A good friend of mine--Kyle, who hosts two blogs, Metaphor and Squelch (links below)--emailed me a question after summing up his frustration at the current state of our nation's politics and policies: What would the French and Italians do?
Here's what I wrote him back.
Kyle, I'm not certain what the French or Italians would do, but they'd surely do something. I think what's happened in the US over the last thirty years is that we've been overtaken by a perfect storm of developments that has destroyed citizen action.
1. We've become cynical about politics, because no matter what we do (having done lots in the sixties and seventies) nothing changes. Wars keep on being waged; government corruption and waste continue; inequalities, drug wars, poverty persist. Even when it appears something has changed--as when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall came down--our "leaders" found new enemies to justify and enhance their role in our culture.
2. We've become overwhelmed by distraction. Religion isn't the only opiate of the masses (although it's a strong one). Now there's television, the Internet and its attendant gadgetry, consumption of material goods as well as food, drink and drugs, and a most powerful one: financial indenture. We're so engaged in digging ourselves out of the pile of debt that we incurred over the last decades that we don't have the energy or interest in events not related to that most compelling concern.
3. The Internet isn't just a distraction; it also has the effect of channeling any protest into meaningless displays to assuage our guilt at not doing anything effective. We write and connect with each other (as with this email) but do so while sitting at a desk, not swarming the streets. This is Chris Hedges' point in his many essays and which has led him from his Ivory Tower to the White House fence where he and others were arrested for failing to disperse. He's right: We must do something, anything. But we must do it.
The three of us Saturday soldiers have quit our weekly "peace march" after eight years-plus because of a combination of factors, together with the growing futility of our demonstration. For years we kept on because of the support we got from passersby. Nowadays, however, it's not just the shopping along State Street that pulls strollers away from us, it's the infernal plugs in people's ears and those damnable tiny boxes they're twiddling with their thumbs. Besides, we reckoned that since we began our march long ago, wars haven't ceased, they've multiplied. We thought perhaps our protest was simply provoking increased military engagement and so determined to quit marching to see if that stopped US warmaking.
So, come to think of it, I have done something after all. I've stopped marching.