Historical Seasons of Change

A fellow writer, Johanna Harness, once noted that I like analogies. She is correct; I do like them. I have found that often a complicated or distasteful situation is more easily discussed if prefaced by a more tangible or personable example. Or, perhaps it is only because I like analogies. So, I shall start with a few that came to mind over these past days.

  • Three friends decide to go to dinner. The first, “Sally”, is dieting in preparation of a big event so she orders a chef salad and ice water. “Beth” is pretty hungry and thinks a juicy burger with all the fixings is just what she wants to eat, washing it down with several sodas. “Angela” orders an appetizer, the steak and lobster, desert, and several glasses of wine. The three friends have a fabulous evening sharing stories and basically just being in one another’s company. When the bill comes, Angela says, “Let’s just split it three ways!”  This greatly reduces Angela’s portion of the bill, tax and tip, while greatly increasing Sally’s.  The reasons for the three dining out together, as well as the number of times Angela has suggested this approach most likely influence how both Sally and Beth react to Angela’s proposal.
  • As relationships mature, most couples/people living together fall into patterns of behavior. Most commonly those patterns follow task distribution. For example, the male takes out the garbage and the female cooks the meals is a classical stereotype that occurs in a vast majority of homes. However, it is also common for one individual to periodically revolt in response to those patterns of behavior. An example of this would be the mother telling her teenage children that she will only be laundering the clothing in the laundry room  hampers and if they cannot be bothered to bring down their laundry, it will no longer be done for them.  In this scenario, the mother has gotten tired of asking repeatedly for the kids to do what she sees as a reasonable part in the overall task and has decided to change her role in the task completion.

Both of these situations demonstrate how people’s behavior is at times abusive of others and often leads to reactive rather than proactive responses. Thinking of our own friendships and family dynamics, each of us has similar experiences that mirror both these situations. And, most people live in cyclical patterns where they have various levels of accommodations for friends and family members that coordinate with various levels of comfort for those accommodations. In other words, most of us get mad at our spouses/partners/kids/roommates for not pulling their weight around the house sometimes and most friendships wax and wane as people see themselves giving more than taking in the relationship.

That cyclical nature of human behavior has been part of humanity for as long as we have examples of recorded history. People rise in power, time passes and when that power is perceived to be abusive, the greater populace revolts. Out of the chaos rises a new leader and the cycle continues.

In 1987 I graduated from high school and went off to college. As a sophomore I took “Western Civilization” from one of my all-time favorite professors, Dr. Marshall Lee. The text book was Donald Kagan’s The Western Heritage, third edition. The text is now in its ninth edition and is probably just as thick and expensive today as it was in 1989. The table of contents of my edition is 11 pages long and can be summarized as a list of events chronicling the rise of individuals to power and then their fall from that same power. Often, as the individuals rise and fall, the course of an entire nation’s history parallels the same cycle.

In other words, as long as we have been recording our history, nations and their people have been struggling with equity, justice, and representation. However, without those records, our memories are short.

I am not surprised to see tens of thousands (and growing) of people protesting our government as well as the level of corporate control of the US political, economic and social fabric of our nation today. I am not surprised for the same reasons I wasn’t surprised by the Egyptian Spring, the genocide in Darfur, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the students in Tiananmen Square, or Lech Walesa and the Gdansk Agreement. I am not surprised because I read that history book and many, many others. I read that book and newspapers articles and novels and all sorts of writings by people who chronicle what happens in their daily lives. And so many of those writings discuss a hope in the ability of a group of people to bring about change. And the crux? Since the 1700s, our own revolutionary beginnings are often cited as the fuel behind those other revolutionary movements.

I’ve heard people dismiss the protestors of Wall Street, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Portland, and the other cities being added every day as simply a bunch of hippies or dumb kids too disorganized to have any merit. And why is that? Does there need to be a written document to validate a movement? The American Revolution came about because of the American Enlightenment. A small group of colonists became disillusioned with the disparities between their lives here in the colonies and the lives of those benefitting from our taxes, labor, and products. And they fought back. First with meetings, raised voices, and then with violence. Every uprising follows this same pattern. The only difference is the uprising’s duration and the outcome of that uprising.

A quick scroll through the status updates of  my Facebook friends shows much distain for protests against Wall Street and the movement to collect taxes from the wealthiest one percent of our populace. This surprises me although not to a great extent. Because I don’t have a huge friends list, I know the folks on there fairly well. They fall in the upper lower class to mid and upper middle class. In other words, I don’t have a single friend that is classified as upper class and to my knowledge I have never met a single member of the 400 wealthiest families in the US. In other words, my Facebook friends list is a microcosm of the US population.  A population of mostly poor or middle class people who work every day, pay their taxes to support the nation, and dream of their kids having a better life than themselves.

So why on earth do so many people dismiss a protest demanding an end of corporatism, of political policies that benefit corporates and CEOs, and ask that this nation’s taxation fairly represent the entire nation’s income? Why are the Sallys and Beths of this nation still coming to the table with the Angelas? Why do all the proverbial mothers continue to wash and fold laundry they never soil?

My only conclusion is that it takes desperation to be willing to stand up for beliefs. It takes conviction to stand before a police officer and know that officer can physically assault peaceful demonstrators without fear of legal ramifications. It takes a foreclosed home, a squandered educational dream, a underemployed, overworked and underinsured life to be willing to stand in the rain and raise a tired voice again and again, demanding to be heard.

As the media helicopters circle overhead, I think about the people I know who live one paycheck from losing everything. One paycheck. One severe illness, one major life event. Most are silent. Many pray to their god that they will be saved from all this struggle and poverty, if not now then later in the afterlife. And so many keep silent as they spend a hard-earned dollar on yet another Powerball lottery ticket, hoping against all hope that this time they will be the big winner and join the ranks of the super-rich.

History tells us we are in the season of change. The American Autumn is going to change not only our nation but the world. Again. The question is, what role will you play?  Will you demand your dinner date pay their fair share, or will you simply no longer have the ability to dine?

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7 thoughts on “Historical Seasons of Change

  1. Thank you for writing this. I am also mildly surprised at how the message of those actively participate in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement doesn’t resonate more in my circles, and how it really doesn’t seem to resonate much in others, and in many cases even disdained. We seem to recognize and celebrate grass roots, non-violent democratic and civic participation, and calls for more equitable and representative distribution of power and wealth in other societies, but American exceptionalism remains strong.

  2. Wow. That’s a pretty great analogy. That’s about the most outspoken I’ve ever read of you dealing with political/socioeconomic kinds of issues. You’ve managed a great balance between sounding entirely cool and clinically detached while also managing to sound thoroughly disdainful and pissed off.

    Proud of you

  3. You might be interested in this story about Shuttleworth’s death that was eclipsed by Steve Jobs: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2011-10-05/fred-shuttlesworth-dies/50667896/1?csp=34news

    As for “Occupy Wallstreet”, my feeling is that many of these people are not a paycheck away as you describe of others. Otherwise, they wouldn’t still be there. I also know many people who protest regularly who are critical of how disorganized and ineffective this protest has been up to this point.

  4. Excellent and very penetrating analysis. A large problem is that life is not fair. Two frequent human tendencies are 1) to try and make life fair through reform and revolution and 2) to end up making things worse in the process, probably the worst examples being the Communist revolutions in Russia and China. These revolutions started out with valid perceptions: elitist societies based on aristocracy and capitalism were monumentally unfair. These efforts at improvement went monstrously wrong ending up in horrors such as the Gulag and the Cultural Revolution.

    Nevertheless, over time human beings have clumsily and erratically made things a little better. Slavery is gone; colonialism has mostly disappeared; Communism has mostly collapsed and vanished; medicine has advanced enormously (most of us now live much longer), racism is much diminished, and so on. On the other hand, the world is vastly overpopulated; wars and genocides still run rampant; millions of people still live in poverty and oppression. our ecosystem is in great peril.

    Human beings got to the top of the food chain mostly by being vicious and cunning and by breeding like crazed weasels. We need to evolve into a higher life form and time is very short. The term “singularity” (originally a technical term in astrophysics) has come to mean that in the next few decades human advancement and improvement will lead to a new species incomprehensible to ordinary dolts such as myself. (You may be smarter than I am in dealing with this.) This may or may not be true; this may or may not be a good thing. It is fairly clear to me that we are living in the “end times.” I don’t mean this in the traditional religious eschatology sense, but in the sense that traditional human life and culture as we know it is reaching some kind of culmination. As I am 67, I don’t expect to see much of the new order. I have a non-genetic granddaughter who is seven years old and very bright (she attends a private school for high-IQ children where a couple of the Gates children also attend) and I worry about her. If I live a few more years I will probably tell her, “Kid, we made a pretty big mess which we are handing over to you; it’s your job to try and put it all back together again. Good luck.”

  5. I love this. I’ve been surprised by the level of disdain lobbied at people who are trying to find a coherent voice for a very real, very persistent problem. The fact they’re still searching for that voice is no reason to dismiss them; efforts to do so, to me, tell more about the commenter’s innate cynicism than any noteworthy failure on occupiers’ parts. Like all of life, they’re figuring it out as they go.

    Have you seen Peter DeFazio’s take on this? I love how he boiled it down, so much that I was tempted to move my butt right back up to Oregon so I can vote for him for 100 consecutive terms.

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