10 November 2012

Anger is an Energy (and other lessons from Decision 2012)

And thus the world rests easy in its bed at night, knowing that nearly 51% of Americans who bothered to show up and vote chose what can only be described as 'The Least Worst Option'.

Hooray for Democracy!

The best option, of course, would probably have been Green Party candidate Jill Stein (if you haven't already, you really should read her platform The Green New Deal, Eamon Ryan would do well to note that nowhere in this plan does it mention "prop up an intransigent and morally bankrupt neo-liberal government", "transfer private gambling debts on to the shoulders of the weakest and most disadvantaged in society" or "create a special-purpose vehicle whose special purpose appears to be to protect those criminals who bankrupted our nation"), though of course in the land of Kang and Kodos that was never going to happen, and Stein could only manage about 0.3% of the vote nationally (hitting the dizzying heights of 1.5% in hippy utopias like Portland and San Francisco).

While Romney went off to wash, starch and carefully fold his magic underwear and wonder just how an out-sourcing, poor-hating, dog-abusing, women-collecting, tax-dodging, cult-worshiping plutocrat could have possibly lost in today's America, Obama chose to mark the moment with a heartfelt and tearful thank-you to his campaign staff, and a celebratory drone strike in Yemen that killed three.

Hooray for Democracy!

The media, of course, is eager to help Romney find an answer. While some on the Right suggest that he wasn't Conservative enough for Real Americans(TM), who subsequently didn't bother showing up to vote, what passes for the Centre in today's pre-post-Murdoch world (he's not gone yet, you know, not by a long shot) have adopted the rather prosaic line that the Republican Party has not done enough to reach out to the Latino vote. Given that its current Latino platform advocates shooting them from a giant Separation Barrier running the length of the Mexican border, and forcing those who make it through into virtual slavery in the fruit and veg plantations of Florida and California, it is understandable why some in the community might be weary of a Romney Presidency.

Internationally the media are a little more direct, suggesting that with the shift in demographics in America and rising numbers of minorities, that the Republicans have run out of Angry White Males to keep them in power. The numbers do indeed suggest that while a majority of white men vote Republican, almost everyone else in America votes Democrat, with Obama enjoying a comfortable lead with single women, young people, Latinos and, of course, African-Americans who traditionally vote Democrat despite the party being historically tied to the wealthy land-owners (ie slave-owners) of the South. It is really only in the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's that African-Americans started to vote for the Democrats, or indeed that the Democrats started to court (and then count on) their vote, but the Angry White Male is, and always has been, at the heart of US politics. Indeed the entire fabric and culture of contemporary US society is founded on one thing, and one thing alone, Racism.

Forget the fact that the US was built and nurtured on the systematic slaughter and exploitation of the native population. Ignore the fact that the Somerset Case in 1772 that declared slavery to be illegal in England and the fear that this would be enforced in the Empire was a significant factor in igniting the US War of Independence. Ignore the Civil War. Ignore the rise of the KKK. Ignore the Jim Crow laws and segregation and the struggle for Civil Rights. Pretend that the abolition of segregation wiped the slate clean of all past sins and the US was suddenly bathed in the light of universal fraternalism, and just take a look at what has happened since the 1960s.

White Flight.

The phrase trips off the tongue so easily now that the true horror behind it is easy to forget, and the normalisation of this concept is at the heart of America's current ills. With the abolition of segregation, the repressed African-American community was, in theory, free to live and work wherever they wanted, but in reality they had very few options. The southern land-owners were the same families who used to own their grandparents and were the staunchest supporters of the Jim Crow system, so agricultural work was out. African-Americans thus migrated to urban centres en masse, and like so many external immigrants before them were forced into the inner-city slums and tenements on the bottom-rung of city society (creating a labour-vacuum in the plantations and farms of the South which was soon to be filled with Latino illegal immigrants and legal migrant workers, and suddenly everything old was new again. Slavery 2.0 had come to the South, but thanks to the joys of Capitalism the ruling white elite no longer had to feed or clothe their slaves and these new "slaves" would compete with each other for the privilege of economic servitude).

While the cities had absorbed wave after wave of European immigration, each new generation becoming the middle class the following would aspire to be, the influx of the children of slaves was more than they could bear, and so the middle-classes left in their droves, out to the newly built suburbs and beyond to the exurbs. Of course the jobs were still in the cities, so the post-war car boom became an all-out tsunami, and when the oil crises of the 1970s struck America's foreign policy was forever fixed.

White people don't want to live near non-white people. White people live in suburbs. White people commute. White people drive many miles to work. White people need cheap gas for their cars. America needs what white people need. America goes to war for oil.

Racism is the beating heart of America. The electoral map shows this, cities vote Democrat, everywhere else votes Republican and half a world away in Afghanistan, Iraq or Yemen a wedding party or a group of children are killed in a drone strike because white people don't want to live near black people in America. The irony that each drone strike is authorised by the country's first African-American President should not be lost on you.

On the night of the election, as Mitt Romney packed his magic underwear and Obama shed a single tear, in the University of Mississippi the students went on a rampage. Up to 400 white students threw rocks at passing cars, shouted "racial epithets" and hurled abuse at non-white students. Ole Miss is forever associated with some particularly nasty race riots in 1962 over forced desegregation and the admittance of a single African-American student. State, Federal and Military police were all deployed and the resulting violence left two people dead. Fifty years later African-America students still suffer abuse at the hands of their classmates, but the election night riots were something different.

In the aftermath of this riot, a good friend who is a Professor of Philosophy at Ole Miss cancelled his regular class and held an open discussion with his students on what took place. In his discussion he drew from bell hook's powerful work, killing rage, in which she talks about her "killing rage", the anger she feels towards white oppressors and how the African-American community must overcome the shame of this anger, and harness it. She rejects the victimisation of African-Americans, both externally imposed and internalized. "My rage intensifies because I am not a victim", she writes, "It burns in my psyche with an intensity that creates clarity. It is a constructive healing rage". She concludes her essay with the following:
"Rage can be consuming. It must be tempered by an engagement with a full range of emotional responses to black struggle for self-determination. In mid-life, I see in myself that same rage at injustice which surfaced in me more than twenty years ago as I read the Autobiography of Malcolm X and experienced the world around me anew. Many of my peers seem to feel no rage or believe it has no place. They see themselves as estranged from angry black youth. Sharing rage connects those of us who are older and more experienced with younger black and non-black folks who are seeking ways to be self-actualized, self-determined, who are eager to participate in anti-racist struggle. Renewed, organized black liberation struggle cannot happen if we remain unable to tap collective black rage. Progressive black activists must show how we take that rage and move it beyond fruitless scapegoating of any group, linking it instead to a passion for freedom and justice that illuminates, heals, and makes redemptive struggle possible."
I wonder what the Ole Miss students made of that?

I've written before about anger. During the height of #OccupyDameStreet I asked where all the anger was, where all the people were, and why the down-trodden and oppressed citizenry of this country weren't taking to the streets to demand social and economic justice. Ten months later the streets are even emptier than they were then, as we sit back and watch An Toaiseach and Time cover-boy Enda Kenny accept the European of the Year Award from his masters in Germany for doing such a good job of keeping us all docile and subservient.

Hooray for Democracy!

From America to Athens Angry White Men fuel the Right. They keep the plutocrats in power and they torture the weak and vulnerable. We on the Left sip our herbal tea and sell our newspapers on the street and spend more time fighting each other then we ever do the plutocrats. We need to reclaim Anger from the Right, to own it and to harness it, not to storm the streets in a Black Block Starbucks-rampage but to channel the people's rage into bell hook's redemptive struggle for justice. We need to legitimize our national anger at those who have enriched themselves at our expense, who continue to thrive while sucking our lifeblood dry, and we need to act upon it.

That is the lesson of the 2012 US Election. Anger is no longer the preserve of conservative patriarchy. It belongs to everyone. All we have to do is find the strength to use it.

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