My life has been defined by political movements: civil rights and anti-racism; anti-Viet Nam; women’s and gay liberation; class consciousness; and the battle for justice for the Palestinians. It felt in the 60s and 70s that we were changing the world. Now it feels like the reactionaries are exacting a double measure of revenge on it. A sober glance:
RACE: American cops killed 461 suspects in 2013, says USA Today. (Compare that to Germany with three police killings and Britain with none.) According to Alternet.org, “Police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extra-judicially killed at least 313 African-Americans in 2012, according to a recent study. This means a black person was killed by a security officer every 28 hours.” Couple that with the vilification of Barack Obama that can only be explained by race hatred, and you get a do-nothing legislature and a toxic American ether.
WOMEN: And then there’s the continuing war on women. Says Wikipedia: “In 2011, state legislatures across the United States introduced over 1100 provisions related to women's health and reproductive rights, and in the first quarter of 2012 an additional 944 provisions were introduced in state legislatures, half of which would restrict access to abortion.” Violence against women has reached gross levels. Some celebrities have been free to rape unknown numbers of women over decades. Universities have failed to deal with an epidemic of women rape victims on its campuses. The armed forces are riddled with rape by the very people the women soldiers are supposed to report to. And a plethora of politicians have been making it up as they go along about “legitimate rape,” or pregnancy from rape being "something that God intended", or that “some girls rape easy.”
CLASS: As I said at the time, the economic crisis of 2008 was a massive and upward redistribution of wealth. Now, a half-dozen years later, the figures are shaking out. The 1% is silly rich and most everyone else is struggling. The job market has been gutted and replaced with part-time contract employment subsidized by welfare and food stamps. The 1% now own 40% of the country’s wealth. The bottom 80% has 7% of the wealth among them in total. Go ahead and wrap your brain around that. If you want some visuals, there’s a video about wealth disparity at the end of this article. Together with the mortgage rip-off, a blatantly racist and systematic theft of the property of poor people, this has left most people very much in the hole. For old people who depend on their savings for survival, the market raid of 2008 by the ruling class has diminished their savings, while too often their unemployed children and grandchildren are in need of help. It sure feels like revenge.
PALESTINE: This was a very rough year for Palestine, especially for the Gazans. An assault by one of the strongest armies in the world – Israel – on perhaps the most crowded sliver of real estate on earth – Gaza – left 500 kids dead, 3,000 injured, 373,000 traumatized, according to Democracy Now! That’s just the children. In total, 2,189 Palestinians were killed and 11,000 wounded. Compare this to Israel: “66 Israeli soldiers, 5 Israeli civilians (including one child) and one Thai civilian were killed and 469 IDF soldiers and 261 Israeli civilians were injured.” One wants to say Palestinian Lives Matter, but no other country in the world seemed to care.
At my age, I am now interested in issues of ageing and how that’s going to shake out around gender, sexuality, class, race, and nationality. What’s going to happen to undocumented immigrants who are old and poor? To elderly people who have lost their homes, their jobs, their savings? To queer elders who are much more likely to be isolated and living alone than straights?
Most of all, what’s going to happen to those of us who have struggled inside movements for justice, only to see our victories shat upon and our gains shrunk, only to be surrounded by violence, bile, and exploitation? I want to sit and write short stories, and my dear friend tells me to learn to be ruthless with my time, but I can’t bear to turn my back for a second, as inevitably something hideous is hovering, something horrible is going to happen. It could be inside the too-often violent nuclear family, at the hands of crazed fundamentalists, in Gaza, Ferguson, or Anywhere USA.
BUT WAIT! As always, the one thing that makes life worth living is seeing that there is a new generation of rebels. Politically savvy young black women seem to be leading Boston’s uprising against racism and an oppressive criminal injustice system by insisting that #BlackLivesMatter. I admired and joined the Occupy! movement, which so clearly raised the issue of economic disparity in general and ball&chain college loans in particular. The young Dreamers are fighting to protect their parents from a mean-spirited immigration system. Women on campus are highlighting issues of consent and carrying mattresses in solidarity. The international boycott and sanctions movement is building on university groups committed to justice for Palestinians. There’s some daring, creative action out there and often other generations are providing the impetus. It is a relief and a buzz and the only thing that counters the pervasive stench of nastiness.
Click here for a clip that makes wealth inequality visible.