Watching President Obama’s press conference on Wednesday evening, one couldn’t help sensing certain hopelessness in his delivery: an understanding that he was advocating a continuation of the same old insurance company racket. Obama is first and foremost a politician and not an academic: an inherently reactionary personality-type without a significant and principled national health care movement to react to.
This nation’s prime dysfunction is the lack of a genuine social movement for anything substantive. The last movement died somewhere in 2003-2004: drowned in a sea of Democratic propaganda about changing the Emperor’s clothes. I was busily organizing the peace movement throughout Illinois at the time. We were turning out thousands of protestors on a regular basis, and backing the street manifestations with a frontal grassroots blitz of letters and calls to congresspeople, followed by the occasional sit-ins at their offices. To all involved, it was clear that the anti-war movement would shut down the war after a few years of persistence.
But alas, the movement completely discombobulated right before us. I watched willing volunteers start spending their time working for an “exciting” new senate candidate in Illinois, and others join the Howard Dean campaign and ultimately the John Kerry campaign. By the time the “exciting” Illinois senator rose to national prominence, based primarily on his capacity to string multiple coherent sentences together in a forceful manner (what low standards we have come to possess), the social movement had become the man himself. When this happens, the social movement stops existing: it is trumped by the ambitions of one man and the party that supports him. Wall Street, the banking industry, the health insurance racket, and the military industrial complex had not-so-cleverly beaten this nation’s last great movement.
According to many sociologists, the Frenchman Alain Touraine prime among them, a society is defined by conflict among social movements. As such, a nation without social movements is also void of society. As in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and other authoritarian systems, society has become thoroughly entrenched by the ruling elite in the Land of the (buy one get one) Free. The uniquely American brand of government is particularly trying and burdensome insofar as a significant portion of the population is convinced that we have a functioning democracy.
I would argue that we are governed by a bureaucratic plutocracy: a system that intentionally drowns the populace in trivial details so as to guard against independent thought. Social interaction is frequently driven by promotion rather than genuine amicability. Since no one in my generation seems to be gainfully employed, everyone is an independent contractor: peddling some sort of pseudo-art or music, or their graphic design or website design “business,” and so on. Even those supposedly working for grassroots political movements operate on a business model of consuming all who stand in their path. To them, you are a name on a list and a potential donor. The message becomes nothing but a tool to procure sustenance for the organization: to the point that the movement gets engulfed in the organization.
For six years, we have been functioning as a nation without society. We have the skeletons of society: people bustling around doing stuff, newspapers printing stuff, televisions broadcasting stuff, and a couple political parties advocating stuff. But the stuff is primarily noise and irrelevant sound bytes.
The closest thing to a genuine social movement today is the inspiring conservative anti-war movement, as evidenced in the appreciable success of the Ron Paul presidential campaign and the succeeding Campaign for Liberty movement. In addition to offering a principled opposition to war, this movement raises prescient criticisms of this nation’s monetary system and an essential reform: abolishing the Federal Reserve.
Unfortunately the Left has been more hesitant than the right to critique its mainstream party, though there are notable exceptions. Two of them are right here in Illinois. Firstly, the sit-in at Republic Windows last winter demonstrated that Chicago might still be the labor movement capital of the universe, and that not all workers have been consumed by the ravenous Democratic Party. Secondly, the Illinois Green Party, through persistent and painstaking grassroots work, has become an established party on par with the two corporate parties. Their Gubernatorial candidate, Rich Whitney, won greater than 10% of the vote in 2006 and looks to build on that atop an eclectic slate of seasoned activists in 2010.
Nonetheless, a significant portion of the largely dormant left has been looking to the president for guidance. He is undoubtedly a brilliant man insofar as he navigated the confusing legal, bureaucratic jungle that is our political system and achieved a historic feat last November. However, his accomplishment was not, as is widely regarded, the result of some social movement. In fact, he shunned the remaining minute traces of social movements at every opportunity. He said he would fight to end the war, and then expanded it, said he would fight to restore civil liberties and take a principled stand against warrantless wiretapping, and then reversed his decision. And most recently he said he was for “universal health care,” and yet echoes the same drivel of bygone years.
People must stop looking to the president for solutions to this nation’s numerous problems: unending wars of empire, avarice throughout the banking industry, a political class that is a mere shill for said banking industry, and a national discourse that has become incredibly trivialized by the saturation of corporate-controlled media. Addressing these deficiencies, re-instituting a democracy and reconstructing civil society will require arduous labor over the course of many years. I invite all concerned citizens to join a local anti-war group, or create one if there isn’t one already, and be as visible and intelligently provocative as possible. Do the same with alternative political parties that build off of local involvement, such as the Greens or Libertarians. Join one of the local movements for single-payer health care, or any other movement built upon substance rather than noise. We need people of courage to take on the duty of lifting Americans above this feeble reverence of Wall Street’s latest White House implant.