I don’t remember what exactly it was that set me into motion, what makes me look further and further into this and when my thinking progressed from seeing seemingly singular problems – police corruption, illegal wars, and the ineffectiveness of elections – to identifying a systematic web. It’s hard to see where one problem ends and another begins.
I do however, remember the feeling. At first it was despair; instead of seeing something like corrupt police and thinking I could change it through politics and action I understood that it’s part of something much bigger that isn’t so easily changeable. Once I made that connection, things fell quickly. Our entire existence is built into this way of living, from pre-school to prisons to borders and beyond. And by the system, I don’t mean Capitalism or Democracy, but rather society or civilization; the giant monster that is growing faster than the black hole on the Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror; encouraging destruction of the planet and imprisoning those fighting to save it.
If we continue to look at things as individual problems, then we’ll continue to call this system broken or think that if we just got money out of politics or if there were some real oversight in police forces things would be just fine. The problem lies in the fact that the system isn’t broken at all; rather it’s working exactly the way it’s supposed to- devouring everything in its way in order to feed its never full belly.
I remember a college professor saying to me, “if someone is sleeping you can wake them up, but if someone is pretending to sleep, they cannot be woken.” At first I thought the world was one big slumber party and my job was to sound the alarm and get everyone on their feet.
I tried yelling, I tried leading by example, I tried writing; I was met with some resistance, but mostly encouragement. As a result, I met more radical people who helped me out along the way and together we were able to amplify our voices. These were all great experiences that helped me grow in many different ways, but it wasn’t hitting the spot.
After the rallies were over, after meetings with public officials, after sit-ins, and stand-offs with the police, I realized that the people who get my heart pumping are the regular folk, the people who didn’t major in Peace Studies or have hippie parents, but are able to see that something is wrong. Over the past few months I’ve had some amazing conversations with folks who are starting to ask questions because some aspect of their life is not making sense.
I met Ron on east coast; he votes republican, works 40 hours a week for his entire adult life, pays all his bills, and smokes marijuana. He is not only able to see the contradictions that make up this nation’s drug laws (and consequently the world’s), but can also see how it’s tied to Big Pharma, Big Oil, and Big Tobacco along with a bunch of other Bigs (like the big prison-industrial complex). He couldn’t see how the profits of these corporations are what runs this country; that until they can figure out how to control hemp so that the average person couldn’t grow it, it will never be legal.
Then, I spoke to a woman out west who also worked her entire life, paid all her bills on time, and slowly “moved up” in the world until she had a big house, a couple nice cars, and closets full of clothes. Then she lost her job and missed a mortgage payment (her first in 30 years). Consequently, she had late fees and extra interest stacked on, was never able to catch back up, and had her house foreclosed. She saw the coldness of a system that kicks people out of their houses while millions are homeless and thousands of other homes sit unoccupied. She was frustrated by the fact that the banks were getting bailed out, but no one was helping her, and she even admitted that it doesn’t matter who the president is that this is how it goes.
Finally, there is Midwestern Chris; he has worked 38 years for one company. He was forced to drop out of school at 12 in order to put food on the table for his mother, brothers and sisters. During his 60 something years, he’s been physically harassed, called names, and had his body destroyed for a company. When his union contract ran out, the company wanted to increase the amount they charged for healthcare, take away their seniority privileges, and to require aptitude tests; all this despite record profits and a doubling of the CEO’s salary. The workers refused to accept this, rejected the new contract, and got locked out. As the facts came to light and this man was able to see how much he was getting the shaft, despite what the corporate media was saying, he was violently shaken awake. He now understands that maybe there is no such thing as the American Dream. These are just examples of the hundreds of conversations I’ve had.
The thing that bothers/saddens me the most is that the entire time I was in conversations none of these people expressed the need to act. The marijuana smoker continues to drive a big truck and support the pharmaceutical giants. The woman, who lost her house, got a smaller house and is trying to work hard enough to pay off her debt and move up again. The man who is locked out of his job found another job but has voiced that if given the chance, he would go back to work for the company that stuck a knife in his back.
Do these people suffer from Stockholm Syndrome? Are they afraid of losing what little they have? Do they think fighting back is an unwinnable battle they can’t afford to join? Is it childish or naive to think we have power? No matter what answer I come up with, I keep coming back to what my professor said, they are pretending to be asleep.
I’m trying hard to keep cool, to ask questions instead of force anecdotes, to look at my experiences and try to understand where my resistance comes from in hopes find where others are storing theirs. Especially now, when people feel like the best way to get out all their aggressions and complaints is at the ballot. I want to know why so many of us choose to sleep when there is so much work to be done. Part of me though, wants to lie down next to them and pretend.
This is the lockout I was talking about.
Racism and cheating and it’s not even election day yet.