Showing posts with label protestors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label protestors. Show all posts

18 December 2014

Absolute Powerlessness


Back in August of 1970, when I was 16 years old, I got caught up in a riot in Los Angeles. Wrong place, wrong time. At the time, I had no idea what had sparked it. All I knew was that I was on foot, alone, in a part of the city I didn't know, and couldn't get out of except on foot. (No buses were running, and I didn't have taxi fare even if I'd spotted one.) Meanwhile, there was a lot of action, everywhere I looked, and none of it looked good. There were cops with sticks, cops with guns, cops with tear gas, people throwing bricks, everyone screaming, running, tripping… And then, as night fell, the scavengers came out, and things got very bad.

East LA riots

I was lucky: I found shelter. One of those strange blessings that I could never use in a story (truth is always stranger than fiction), a man came out of a building and said, "You need to get off the street. Now." And gave me his apartment for the night. For free. He even went somewhere else. I spent the night, barely sleeping - I didn't really trust my good luck with him or the mob in the streets - but in the morning, it was safe to get out and go back to my base.

File:RubenSalazar.jpg
Ruben Salazar (1928-1970)
A few days later I was told that it was all about the death of Ruben Salazar, a Mexican-American journalist, back from reporting in Vietnam, and who had turned his attention and articles to the unjust treatment of Chicanos by the LAPD. Naturally, he was hugely unpopular with the LAPD. Anyway, he'd been covering a Chicano march/rally against the Vietnam War and slipped off to have a quiet beer in a local bar. What I was told at the time was that the police had firebombed the bar, killing him, and then claimed they thought he was a drug dealer they were looking for.

What really happened? Well, for whatever reason the LAPD decided to break up the rally, despite the fact that everyone agrees it was peaceful. The police claimed they'd gotten reports that a local liquor store was being robbed; reason enough to declare the rally (20,000+ people) to be an illegal assembly and call out the riot squads. Tear gas, guns, the whole nine yards; the marchers retaliated; 150 were arrested, and 4 killed - including Salazar, who was having a quiet beer in a local bar when a deputy sheriff lobbed a 10-inch, wall-piercing tear gas missile (designed for barricade situations according to Wikipedia) into the bar, hitting Salazar in the head and killing him instantly. The LAPD claimed that they thought the robber had gone into the bar; then they claimed that there were drug dealers there. The deputy sheriff was never indicted or even reprimanded. That part of Los Angeles burned for a while, but that was nothing new. Nobody cared.
"It is a cliche that 'Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' Like all cliches, it has a considerable element of truth. Nonetheless, one of the major purposes of any AVP workshop is to empower the participants, and to teach them to share power in community for the benefit of all. This is essential because the negative side of the old cliche is as true as the positive: 'Powerlessness corrupts, and absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely.' All people need, for survival, a measure of power over their own lives and over their own environment... If people are deprived of the legitimate use of their necessary power they will use what power they have destructively and with violence." — Alternatives to Violence Project Basic Manual - p. C-2, my emphasis added.

I've been thinking about the underlined passages above for a long time. I've been thinking about it because of everyone raised in homes are virtual prisons of alcohol, addiction, or abuse, as tightly controlled as a tomb. I've been thinking about it because of all the slaves in history, from the days of Gilgamesh to current-day human trafficking. I've been thinking about it because of all the subject peoples of military empires in history, from the Sumerians under Sargon the Great to the current day economic and political empires. I've been thinking about it because of all those who believe, deep down in their hearts, that some people just should not be allowed to have any power, any rights, any pleasures. And work very, very hard to make sure they don't get any. And then are horrified and appalled when the worms finally turn.

Look, fear, intimidation, bullying, all work very well at getting obedience. So does suborning the judicial process, whether within the family or in the town or on up the food chain. You can strip away every shred of power from someone and virtually (if not literally) own them. But rebellion will out. And when there is absolute powerlessness - where there is literally nothing you can do against whatever or whoever is controlling you - rebellion can come in some very strange forms. Rage. Cutting. Depression. Rage. Anorexia. Hostility. Aggression. Rage. Rioting. Burning. Rage. Things will happen.

Martin Luther
Of course, none of them are the right things. Whenever there has been an attempt at redress of grievances by the underlings, the people in power have always considered it outrageous, unjust, ridiculous, insane, criminal, animal, and generally unacceptable. Violent protest is ipso facto proof that the protesters are wrong, aren't capable of reason, and should not be listened to, only punished. I read the comments on-line calling the Ferguson protesters dogs who should be shot, and it didn't surprise me at all: In 1525, during the Reformation, when the German peasants revolted against their lords, Martin Luther wrote a pamphlet telling the nobles to kill them: "It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you, and a whole land with you." Yes, Luther was a social conservative. No, nothing much changes in history. During the American Revolution, the "Sons of Liberty" were seen by the British as "truly nothing but a drunken, canting, lying, praying, hypocritical rabble without order or cleanliness" who needed to be shot on sight.

Mr. Gandhi
Nonviolent protest doesn't earn any more respect. Listen to Winston Churchill on Gandhi: "It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir [which Churchill pronounced faker] of a type well known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor." Martin Luther King, Jr. received constant insults, arrests, death threats, and was eventually assassinated, as were Medgar Evers and others. It's no better on the family level. The person who leaves is always a selfish traitor who should have stuck it out to the end; the one who tries to live a separate, different life is stuck-up and needs to be brought down a notch. And, if it's an abusive marriage we're talking about, there's a good chance that the spouse who leaves will be harassed, assaulted, stalked and even killed.

So basically, from the point of view of power, neither violent nor nonviolent protest are acceptable: instead of protesting, trust the existing system to dole out rights, etc., as the system deems appropriate. And, of course, if there is no protest, then nothing is wrong, and nothing needs to change. "But you never complained..." "You never said a word about this when you were a child!" "She never said no!" "I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!" "S/he never told me to stop…”

And that is what makes people crazy.

Meanwhile, there is the alternative of "shar[ing] power in community for the benefit of all." That's hard for many people, who see life as a zero-sum game, and are terrified of having to share their toys, their power, their breathing space. But we had all better be prepared to do this, because no one - I repeat, NO ONE gets to hang on to all the cookies forever. Every empire has collapsed and/or been conquered. Every tyrant - whether they ruled empires, countries, kingdoms or families - has died. And there are no U-hauls behind hearses. When the last rattle comes, we are all absolutely powerless.

drawing © by Allan Fishe

21 November 2011

Criminals and Protesters


Jan Grape by Jan Grape

What's all the big deal about the Occupy Wall Street protesters? What do they want? Do they expect the rich to give them part of their money? Take from the rich and give to the poor, really? Most of us are happy when someone makes a mint. We don't want their money. Especially the money they earned by working for it. Are they asking for a hand-out? After hearing some congressmen and other people who say they are in the 1% tell the protesters on national television to "get a job." I realize they have no clue. They have erroneously decided most of these protesters are homeless/hippie/college-age or teens who just want to protest.

Maybe so, and since I'm not out in the midst of these folks, I can't say for sure. I've read and heard that stealing food, leaving horrible unsanitary areas and sexual assaults have taken place in the tent cities, and that's just all wrong. But seeing the 84 year old woman who got pepper-sprayed in the face and the marine who got the skull fracture and the peaceful sitting protesters out in CA getting pepper sprayed in the face, by police who've been ordered to disband these peaceful demonstrations. I have a feeling there are a lot of people who feel that something is terribly wrong on Wall Street and in congress. I understand cities already in debt racking up even more debt to try and keep things peaceful. The police are given orders even though they don't always agree. Yet some policemen get totally out of hand. I saw and even personally know some college students who've been protesting, I have read about teachers, police officer, military personnel, people out of work for months, union workers, and even plain ordinary folks joining the protest. Tonight many artists and musicians are joining in with the LA protesters after the AMA awards.

Most of the protesters out there are trying to make Wall Street fund managers and politicians wake up and do what needs to be done to fix some grievous wrongs. However, I don't hold out much hope they will.

The fact that banking and financial institutions were bailed-out with taxpayer money, then the boards of those institutions gave themselves and most of their top management people huge bonuses. When called upon to explain, these corporate Greedy-Gus CEOs never explained. Not one of them has ever been sent to jail for malfeasance or mismanagement of funds or even called on the carpet. Not one of them ever paid back any bail-out monies that I know about or have heard.

Seems as if I recall a huge outcry when the bail-outs were given to the large auto companies but I've heard more than one of these companies has paid money back to the US Government. The banking and brokerage institutions who haven't paid any money back are criminals. To me that's the same as defaulting on a loan. These are same characters got our economy into this mess in the first place.

Okay, having said that, let me digress to why I write crime fiction. Throughout many years of living, I've seen, read and heard of many, many miscarriages of justice. In fact, a recent case happened here in Austin just last month. A man convicted of killing his wife twenty-five years ago was found to be totally innocent. He spent twenty-five years in prison knowing a killer was out there someplace, having gotten away with murder. The man was recently released but his life has been destroyed and his daughter's life destroyed because the man was falsely convicted of killing her mother. Imagine the sorrow his own mother and father went through. The only good part of the story is that last week they finally arrested the person who DNA shows is alledged to be the real killer. It's believed that he killed another woman two years after the first initial murder in the same manner.

In my stories and books the criminal is somehow caught and punished. He or she is put in jail or is killed The criminal get his "just desserts." Harsh justice? I think not. In real life there seldom is satisfaction when a crime is committed. Sometimes the criminal is caught and put on trial, but gets off by a technical error. or an inept prosecutor and inept jury. There is no justice. No satisfaction. Sometimes in one of my stories, I write the criminal gets a psychological punishment...having to live the rest of their life thinking of what they have done.

Real life is full of these huge miscarriages of justice. This echoes back to Dixon's blog the other day. Happy endings. People who read crime fiction want the bad guys/gals caught and punished. They want a criminal to suffer for their crimes. Writers of crime fiction usually write a happy ending. Maybe not every time but enough times to keep readers coming back. This is why I think crime fiction is so popular. If you keep track of the best sellers, the list generally has many books of mystery or crime fiction.

The Occupy Wall-Street protesters just want the criminals punished and these huge companies to STOP giving away money that was not really theirs to begin with, it came from the people. Why weren't those bonuses used to create news jobs? Why not restore a little faith in our society? Why allow criminals to get away with their crimes?

We writers of crime fiction must continue seeking truth and justice and let the bad guys be punished. If all else fails we may have to join the protesters.