On Popular Rule

On my wall is a great poem written by Bertolt Brecht:

Those Who Take the Meat From the Table
Teach contentment.
Those for whom the taxes are destined
Demand sacrifice.

Those who eat their fill speak to the hungry
Of wonderful times to come.
Those who lead the country into the abyss
Call ruling too difficult
For ordinary men (and women).

These words are of special import right now, when men like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are making their best efforts, irregardless of the human, social and environmental consequences, to drag us deeper and deeper into a state of permanent war and concomitant economic and political repression. Truly, they are leading us and the world “into the abyss.”

Yet those of us who understand the moral bankruptcy of our current rulers and who work in whatever ways we can for justice and the preservation and expansion of basic democratic rights and processes in this country have to face up to a problem. The problem is that many of the common people who are with us in our analysis of corporate mis-rule have little hope that anyone can do much to change this state of affairs. And it’s not just that they have internalized the false teaching that “you can’t beat city hall.” It’s also that they don’t believe that we, the people, have the capacity or ability to run things any differently, if and when we ever gain political power. As one of my friends, Poo-sa-kay, a Native American woman living in Oregon, wrote to me last year, “This belief in the unfitness of the common person is held by many, if not most, of the common people. They have been brainwashed well.”

Poo-sa-key goes on to say, “My answer to this equation is to agree that the common people are not terribly competent, but then, neither are the elite. Since the common people have never had a chance to rule, the ‘jury’ is out on them for lack of proof. However, the proof is abundant that the ‘elite’ that have ruled this government for over 200 years do not have the capability to run things on their own.”

I think there’s another aspect to this problem.

There have been popular revolutions in this world that had visionary aspirations and high hopes. And there have been individual leaders of movements and people elected to political office in this country who inspired the best in those with whom they came into contact. However, in far too many cases, down through history, leaders of revolutions elsewhere in the world and movement and political leaders in this country found the obstacles put in their way by the wealthy elite too difficult to overcome. In response these individuals either lost key elements of the original vision which motivated them and turned to manipulation and/or unjust repression as a way to deal with the difficulties, or they became seduced and corrupted and allowed the value system of the wealthy elite to become their values as well. In some cases both happened.

Of course the wealthy elite, the capitalists, have always done all that they could to bring about these results and, once they have succeeded, to trumpet them loudly and extensively as a way to deflate the hopes of the common people. You see, they say, there is no alternative. You can’t trust those dangerous radicals who are really only in it for themselves. Your only hope for any improvement in your condition is to give up your dreams and visions for a new world, accept what is, and, if you still want to advocate for change, do so within certain clearly defined parameters that will not rock the boat.

What’s the way out of this conundrum? The need is urgent. What can we do?

I see no substitute for this basic truth: We must live the revolution now. If we want a world based upon truth, justice and compassion, we must lives our lives that way now. We must build organizations that embody these attributes. If we want the most broadly-involving democracy in all aspects of our lives in the future, we must be as democratic as we can be today. We must build a movement that consciously does the same, that deliberately discusses how we can structure ourselves internally so that the likelihood of us losing our way is greatly minimized. Only then will the common people see that we are about something different, join us and stay with us as they feel the difference.

That is why the recent coming together of four national coalitions for coordinated activity in Washington, D.C. the weekend of April 19-22 is so important, and why these groups need to find realistic ways to be mutually supportive without forcing a full-scale unity that isn’t there. When tens of thousands of us descend on Washington, D.C. on this weekend, and if we pull off four powerful days of a mix of actions cooperatively and intelligently, we will be sending a signal to common people the world over that something new is taking root in this country. And not a minute too soon.