14 05 2017

The word “Resistance,” with a capital “R” and a hashtag, has become rather fashionable in America these days. Thousands of people are marching in the streets, turning out for town meetings, and generally letting it be known they are not pleased with our new administration’s presumption that its narrow technical victory in last November’s election constitutes a mandate for sweeping changes in the way our government is run and in the every-day lives of millions of people.

I’d like to take this opportunity to look at some popular movements around the world that have, to one degree or another, challenged the professional political class and returned government to the people, and examine how they were able to succeed, as well as ways in which they have failed. By learning from other peoples’ experiences, we can do a better job here in America.

My main examples will be Korea, Taiwan, Spain, Greece, and, to bring it down to the local level, the city of Montreal, in Quebec. That provides a spectrum. The Korean movement is just now in the process of achieving its initial aim. In Taiwan, the citizen’s movement has won its initial objectives and established mechanisms that, it hopes, will keep things from slipping backwards. In Spain, the “Podemos” movement is rising into power. Greece’s Syriza Party has won elections, but run smack into forces it cannot change, and is learning how to keep focused on its long-term goals while encountering short-term failures.  In Montreal, the political wing of the movement seems to have been absorbed into the mainstream, but has left significant changes in its wake.

As I write this, Koreans are celebrating the impeachment of President Park Geyun-he, who roused the ire of lawmakers and citizens alike by being too cozy with the country’s financial elite and by going along with US policies that have escalated tensions with North Korea. Her replacement, Moon Jae-in, the son of a North Korean refugee, was a student radical in the 70’s, and was jailed for his role in protesting the dictatorship of Ms. Park’s father. He went on to become a prominent human rights lawyer. On the basis of that, he was hired as Chief of Staff by the Korean Democratic Party’s previous elected President,  Roh Moo-hyun. He was the KDP’s candidate for President in 2012, when he narrowly lost to Ms. Park.

This is what democracy looks like!

This is what democracy looks like!

So, how did the Koreans do it? Massive street demonstrations were a major contributor. Some demonstrations turned out nearly two million people on the same day. Korea’s population is fifty million, so the equivalent in the US would be about thirteen million people all demonstrating against the government at the same time. The real key, though, was that Ms. Park’s party did not have a majority in the legislature (in which four political parties are represented, along with some independent members). Mr. Moon’s party had a plurality, but not a majority, and as the country became ungovernable due to the force of protest against Ms. Park, it was not that difficult to round up a majority to support impeaching her for her very real crimes. The Korean constitution calls for new elections when a President is impeached, and that created an opening for change. Read the rest of this entry »


11 09 2016

Today’s date, September 11th, is, to borrow President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words, “a day that will live in infamy.” On this date in 1973, Salvador Allende, the Bernie Sanders of Chile, salvadorallende_251who, unlike Bernie, had succeeded in become his country’s President, was killed in a military coup that had the full backing of the United States and especially our then-Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. The Chilean military, with the assistance of the United States, didn’t just take out Allende. They jailed, tortured, and murdered thousands of Chileans, and forced tens of thousands more into exile. The US then used Chile as a base for “Operation Condor,” which orchestrated the murder of thousands of mostly non-violent left-wing activists all over South America, most notoriously in Argentina, where “the dirty war” killed at least thirty thousand people. That’s a US government program, directly approved by Henry Kissinger, that targeted people like me and, probably, people like you. So, when I think about Hillary Clinton, who has repeatedly declared her admiration for Henry Kissinger, being President, when I notice the approbation with which her followers greet any mention of her faults or approval of the Green Party, when I read that a Clinton-supporting PAC has budgeted a million dollars to pay Clinton supporters to harass Sanders supporters and Greens on the internet, I start feeling a little nervous, and since today is the anniversary of the Chilean Bernie Sanders being murdered by Hillary Clinton’s inspiration, this becomes a more emotionally charged anniversary than it would be if a protegée of Henry Kissinger were not so likely to be our next President. Donald Trump is dangerous because he doesn’t really seem to have a plan.


Do not think about a Green Party!

Ms. Clinton, on the other hand, is dangerous because she does seem to have a plan–and it’s not one she’s sharing with the general public. With a horde of pundits and bloggers ready and willing to bend the truth to discredit any criticism of her, not to mention discrediting the critics themselves, I start wondering if we have a “Ministry of Truth” in our future.


Oh yeah, it’s also the fifteenth anniversary of the day a bunch of Saudis apparently hijacked several US airliners and flew them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, killing a mere three thousand people. OK, it was three thousand all at once, not one by one, but…. Anyway, because the Saudis did that, the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. If that makes sense to you, then you can accept the World Trade Center story exactly as the mainstream media portray it. It doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t accept the story, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. The Allende-Kissinger story is much more apropos. Read the rest of this entry »


15 10 2011

I have a cousin who used to work for the World Bank, back in the day when most people thought highly of that institution.  His specialty was bringing potable water into urban neighborhoods in Africa, which is a noble pursuit, in my opinion.  My cousin has a good understanding of “the big picture,” and thus it was that he asked me a question, thirty years ago, that still rings in my ears, because it seems more and more relevant.  We were talking about The Farm, which at the time was a bustling and vigorous community of 1500 dedicated spiritual and cultural revolutionaries and our children.  The question my cousin asked me was this:  “What are you doing to make sure the younger generation has ways to fit in and take responsibility?”  At the time, his query brought me up short–I didn’t know what to tell him.

The question about the Farm became moot in just a few short years as the community imploded, scattering most of its young–and old–members far and wide.  Reduced now to a much more manageable population of a couple of hundred (at 1500 residents, our population density, and ecological problems, were on a par with Bangladesh), the community seems to be making the transition from one generation to the next fairly gracefully.  But that’s not what I’m here to talk about right now.

What I’m here to talk about is that somebody should have asked my cousin’s question–“what’s in it for the next generation?”– to the vast array of politicians, business “leaders,” and Wall Street banksters who have systematically dismantled this country for their own benefit.  They have saddled young people with enormous debts for their education–debts which, for most, cannot be shed through bankruptcy–while at the same time they have eliminated the jobs that could have paid back those loans.

The election of Barack Obama–who has turned out to be a Trojan Horse for the banksters and  other forces of greed and repression in this country–served to destroy young peoples’ faith in the political process. The unemployed and unneeded are refusing to accept the Republican idea that it’s somehow their own fault that they have been dealt out of the economy, There is nothing left for them to do but take it  to the streets–they rightfully feel that they have nothing left to lose, but everything to gain.

And the banksters have good reason to be nervous.  Everybody knows they’ve ripped off everybody, including the police on whom they are depending for defense against the mob.  The army?  The army is full of young people who joined because they couldn’t find a job anywhere else.  They have plenty of grounds for sympathy with the protests–indeed, many veterans are joining the protests.  And everyone in the military is aware of the increasingly shoddy treatment of disabled veterans.  Even the army could get shaky.  Polls show that, unlike the “Tea Party,” a majority of Americans support the Occupiers.

The biggest complaint heard about this movement is that its demands are not clear–that the manifesto issued by Occupy Wall Street wanders all over the place.  In my opinion, the same charge could be leveled at America’s Declaration of Independence.  If i had time, I’d compare the two–maybe next month.  What is happening here is a truly populist, bottom-up driven movement that is still finding its voice, as it rises up against a system that may be too far gone for mere reform.

As an aging counterculturalist, I feel both happy and sad when I see what’s going on in America now.  I feel happy because the Occupy movement is so much more widespread and appreciated than the efforts of my generation.  We have been warning of the dangers of unfettered aggression, greed, and growth for decades, and we have been ridiculed, trivialized, or ignored, while things just got worse and worse.  I feel sad because the desire for rootedness and self-sufficiency that drove my generation to “occupy” the back country is not really an option for this wave of our movement, at this point.  In the East, the forests have been clearcut and the mountain tops removed, while the West has been despoiled by oil seekers and the vacation homes of the1%.  Land is too expensive, time is too short, and the social regulatory mechanisms are still too controlling for this new generation to take the rural, communal route to freedom that my generation traveled.   But the money and the regulations will fade away over the next decade or two, and the land will fall into the hands of those who can–occupy it.   Not only is a saner future possible, it seems to be a-borning.

music:  Gogol Bordello, “Rebellious Love

%d bloggers like this: