i recently (finally) finished reading Howard Zinn’s ‘A People’s History of the United States’. i have to say that it was most depressing. it was a hard read. to find out that everything you learned about history in school, everything you think you know, is either a lie, an untruth, a misrepresentation, is incredibly disturbing. everything you think you know about how this country came to be, how it has grown, how it continues to operate…was whitewashed, glossed over, important facts and circumstances left out when it was presented to you, in order to make things seem more appealing and hide some very ugly truths. i’m glad i read it, glad i learned it…but to find out that this country was founded not on ‘freedom’ but on protecting wealthy interests, and everyone else was (and still is) strung along with some fancy language, is most alarming. to find out that this has been the modus operandi all throughout our shared national history is very distressing. i mean…we all have this notion that revolution occurred in more noble times, and was fought to save ‘the people’ from the tyranny of a faraway king…but the reality is that this is not so. i mean, think about it — everything took a shit right after the founding fathers died ? no…it was always this way. ‘the system is not broken — it was made this way’ is one of my favorite found quotes.
and there are other recurring themes throughout the last 300 years — dividing people through racism and classism in order to maintain rule, diverting restless energy from uprising into a more easily-controlled and corruptible ballot box, a view of manifest-destiny with regard to resources both human and natural, deliberately making things out to be too complex and therefore unchangeable…along with the aforementioned intertwining of wealth and power. it is incredibly sad to see the patterns of the past and realize that we have come no closer to true freedom and enlightenment.
it is true that we have gained concessions — voting rights, labor rights, civil rights — but they were never given…we ‘little people’ have always had to wrest them from the powers that be. and we continue to see these evils manifest today — things like (but not limited to) citizens united, keystone xl, the NSA spying, guantanamo on a national scale…penokee mine, voucher schools, redistricting on the state level. and we’re destroying the earth, our only home. we could have had highly-developed solar by now…but we killed off the programs in the early 80s because the companies that suck explosive dinosaur goop out of the ground have our politicians on their payroll. our natural resources should be treated with a responsible, sustainable and conservative mindset…instead, we face losing them forever due to greed. water, earth, air, life…slipping away. we should be working toward a common good, with humanity in mind. but we aren’t…and it seems like we can’t, we won’t. we are the smartest species on the planet…and the dumbest for not living up to our full potential. the list goes on and on…i can’t bear it. Zinn offers some hope at the end of his book…but having died in 2010, he did not see our latest and worst turns of events. i wonder what he would have to say…i wonder if he would still have hopeful words.
and it is with this knowledge that i fear that i may never experience true freedom in my lifetime…and that my kids won’t either. my partner and i will never know the relative economic and societal security that people of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation had and still enjoy. many of our our parents’ generation are busy enjoying their retirement, having handed the rest of us a royal mess due to their apathy and / or inaction…you know, i shouldn’t overly generalize — some people of yesterday certainly fought for what was right, as do some people of today. but overcoming the apathy and inaction of the rest of the populace that makes up a majority is an uphill battle i fear we can never win.
and it is harder when good people are made to feel as though there is no hope, and that they are helpless to do something…that the problems are so complex, the people so divided, the establishment so corrupt, that change for the better is impossible. in terms of our individual family units, our kids rely on us to keep our jobs in order to keep them fed and sheltered. tough to go out protesting and raising hell or even vote or stay on top of all the complex issues when we’re pulling overtime to make ends meet, stretching the work week into the weekend…and getting kids to and from practice, tending to their owies, their homework, reading them a bedtime story. but do our kids on the whole not suffer for our lack of forward progress on the common good ? what good will be left of our society and our planet for them to inherit ?
i would gladly give my blood, sweat and tears to a righteous cause that stood any kind of chance. imagine a world where your occupation was to make things better, not be detrimental ! imagine having free time away from that occupation to enjoy life and to do as you wish ! but it is not possible for individuals to be successful anymore, when fewer and fewer entities consolidate resources and power for their own greedy ends, and they squeeze the little guy tighter and tighter. the ‘american dream’ is a lie for most, a nightmare for some.
i am not sure i can make any difference. this country is becoming more and more prohibitive to any kind of meaningful change, and the potential for happiness and security is slipping away. (‘change’ — not just the latest empty campaign rhetoric, but also a recurring one throughout our history, according to Zinn.) no matter how hard i work, i will never be economically secure…no matter how much i speak out, how many connections with like-minds i make, i will never know freedom from fear. the desire to close the circle and protect my own is strong. maybe i could do better somewhere else…maybe i could taste true freedom…maybe my kids and their kids would have a shot at life, liberty, happiness, love…in a place that treated people better, a place that values life over profit.
but which is more impossible — the uphill battle to make a change right here ? … or cutting our losses, selling everything off, and making the uncertain jump to some faraway place ? betting everything on an individual dream that might not even come true ? or betting everything on a collective dream that might not come true ? i just don’t know…