Clint, Gandhi, And The Net Effect
So there I am in temple on Yom Kippur, in this odd congregation of diverse misfits we go to here in Brooklyn called Kolot Chayeinu, which means Voices Of Our Lives. I’m here to fast with the tribe and atone for my sins, when something happens inside of me I don’t expect. The president of the congregation speaks, and the Rabbi as well (the remarkable Ellen Lippmann) and make reference to the ongoing demonstration across the river downtown, and to my surprise I suddenly find myself in tears.
It isn’t just that those up on the Bima clearly have their hearts with the Occupiers. And it isn’t just that they are tugging at the very deepest roots of my politics since I was like 10 years old – that of Judaism as pursuit of social justice. It’s that they – all of us here — are feeling it: That this ragtag army of protesters are making a stand down there in the belly of the beast for us all. And that they are expressing the one thing we all feel but have been hesitant to stand up and shout:
Even three years after electing a voice of hope, our nation and its direction continues to slip from our grasp, and these kids (and not just kids) have decided it is time to do something about it.
But the truth is, even as this grassroots movement is now spreading like crazy across the country, I find myself conflicted between conflict and peace-making. The voices of my life are at odds.
It’s as if my inner Clint Eastwood and Gandhi are having it out.
The dialogue inside of me goes something like this:
Inner Clint: Hey you – Mahatma-momma’s-boy! Don’t mince your rage. Listen — this is how to talk to these guys…
“I know what you’re thinking, you punk Republicans. You’re thinking all you need to do is shout “Class Warfare” and we’re all supposed to apologize for our principles. Yeah there’s been class warfare – and you rich bastards won, long ago! Why you’re nothing but a reactionary bunch of hypocritical, greedy self-serving bullies! And now you wanna suss out the cruelest ultra-capitalist you can dredge up to run against us? Go ahead, make my election day!”
That’s how you talk to these bastards! They’ve been fighting dirty and winning for 30 years now! It’s time to fight fire with fire!
Inner Gandhi: No, my friend. When it comes to my adversaries, I believe my similarities to them are far more important than my differences. Don’t go down to their level. Sunday was John Lennon’s birthday. Remember him, and imagine appealing to the highest in your opponents and in all of us. Our children are down on Wall Street as we speak, non-violently resisting the War-And-Wealth Machine. Join them. True change is about fighting fire with water – the warm waters of love and idealism and truth we all want to bathe in.
So you see where I’m stuck. I feel a healthy outrage and an impulse to bash tea partiers and ultra capitalists and global-warming deniers, but this stands in contrast to my other inclination to seek peace, compromise, coalitions and common ground.
The truth, however, is that it doesn’t really matter what I or others my age have to say, whether it’s in a Clint snarl or a Gandhi plea. Because there’s a new voice in the global town square.
A recent N.Y. Times piece connects the dots between youth-led protests from Cairo to Calcutta, from Athens to Israel to Egypt, and from London to Wall Street. What links them is a growing disdain for and distrust of traditional politicians, whether they’re dictators or democrats. And a festering outrage at income inequality, high unemployment, corruption, and the toxic mix of money and politics.
A man in Israel said their protests “were not acts of anger but of reclamation” from a society that’s been hijacked by what maybe we should be calling the corporate-government complex.
And from where do these young people derive their vision of the future?
As the Times piece says, “Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in many ways on the culture of the web.
“The critical mass of wiki and mapping tools, video and social networking sites, the communal news wire of Twitter and the ease of donations afforded by sites like PayPal makes coalitions of like-minded individuals instantly viable.”
In other words, kids raised as much by screens as by parents are wanting – and will be demanding – a more decentralized, leaderless democracy that points away from “either the state or the big company”. They’re used to an unfettered ability to express themselves and to connect with each other in an arena of equality and transparency.
In the 60s we had a name for it. We called it power to the people.
And it is significant, I believe, that the one thing that is bringing young people together today face-to-face, via the net and social media, all around the world, is politics.
In Spain they call themselves Indignados, or the outraged. (I like that!) In London they used BlackBerry Messenger to evade the cops. In Israel there were leaderless discussion circles similar to internet chat rooms; with free food and lessons based on the internet value of everything being free.
My sense is that we’re seeing the beginnings of a youthquake that will soon shake the world.
My personal hope is that they only see what I believe to be the real problem: that the real debt the young are being saddled with isn’t economic; it’s environmental. That you don’t put raising taxes on the rich, or even creating jobs, first when the planet you work on and tax people on is going through convulsions. That’s like trying to renovate a house that’s on fire.
But what do I know? As a boomer, I’ve been, along with most of the rest of my generation I’m afraid, more part of the problem than part of the solution.