Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Fat Years and the Lean

When I was 15 years old, a boarding school student, the United States, accompanied by troops of the puppet South Vietnamese government, invaded Cambodia. The result was a firestorm of protest. On May 4, 1970, national guard troops fired on unarmed demonstrators at Kent State University in Ohio, killing four. In response, striking students and faculty shut down hundreds of colleges and universities. My boarding school -- which happens to be the same school from which George W. Bush had received his high school diploma a few years earlier -- was also shut down. Shortly after that, I was kicked out of the band for wearing a black arm band in the Memorial Day Parade. Yup -- wearing a black armband at a ceremony to honor the dead was an unacceptable political statement. As I was collecting signatures on a petition to end the war in downtown Andover, a man said to me, "Do you want to be a Communist slave? Get wise to yourself!"

The war continued for three more years, but in the face of massive protests, Richard Nixon was forced to systematically withdraw U.S. troops, and in 1973, to sign a peace agreement which amounted to capitulation. Two years later, the U.S. withdrew completely from Vietnam and the country was reunified under the Communist Party. Of course, no harm to the U.S. or the world came from that. No dominoes fell, and neither that man in Andover nor I became Communist slaves. Today, the U.S. has normal relations with Vietnam, which supplies us with coffee and shrimp.

The movement against the Vietnam War began in the context of the Civil Rights movement, which became the Poor People's Movement; and the women's movement. All of these social movements engaged millions of Americans in activism. And that energy continued. I participated in marches on Washington against U.S. military involvement in Central America (citizen protest almost certainly prevented the Reagan Administration from invading), and nuclear power; I spent a year of 80 hours weeks working as a community organizer in Philadelphia, and we filled the streets and the City Council chambers with protests against the racist Rizzo administration. Once we shut down a City Council meeting with our chants while our friend and ally John Street, who is now the Mayor, filibustered on the council floor.

Even into the 80s, with Mobilization for Survival in Boston, I was part of an active, visible movement of citizens for all that good stuff -- peace and justice.

So what the hell has happened? Today, we have the worse presidential administration in the country's history, and a Congress completed controlled by an alliance of atavistic religious fanatics and rapacious capitalists. We are engaged in a war even more dangerous to the world and, if such a thing is possible, more pointless than the Vietnam War. The global environmental crisis, the hollowing out of the U.S. economy, growing inequality, national decline and planetary peril -- it really ought to be enough to have an uprising.

Sure, there are a few signs of life in the populace, some relatively modest antiwar demonstrations, lots of people like me bitching and moaning on blogs, some of which are widely read. But there is no mass movement, no political opposition. The pathological liar, war criminal president is now unpopular, but it doesn't matter very much. I'd be out there protesting, if there was anything to join. But there isn't. Why is that?


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