Through a somewhat fortuitous set of circumstances, I find myself at work an hour earlier than usual. Suffice to say that the cable is out at home, I woke up at 1 am, I was unable to get back to sleep, and after reading the first chapter of Ray Raphael's A People's History of the American Revolution I had the urge to blog. So instead of seeking out an early-morning coffee hut with dodgy wi-fi, I headed to the office.
Apologies if this entry is a sprawling mess, but it's not easy to keep big-picture observations short and tidy.
This past week-plus, instead of posting individual entries on individual news items, I waited until all the items congealed into a gestalt before commenting on them here. The gestalt in question has one of the items at its focal point: all the saber-rattling and other hubbub over Venezuela.
As is my habit, I didn't watch the State of the Union address Tuesday night. This annual ritual prescribed by the Constitution devolved into bad political theatre in the 1980s, under our first actor-president, and it has grown far worse since then. But I have read some of the commentaries from brave progressives with Twitter accounts and a heavier tolerance for both alcohol and bullshit than I have. My biggest takeaway from those commentaries has been a bipartisan message consisting of We don't like socialism or socialists, we're all on board with the coup in Venezuela, and the climate crisis isn't worth mentioning so we won't.
Let's not forget the connection between Venezuela and climate disruption: The US-Based Evil Corporate Empire wants access to Venezuela's massive oil reserves really badly. They want to extract it and burn it to fuel late-stage capitalism, which of course will accelerate climate disruption. It's bad enough that Hugo Chávez had to rely so heavily on petroleum exports to fund the programs of the Bolívarian Revolution, helping jack up global average temperatures.
Washington Bullet Points
The Venezuela business crystallizes for me, better than any other issue, the current political landscape in North America.
Just as Trump has done us the favor of bringing corporate rule into the open, our government is now making its formerly covert meddling in Latin America overt. And it's a bipartisan effort: Just as Congressional Democrats in the Reagan years raised no substantive objections to our supporting ultra-violent right-wing governments to our south, today's Democrats are revealing their willingness to impose neoliberalism on Venezuela via the barrel of a very large gun, to the delight of their corporate donors.
The Connection with A People's History of the American Revolution
In the 18th century, everyday people in colonies of British North America rose up against an evil corporate empire that was ripping them off and oppressing them (or impressing them into the Royal Navy). Some actions amid the uprisings resulted in violence, including tarring and feathering of colonial officials and wealthy Tories; quite a bit of it was nonviolent civil disorder, but always with the potential for violence looming. It took a couple of decades, but eventually people with money, power, and influence took notice and became the intellectual vanguard of the American Revolution.
That is Raphael's main thesis in his People's History volume: History has overlooked the people-power aspects of the War for Independence and the run-up to it, glossing over the suffering and triumphs of common folk, casting the Founding Fathers as the heroes and creating elaborate mythologies around them.
Raphael's first chapter gives two paragraphs to the Regulators of the Carolina colonies in the 1760s and '70s. You don't hear much about them in your history classes because they were ordinary farmers, not well-scrubbed planters or attorneys. Plus, history is written by the winners, and the Regulators lost their conflict big-time. Diana Gabaldon gave them a fairly important role in the fourth and fifth novels of her Outlander series, the first mention of the Regulator Movement I had ever seen.
Meanwhile, Back in Venezuela...
In the late 1990s, the Venezuelan populace democratically overthrew its oppressive petro-state, putting Chávez at the helm. The Chávista vanguard undertook programs to diversify the economy, make the nation more self-sufficient, and provide education and health care for the masses who were so long denied them. This experiment went well while oil prices were high and Venezuela was awash in oil profits, not so well when oil prices plummeted.
Nicolás Maduro inherited a mess when he took over the presidency in 2013, and he hasn't done a great job of cleaning it up. But he also inherited what could become Chávez's most important legacy: Like the Zapatistas in Chiapas, México, the Bolívarian Revolution empowered ordinary people to take charge of their own destinies. (Granted an awful lot of that taking charge is taking the form of fleeing into Colombia.) That's a big reason why the pro-government rallies there have been as numerous and well attended as opposition demonstrations. (From what I've seen, the pro-opposition folks out in the streets look comfortably middle-class.)
Maduro's party remains hugely popular, even if the president himself is less so. But the whole point here is that Chávez may have led the revolution, but it is up to the people to maintain it.
Craving a New People's Movement: We Are the 3.5%!
In the United States today, it would seem that the mass of people is too thoroughly propagandized (and, let's face it, frightened at the prospect of state violence) to stage a rebellion, or even mass demonstrations like those of the Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s. The Johnson and Nixon administrations, and the Congresses of the time, felt the heat from the protests; policies and campaign rhetoric changed in response to that heat. Today half a million people can show up on the DC Mall, make a lot of noise, leave behind a lot of trash, and effectively accomplish nothing.
Congress and the White House do not respond to the people because there are too busy doing the bidding of the Donor Class. Ralph Nader initially decided to run for president in 1996 (and then more seriously in 2000) because he had observed exactly that. All his talk about "not a dime's worth of difference between the two [corporate] parties" reflects what he saw up-close in trying to formulate policy, not what the parties' celebrities say and do on the TV news. In the '60s, the consumer rights movement and consumers themselves actually had an influence; in the post-Reagan trickle-down era, not so much.
All this is why, in my estimation, the US desperately needs not just a People's Party, but a true People's Movement. We need a bigger, hungrier Occupy Movement, one which has learned from the mistakes of 2011-12, because economic life for the 99% continues to worsen. We need millions in the streets putting pressure on our capitalist overlords and their puppets in the Capitol. We need to revive and re-create not just the 1960s, but the 1760s as well.
Fantasize as we might about certain youthful Congressmembers and presidential candidates serving as the inspiration and vanguard of such a movement, it is far more important to have a few million regular non-elected folks deciding democratically what shots to call and who should call them. Our best chance at realizing this popular-movement fantasy rests with those born since 1980.
In this lengthy address, climate scientist Gail Bradbrook of Extinction Rebellion UK spends time distilling some research on mass movements. In the current global situation, for any mass movement to achieve its objectives requires that about 3.5% of the population be part of it, in whatever capacity. In the US, that would be, what, close to 10 million people?
Ten million sounds like a huge, obtainable number. But we have more than 80 million Millennials in the US, about half of whom purportedly prefer socialism to capitalism—not just because it's trendy, but because late-stage capitalism has ripped them off. Too many of them have minimal prospects for a job that will provide the same standard of living as their parents and grandparents and pay down their humongous college loans. Of course, maintaining that standard of living just accelerates the climate crisis they've inherited.
If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets re-elected and re-elected like her colleagues in Congress, she will probably fall into line with the Democratic Caucus and its positions on issues. As Black Agenda Report's Glen Ford points out, She has not joined the chorus of anti-imperialist, anti-interventionist voices, likely knowing full well that it's a dangerous position to take on the Hill.
AOC may be a breath of fresh air with a subtly rosy socialist flavor now, and she may hang out with the Sunrise Movement. But progressives in her age cohort would do well to remember how their progressive idols change after they've served a few terms in DC (with a few notable exceptions). They will need to keep their eyes on the reward for their efforts: a government works to ensure peace, justice, and a stable climate.
Sunrise, Extinction Rebellion, and the school strikes in Europe that Greta Thunberg started are just the beginning. They'll need to find ways to become trendy enough to motivate millions of US Millennials and Generation Z to join them in their mission. It won't be easy, but saving the world never is.
Blogging Sporadically since 2014
Here you will find political campaign-related entries, as well as some about my literature, Houston underground arts, peace & justice, urban cycling, soccer, alt-religion, and other topics.