Yesterday, I pointed out that the the Egyptian protesters are acting more like the free people which America’s Founding Fathers envisioned than the American people ourselves.
New York Times’ columnist Bob Herbert agrees, apparently calling for an Egyptian-style non-violent revolution in America:
As the throngs celebrated in Cairo, I couldn’t help wondering about what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it’s on the ropes. We’re in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only.
While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.
The poor, who are suffering from an all-out depression, are never heard from. In terms of their clout, they might as well not exist. The Obama forces reportedly want to raise a billion dollars or more for the president’s re-election bid. Politicians in search of that kind of cash won’t be talking much about the wants and needs of the poor. They’ll be genuflecting before the very rich.
In an Op-Ed article in The Times at the end of January, Senator John Kerry said that the Egyptian people “have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities.” Americans are being asked to swallow exactly the opposite. In the mad rush to privatization over the past few decades, democracy itself was put up for sale, and the rich were the only ones who could afford it.
As Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson wrote in their book, “Winner-Take-All Politics”: “Step by step and debate by debate, America’s public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefited the few at the expense of the many.”
As if the corporate stranglehold on American democracy were not tight enough, the Supreme Court strengthened it immeasurably with its Citizens United decision, which greatly enhanced the already overwhelming power of corporate money in politics. Ordinary Americans have no real access to the corridors of power, but you can bet your last Lotto ticket that your elected officials are listening when the corporate money speaks.
When the game is rigged in your favor, you win. So despite the worst economic downturn since the Depression, the big corporations are sitting on mountains of cash, the stock markets are up and all is well among the plutocrats. The endlessly egregious Koch brothers, David and Charles, are worth an estimated $35 billion. Yet they seem to feel as though society has treated them unfairly.
The Egyptians want to establish a viable democracy, and that’s a long, hard road. Americans are in the mind-bogglingly self-destructive process of letting a real democracy slip away.
I had lunch with the historian Howard Zinn just a few weeks before he died in January 2010. He was chagrined about the state of affairs in the U.S. but not at all daunted. “If there is going to be change,” he said, “real change, it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves.”
I thought of that as I watched the coverage of the ecstatic celebrations in the streets of Cairo.
As I noted last year:
Many people think we just have to sit here and take it.
[But as liberal] PhD economist Dean Baker points out:
The elites hate to acknowledge it, but when large numbers of ordinary people are moved to action, it changes the narrow political world where the elites call the shots.
It’s not just liberals like Herbert or Baker who are saying this.
Ron Paul – who has very strong conservative credentials, and who won the Presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference two years in a row – has repeatedly endorsed non-violent civil disobedience.
For example, Paul said to Congress in 2007:
The true patriot is motivated by a sense of responsibility and out of self-interest for himself, his family, and the future of his country to resist government abuse of power. He rejects the notion that patriotism means obedience to the state. Resistance need not be violent, but the civil disobedience that might be required involves confrontation with the state and invites possible imprisonment.
Peaceful, nonviolent revolutions against tyranny have been every bit as successful as those involving military confrontation. Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., achieved great political successes by practicing nonviolence, and yet they suffered physically at the hands of the state.
In fact, Paul has repeatedly invoked Gandhi and King’s vision of non-violent civil disobedience as the way to reclaim our freedom.
As I wrote in connection with the Egyptian revolution:
This is just like when the British police attacked the non-violent protesters led by Gandhi, or the police in towns in the South of the United States attacked the peaceful protesters led by Martin Luther King, Jr.
And as conservative writer Karl Denninger wrote yesterday:
There is a lesson in here for all individuals and nations. All governments exist only with the consent of the governed. That consent does not have to be “withdrawn” via unlawful force at-arms or even via the ballot box.
Indeed, it is most-effectively withdrawn when the citizens refuse to go to work!
The Beast of Government exists on tax revenues. ALL governments share this fundamental reality. ALL governments fail when the economic capacity to tax is destroyed. ALL citizens give their consent to their government each and every day by performing economic acts and thereby exposing that activity to taxation.
That taxation forms the essence of the functional capacity to govern. Period.
The people in all nations, at all times, reserve the right and the ability, through peaceful and lawful action, to destroy any government should it fail to comply with their demands and act in a sufficiently-onerous manner, and a minority of the population is all it requires to effect this change. The Soviet Union fell via this mechanism, East Germany fell via this mechanism, and now Egypt has fallen via this mechanism.
No blood and no lawlessness were required.
In fact, it was the pro-government goons that were engaged in violence in an attempt to goad the people into acts that they could then use to “justify” the excessive use of force. The government gassed the protesters. The government was the one shooting people; rifles are prohibited from private ownership in Egypt. The government was, as best we can determine, the one raining Molotov cocktails on the protesters. But the government failed to incite the protesters to violence, who instead maintained their right to starve the government by refusing to provide it with the economic activity it needed to survive.
All persons in all nations should be aware of the fundamental fact that their government, no matter how oppressive, no matter how ugly, no matter how allegedly-free or representative (or not) exists only because you rise from your bed each day and go to work.
The day you stop, along with a sizable fraction of your neighbors and friends, and instead wave signs and demand change, thereby shutting down the engine of commerce is the day you remove through peaceful and lawful means the fuel that the government requires to operate.
Our “protests” in Washington and elsewhere fail to provide results because the “or else” has not been provided along with the protest. We come, we wave signs, and the next day we go home and go to work. If instead any sizable fraction of the population … were to appear, wave signs, and go on strike until and unless the change demanded was made…. [then we win.]
If you live in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, or any other nation that has an autocratic and dictatorial regime, you now have a blueprint to toss the jackals at the putative head of your nation from their thrones without firing a single shot or drawing a drop of blood.
I challenge the people of the world from Saudi Arabia to Jordan to China to do so.
For those in The United States or other western nations who claim that we are inexorably on a path toward civil disorder or even civil war due to the outrageous looting of our nations that have been conducted by financial interests with the full consent and complicity of our governments, I simply point to Egypt.
As usual, this is not a question of left-versus-right.
The war between liberals and conservatives is a false divide-and-conquer dog-and-pony show created by the powers that be to keep the American people divided and distracted. See this, this, this, this, this, this and this. Until we stop falling for this trick, we will remain powerless.
Instead, it is a question of the powers-that-be waging war on the freedom and wealth of the American people.
Wake up, liberals.
Wake up, conservatives.
Hear the whispers of the Founding Fathers … and of Gandhi, and King, and the Egyptian people.