Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Same shit, different day

You might have noticed one of the things that makes me nuts is the difference between what this country says it is and what it is in real life.

What America is supposed to be about is freedom, the freedom to say what you think, of equality for everyone, of hope, of participatory government, blah blah blah blah.


Even those of us who should know better—like me, yeah—still fall for this bullshit.
What happened? Was it ever better than it is today? No...but there was more...hope. Throughout our national history there have been surges of hope—for equality, the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, for a government really of “the people,” and so on. Hope is what’s kept me going. I keep hoping things will get better. What a codependent, yeah. I am.

That brings me back to a book I mentioned a while back, Clancy Sigal’s Going Away. It’s about the death of sone of the strongest hopes, participatory democracy and social justice. These deaths happened back in the 1950s, with the raging paranoia of the Cold War and the meanness of McCarthyism. Yeah, there were little outbursts of hope in the ‘60s, with the civil rights and anti-war movements, but those were like the last spasms, the rattles. I got to admit, I still believe in those things. And I still do what I can to bring about some major changes. The definition of insanity? Doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting different outcomes.

Back in the 1870s, the life of coal miners was exceedingly hard. It’s never been easy, and probably never will be—but back then it was absolutely vile. Many of the miners were Irish immigrants. The Irish had come to America to escape the death trap of English rule over their homeland. They arrived and were fed into entirely new death traps: soldiering in the Civil War, building the railroads, and working in the mines. They did, however, view America as a land of opportunity...and behaved as if it really was. In the coal fields, they organized into protective societies: The Ancient Order of Hibernians, and they fought back against the exploitive tactics of the mine owners. The nickname for the miners’ were “Molly McGuires.” When the miners agitated for better wages and the mine owners hired goons to beat them up, the miners beat up the goons. If the mines were unsafe, the miners closed them down. They fought back. It got violent.

America needed coal: industry, railroads—the country ran on coal. It needed cheap coal, because the industrialists hated like hell to pay more for anything than they absolutely had to. They hired scabs—strike-breakers—to counter the miners’ demands for better wages and working conditions, they got the troops called out to force miners back to work; they hired detective agencies and placed secret agents among the miners. And they hung or imprisoned those who spoke out against the awfulness. This sounds familiar, yeah. It should: it’s only one chapter in the book of broken dreams of America.

In Sigal’s book, the narrator picks up a hitch-hiker, a young guy who turns out to be a descendent of one of those secret agents used to squash the miners. The guy doesn’t know shit, of course: he’s a good citizen of the United States of Amnesia. What he knows is only what he’s been told through official sources.

So, that got me into this rap about American history. From the suppression of the Molly McGuires to the crushing of strikes against the mines in Idaho, in Nevada, Montana, Arizona, the repression of the Wobblies in the woods of Washington and Oregon (and Idaho and Montana...etc.), the owners, the bosses, have never hesitated to use whatever means they thought was necessary to preserve their investments. It got international, very fast, like the oil companies, the big mining conglomerates, the timber industries... Mexico, Chile, Peru, Indonesia, Africa—whatever is necessary to protect investments is done. To read the history is to read the betrayal of what America is supposed to be all about. Or what they say it’s all about.

The war against the Iraqis is no different—the technology has improved, but the goals are the same. Instead of coal it’s oil, instead of a national struggle it’s an international struggle, but, same ol’ same ol’.

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