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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 5/25/11

Let's Not Take America Back!

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Message Ricardo Levins Morales

Everyone can feel the shift that is underway. A period of right-wing ascendancy is giving way to one of right-wing consolidation. Anything that stands in the way of capital accumulation has been targeted for elimination. The public square will either expand with a new wave of civic participation or it will shut down and sold off to the best-connected bidder. There's not much room for compromise. Under these conditions we need to make common cause among all sectors who are in the cross-hairs. Workers -- unionized, non-union and displaced -- citizen and immigrant; service providers and service recipients; cast-off veterans and cast-out homeless; and the discriminated-against of all flavors, are the basis for a coalition of the discarded. Such unity can only be forged under a program that embraces all of us; one that fights unapologetically for our common good.

In the early 19th Century Tecumseh worked to forge the tribes west of the Appalachians into a united confederation capable of blocking the expansion of the hungry, young nation on their east flank. He tried to convince them that the United States was determined to absorb all Native lands, and therefore, seeking individual agreements would be suicidal.   Some Nations were not convinced. They opted to side with Washington or to remain neutral in the hopes of protecting their own threatened land bases. The moment Tecumseh was defeated, however, the accommodationist tribes suffered the same fate at the hands of Washington as the resisting ones. Tecumseh had read the signs correctly. Today we face a similar challenge. There are no concessions we can make that will mollify the corporate appetite in the early 21st Century; our only possible protection lies in a sufficiently powerful and united resistance.

Nostalgia for a lost era of relative comfort and merit-based upward mobility also the theme song of the Tea Party. They take it one logical step further, though: if the white "middle class" had a measure of success and security due to its own hard work, then it follows that those who didn't experience that security must not have worked as hard or been as smart. For them taking America back is explicitly a return to a time when the dark, the gay, the female and the foreign were kept in their place. Those days are not coming back; they lie crushed in the rubble of a crumbling superpower and the shimmering mirage of its casino economy. That's not a bad thing.

"An injury to one is an injury to all," is the most powerful organizing principle yet devised. It is a far cry from hawking white, middle-class nostalgia. Far more promising than the reactionary "Let's Take America Back," is the solidarity-building message "We've got your back!" It's a principle which, if applied boldly, can derail the corporate/right-wing game plan. But -- and this is our challenge -- it will need to be applied more broadly, more deeply and more courageously than is our custom in the United States. It will require joint campaigns, cooperative education and mutual support among the diverse targets of economic restructuring and social repression. Most important, it must be a unity that encompasses -- at its core -- the huge sectors of our people that have been targeted with criminalization. They have been declared off limits by the elite for a reason: they hold the key to working class unity.

It doesn't take prophetic vision to know that many of the leaders riding today's wave of worker resistance will do their best -- as soon as the chance arises -- to stuff the genie back in the bottle. They value their hard-won respectability and their imagined influence in the halls of power. The uncontrollable messiness of grassroots insurgency is outside their comfort zone. Our unions, mass organizations and elected representatives have a role to play, but their sails only fill when there's a strong wind blowing from the streets and shop floors. We cannot ultimately rely on leadership which acts boldly only when forced to and accommodates power when allowed to. This uprising -- and our broader capacity to resist the corporate onslaught -- will rise or fall on the strength of bottom-up initiatives, emerging leadership and the advent of structures of resistance that transcend economic sector, legal status and race. As in Tecumseh's day, the essential first step is to accurately identify the breadth and scale of the assault on civil society and human rights (in which our weakened labor organizations are the target du jour). That will simultaneously establish the necessary breadth and scale of our response.

As our conservative counterparts have demonstrated, language matters. How we choose to declare what we are fighting for plays an important role in determining who will recognize our fight as also being theirs. It will signal whether or not we understand that their fight is also ours. It matters. My Anishinabe and Lakota friends don't get a warm fuzzy feeling when they hear 20,000 mostly white folk singing "this land is my land." The "America" that the dark and poor hunger for is one that has never been.

The months and years ahead will be pivotal ones for our country and our world. The contest for the future will take twists and turns that are impossible for us to foresee. There's one point on which we should clear from the outset, though: we're not going back!


[1] Alienation and resistance: New Possibilities for Working-Class formation, Margaret Zamudio. Social Justice: A Journal of Crime, Conflict and world Order. Vol. 31, No. 3.

[2] Juliana Pegues, "(In)Visible Workers and War: Links of Labor, Gender and Citizenship in the Mexican Bracero Program and Japanese American Internment "

[3] Dan LaBotz, Labor Notes, Dec. 2010

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I am a movement artist and activist. I was born into the Puerto Rican independence movement and have been active in US social movements from an early age. I worked for 30 years in the Northland poster Collective which provided art services and (more...)
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