We Can Do Better.
By now, most of you who read my columns here, probably know a few things about me, and about who I am, who I try to be, and where I come from. Plus, you can always click on my profile here on Room Eight if you are more curious. I was born into politics; my father was a left-wing activist. Somewhere around the mid-point of the 20th century (around 1953/I think), Iran’s democratically elected government was overthrown. The Prime Minister (Mossadegh) was ousted. History widely accepts that the United States was involved through the use of its Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.). The Shah of Iran was then re-installed as head of that country. He was later viewed as an American puppet who ruled with an iron-fist. Even then it was about OIL.
Mossadegh wanted to nationalize the oil for the profit of the people of Iran, something that cut against the grain of both American laissez-faire capitalism and international political and economic arrangements. It also cut against the grain of the profits of the big oil companies. Thus he was politically whacked. He had to be taken out before this threatening wave of nationalism spread and got out of control; you just can’t upset the status quo, you just can’t. As morally reprehensible an act as that was, it was the harsh reality of those times. But has times changed? Has American foreign–policy initiatives gotten any better? Are the decision-makers any more humane now than say 1953?
When these events unfolded, my father-as a young man living in the Caribbean island of Trinidad-was one of a couple hundred who protested in front of the American Embassy. The protesters burned the American flag and also burnt effigies of Uncle Sam. Of course my dad was later victimized, harassed, ostracized, and later investigated for supposedly subversive activities; it came with the territory. Politically speaking, he always told me that we can do better. He meant all of us: from kings, queens and nobles; to governors, prime ministers and elected officials; to the professionals, the upper-crust set and the white-collars; to the blue-collars, tradesmen and artisans; and especially the ordinary citizens in the polity. He really believed that ordinary citizens are not aware of their true political-power potential; whether it is with civil-disobedience, protests, strikes, boycotts, ballots or bullets. He went to his grave believing this. To him, power was in the hands of the people. He was also a trade-union organizer; are you surprised? In those days trade-unions were true trade-unions; not the apologies that they are today.
I say all this to say this: as ordinary citizens, it’s time to seriously deal with what’s going on in Iraq. The time has come for civic-action. The question is how, when, where and in what form? It can always start with the ballot. I hate to even envisage it ever getting to bullets. I also hate to see anyone burning any country’s national flag. I know I will never do that, no matter how incensed I may be. Too many people shed blood, belongings, limbs and organs for their nationalism; many others make the ultimate sacrifice: their life.
As much as my father and I may have disagreed on flag-burning, I have seen in my lifetime, too many scenes where the old Glory has been burnt, whether it was here in the USA or abroad-in some country with some strange spelling and strange sounding name. If you try to count the number of times this has happened abroad since 1953, you will need a calculator. I have even seen it happen in countries supposedly allied to the USA, and also in ones where the names are not strange in spelling or sound. For example: Japan, England, Spain, France, Russia, and so on, and so on. My father was who he was, and I am who I am, and yet I can’t help but think that maybe his knocks on American foreign-policy were often justified.
As I write this piece the carnage in Iraq continues. Every day hundreds of innocent people senselessly die in there. Why are we (as American citizens) idly standing by, watching it happen? Where are the leaders that we elected to deal with issues like these? And I am not talking about the John Kerreys or John Edwards or other John-Doe democrats who voted both for the war and against the war, all in the same breath. I am talking about the leaders in the streets; the ones who turn up the heat. Why are they letting octogenarian grandmothers wage this battle against what’s going on in Iraq?
Based on recent U.N. estimates over one hundred civilians die daily in Iraq, directly because of this war. Since this war started on March 20th, 2003, it has been projected in some quarters that around one hundred thousand people have died; other estimates go as low as fifty thousand. The estimates for those maimed and injured start at a quarter million. But what about the heavy tolls on other areas of life. What about the grief and the sorrow that cannot be quantified, no matter what the statistical methodology is. And what about the children? What will be the psychological after-effects of all this carnage? Just as post-victory Iraq, (remember George Bush triumphantly declared victory on the deck of one of his warships, before spring had ended that very year), has turned out to be catastrophic, post-war Iraq will be worse.
During the American Civil War (1861-1865) it is estimated that there were around six hundred thousand casualties. The horror of this war left its psychological scars that neither white nor black historians have ever elaborated on. Truth be told, historians hardly-if ever-delve into post-war trauma and how this phenomenon (re)shapes and (re)defines societies thereafter. I believe that the reason for the venomous racial reprisals throughout the South-and in some other parts of these dis-united states-is directly attributable to the war. Mentally and physically beaten, whites had to find a scapegoat; in this case it was easy to target blacks who were always blamed for the problem anyway. Thus you saw an increase in racial hostilities, racial discrimination, racial murders-including lynchings- and Jim Crow laws of all flavors. This was just one area of the post-war psychological fall out that (re)shaped and (re)defined American society.
In a time of sophisticated high-tech communication, where traumatic events are graphically flashed before pristine eyes in rather routine ways on a daily basis, what do you think the effect will be on Iraq’s children, when the war finally subsides or ends? Don’t forget that this is a country that has gone through three full scale wars and countless insurrections in the past quarter-century alone; notwithstanding its ancient history of turmoil.
Those of us who are now resigned to the fact that this Iraq-invasion has been disastrous in its human toll, must now forge an inside-outside strategy. On the inside, we must pressure the leaders of both the US Senate and the House of Representatives to address this issue head-on. On the inside, we must also pressure the various state legislatures to take up this issue at their level; then we do the same at city and local levels of government. On the inside, we must continue to work the United Nations for a REAL resolution.
On the inside of our souls we need to all put ourselves in the place of the Iraqi people. Think of the mothers and fathers who look on helplessly as their kids are blown away by car-bombs. Think of the old ladies who go shopping at the local market only to be running for their life in fear. Think of the old men who can no longer go outdoors to play chess or backgammon on a cool day. Think of the children whose education is now subsumed in a curriculum of war; whose fairy-tales are now nightmares of death, violence and destruction. Oh George, George, George, George, George.
On the outside, we must take to the streets. We have to start staging massive protests and demonstrations all over the USA and all over the world. We must involve ourselves in PEACEFUL acts of civil-disobedience. We must not be frozen up by those who say stay loyal to our troops; this is the best way to help our troops. Get them out of harm’s way. Enough is enough.
Think about this: didn’t the first Afro-American Secretary of State (Colin Powell) of these dis-United States warn us, when he spun that Pottery-Barn metaphor: “if you break it, you own it”? Didn’t he not warn Junior’s daddy many years before not to go messing with that same country, when Powell refused to march his troops into Baghdad, after running the Iraqis out of Kuwait. He not only knew that it was 100 miles of bad road, he knew it was also a hundred years of bad news-daily. Like it is today-daily.
The father barely listened; the son absolutely did not. But what can you except from someone who has God’s cell-phone number in his little black-book. Someone whose college “C”- average now talks in profound ways. We can’t expect much, thus it’s time for us to act. We can make a combined citizen’s arrest to this madness; we must end this continuing saga of stubbornness, lunacy and hubris.
I truly suspect that deep down in his heart, George Bush jnr. tries to be a decent human being; but he just doesn’t get it. It’s way above his head. I truly think that he tries to be sincere, and that he WANTS to be a “compassionate conservative”, I really do. I listen when he speaks. I watch his body-language, his gestures, and his mannerisms. On a human-level he is very likeable; but fits of intellectual brilliance isn’t automatic to George. He tries, but the depth from years of reading, studying, analyzing and researching just isn’t there. It’s my suspicion that the women are smarter than the men in the Bush family. Maybe Barbara knows that I am correct in this estimation.
President Bush needs to call a time-out and do what any good coach does when the game isn't going his team’s way: re-group. He needs to do this immediately. The present situation demands this. As a leader you sometimes have to make hard calls; way beyond the rhetoric and the spin, way beyond the polls and the pundits.
Just because you believe that God exists, just because you attend church every so now and then, just because the Christian right-wing of the Republican Party gave you their energetic votes which propelled you to an undeserved-presidency, doesn’t automatically transform you into some brilliant thinker in contemporary terms. Rumsfeld and Chaney are taking you down with this one Mr. President. Your cabinet seems to be in ‘group-think’ mode. History will not be kind. Do a retreat: invite scholars from all sides of the political spectrum, listen, listen, listen. Then chart a course for corrective action.
I am sure that by now most of you reading this are probably thinking that I have really gone insane now: well, maybe I have. I am sure some of you are saying that they are going to get me; well I appreciate your concern. What can they do to me? Harass me? Put me in jail? Break into my house and search for subversive literature or weaponry? I hate guns as much as I love literature. Would they trump up some charges against me on something or the other, so that people will trace it right back to this article and say: “see I told you so.” Look, I don’t get caught up in conspiracy theories without overwhelming evidence. Sorry to disappoint, but I have neither big money nor big assets to lose. It’s time to be unafraid. Despite its colorful history, there are too many political-cowards in this country. At this time in human history, many lives are depending on our courage here in the USA. If they come for me, then they will come for you next. All of you who agree with what I am saying in this column, because you are going to have to get up off your fat asses and do something for once.
This apathy must end. This political “non-involvement” of most New Yorkers (and most other Americans too) must end. Too much crap is going on. The natural environment is messed-up, the schools are messed-up, the legislatures are messed-up, the job-market is messed-up, the housing situation is messed-up; rents are jacked-up, gasoline prices are jacked-up, and inflation is coming at us like a runaway train. But you know what; it’s still a million times better to be in New York than in Iraq. Think about that as you sip on your drambuie, or your latte, or whatever.
Like the average black New Yorker, I basically live from paycheck to paycheck, from rent to rent, from bill to bill, from loan to loan, from challenge to challenge; and I juggle it all as good as any circus clown. We all know that rents are too damn high in this city; I have argued for a tax rebate for renters from the first time I ran for office in 1998. All to no avail. The electeds hardly ever listen. I suggested it to one mayoral candidate last year and another one stole the idea from him. Still nothing happened.
Look, some months are better than others, and every now and again a lil extra money might flow. So what? It’s a struggle. That’s life for most folks here. But I am not being bombed everyday. I am not having daily terrorism with my daily vitamin pills and orange juice. I am not watching death and destruction all around me. Dinner isn’t served with Molotov cocktails. I am not gloomy and insecure in my environment. I surely don’t play hop-scotch with suicide-bombers, or hide and seek with Al Qaeda henchmen. I do like most people in New York: I make do.
I have food to eat, clothes on my back, shelter, a computer, radio, televisions and many of the material trappings that make life just a tad easier. I am better off than over 90% of the world’s population; the same number of people in this world who has never had a checking or savings account in a bank of any sort. The same people who have never had in their home a refrigerator, an electrical appliance, or in-door plumbing; the same people who make less than fifty US dollars a week in income; the same people whose life expectancy rate is probably half of ours here. Some of these same people risk their lives everyday to illegally cross our borders. Think about that folks.
Most of us in these dis-United states don’t understand how lucky we are in comparative terms. Too many of us are unappreciative. Maybe that’s why we haven’t done something about this Iraq situation as yet. Things are too good here sometimes. We have freedom of speech to a great extent, and we have many of the material comforts that others on this planet only dream about. Well, to those who are given a lot, a lot more is expected (in terms of give-backs); and we need to start being more sensitive to what is happening in the world around us. Believe me when I say that Iraq is not the only country imprisoned by inhumane forces of man and nature; there are many others. Let’s start in Iraq.
To those who may take umbrage to this piece, let me say that my conscience has guided my pen; my humanity has driven my words and my soul couldn’t let me sleep another night without doing this. On September 12th, 2006, I am going to continue what I have now started. You see, that’s the day of the Democratic Party’s primary election. My first protest action will be to vote against Mrs.Wishy-Washy. I will be voting against Mrs. Both-Sides–Of–The Fence: HILARY CLINTON. I hope you all follow me. Let’s send a message for the Iraqi people.
This column is dedicated to my dad-who passed away last November- since I know he was absolutely correct when he said: “we can all do better”. We can.