This was a very powerful show. Watching and listening to Howard Zinn talk about what he believes and what he hopes for was an amazing experience. Seeing clips from the History Channel documentary ensured that I will go in search of the entire show. The actors who represented the historical figures gave poignant readings that truly brought that time in history to life and -- importantly -- made it possible to understand how the individual portrayed were catalysts to incredible change. It was interesting to listen to Zinn's comments about the Obama and his comparison of Obama to Martin Luther King. The comparison seems a bit unfair as Martin Luther King was not an elected official. Rather, Martin Luther King's comments were entirely in alignment with his role as a pastor and a change agent. Indeed, in retrospect, Zinn's comments were pertinent to the criticism of Obama at the time (in 2009), but would not be considered as relevant today, given Obama's re-election and his firm stand with the middle class. Timing is everything in politics and social change, as Zinn's documentary so aptly illustrates.
The relevance of this video clip to the Occupy Movement is substantive. The quiescence of people regarding the war in Afghanistan that Moyers refers to in the video was puzzling to both Moyers and Zinn. Yet, it seems that the interim period of time -- and the coalescence of so many disturbing events that originated 2008 as the fiscal crisis began to swell to global proportions -- shook people up sufficiently to cause them to rebel and take to the streets. While Europeans and people in other countries have maintained higher levels of activism during the past decades, Americans have been focused -- it seems -- on emulating the rich, aligning themselves with those in power, and much less focused on equal opportunity. While it is true that occasional social outbursts in the name of human rights have taken center stage, populist causes seem to have been very much in the background since 9/11.
Historical photos and commentary like that given by Bill Moyers is so important. It is all too easy to forget events and the emotions people experienced and the thinking that went on at the time. Remembering war well is incredibly important -- it may be one of the strongest deterrents that we have against waging war. The French remembered World War I well enough -- it was certainly recent enough to strongly engrave the hearts and minds of the surviving Frenchmen and women -- to loose any eagerness to enter World War II. There are plenty of people still living who remember the Vietnam War. Yet, as Bill Moyers points out, those people do not seem to be marching in the streets to protest the war in Iraq (at the time the show was filmed) and in Afghanistan now. Perhaps one difference is that 9/11 is still fresh in the collective memory of the American public, much the same as Pearl Harbor must seem like it just happened yesterday to those people who were young in World War II. The issue that Moyers highlighted about the media is critical. One phenomenon that requires the careful attention of people is how the media views and disseminates the news. The polarization among newspapers, radio stations, and television stations has become almost comical -- except that, if a reader, listener, or viewer happens on media that is in strong opposition to their political views, it does not seem so funny after all. Increasingly, citizens across the globe must become better critical thinkers and develop critical literacy skills. Digital media is so pervasive in our societies now that we are all subject to censorship -- if not formal censorship, then censorship by algorithm. Browsers are built to ensure that the links and advertisements Internet users see on their personal media screens are particularly keyed to their interests. As Eli Pariser has pointed out, these algorithms run amok and increasingly circumscribe what we are shown and ultimately what we see -- without much awareness on our part that these "filter bubbles" are at work, continuously narrowing our lives.
This broadcast provides an excellent look at the complexity of federal politics. Particularly interesting was the discussion about how difficult it is for politicians to retain a populist orientation when their campaign dollars come from the wealthy. Sanders' point that election campaigns should be funded by public money is pivotal. Moreover, he demonstrates that it can work as he runs his own campaign that way -- he noted that the average contribution to his campaign is $40. That is very significant, and it echoes the success that the Obama campaign has had with their digital election campaign that successfully and repeatedly tapped the wallets of the middle class. Sanders asserts that what is needed is a grassroots political uprising to break the hold of the wealthy on Congress.
I admire Sanders' willingness to say that he is not afraid to use the term "socialism" and refers to the Scandinavian systems that provide free health care and have substantively lower unemployment than does the United States. The U.S. looses $100 billion dollars a year because dozens of multinational corporations do not pay any income tax. This has to stop. Sadly, the very rich seem bent on completely disenfranchising an enormous proportion of the American public in order to continue putting more and more money into their own personal pockets -- not into investments that result in reduced unemployment in this country, and not into investments that improve American educational systems, science and medical research. Sanders spoke about the distribution of wealth in America in frank terms. This is a critical dialogue. He also talked about the changes in the Democratic party that reflect the focus of the power to protect the rights of white, upper class people and well-to-do retired people. This is not the Democratic party of Lyndon Baines Johnson or Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Sanders calls it like it is with his comments about Ryan being a complete hypocrite who lies to the American public.
Ronald Reagan's statement that, "I believe that government exists to protect us from each other not to protect us from ourselves." is still echoed in the Republican Party today. It is the same mentality that Mitt Romney employs -- that people must be responsible for themselves and that the government is not there to pick up the slack for people who don't take care of themselves and prepare for their future. The most fundamental flaw in this thinking is that it assumes that everyone starts from an even playing field -- or else, one is forced to conclude, that the GOP really doesn't care that fundamental inequalities exist which will prevent large swaths of American people from ever being able to "take care of themselves" and look out for their future.
The GOP no longer represents the American working public -- it represents Wall Street and those who make their living through investments, through self-serving positions of corporate control, through the economics of the war machine, and through the cronyism associated with the "imperial presidency" that Moyers named. The more conservative members of the GOP and the Tea Party members are facades behind which wealthy Republicans conduct their war on the middle class. Moreover, conservatives seem entirely comfortable insisting that their religious beliefs are a legitimate basis for lawmaking. The way that issues of abortion and reproductive rights are playing out in this country is a perfect example of this problem. The argument for separation between church and state has somehow become separated from the argument for separation between religion and politics. Are they really different? Martin Luther King certainly had very strong religious beliefs and though he may have made reference to God in his speeches, his actions could be seen to derive from a very secular human rights basis. Many conservatives seem to engage in magical thinking -- if they don't want to believe in global warming, for instance, because it can impact their investments, they just don't. That is so ignorant.
It is really good to see that Americans have not lost sight of the importance of protest. I really liked the song that John Blasingame sang at the end of the show. He is right that people do have an obligation to protest and to raise their voices when there are wrongs to be righted. Protest is how America came to be -- it is in our blood, it is our heritage, and it must be our legacy. When there are great inequalities in a country, they tend to grow greater not smaller. The fundamental driver of this is so obvious that I am surprised that more people do not recognize it when it happens all around them. People -- except for saints and religious zealots and a few remarkable people like Mahatma Gandhi -- are unwilling to give up any privilege…