The world is charged with
the grandeur of God.
-- Gerard Manley Hopkins, "God's Grandeur"
Gerard Manley Hopkins finished "God's Grandeur" in 1877. That's the number of the SEIU statewide local representing more than 25,000 building service workers from San Diego to Sacramento. It was also, as the history books will tell you, the date for The Great Compromise between Republicans and Democrats, in January, in fact, early in the year...like now. It was the solution to the contested election of 1876...and brought an end to the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War. The "Compromise of 1877" came about as the result of a threat. And, for one, White Supremacy in the South was restored.
Not in the high school history books --high school, where many of our so-called "well-intentioned" troops come from-- there was "the other Civil War", as Howard Zinn put it (in A People's History of the United States)...which ended when the great railroad strikes were over and done with, leaving a hundred dead and a thousand jailed. 100,000 workers had gone on strike...and those "strikes had roused into action countless unemployed in the cities." The country had 75,000 miles of track at that time, but more than half of the freight traveling on those lines had ceased to run at the height of the strikes. And tenants and farmers nationwide had asserted themselves like never before that horrific, inspiring year.
Karl Marx once pointed out that capitalist states pretend neutrality to maintain order, and that's exactly what the United States did during the strikes...to serve the interests of the rich. Regardless of this or that fine point, the nation's policies -- whether Democrats or Republicans spoke ex cathedra -- the monopolies and the corporations, the vast business interests of the country, would remain unchallenged, unchanged...where it mattered most.
George Bernard Shaw said that one has to be careful about telling the truth. He pointed out that one had to be funny in telling the truth...or people would...murder the messenger. Well, I hope you'll look after my family 'cause I'm not going to tell any jokes here.
So help me, God.
So help me, there will be no more abominations within the progressive community such as Medea Benjamin's listing of ten things to be grateful for in 2003 (on Common Dreams)...without a confrontation. Howard Dean? The sales of Michael Moore's and Al Franken's books? These are signs of progress? These are examples of not preaching to the choir? Hey, Medea, "preaching to the choir" doesn't just mean ranting to a familiar/already-convinced audience. No, it can also entail throwing out hackneyed, easy hits to the general populace, well-timed to strike a chord, to resonate, as in the present case, with the rising more-widely-popular-than-ever exercise of catering to anti-Bush sentiment. The Straw Man courtesy of The New York Times, by the way. When are those on the Left going to stop invoking the name of that rag...with respect?
I have respect for Medea on many counts, but that doesn't mean, as one follower of hers suggested, we can't criticize her unless we've walked in her shoes. That's the same argument people use to protect Bush and every other president from criticism. Katha Pollitt did virtually the same thing recently on Amy Goodman's show; she listed some positive things that happened in the past year. Good idea, yes. Well-intentioned, yes. But doing more harm than good? Maybe a Big Yes. Dean being invoked again, as if getting him in will represent some huge mark of progress for the Left. More likely, it will put people back to sleep, (sheep) ignoring the continued Rape of Life, distracting them with superficial satisfaction from the sacrifices that must be made immediately...to save the planet...from us.
The benefits of maternal recitation of 2003's pluses run in stark contrast to what John Pilger's take was for the so-called New Year. Essentially, he underscored the fact that there's not only nothing new, but that things are getting much worse...fast. In short, he quietly screamed for people in this country to make sure that American troops were defeated in Iraq, to --at the very least-- pray for it. What a difference in outlook. Michael Parenti and Noam Chomsky (on the same Amy show as Pollitt), among other things, praised the show of solidarity on February 15th. Yes. But I have a couple of questions of people who have been sucked into the same game as Medea. To wit, why is International Answer marking March 20th as a day to demonstrate when they should be holding their vigil, march or whatever on OUR DAY, February 15th? Not only is March 20th THEIR DAY (the bombers and their supporters), it totally distracts from the fact that nothing began on that day. See the U.N. and the Turkish Air Force for clarification, please.
Gregory Peck died in 2003. Johnny Cash and Mr. Rogers too. It was NOT a good year, not in any respect in the Big Picture. If we don't change lives in the next several months, I'm betting the whole planet goes down the tubes shortly, a lot sooner than what's predicted. It's a lock, as they say, and I would go to the local bookie to lay the action...if we were going to be around for me to collect. But there I go honoring the Shavian injunction...when I promised not to. Very seriously, even if I'm wrong about this whole scene coming to a screeching halt within a few years or a couple of decades (at most), the taste in life will be gone. The whole world will be like eating popcorn at a Multiplex Theatre from Noon to Midnight. And you know it.
Speaking of G.P., he tells the little one in To Kill a Mockingbird that it's wrong to kill a mockingbird, for one, 'cause they sing, sing so pretty. I'd like to qualify that for the brain dead. It's wrong to kill. And to avoid a discussion or argument here -- as we have no time for such trivialities -- let's just say that it's wrong to kill any of the birds that we're killing in 99 plus % of the cases. Neither Howard Dean, Michael Moore or Al Franken are about to change that; not even close. And we will be doomed to a world without song if we follow their lead while holding hands with Medea and K.P.
God, I just can't stand The Nation with its William Greider endorsements of Dean and its front cover praise of Nancy Pelosi and her ilk. There is some glimmer of hope, but that would require a confrontation with Parenti or Pilger. WHEN is that going to take place?
Well, here's your opportunity. You don't have to fight for what was the soviet of sorts that they strived for in St. Louis a la 1877. But you can acknowledge that the usual paradigms for action are not sufficient to bring about healthy change. The Rape of the Tsongas National Forest has just begun in spite of millions of Americans voicing protest (this summer) -- reminiscent of the outrage at the imminent escalation of war in Iraq on February 15th -- simultaneously with our trying to provoke a nuclear holocaust with that other Korea, as Bush would say. Think about it, please. You can face up to the fact that -- like the strikers, tenants and farmers of '77 -- we will have to put our bodies on the line. Psst...they're on the line anyway. Even if the military doesn't invade any other countries...ever again...the hazardous/toxic waste that results from their daily modus operandi will destroy all of Mr. Rogers' neighborhoods. And Dean, Moore and Franken aren't reminding you of that, to say the least. No, in fact, they're saying the least. Note the zero comment on what Chomsky refers to as, arguably, the worst prospect of all on the horizon, the militarization of space. In order to really get rid of Bush --- what he fundamentally represents -- we must first resolve to not wreck their collective rod, to cite Hopkins. Talkin' 'bout the funny guys and the would-be funny guy who don't want to get murdered.
Yes, the world is charged with the grandeur of God. But you must take a stand for "the dearest freshness deep down things" now. In the spirit of Gandhi, "one must learn the art of dying...." For all of the easy hits the modern activist can throw at Jesuit GMH...he knew how to die for something grander than himself. No "Wreck of the Deutschland," "God's Grandeur" provides irrepressible testimony to the Maker of the sensuous world. We must provide irrepressible testimony too, whether we are agnostic, atheist or parish priest.
We are not here on this earth to be comfy. Perhaps...to make others more comfortable, yes. Life, liberty and the pursuit of community! The World Community.
Richard Oxman is co-organizer of OneDance: The People's Summit (www.onedancesummit.org), an upcoming event born out of the hope that people will see the power they have to change this world, to let is beauty breathe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Richard Oxman