters journalists, who carried cameras that, according to the soldiers, resembled RPGs. Also dead were several Iraqis who came to assist the wounded journalists. The release of this video, after several years of stalling, triggered an explosive reaction from citizenries across the world. The nonchalance and ecstasy displayed by the soldiers during the thirty-eight minutes video proved to be so shocking, that some believed these soldiers were surely going to be reprimanded. They felt that such an incident represented an aberration, a seldom mutation within the warrior ethos, and a rare escape from the uniform nobility of Obama’s imperial legions. It was so different from the Hollywood versions of war that has become so ingrained in the masses’ psyche.

Instead, the U.S. Central Command’s report of their probe into the matter found the soldiers innocent of all charges. The investigation found that the soldiers operated within the parameters of their training, and were doing everything by the books. Upon first approximation, this verdict may seem shocking and unjust. But here we have to return to what Hedges described as part of the warrior experience: the obliteration of taboo when armed with a single purpose, exempting one from the confining rigidity of law and morality. What combat and war induces within the warrior is much like love, a single-minded apprehension of reality that lays waste to all triviality. And the fact is, what the Wikileaks video depicted was not an aberration. The only rare thing about the incident is the fact that it ended up in the hands of Wikileaks, allowing us to see it. Who knows how many incidents just like this has not been released in video.

The video is not primarily a condemnation of the soldiers who committed the killings. Its value lies in the fact that it is able to reveal to the lay person the dark elixir of war. It is war that builds for the its victims and its perpetrators an alternative reality free from the corners of human decency. Organizations like Wikileaks remain the last vestiges that allows the ordinary citizen to be aware of what his or her country is committing, often in their name. It allows for a rare introspection into the individual’s perception of what war is, away from the Hollywood depictions in movies such as Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, or even Platoon. Videos like the one released by Wikileaks reveals the disparity between reality and the propagandistic myth pushed by the corporate media. And as Hedges would describe it, ever since the Crimean War, the national press’s coverage of war has always had the primary purpose of sustaining morale for the war effort.

This is what we do. Mass murder is the reason why there are over a million dead in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not even Barack Obama can change that. It is easy to view the video, and then talk about it as though it is an irregularity. No, it is the exact opposite. Wikileaks should be protected for its ability to allow citizens to view war for what it is, and not what it’s presented as, on a silver platter, by the FOX News and CNNs. The more we allow ourselves to believe in the glory of war shown by the corporate media and popular culture, the more delusional we will become as a society. Ultimately, our society will exhibit such callousness as to become what the great 20th century Irish poet described in his “Meditations in Time of Civil War”:

“We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare.”