I was in New Haven the other day, crossing the street near one of the courthouses.
"Gimme your money," a voice said. He was young, black, and hiding behind large sunglasses. He was also smiling from ear to ear.
"F@#k you," I replied. "Give me yours." The man was a former client I had not seen in many years. He’s done his time, although I forget what the crime was. We stopped traffic while we hugged one another.
We compared notes on our respective places in the world. He is a black man with a felony record. "Times are tough; there’s no money out there," he said. "How you doin’?, he asked.
"Times are tough; there’s no money out there," I replied. He thought I was mocking him. "For real?," he said. "Yeah, for real. I never saw anything like this," I said. A bad economy has erased the color and class line.
"Man, what we gonna do?," he asked, as though I had an answer.
I told him about attending a rally last weekend in Hartford at the state capitol. Some 700 or so people turned out to show solidarity with those standing tall in Wisconsin. I told him I was surprised that the crowd was almost all union people; I was surprised, too, that there were almost no people of color there.
"Nothing’s gonna change unless we make it change," I told him. I urged him to check out a group called MoveOn. It sponsored last weekend’s rally, and rallies like it in each of the 50 states.
But what is to be done? The question resonates to those with an ear for history. Russian intellectuals asked that question as the twentieth century began; Lenin famously wrote a book entitled What Is To Be Done in 1902, in which he called for a revolutionary vanguard to force change.
There may be a new Lenin for our times walking among us. His name is Gene Sharp. For decades, he has been writing about nonviolent resistance as a means of forcing change. His target has been totalitarianism. I wonder whether his methods can as effectively be targeted against a socio-economic order given over to rank plutocracy.
Sharp runs The Albert Einstein Institute. His writings have been translated into dozens of languages. He has created a list of 129 methods of nonviolent action. The list was circulated widely in Egypt when Mubarak was run out of the country. It is reprinted in its entirety as an appendix to his publication, From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation. You can download this publication, and many other useful and helpful tools of resistance, at the institute’s website found here: http://www.aeinstein.org/.
I reviewed the list this morning, as I absorbed news reports that Gov. Scott Walker was going to start laying off state workers in Wisconsin today unless Democratic Senators returned to the state. The governor wants a quorum to push through a bill sharply curtailing the power of unions to represent public employees. Governors in other states are pressing similar legislation, and there is widespread anger among non-union persons struggling in this economy over a perception that the unions are somehow to blame for what the economic pit into which we have tumbled. But pitting the displaced middle-class and those, such as my former client, who never had a toe-hold in the economy, against union members is simply a divide and conquer strategy devised by plutocrats. Folks who share the dream of an America of opportunity for all ought to reach across race and class lines to push back against wealth, privilege and power.
Revolution rarely works. It breeds new dreams that transform quickly into new nightmares. But peaceful evolution through small acts of resistance can send a message. There are things each person can do on a daily basis to resist a socio-political regime that permits bankers to walk free and profit at taxpayer expense while ordinary Americans suffer.
Why not honor something I will call Jubilee Wednesday? Ancient Israelites were told to honor the Jubilee every 50 years. It was a period of debt forgiveness, and relief for the poor and oppressed. "Ye shall not oppress one another; but though shalt fear they God; for I am the Lord your God." Leviticus 25:17.
We are a long, long ay from this bracing vision of a just society. There will be no Jubilee, not relief for the poor, in this economy, granted from on high. Had the stimulus package bankers used to stay afloat been distributed to ordinary person, each American would have received a check for $2,600. Instead, we bailed out bankers, and then went into foreclosure. Why not simply forgive, or write down, the mortgage debt of those who succumbed to the swill Angelo Mozilo and Countrywide sold? To ask the question is to realize it won’t happen. Power and wealth serve themselves.
But why not Jubilee Wednesday? Select a manner of resistance offered by Sharp’s list of 198 means of resisting the status quo. Take one small step each Wednesday, then another the following week. Collectively, individuals saying no, over and over again, will force a response. Financial monkeys ride our backs only because we do not shake them off. Wednesday was once delcared Prince Spaghetti day by creative advertisers; can a creative people make it Jubilee Day, a day each person took one small step simply to say no to power? Wednesday is a day smack dab in the middle of the workaday week, hump day those who live for the weekend call it. Why not turn this hump into a speed bump that gathers shape and strength and becomes, perhaps, a general strike, week after week?
This essay is my effort for the week. I have written a small essay to communicate with a wider audience, item number 8 on Sharp’s list. You can do something as simple as stay at home from work, or arrange a boycott of a product. Indeed, what if we all refused to spend any money whatsoever once a week, and relied upon barter with one another for simple needs? Check out Sharp’s list; select a tactic that reflects the level of risk you are comfortable assuming.
What can we do?, my former client asked. Plenty. It turns out. But we all must begin by taking a simple step. Sharp’s methods helped topple a tyrant in Egypt. What can these methods do against a government and economic system that thrives – look at Wall Street, listen to Warren Buffett’s confidence -- while millions of Americans suffer. If you’ve read this far into this essay, you are the Other America. What say you we start taking this country back, one small act of defiance at a time? What say you to Jubilee Wednesday?