“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
As autumn sheds it’s leafy skin and winter fast approaches, there is a chill in the air. The trees can feel it and the creatures that move on four legs can sense it…the deafening sounds of silence. That precarious moment before the axe is swung or the predator leaps upon it’s prey. There is the natural world, the world of mice and other critters great and small, and there is the artificial world, the world of men. Each living thing has a voice, a song to sing or a story to tell. When the voices are silenced, when the creeks no longer babble and the birds no longer tweet, it is only a matter of time until the people are rendered mute. For if a human falls in the forest, will he or she make a sound? In my country ’tis of thee, more and more words are being auto corrected, more mics are being turned off and more stories are being left untold. And what we are left with are the fairy tales, myths and fabrications of the dominant culture where war is the red, white and blue path to peace, greed is nice work if you can get it, and the conquerors come as billionaires bearing gifts. Nowhere has this chilling effect been felt more than in the twin towers of education and journalism. As these kindred professions go, so goes the nation and where it will stop nobody knows. In the age of austerity, scapegoats are needed and truth telling educators and journalists have been primed to be culled from the herd. After all, it was teachers who mercilessly brought the country to it’s financial knees in 2008 during their 40-minute planning period. And it was beat reporters who brazenly asked for hundred of billions in taxpayer bailouts to buy more pencils and steno pads.
The free flow of information is vital to a functional society that espouses freedom and democracy as it’s central tenets. Gates are erected to keep people from traipsing on private property or from nosing about the grounds where the elite rub spray tanned shoulders. Gatekeepers are put in place to make sure the gates are working. Wikileaks has shown the world just how ineffective the corporate media is at disseminating information to the people. As Glenn Greenwald, of Edward Snowden fame, aligns himself with Pierre Omidyar, the 143rd richest billionaire on planet earth, this is one of those things that make you go, “Hmm, where I have seen this before? Oh yeah, when Rupert Murdoch swallowed up nearly every media outlet on the aforementioned planet earth.” Omidyar is founder and chairman of eBay, Inc., which owns PayPal which froze Wikileaks donations account which did so at the behest of the State Department. Alexa O’Brien, the tireless independent reporter who covered the entire Chelsea Manning trial commented on this incongruity, “The PayPal financial blockade against WikiLeaks gives any of his new media ventures an unfair competitive advantage.” When Chelsea Manning pantsed the emperor in 2010, Obama spoke out in his best Hopper voice, “You let one ant stand up to us, then they all might stand up! Those puny little ants outnumber us a hundred to one and if they ever figure that out there goes our way of life! It’s not about food, it’s about keeping those ants in line.” Now that Manning is safely tucked away for the night in the labrythine federal penitentiary system, all of the king’s horses and men can go back to sleep knowing that they want homicidal Army gunmen on that wall.
There is an elephant in the room that seems to have eluded Anderson Cooper’s penetrating gaze. This 800-pound bonobo is the unprecedented dismantling of public schools around the country. Here we see the same forces of privatization and corporate capitalism at work to make sure Mamas don’t let their children grow up to be critical thinkers, whistleblowers or game changers of the status quo. In Chicago, the closing of the public schools has had the unintended effect of rallying neighbors and communities to come together to stand against the force of nature known as Race to the Top. The school district of Philadelphia has been under the control of the state for years now with no signs of a pulse, much less recovery. The layoffs, student displacements and increases in non-unionized charter schools have set the clock back years, if not decades, from the hard won victories of the civil rights and labor movements in the United States. Then there’s Detroit, a whole city that has been handed over to the venture capitalists and hedge fund managers to dissect and feed off it’s carcass, the accumulated public assets and resources of the urban center, not the least of which are the predominantly African-American residents of the seized up motor city. This act of drive-by disaster capitalism had already been test driven in post-Katrina New Orleans where the entire public school district was dissolved. Clearly, Lewis Powell, the Associate Supreme Court Justice and former tobacco lobbyist, knew what he was speaking of when he referenced in a confidential memo what he perceived as a “broad attack on the American economic system”. According to Powell, “The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.” The managing of the public discourse is by proxy the managing of dissent. So, the pipeline gets fatter and the next generation of hearts and minds are left to crawl to the top.
The biggest fear for the ruling class was then and is now a return back to the garden, back to the grassroots activism, progressive movements and social unrest of the 1960′s, whose groundwork was laid in the decades preceding it. Paulo Freire spoke of praxis, “For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” It is at the nexus of dialogue and human interaction where the sparks of hope are fanned into flames. Here is where the image of the oppressor is banished and the talking stick is passed around the tribal circle. Oral histories are a time honored tradition for indigenous peoples to pass their stories on to the aforementioned next generations, for their voices to carry across the moving waters. Our children are raised to idolize robber barons and task masters while the everyday heroes in our midsts are relegated to the margins, a mere footnote in history’s unrelenting timeline. It is our relationships that will lay the groundwork for this generation’s movements as we seek progress, if not perfection. Collectively, every single drop of water is needed to bring down the levees. The dominant culture has had enough time to tell it’s stories of war, domination and colonization. It is time for our stories to be told and for our voices to be elevated and spread far and wide. Then shall be heard the “noise of running water. All around were streams, chattering, murmuring, bubbling, splashing and even roaring,” and as the thaw deepens, “a bird suddenly chirped from the branch of a tree. It was answered by the chuckle of another bird a little further off. And then, as if a signal, there was chattering and chirruping in every direction, and then a moment of full song, and within five minutes the whole wood was ringing with bird’s music.” So then, our existence will need no longer be an act of rebellion but instead a long-awaited basking in the disinfecting sunlight of our shared humanity.
Postscript: Speaking of silencing voices, a recent post at this meek and mild-mannered blog recounted the extraordinary injustice served upon a small town reporter, Claire O’Brien, for refusing to reveal a confidential source and for afflicting the comfortable during a racially and politically divisive murder trial involving a Latino immigrant and a local, not-so-good old boy. O’Brien is still in desperate need of legal and journalistic resources and support to defend herself against her accusers so I encourage anyone who might be able to help to contact Claire and to share her story.