by joe courter
It was profoundly moving to see the broad national response and outrage over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. That one-two punch to our sensibilities seemed to mark a tipping point in the status quo for many. It also demonstrated the power of our new forms of communication, so many people having cameras, and the ability to spread news outside the old media channels and in fact force the media to recognize and air what otherwise would have been unnoticed and forgotten.
These protests were about a lot more than two incidents. It was about a lot more than police violence. It was about questions right at the heart of our system.
How is it we tolerate a system which decade after decade has people in a poverty situation they can’t get out of? Poor schools. Lack of job opportunity. Ensnared in a legal system for minor offenses which act like a sticky web. Even the cops are trapped, having to work in areas which, in a sane and caring society, wouldn’t exist.
One of the signs I saw during our demonstrations here was “Fix The System.” That is it, the system we live under in this “free society” means banks get bailed out, but if you’re sick you can end up bankrupt. Wall Street swindlers walk free, while selling loose cigarettes to support your family gets you tackled on the street by a half dozen police. Police who should have better things to do than be out messing with people like that.
I guess it could be said what’s being called for in these protests is fundamental change. A reorganizing of priorities to give poor and disadvantaged folks a better chance. Health care, education, higher wages. A shift from incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline to restorative justice. Kind of like what the rest of the world does.
It was interesting when the #blacklivesmatter hashtag was altered to be #alllivesmatter, in a gesture by some for a sort of inclusiveness. The latter is a nice sentiment. The former much stronger, and frankly much more on point for the changes being called for, and as that dynamic played out, it created a teachable moment in what it means to be an ally of others in struggle. In the planning meetings held at the Civic Media Center, it was the Dream Defenders who took the lead, and our events were the better for it.
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From a call for fundamental change, we transition to fundamentalism. “Fundamentalism Stops A Thinking Mind” was the bumpersticker on my old Chevy Vega, and it is so true. Blowing people and things up, killing people with guns, all because you disagree with them, is a madness all over the world.
Car bombs, air dropped bombs, missiles and drones, single-shot snipers and automatic weapons spraying death, we humans invent and use deadly means to make our self-certain point, or to eliminate the others with a different point of view. But fundamentalist inspired death sometimes exerts its power without a weapon. The suicide of Leelah Alcorn (see pg. 9), who stepped in front of a semi truck on an Ohio interstate Dec. 28, was one of many young people made so miserable by their parents that self-destruction seemed the only way out. This needs to change.
Education and tolerance is the key. The tools to overcome fundamentalism are there, but it is a virulent possession of the will. Always has been; burning “witches,” killing native people, enslaving other humans. Ignorance and arrogance are versions of fundamentalism, too; choosing not to know things that might disrupt the paradigm, the reality, which we have embraced. That might mean we need to admit we were wrong(!).
We’ll see a good bit of that paradigm clinging in the next Congress as their varied strains of fundamentalism rise into unfettered view. Question is, how will it play out? Denial of reality is what gives virulent fundamentalism its power. And that’s what needs to fundamentally change.