Sunday, August 11, 2013

Where's the Rage on Main Street?

One of the unforeseen consequences of global news access that we get with the Internet is American liberal envy of Third World street protests. As we watch Brazilians massing against government corruption and excess, and the power of popular outrage toppling authoritarian regimes like dominos in the Middle East, we can't help but wonder - where's the rage here at home on the American Main Street? The lies of the Bush years leading to at least one if not two failed wars of expeditionary adventurism, the meltdown of the casino economy of a deregulated Wall Street, and most recently, the revelations by Edward Snowden of a growing Big Brother-like apparatus of domestic surveillance, none of this has yet to spark any significant mass unrest. The Occupy Wall Street movement was a brief high point of spontaneous revolutionary zeal that quickly morphed into homelessness and ennui. While distrust of the government, especially among the young, is a bipartisan affectation, the move from paranoia to semi-organized action seems to be beyond us. While working as a reporter in my younger days covering anti-government riots in Latin America, I used to admire the bravado of the masked students throwing rocks and braving bullets, but at the same time knew that their recklessness was basically aimless and pointless, and as much a machismo rite of passage as political expression, although there were plenty of females also running those gauntlets. But what I've seen since then is that an evolution of governance seems to start with the political passion of a population that shows a willingness to storm the barricades to get it done. Governments across Latin America in the last years of the twentieth century shed sclerotic and corrupt political parties and adopted new and progressive leadership. You can argue about whether that leadership has taken Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, etc. to good or bad places respectively, but things were bad enough to move the political needle. And that needle would never have moved if dissatisfaction had not been expressed in the form of protests and other political action. The argument has always gone that we in the USA have an inherently stable and superior political system that allows for popular expression at the ballot box, but here we have Obama in his second term unable to implement any of the changes he was elected to pursue, whether it be in health care, the shuttering of Guantanamo, investment in infrastructure, the positioning of sustainable energy in a green economy, the list goes on. And what's most impressive if not surprising, is the passivity of the American people as if paralyzed by the changes sweeping over us. Here in the dog days of August it is hard to imagine anything changing, but something has to give and we can see some glimmers of life on the horizon. Here's my choice for most likely inheritors of the spirit of rebellion we haven't seen in this country since the summer of '68, the student led campus movements for selling off university holdings in the large oil companies that are blocking the fight against carbon pollution. Climate change activists feel the urgency particularly acutely, given that we've known about the problem of rising man-made CO2 emissions in the atmosphere for some fifty years and have yet to summon the political will to meet it.
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