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Time to Wake Up From the American Dream -- Reflections on May Day 40 Years Later

By       Message Ed Lytwak       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink

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I was at the U.S. Uncut rally in Washington, D.C. in support of the Wisconsin public employees a few weeks ago. It was a good size crowd with some decent energy and a fair amount of enthusiasm. There should have been 100-million people out on the streets that day, but as it turned out only about 100,000 people across the nation took the time from their busy lives to bear witness to the brutal shakedown that is going on not only in Madison, Wisconsin, but in Washington D.C. and all across our country.

Given what is going on and what the plutocracy is doing to people and the web of life around the world, there should have been 300-million on the streets that day. But, it's like Michael Moore says, "100-million get it, 100-million are absolutely clueless and 100-million are ignorant dupes and stooges for the plutocracy." I was proud and honored to stand with those people who not only get it, but were willing to stand up against the injustice, greed, hypocrisy and cruelty that grips our land.

This was the first time that I have been to a demonstration at Dupont Circle in 40 years. Back on May Day 1971, it was quite a different scene. The Circle was ringed with Marines in full battle dress, there were more than a hundred thousand people in the streets, and the D.C. police were arresting anyone who wasn't wearing a Brooks Brothers suit. That morning tens of thousands of people were arrested in a mass civil disobedience that shut the government down -- the good kind of shutdown. I've lived more than 60 years in this country, and it has changed so much in that time that I can't even believe something like May Day is even possible -- now it just seems like a dream.

As I looked out over the crowd, I wondered how many of those good people would stand up to armed soldiers, engage in civil disobedience and be arrested? I wondered how many people in that crowd would go that far if they had too -- and in my heart I knew that before America's current nightmare is over we will have to. The one thing that really bothered me was all this stuff about "save the American Dream." You have got to be kidding; the "American Dream" is part of the problem. It's just another media-induced illusion to keep people dreaming about a pie-in-the-sky rather than fighting for their rights, fighting for justice, fighting for survival. Work hard, pay your taxes, play by the rules, vote for the Democrat or Republican of your choice and you too can share in the American dream. You would think that after 40 years -- and 30 years of the plutocratic dictatorship that began with Reagan -- someone in the progressive movement would have at least figured the "dream" part was just another lie.

I grew up near Pittsburgh. The steel mills are all gone but down along the Monongahela River there is a little museum dedicated to the steel workers. It's on the spot where the workers fought and died in pitched battles with the corporate (homeland) security goons. They were not fighting for the "American Dream" or a piece of some pie-in-the-sky. They were fighting for basic human rights, for a decent living wage that could support their families. They were fighting for their jobs, for respect, for their dignity, for the hope that their children could have a better life. 

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Those workers knew what was going on and what they had to do. They knew that the plutocrats, or the Constitution or their so-called elected "leaders" were not going to give them anything. On the contrary, they knew then that the elected politicians were nothing more than lackeys for the rich industrialists. They knew that they would have to fight for everything they would get. These workers, many of them immigrants like my grandparents, had no illusions about where respectfully petitioning for their grievances or voting would get them. They knew that they were engaged in a hard, difficult and dangerous struggle and that nothing would come easy.  

They were not fighting for a dream, they were fighting for basic human rights -- the right to meaningful work that paid a a living wage -- work that would enable them to put food on the table and a roof over their families' heads. Work that would provide medical care if they were sick or injured, and an old age that could be lived in dignity rather than poverty. These workers did not seek any breaks or loopholes to avoid paying their fair share in taxes. They were glad to support a government that, at one time, promised to take of care of all the people, not just the rich and powerful. They were fighting for an America where the fruits of their labor were equitably shared and where their children could have better lives. Because they were willing to stand up to the plutocrats, often putting their lives and freedom on the line, they were able to make America a place where people could find the kind of jobs that would support a family -- find jobs where they could live as more than just wage slaves.  

Because of the struggle of these workers and millions like them, enlightened plutocrats like FDR realized that it was better to share a little of the tremendous wealth created by American workers, at least enough that people could live in dignity as part of vibrant middle class. Unfortunately, that golden age of the American middle class barely lasted 50 years before the plutocrats began a war that is now culminating in the greatest shakedown of the working-poor and middle class in our history. A war that is culminating in the greatest transfer of wealth from the middle-class to the super-rich that our country has ever seen.

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It is also ironic that this will be the 40th anniversary of May Day because it was the Vietnam War that set the stage for the "Reagan Revolution" and the beginning of 30 years of plutocratic dictatorship. And, it is war -- the "War on Terrorism" - that has come home as a brutal war on the middle class and working poor. Yes, Ralph Nader was right, there is fundamentally NO difference between the Democrats and Republicans. Can there be any doubt when the so-called budget debate comes down to the Obama Democrats and Tea-bagger Republicans quibbling on how much to cut from domestic discretionary spending, aka spending to help the working poor and middle class? Meanwhile, the $1.3-TRILLION dollar spending on the Department of Defense and Homeland Security is not even on the table.

Can there be any question who Congress and the President serve when the budget debate is ONLY about cutting programs like those that help the working poor buy low-cost heating oil, and not about the massive tax breaks they have just given to the super rich? Can there be any doubt about who is being served when all of the sacrifices are born by the middle class and working poor while many of the biggest corporations pay no taxes at all and the super rich avoid paying anywhere near their fair share of taxes?

It is time to wake up from our "American Dream" that for so many has become a nightmare. We need to wake up and start to fight -- non-violent resistance and prolonged struggle. We need to wake up to the reality that President Obama and Congress are not on our side and are doing everything they can to maintain the "American Dream" illusion while serving as lackeys for the plutocrats' brutal war against ordinary Americans. We need to wake up and realize that our elected leaders are facilitating an immoral, criminal shakedown that is transferring massive amounts of money to the super-rich. 

We should also understand that this struggle is not going to be easy. We should have no expectation that simply voting every election day and humbly petitioning the government to redress our grievances is going to accomplish anything.   Like the tens of thousands arrested on May Day, and millions more around the world, we are going to have to get out from behind our safe and comfortable computer screens and Facebook networks and out into streets -- out into the plutocracy's face. We must also be absolutely clear that non-violent resistance and struggle is our only chance. Not just because the capacity and willingness of the plutocracy to use violence to maintain their power is infinitely greater. But because our values -- non-violent conflict resolution, empathy, taking care of one another, true equality, and sharing of both work and the benefits of that work -- are our greatest strength and our only hope.

There should also be no illusions that there is going to be some quick, happy ending. What we are witnessing today is the collapse of an economic and social system -- capitalism -- that has lasted for some 300 hundred years. And, the dominance of patriarchal values that is at the core of their world view has lasted thousands of years. If nothing else, the rise of the Tea-bagger Republicans has taught us that the plutocracy will not simply go gently into that good night.

In its dying gasp, our consumer-commodity culture has done irreparable harm to the web of life -- the environmental life support systems of this planet. Things will surely get much worse before they get better. We must be prepared to endure hardships and suffering and a long and arduous struggle that offers us nothing but, as one plutocratic elite once said, "blood, toil, tears and sweat." We must prepare for nothing less than the difficult birth of a revolutionary new economy, society and culture.

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I am a radical homemaker and subcommandante at the Bad Shepherd Cat Collective.

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