What’s Dying, What’s Being Born: Regeneration in a Time of Crisis
In a dark time, the eye begins to see—Theodore Roethke
If all life is made up of stories, there is a story we are living out now. It has a three-act structure, with beginning, middle, and end, as well as setting, characters, conflicts, crisis, motive forces, more crisis, fatal flaws, resiliency, catharsis, and resolution. Like most stories in our culture, it has an aim—how to get back home. Starting with Homer’s “Odyssey,” getting home has been a perennial theme in most literature, not just home as a place, but inside oneself, inside our own hearts, and at the heart of who we are as a people.
The current stage of this story is filled with uncertainty and dread. It’s also intertwined, as always, with luminance and possibilities. Crisis is about what’s dying and what’s being born. We need clarity to know which is which. Or we may move into danger, not opportunity.
After the most pernicious presidential primaries and elections in recent times, the United States on December 19, 2016, when the Electoral College sealed the deal, confronted a new presidency. I’m not alone in saying Donald Trump represents the worse sentiments in America—racism, dividing and pitting Americans against one another; xenophobia, particularly against Mexicans and Muslims; misogyny, degrading and diminishing women; homophobia, pushing away and again criminalizing non-straight love; classism, where the rich get richer and the poor poorer; and environmental destruction, where the science proving climate change is denigrated and gains in environmentally clean economies undermined.
The essence of the crisis is about empire. The United States is going the way of all empires, into implosion and chaos amidst a growing stridency. Empires are said to last around 1,000 years. Hitler’s Third Reich was to last as long (it didn’t go beyond a dozen). The US can also fall, perhaps within 300 years of existence—or we can curtail this entirely by rising up to meet the country’s great promise and hope.
The real battle is for the soul of America.
Thus far, Trump’s presidency is narrow and militarized, all that feeds the Empire. His transition team has selected one of the richest cabinets in history (adding to the already more than half of Congress who are millionaires, although these make up less than 4 percent of the population). At this writing, the proposed cabinet members are worth $14.5 billion, more than the bottom poorest 43 million Americans combined. They include execs from Exxon and Goldman Sachs. Their business ties and interests (including Trump’s) invite conflicts of interest. Trump also has at least five military men considered for his cabinet—compromising subordination of military powers to civil government (even if these men are retired; one reportedly has not been retired long enough).
Trump’s even come out in favor of a nuclear arms race, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia seems to be in line with him. The two most nuclearized nations now appear united, based on power and wealth, not the best interests of humanity (Putin is also a multi-billionaire, even richer than Trump).
Although there are women proposed for this cabinet, it will be mostly white and male—what the transition team has called the most “successful and accomplished” minds in the country. Who are they kidding?
Americans of conscience—and I mean Republicans, Democrats, third party people, and independents—must challenge Trump’s every move as ardently, as thoroughly, as strategically, and, yes, poetically, as possible. Here are lines from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, arguably the best poet of the 20th century:
Death arrives among all that sound / like a shoe with no foot in it, / like a suit with no man in it, / comes and knocks, using a ring with no stone in it, / with no finger in it, / comes and shouts with no mouth, with no tongue, / with no throat. / Nevertheless its steps can be heard …
Death is visiting here, the death of illusions for one.
To be clear, Hilary Clinton had her own baggage. Yes, a woman should be elected president, but Clinton couldn’t carry the vision of a new America. Clinton is establishment with a capital E. Most of what she said in the last weeks of the campaign was anti-Trump. This was a losing proposition. As a result around 100 million voters didn’t vote, unmoved by either candidate. Still, while Clinton is close to 3 million more votes than Trump in the popular vote, Trump only had to make sure his support in key states, largely Republican held, did vote (even if only slightly more than Clinton since the Electoral College is winner take all).
Is Trump an outsider? Most of us aren't fooled—he’s insider among those who have been pulling the strings since time immemorial. Trump said what he had to say to a certain demographic (much of which he now says he didn’t mean). He geared his rallies to “heart of America” people, largely isolated, impoverished (in funds as well as ideas), which for some time have been tuned into Clear Channel radio stations, right-wing talk show hosts, or evangelical Christian TV.
I’ve driven many times through the middle of the country. There the radio dial becomes less cluttered, less dense, more caustic and conservative. These aren’t dumb people or hardly “deplorable.” Nonetheless, a significant number are being used against the rest of us. The ground for Trump’s victory had been prepared for years.
We are in for a rough ride. This conclusion makes sense for anyone who’s studied history as story, our story, the American story. Most textbooks with this story are idealizations of the past, including outright lies, misrepresentations, and racial paradigms. Even worse is what Breitbart News writes or Alex Jones iterates or Fox News distorts. Or, for that matter, their liberal cohorts—who may not seem as bad, but still manage to mislead the American people.
Liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, the official narratives of this country are incomplete, askew, and for the most part disgraceful. It’s time for a new discourse, another conversation, not what is spewed out of commercial media (which survives on ads—why wouldn’t they be influenced by such?).
Actor Denzel Washington said recently if you don’t read the news “you are uninformed.” If you do “you are misinformed.” He said anyone could get good at anything with practice “even BS.” That’s real talk.
Yet truth can still be found and grasped. That’s also a gift of practice—discerning, studying, armed with the proper tools and resources. Most Americans aren’t given critical thinking skills to do so—and not by accident.
Keeping America ignorant takes billion of dollars.
So much information is flooding our brains but few can figure out what it all means. Entertainment news predominates most outlets—we may know what dress Kim Kardashian is wearing on a night out, but not where Aleppo is located. Social media has become a Frankenstein monster of our making. Trump is also a product of the worse of social media, celebrity TV, and “fake news.”
Bringing together complicated, seemingly disparate, knowledge and information into a coherent whole won’t be easy. Please bear with me, then, as I expound further and at length (this is not a tweet or sound bite) on why the future of our country is at stake.
The truth of our story is more compelling.
The United States has been divided since the beginning. In 1788 the framers ratified a new Constitution. A “grand old document,” this was also a limited warranty, spelling out some rights while indigenous people here had full rights, like any human being, even if unwritten. For most cultures, these “laws” or values include a meaningful and respectful relationship with the divine (although a common element, this is defined by specifics of culture and people, as it should be); with nature and its designs and rhythms; with our own natures, geniuses and gifts; and with one another (“treat others as you want to be treated”).
What I call the four key connections, none in contradiction. Native peoples on the land didn’t need a document to recognize, nurture, and live by these essential agreements. For them nature, including the smallest aspects to the vast cosmos, is their university, their books, their “constitution.”
One way the US Constitution circumscribed rights was to allow states to determine who voted— most insisted on enfranchising only white men with property. There were also compromises with slaveholders, like counting slaves as three-fifths of a person to give Southern states more congressional representation, even though slaves could not vote.
After close to 230 years, several battles, mobilizations, rulings, amendments, marches, riots, and a Civil War, the country extended constitutional rights to include women (who got the right to vote in 1920); Native Americans (who were not considered “citizens” until 1924); Blacks, Mexicans, other communities of color, the disabled (who, at least on paper, received civil and voting rights in 1964 and 1965); and Gays (such as when the Supreme Court ruled for same-sex marriage in 2015).
None of these were “entitlements.” Nobody gave anybody anything—all this had to be fought for, at the cost of thousands of lives. Whether de jure or de facto, by law or practice, discrimination and disenfranchisement had to be named and changed.
A different kind of country
The United States was unique among nations for many reasons. One, it had no feudalistic restraints, which took Europe and Asia several generations to unshackle from—capitalism has been with us from the start. The US also obtained land by the forced removal and genocide of Native peoples. In addition, it had free labor since the 1600s, including indentured servants from England, and then solely on the backs of Africans stolen from their homeland. And driven by “manifest destiny,” the inane notion that the US was destined to reach from shore to shore, the country invaded Mexico, led at first by slave-holding interests in Texas. Even with $15 million paid for California and other lands (less than .02 cents per acre), Mexico lost one-third of its territory, including 60 percent of its mineral and oil wealth. If Mexico still had those lands today, it would be the world’s largest oil producer.
Free land, free labor, cheap access to minerals and oil… enough to make any country “great.”
The US ideal also appealed to migrants, forced to leave famines, pogroms, and other calamities in Europe and Asia, or just for a better life. Many, however, ended up in the country’s developing industrial areas, including on railroads, with little pay, tenement housing, and child labor. The Irish, Italians, Germans, and Eastern Europeans began their first inroads then, undergoing their own hurdles—at first many of them weren’t even considered “white.” But that changed once these migrants understood the black-white racial divide.
The first efforts to limit emigration were aimed at Southern Europeans, then Chinese, later against Mexicans and others of color. In the 1930s, around a million Mexicans were “repatriated,” sent back to Mexico without due process; about 60 percent were US citizens. Since 1790, when the first immigration policies were enacted, whites were favored, except in a few exceptions like the “Bracero” program, which from the 1940s until the 1960s brought in Mexicans to work under restricted periods, low pay, and second-class status.
In fact, “white” as a racial category kept shifting—Arabs, Latinos, and such were given “white” status at various times, in various states. In Texas, Mexicans were considered “white” even if they were indigenous or mixed with African. If you look at my birth certificate from El Paso, Texas, my parents were labeled “white” although my mother’s roots were with Tarahumara natives of southern Chihuahua where she was born. And my father’s roots include Native, Spanish, and African from Guerrero (the most African of Mexican states) where he was born.
“White” can be a label of convenience. Hitler, for example, declared Japanese and Turkish SS troops “honorary Aryans.” Once my family moved to California, we became “brown,” living with blacks in the ghetto-barrio of Watts (restrictive covenants in housing limited our options because we weren’t “white” anymore). In fact, many Mexicans lived with blacks in South Los Angeles, Pacoima, Compton, Inglewood, and such because of these “covenants” (now illegal, although many landlords find ways around this).
“White,” “Aryan,” whatever they call themselves (all made up anyway), can nonetheless be downright deadly for most of the world. But Irish, German, Welsh, Greek, Italian—any European peoples, of course, are fine. I have some of these in my DNA. I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren with European ancestry. All fine. Just don’t make this more valuable, more privileged, than the Native, African, Mid-Eastern, or Asian peoples who are also integral to the human family (all of which, by the way, are also in my DNA).
Back to our story: In the late 1800s and early 1900s, many immigrants came with new ideas and experiences. Socialists, anarchists, revolutionary Christians, and socially engaged writers, among others of the time, organized and obtained the eight-hour day, child labor laws, settlement homes, immigrant protections, and unions (with this, entry restrictions for ideological reasons were also applied).
There has always been another side to the story, a revolutionary thread in the fabric of our existence. This thread is linked to kicking out the English monarchy (voiced most deeply by Thomas Paine in “Common Sense” and “Appeal to Reason”), but also going beyond the rich and powerful who insisted the land’s bounty belonged to them. This thread contains Bacon’s Rebellion, Nat Turner’s uprising, John Brown’s insurrection, the Seminole Wars (blacks and natives together), and more. It’s the side that led to abolition of slavery, Native sovereignty, woman’s suffrage, immigrant rights, organized labor; that stopped Jim Crow and lynchings; that struggled for civil rights, for peace, for LGBT rights.
Key shift in production
The purported end to the “Indian Wars,” the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre in South Dakota, occurred when US Calvary slaughtered around 150 Lakota natives, mostly women and children, with Hotchkiss guns mounted on carriages. Another 150 or so died later of wounds or exposure, or were unaccounted for. Twenty-five US troops were killed in the crossfire. Nobody was ever held responsible. Instead, 20 Congressional Medals of Honor were bestowed upon the 7th Calvary. Wounded Knee happened after over 400 years of battles, massacres, forced acculturation, and removals (the Five Nations’ “Trail of Tears” and the Navajo’s “Long Walk,” among them). In California, during and after the Gold Rush, the wanton killing of natives with bounties, raised by local bonds voted by the populace, led to the most Natives killed in the United States. From an estimated million people before Europeans arrived, only 16,000 survived by 1900 (90 percent of Natives still alive when the US took over in 1848 were gone by that year).
Once the Native organized resistance got broken, even more land became available by massive theft, made legal by law and frontier justice, including homestead acts: you found a piece a land you liked, applied (or squatted on it for a while) and it could be yours—only to whites; some 270 million acres of public lands went to 1.6 million homesteaders. Land became power, wealth, and inheritance.
As a result, for most of the 18th and 19th centuries, the majority of people in the United States worked in agriculture, often on their own farms. In the South they had massive plantations feeding textile mills in England and New England with cotton. However, large-scale manufacturing, first begun in Italy, but developing mightily in England, found a massive berth in the United States.
Pushed by the invention of the steam engine (and later electricity), capitalists and their representatives introduced laws, schooling, and culture to force people out of the farms and into the industrial centers. A major catalyst of the Civil War was the underlying need to stop chattel slavery from competing with wage labor. This also created vagrants, periodic crises, slums, and illicit criminal enterprises (the start of Mafias, Tongs, rural banditry, prostitution rings, etc.). People were alienated from the fruits of their labor. Other alienations followed. The capitalist ruling class became more entrenched in government, making sure their interests were met with corrupt politicians and bureaucrats (examples include Tammany Hall in New York City).
In the South, gains by blacks after the end of slavery to go to school, run governments, and excel in business got overturned with the end of Reconstruction, rise of the Ku Klux Klan, removal of federal troops to maintain order, and the establishment of Black Codes. Soon lynchings became the norm through the 1950s—some 4,000 blacks were lynched in that time. Whites rioting against blacks hit Tulsa, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, New Orleans, and more, resulted in hundreds of deaths. The next largest group targeted by lynchings was Mexican, around 700, mostly in Texas.
The real great divide was always between those who labored, whether as slaves, wage-slaves, sharecroppers, or small farmers… and those who owned the land, the mills, the factories, the transportation systems, and had the means to buy the government. Race, again, played a role as the corporate owners used a significant number of whites, including among the poorest, to keep the laboring classes divided.
The racial antagonism within the working class in the United States continues till this day, despite proof “scientific” eugenics, and other so-called theories of racial superiority, are false as well as politically and economically motivated.
The United States becomes a world power
The “robber barons” had names: Rockefeller, Carnegie, Mellon, Ford. They made their wealth in oil, steel, banking, autos. They helped finance/create the building of the first skyscrapers and urban centers like New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco. Although, in fact, it was the working class that “built” them.
The country underwent intense labor battles and strikes for better pay and conditions, including against Carnegie’s Homestead Steel plant in Pennsylvania during the 1890s that led to nine workers and seven Pinkerton officials killed—and Rockefeller’s coal mine in Ludlow, Colorado when guards killed 25 strikers and family members.
The United States had also become an imperial power, controlling the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and several South Pacific Islands. U.S.-held companies ruled over parts of Mexico and Central America, including the United Fruit Company, determining who ran governments, undermining strikes, and destroying any opposition (this is where the term “Banana Republics” came from). Much of this targeted indigenous populations, like the 1932 massacre of 35,000 mostly Native peasants in El Salvador and whole villages in Guatemala.
The Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920, against the more than 30-year dictatorship of pro-US Porfirio Diaz, ended up destroying one million lives and creating around a million refugees, at a time when Mexico had only 15 million people (about what Guatemala’s population is today). Genocidal in nature, whole villages and small tribes vanished. Mexicans began their first-wave migration at that time, which created the first major barrios in the United States.
My father was saved as an infant when his Guerrero village was destroyed during the Mexican Revolution. His father, who was a rebel, managed to get a message to his wife that federales were preparing to attack. My grandmother Catita jumped on a burro with baby in her arms and in the dark withstood brush and sage until she confronted two bandits. One bandit threatened to kill her. But the other asked, “What you got there?” She answered “The son of a revolutionary.” With that the bandits let her pass.
US industrial prowess grew and even helped the allies win World War I. Still Woodrow Wilson hesitated to get involved. Wilson was a pro-Klan president (Wilson showed “Birth of a Nation” about the Klan’s origins at the White House, with glowing statements on its behalf; the organization grew to its greatest numbers during his presidency). He was also known for US isolation and even waited two years after Germans torpedoed the British passenger ship “The Lusitania,” killing 1,198, before committing troops although many Americans were among the dead. The United States apparently entered the war not because of unheard carnage on both sides, but after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution succeeded, as a show of force against the world’s first socialist state (even helping foment the 1918 Russian Civil War that the Bolsheviks won).
At home, the government as well as media, and right-wing groups initiated the first Red Scare from 1917 to 1920, aimed at weeding out persons in favor of the poor, working class, or in organizing them (particularly those pesky socialists and communists).
US participation in World War II also helped turn the tide against Hitler and the Axis powers—the bravery of Britain and resistance fighters in occupied countries notwithstanding. Although Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 was the catalyst, US mobilization again appeared tied to the Soviet Union’s heroic efforts in turning back Nazi armies.
World War II cost 60 million lives, including 6 million Jews and 20 million Soviet people. The US dropped the first atomic bombs, killing 200,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ushering the Atomic Age and “Cold War” with the Soviets. In five years “McCarthyism” and the second “Red Scare” trampled rights domestically and removed socialist or Marxist ideology in government, the movies, literature.
Waging this Cold War and even beyond, US intelligence services, including incarnations of the CIA, from 1946 to 2000 helped change the outcome of more than 80 elections of sovereign countries. The US also assisted military coups and regime changes in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile, among others. If Russia has tampered with the 2016 elections, as current CIA reports claim, this is the chickens coming home to roost.
Unrest, however, was brewing in the United States after World War II. African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and Puerto Ricans fought bravely in the Pacific and European theaters. For example, Native speakers were used as Code Talkers to stymie enemy code breakers. African Americans known as the Tuskegee Airmen proved to be skillful and brave pilots. The Japanese American 442nd fought fiercely, even as their families were held in concentration camps. Mexican Americans garnered more Medals of Honor than any other ethnic group, despite attacked by sailors and soldiers in the so-called 1943 Zootsuit Riots in Los Angeles.
Upon their return, all these groups faced discrimination in jobs, housing, and education. In some states, black and brown people, including veterans, couldn’t get buried with whites
After the war, a new chapter in the American story was unfolding—despite all the tax dollars and private funds to destroy “radicalism” by claiming they were communist led or inspired, even if untrue, civil rights battles to end segregation as well as unfair living and labor practices reached new heights.
A time of rebellion
The United States became involved in another war that exacerbated every major conflict in the country. Vietnam, a poor Southeast Asian country, divided into two, where Cold War politics drastically played out, leading to the deaths of more than 3 million people in Vietnam Laos, and Cambodia, and 58,000 Americans, from 1955 to 1975.
This war served as backdrop to the extraordinary time known as “The 60s.” I grew up during those years—this is when my story intertwines with the story of this land. President Kennedy was assassinated. The Beatles and other British bands changed Pop Music forever. New styles emerged—from flower-power hippies to Hugh Hefner chic. Drugs spread from urban core communities to middle class homes—including weed, LSD, mescaline, and even heroin and cocaine. This was a time when Hell’s Angels, Black Panthers, United Farm Workers, La Raza (Chicano movement), Young Lords, American Indian Movement, Students for a Democratic Society, and East Coast Mobsters became household names.
My heroes then were heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali; martial arts master Bruce Lee; and Mexican “Lucha Libre" wrestler Mil Mascaras. I was into Motown, James Brown, Chicano Rock, and Urban Funk. I also loved jazz (Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus, John Coltrane)—and Salsa music coming out of New York City from Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Dominican musicians, exemplified by Fania Records. In addition, the great Black Experience books with authors like Malcolm X, Piri Thomas, Claude Brown, George Jackson, James Baldwin, Don L. Lee (Haki Madhubuti), LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), and Maya Angelou, changed my life
The modern Civil Rights Movement, led by African Americans, began in the late 1940s, leading to boycotts, marches and Freedom Riders in the 1950s. Often not mentioned, however, is that Civil Rights also involved Chicanos, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, Gays. However nonviolent much of this was, in the 1960s these morphed into violent responses to racial hatred, police killings, intractable Southern and Northern white power structures. Urban riots in 1965-67 burned swathes of black communities in Harlem, Philadelphia, Newark, Cleveland, and Detroit, among others. In 1965, Watts in Los Angeles became the most destructive.
Students on university campuses—Colombia University; University of Wisconsin, Madison; and University of California, Berkeley; among others—also exploded in free speech protests and against the escalating war in Vietnam. News organizations brought the war home on TV. My friend, the late Tom Hayden, played a leading role for peace and justice along with other young, mostly white, activists. Veterans were returning mentally and physically scarred, often with drug addictions. Black and brown people were disproportionately dying in a conflict that used the country’s first integrated army.
In 1965, for example, one in every four American deaths in Vietnam was black; Chicanos had a 22 percent casualty rate although they were less than 6 percent of the population. With police and National Guard suppressing black uprisings, and even the murder of anti-war protestors at Kent State, Jackson State, and the Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War in East Los Angeles, the war had come home.
At 16, I got arrested during the Chicano Moratorium, beaten and Maced, then held on “Murderer’s Row” of L.A.’s Hall of Justice Jail for several days. Most of the over 200 other arrestees had been released within hours. Deputies threatened five of us with murder charges after three persons were killed. Charges were never filed when film and photos of what happened showed only law enforcement beating and shooting people, including the murder of Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar. In the wee hours, I was roused out of bed and let go.
Prior to this, Martin Luther King, Jr., moved from black boycotts and marches to pulling together all poor people—from the inner-city, rural hamlets, Native American reservations, barrios, migrant camps, Appalachia and other poor white areas. He began a Poor People’s Campaign that brought thousands to Washington DC. King helped combine civil rights, the anti-war campaigns, and ending poverty. King’s murder in 1968 stopped much of the momentum. The murders of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Robert Kennedy, Fred Hampton, and Salazar during that time added to the dismay. Rock stars of the 60s were also dying from drugs and hard life—Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison.
Nonetheless, people power from the US, other parts of the world, and above all the Vietnamese themselves, ended the war. Laws and court rulings dismantled most segregation laws and outlawed discrimination. Radical politics began to have new names, a new presence. This was when I found revolutionary study and organization to guide me on another trajectory of life.
Another key shift in production
Our story takes a momentous turn. The industrial world gave way to advanced technology in the form of the microchip, which began much earlier but broke through in the 1970s. The impact would usher in a new world.
There was an important element to keep in mind. The industrial age proved extremely powerful for capitalism, leading to vast expansion of cities, infrastructures, and innovation. Capitalists extracted “surplus value,” the amount unpaid to workers for their labor power (wages cover only part of what workers actually produce—the rest is pocketed). Although price hikes, creation of markets, extensions of production relations, and more contribute, it’s surplus value that determined long-term profitability.
Surplus value allowed capitalists to become filthy rich and powerful. Mines, steel mills, auto plants, large farms, and more, fueled by fossil energy, kept people working, even at low pay, even as “cogs in the wheel,” even to early deaths from cancers, cardiovascular disease, and other industrial-based diseases, even from overwork and drink.
Automation and the first stages of advanced technology represented the next major production shift in the country—from mechanical production to electronic production.
In the 1970s, I worked in those mechanical soul-deadening jobs, rotating shifts (day, afternoon, nights), even double-shifts (16-hour days). I married, had my first kids, and tried to find a stable life from the erratic one I had as a youth. Inspired by the social justice struggles of the time, at 20, when I held my newborn son, Ramiro, I vowed never to return to crime, gangs, drugs. Despite other turmoil, more kids, other marriages, drinking and rage issues, I kept that vow. Them days were like those Bruce Springsteen songs about labor, love, and loss.
However, by the 1980s de-industrialization was in full swing. Robotics invaded the workplace, pushing people out of livelihoods, and at the same time subverting surplus value. Yes, industrial jobs still exist in the US and developing countries (there it’s mostly for cheap labor). Manufacturing in the US is still powerful, but with fewer and fewer workers. Profit making moved into the unstable kind—speculation, housing, bank interest, debt, derivatives, and made-up financial instruments.
Digital technology changed forever how we worked, communicated, lived, and profited.
We’ve been here before
Trump now claims he’s going to bring manufacturing jobs back. But the genie can’t be pushed back into the bottle. This transformation is permanent. In fact, Trump’s recent United Technologies/Carrier deal to keep 1000 jobs slated for Mexico in Indiana fell apart when it was revealed that despite some $7 million in tax incentives to Carrier, hurting a state already hurting, hundreds of jobs will still go to Mexico and many of the remaining jobs, in time, will be automated.
That’s why Trump’s presidency will be full of uncertainties. Nonetheless, I’m certain of one thing—however bad our economic and political realities have been, his policies and actions will make things worse.
Why? Because we’ve been here before.
In my lifetime alone I’ve witnessed horrendous presidencies. Richard Nixon, who became president in 1969, served as a reactionary backlash to the 60s protests, unrests, and cultural clashes. Nixon introduced cuts in social programming— dismantling teen centers, the arts, urban development, jobs training. The FBI ran amok. COINTELPRO, a domestic spying and disruption machine, infiltrated Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society, Brown Berets, American Indian Movement, Young Lords—and even racial harmony groups, mostly nonviolent. As leaders got killed, deported, or jailed, Nixon introduced a war on drugs that brought more drugs (also intentionally flooding “Hippie” communities and inner cities). As it turned out, Nixon cut his own throat with illegal wiretapping and other crimes. Vice-president Spiro Agnew resigned first, followed in 1974 by Nixon. But the damage had been done.
I thought this was the worse president ever.
Then in 1980, newly elected president Ronald Reagan brought more social cuts, and a more insidious drug war that actually included new drugs like crack. He was president when Los Angeles, the largest US manufacturing center, shuttered more than 300 factories and mills by the mid-1980s. The highly industrialized Mid-West was renamed the Rust Belt, encompassing cities like Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Youngstown. Some 4 million jobs were lost, including union jobs with better pay and benefits like healthcare and pensions. Reagan helped break unions and escalated the “outsourcing” of jobs to cheap labor areas, including Mexico, Central America, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia (where the US returned in the form of Nike). Going away were the jobs that “saved me” in the 1970s. Bethlehem Steel, where I worked from 1974-78, closed in 1984. During his “Born in the USA” tour of that year, I met Bruce Springsteen when he visited our local union hall in Maywood, CA. By then, Local 1845 had become the largest food pantry in the country and a service center for unemployed steelworkers.
Reagan was also behind the illegal Iran-Contra Affair. I became a journalist by then, my way out of the receding industrial world. I was in Nicaragua and southern Honduras in 1982 when the US provided guns to anti-Sandinista guerrillas, and used money from sales of crack in US inner cities to pay for them. I got fired upon and bombed twice covering this war. I also covered indigenous and peasant uprisings in Mexico when that country underwent the worse economic crisis since the Revolution. As it were, Reagan’s administration had more members arrested and convicted than any other administration in history, although he was spared (and most of the others were pardoned by George H. W. Bush).
While Reagan’s presidency also saw some 2.3 million new jobs, most were in low pay, nonunion, service work that has been spreading around the country ever since. Proof of this is that today the number one employer in formerly industrial states like Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Texas, Kentucky, West Virginia and Florida is Walmart.
Reagan supported wars in El Salvador, Guatemala; invaded places like Grenada; allied with anti-Soviet Mujahedeen in Afghanistan (including Osama Bin Laden); and bombed Beirut from offshore Navy ships. Even the Soviet Union collapsed during Reagan’s tenure, with fracturing of the country, the largest sell off of public entities in history, all backed by the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and private interests. Today 110 people in Russia own 35 percent of the wealth. Yes, the Soviet system had its failures and gaps, but nothing to what it has now.
Meanwhile in the United States, rich people got richer and homelessness became a permanent feature of our landscape.
Damn, this had to be the worst president.
George H. W. Bush followed Reagan, getting us into the first Iraqi War. He also failed miserably after Los Angeles exploded in 1992 following the acquittal of police officers in the Rodney King beating. The uprising became the most costliest and deadliest in recent history. I also covered its aftermath, getting published in the Los Angeles Times and other publications. In addition, my 1993 memoir “Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in LA” about how a Chicano gang member overcame the odds, became a bestseller when national interest in LA gangs spiked. I quit all my work then, including in news radio for CNN, NBC, and Westinghouse. I decided to work for myself (that year I also sobered up), which I’ve been doing ever since.
To be clear, Democrat presidents like Bill Clinton didn’t fare much better. Clinton extended the dreadful mass incarceration that went hog wild under Nixon and Reagan with more federal laws trying juveniles as adults, three-strikes, and increased prison terms (disproportionately aimed at blacks, Latinos, poor whites). He pushed NAFTA through that hurt the economies of Mexico and Central America, bringing in more waves of economic and war refugees. The immigration service deported LA-based gangs to Mexico and Central America, changing cultures and maintaining violence at civil war levels. There was the Monica Lewinsky affair—what a mess.
Then George “Dubya” Bush became president. His victory marred with “hanging chads” in Florida and the mostly conservative US Supreme Court crowning him as president, even though Al Gore won the popular vote. When 9/11 happened, for a time Americans had a reason to unite and care. But Bush turned this into a war with Afghanistan and later Iraq (which had nothing to do with 9/11 nor with “weapons of mass destruction” that Bush had claimed). We are still fighting those wars today—and have entered others in the Mideast—now at a cost of up to $7 trillion.
Even Dubya’s friends in the defense industries benefited from 9/11—by 2003, private contractors received $138 billion from the US, including the Carlyle Group, where the first Bush had ties, and KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, once run by Vice President Dick Cheney.
And the present Mexican drug wars, which began when Bush provided close to a billion dollars to then-Mexican president Felipe Calderon in 2006, only made drug related killings rise to new heights in Mexico, now close to 200,000 people killed or disappeared—while heavy drugs became more accessible than ever before in US communities. I also witnessed part of this—in 2010 I spoke in a prison, a juvenile hall, community gatherings, and in slums in and around Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (where I lived when I was born across the way in El Paso, Texas). At the time, this city was the “murder capital of the world.”
Bush also largely abandoned the victims of 2005's Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans and the Gulf region, leading to 1,245 deaths and $108 billion in damages, mostly poor, including black and white. Years passed and the most devastated areas were still devastated.
How worse could things get?
President Obama seemed like a breath of fresh air, and none of the racist attacks against him should have been tolerated, nor how the Republican-held Congress stymied his every move. Yet, Obamacare, while bringing badly needed health services to millions, was still not the single-payer, free-and-quality healthcare that should have happened. Obama could not pull us out totally from the Mideast, including the systemic use of unmanned drones that dropped tens of thousand of bombs, mostly in civilian areas. And his administration carried out more deportations, primarily of Mexicans and Central Americans, in history. Obama failed to stem the major impacts of the mortgage crisis after the 2008 crash and the worst economic slump since the Great Depression—for example, big developers benefited from the loss of millions of homes (including Donald Trump). Nobody went after the banks and financial institutions “too big to fail,” instead Obama bailed them out with more than $14 trillion in taxpayers' funds. In Obama’s last years as president, the disproportionate killings of blacks by police continued unabated.
In addition, the Obama Administration forged on in the “war on drugs” (really a war on the poor). In my lifetime, for forty-five years or so, I worked with gang members, the incarcerated, drug addicts, and other troubled youth and adults. I did this across the country, but in particular the two “gang capitals”: Los Angeles and Chicago. I also visited hundreds of prisons and juvenile lockups throughout the United States as well as Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Argentina, Italy, and England.
I saw firsthand how with billions spent, thousands killed, mostly in Latin America and US inner cities, and how prison rates made the United States the world’s biggest jailer, drugs continued to permeate every facet of society. Today opioids (heroin, fentanyl, etc.) kill a person every 12 minutes. One in seven persons will be addicted to opioids in the next few years; only one in 10 will find treatment.
It takes billions of dollars to keep us drugged up or drunk—or caught in the web of the criminal justice system or in “recovery,” two other powerful industries.
Now as the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is built while thousands of Native Americans and their allies fight to protect the water, the land, and their sacred sties, it appears that Obama will leave office with no lasting justice as various militarized law enforcement agencies, at a cost of millions of taxpayer funds, escalate their attacks on unarmed protectors. Trump’s invested in the company behind this pipeline, which is why he’s already gone on record in support of its construction. If the Obama Administration doesn’t shut it down completely before January 20 (although the pipeline has been stopped temporarily), when Trump assumes office the “black snake” will likely be finished.
Recently, hundreds of US war veterans converged on the Native American camps of protectors. Veterans of all races, led by Wesley Clark, Jr., spoke to the elders’ council. Clark voiced a litany of treachery, lies, murders, land grabs, destruction of languages and cultures that Native peoples have endured at the hands of official and unofficial US actions. But unlike the 7th Calvary at Wounded Knee in 1890, these warriors asked for forgiveness, getting on one knee and bending their heads. People whooped and hollered in approval. An elder put his hand on Clark’s head. This is the seed of a new America, one many of us for generations have fought for.
If revolution isn’t about healing, then it’s not revolutionary.
The spiral of history moves forward, showing that we’ve been here before, many times. The spiral, as in nature, moves from lower to higher forms, simpler to complex, from what’s dying to what’s being born. The spiral demonstrates few things are really “new under the sun”—yet, at the same time, how we’ve never been in this particular time, this particular place, in the midst of these particular circumstances.
Requiring of us new ideas, new forms, new organizations.
In our developing story, the American people are again at a crossroads.
As Langston Hughes wrote, “America has never been America to me…” It never was for the majority of Americans. Yet Langston also wrote about the “America that can be.” For the conditions are ripening for a land that is free, equitable, and safe for everyone. This is the crux we are in.
Again, the heart and soul of America.
The crossroads is where we face our true selves, both ugly and divisive as well as embracing and inclusive. The latter draws from the best of our origins, full of the ideals of “liberty and justice for all.” Or we continue on the road led by racist, class-based, earth-destroying forces that have hijacked political parties and religious groups on a neo-fascist plan to dismantle generations of hard work and achievements.
Which way do we go?
I say let’s meet the challenge stretching us beyond our limits (the only challenges that matter). This means stretching our minds, hearts, and abilities accordingly, to organize, teach, and find common ground in ways we’ve never done before as we incorporate the diversity of voices, flavors, songs, orientations, and breaths this land is capable of sustaining.
A place for everyone, not just the wealthy, not just “citizens,” not just straight, not just “white.” Everyone.
Media outlets and pundits have talked recently about the rebellion of the “white working class,” which has apparently been ignored and now awaken like a sleeping giant to turn swing states into victory for Trump. But there is no “white” working class. There is only one working class: It’s white, black, brown, and yellow (and all skin tones in-between). It includes the undocumented, LGBT, disabled, Native Americans, war veterans, industrial and nonindustrial. Many have been driven out of the capitalist economy—those who can’t find work, or a home, or a “career path” as the changing economy fails to integrate them.
How come media and pundits don’t address the multi-ethnic makeup of the real working class? They act as if only whites have a working class. And how come “white workers” are being seen as a monolith? Many such workers were for Bernie Sanders, Hilary Clinton, the Green Party, or like millions of others, didn’t even vote.
This is how racism creeps into the dialogue, as if whites as workers had interests separate from the rest of us. For generations, from our beginnings, whites have been given a “special status,” even though they are often in the same dire straits. The aim is to create an illusion that whites have “interests” as whites, even with the few whites who are rich and powerful (since the rich and powerful happen to be majority white).
Conversely, the illusion is that whites don’t have much in common with other poor working class people who happen to be of all colors, languages, from many countries—all enduring the same circumstances.
Now we can see the key to power in the United States.
To repeat: The “white” race (and “race” as a concept) is one of the biggest lies of the world. It’s illusionary like most of what we think is real and sacred—such as borders, mortgages, wage systems, marriages, binary sex relations, and on and on. All illusions. All man made. For spiritual-driven people, there’s nothing about God in any of these. True nature, true creation (and therefore “God”) is multifaceted, multidimensional, and far richer. The earth, as seen by the Hubble Space telescope, is not veined with nation states and borderlines. It’s one huge blue, green, white ecosystem that we all belong to as humans, as part of an extremely diverse animal world, within delicate yet generative dynamics of a vibrant, living planet.
Scarcity or abundance
Too many “good” people are dying or getting depressed or going to war because of belief systems (because real “knowing” doesn’t need belief). This also goes for patriotism. Patriotism is love of the “fatherland,” rooted in the patrias. This has to be seen not above everything, but nested within the more important Cosmos, Mother Earth, and on down. Nations, tribes, communities, families, are important if they flow from this. But today, patriotism means the “nation” is more important than the earth—to make this nation “great” means a world is sacrificed for the patrias. In the past this was Nazi Germany, or the Roman Empire, or any particular tribe, community, or religious and political group that “believed” it was better or more worthy than others (a psychotic state that apparently embraces whole peoples).
“The Chosen People” (self-chosen in my view) over everyone else (not realizing, that the "chosen," the poor and downtrodden of any age, carries the same mantle as the Jews against the Pharoahs or Romans of the Bible--the dream and realization of a new world). We have to go beyond the immature pre-industrial and industrial mentality of past "civilization" as we embark on a new age, new epoch, a new story.
So what we’re facing, in essence, is either scarcity or abundance. For the 1 percent or 99 percent. For war and want… or living in accordance with nature and our own natures to establish the most abundant and liberating of all possible worlds. This would take a people with integrity, healthy outlook, firm moral grounding, and wise ideas. We don’t have this in Trump.
Trump is about “America First,” even if this makes the world unsafe, precarious, and poisonous. I love my country—my citizenship cannot be denied nor my commitment to the best country imaginable. But as I’m saying, we have to love the world more.
A fascist, albeit of the US variety, will take over the White House on January 20. Yes, fascists have their own form of anti-equalitarian and xenophobic governance to implement, the Nazi’s being the most detrimental. You can't say they are all the same. Still there are a few things we can agree about fascism in general.
Fascism is the unity of big business, big government, and big military—exactly what Trump is establishing in a relatively unmasked manner. Trump and his cronies plan to parcel out public services, again the commons of our society, to private enterprises, including our schools, our health care, our energy needs. Republicans for years have been trying to include social security and veteran services as well. In effect, with Trump, the White House has been parceled out to private interests.
For example, Trump and Republicans want to repeal Obamacare. The hidden benefit is that the wealthiest taxpayers (earning more than $200,000 a year, or $250,000 per couple) will see tax cuts totaling $346 billion over 10 years—while 20 million Americans would lose healthcare coverage. Although Republicans say they may “replace” after the repeal, they’re working on plans with far less tax impact on top earners, and far less reach of affordable healthcare.
Trump will beef up the military abroad, already close to 60 percent of our national budget ($125 billion of which the Pentagon can’t account for). And he will boost up the militarization at home in the guise of “law and order.” That’s the neo-fascist ideal—take money away from housing, healthcare, education, our needs, and put it in military misadventures and so-called domestic security. Most of this will be directed at those who dare oppose the whole set up.
People like me. Perhaps you.
Hitler did this to a gross degree. So did Mussolini, Franco, Pinochet, Somoza, and fascists everywhere. Again, we’ve been here before. Whether Trump will be "worse" than Hitler, this is not clear (again there are parallels between the two men but also striking differences). One thing is clear--Trump will have access to more power and military might than Hitler ever imagined. He's also becoming president during the worst income inequality in human history. Latest reports say only 8 billionaires have more wealth than 3.6 billion of the world's population. US military capacity is greater than all other countries combined (including Russia and China).
Nonetheless, we face something wholly different, requiring an imaginative, short-and-long term, comprehensive revolutionary movement if we are to regain sanity and equanimity in this country.
In effect, we have to out-think, out-organize, and out-last the fascists of the world.
The immediate and long haul
So where do we go from here? For one, the crossroads demands a new social compact in America, new alignments to attune our governance, our economy, our culture to the commons—that which belongs to all of us (instead of what “belongs” to the most powerful and wealthy). This requires a fuller clarity and greater access to deeper knowledge that can guide us through the pitfalls, minefields, and cons.
Yes, let’s meet the gathering storm head on, resisting and fighting “Trumpism” wherever it shows up. But we also have to be about something bigger, better, and long-range, not just against Trump or against the features of a disjointed and alienated social order (otherwise Trump and his fascist elite pull us around by the nose whenever they please).
Of course, we must address the immediate demands of the working class, the dispossessed, the ones who lose regardless who is president or what party is in power. But we must also clarify and take care of the future of that movement—where it’s organically going (and help get it there).
This part, the visionary and long haul aspects, the steady and consistent, are immensely harder to grasp. We’re in a culture, established on purpose, which is about the immediate fix, the immediate impact. A new generation has been raised on the dopamine-inducing joys of drink, drugs, sex, video games, and even social media (although my experience is that young people are grossly underestimated; most are not into all this as one would think).
None of these are bad in themselves. Drinking some. Okay. A blunt now and then. Sure. Consensual mature sex with someone you care about. Why not? Enjoying a good video game. Yes. Even communicating on social media. I’m there.
All this within reason, safe and from strength, measured and guided by greater purposes and meanings, what’s generally missing in the equation. The problem is when all other needs collapse into one “need,” when doing all the above becomes imbalanced and addictive.
The work of a new society involves slow, meandering, and messy processes that take patience and persistence. But few are prepared or trained for this. It’s time to create new types of revolutionary thinkers, teachers, and organizers—who carry the past (the real history we’re barely touching on here), the underlying deep impulses of present-day life and social development—and a dream.
I will also say the creative/artistic/poetic that can point to, and bless, a way out.
Our story is far from over.
The economy doesn't care if you are progressive, conservative, or what party you voted for—or even if you didn’t vote. It doesn’t care if you are Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindi, Native, or atheist. Nor your skin color, sexual orientation, or gender. If you’re in the 99 percent, the income gap is at its widest in history. And with deregulation and tax breaks for the wealthy that Trump is proposing, this gap will get worse.
It takes billions of dollars to keep people poor.
So I will put forward another controversial statement—okay, we need political options, alternatives, solutions. But these won’t suffice. Society moves in stages and we’ve not understood everything about the past and current stages, nor where the next will lead. Yet these are knowable if we avoid the doctrinaire and stilted.
Revolutionary ideas are still valid if reexamined and renovated like everything else—or create room for new ideas to spring forth even mightier and more aligned than the previous ones. I critique the present-day Left in the United States (a self-critique, if you will) by pointing out that most Left groups are carrying too many “corpses” around, too many dead ways of doing things, forcing an exasperating inertia. Revolutionary science, even in social development, is constant growth, learning, even with mistakes, nodal leaps, stagnation at times, only to find a keyway to push on through to greater awareness and, thereby, enhanced revolutionary practice.
Today, and there’s enough blame to go around, the Left is scattered, embittered, splintered, and often within its own bubbles to matter to the majority of people. History won’t judge this lightly. This is an abdication of leadership and I don’t want any part of it.
Yes, there are objective conditions we all face, and only those who want to muddle, deflect, or confuse will say otherwise. Still what’s missing is the grand imagination, the ability to envision and live out the story we were meant to do as a land and people. We’re missing the true-north teachings with the most original and powerful imagery, language, and lessons to reorient and reshape those conditions toward the new post-industrial potential.
A fatal flaw in our national story, after years of subterfuge, scapegoats, and false hopes, is becoming clear. The “apocalypse” is upon us, not as “the end of the world,” but from the original meaning of the Greek word to unveil, to reveal, to expose. More than a few are realizing “the emperor has no clothes.” This system has no more legs to stand on. And many Americans, especially the young, so-called millennials, are sensing this, even if not all understand the full scope.
If most of our stories is about coming home, then let’s contemplate building a new house within the unequal, full-of-holes house we now live under. It’s not enough to tear down the existing misshapen house without a new plan, a new foundation, the infrastructure of a sturdier dwelling. We’ll just have ruins around us.
When I ran for California governor in 2014, I proposed four pillars of a thriving and healthy society, a likely basis of such a house: 1) clean and green environment for all; 2) social justice, including an end to mass incarceration, police killings, discriminatory practices; 3) the end of poverty, since whenever any people are poor, no matter what that society claims, it’s always wrong; 4) and peace in the world and peace at home.
All of this undergirded by a truly transparent and corporate-free, publicly financed democratic process. Today our “democracy” is another industry—the last election was the most expensive, around $2 billion. Mass media makes a killing on ads and commercials. I’m for the end of “citizens united” (where corporations are treated as people, and therefore provided greater voice and power), machine politics, voter suppression, or the Electoral College.
These pillars, however, cannot be met under capitalism. They are incompatible with a system based on private property and exploitation. All these pillars are linked—you can’t have one or two without the others. It’s time to connect the dots and not get divided by “my” issue over “yours,” a scourge of too many progressive movements.
Where do we go from here?
If you’ve read this far, thank you. It’s remarkable since most people rarely get into history’s depths or intensive ideas, especially contentious ones, for too long. To reiterate, we need to slow down, pay attention, and not get swept up by the speed of modern society. We need well-thought-out, mind-and-soul activating concepts, stories, and proposals.
Short, quick responses, even memes, are okay. But where are the substantial thought-pieces, the ones you have to read more than once, research, uncover new things—that challenge? Most of us are hardly equipped to understand the nadirs and parameters of our complicated economic, political, and cultural system—what makes things tick. We leave that to others and go about our merry way (then wonder why everything fell apart).
Our brains exist for more than just to get by or get over. They exist more than to be consumers or spectators. The human brain is the highest form of matter. Our brain and other capacities, fed by genuine teachings, can take development through its next spiral of integrality.
So let me end on a provocative note, to really get under our skins, so to speak: The biggest task confronting all of us today is to recreate a country that aligns with earth’s regenerative capacity, aligns technology and resources to needs, and values human beings just for being human.
Change is not doing things differently. Again, it is to properly align.
For I contend the real foundation of this land is not with the so-called Founding Fathers, although the early architects had great merit and important principles. History and ideas did not start when Europeans arrived, as textbooks and media tends to portray. The real foundation is with the indigenous peoples of the lands, already here for millennia, they who had gathered wisdom about nature, everyone’s personal nature, and the nature of relationships, human and divine.
Their “science” was in the myths, the stories, the spoken minerals of thought and tongue.
I’m talking ancestral knowledge that crosses all borders, from across this vast continent, drawing from all tribes, but also from the extraordinary (so-called) Inca, Mayan, and Toltec/Aztec worlds. While European conquerors and colonialists destroyed the outward representations of these remarkable peoples, including burning an estimated 60,000 amatl-paper books of the Aztecs (Mexikas), this knowledge is still with us.
When the Spanish first arrived to Mexico-Tenochtitlan in 1519, this city of temples and causeways, they described how glorious, clean, orderly, beautiful, and peaceful it was, larger and more striking than European cities of the time. But when gold was found among the gifts given to them, the natives were then called savages, spawn of hell, demons. They were slaughtered, their temples razed, their leaders tortured. The natives had complex spiritual practices, but they were considered “children” that needed Europeans to save their souls.
To this day, “saving souls” is still mired with conquests, colonialists, and racist precepts. For this is an important point that may take a while for people to get over—there was nothing “un-Godly” about any of their spiritual knowledge and practices.
This “knowing” also embraces the indigenous origins that belong to all peoples, from all continents, whose integral and latent energies still resonant. That’s one thing we all have regardless of so-called race, ethnic group, or creed—ancestral roots (with similar patterns and philosophies across cultures).
US laws and schools largely demeaned and dismissed indigenous teachings. There were many attempts to eradicate the “Indian” mind with boarding schools, English-only curriculum (people punished for speaking their own languages), and often racist pro-capitalist texts. Blacks were treated even more abominably (unable to play drums, speak their languages, keep their spiritual practices, etc.).
I contend these cosmologies are not archaic, quaint, or “sinful” concepts from the past. I argue, with modern rejuvenation, their primary teachings are more valid than ever before.
The root of ancestral knowledge is abundance, the very thing this system has tried to convince everyone can’t have, that can’t exist, unless in fantasy or after you die. Scarcity is another lie that has become deadly truth for most of us.
Scarcity is why Donald Trump perpetuates the lie there are only “so many jobs, homes, and rights” to go around. Scarcity is why we don’t have enough to pay rent, eat, healthcare, or debt-free education at the same time. Why Trump wants to waste money and energy on a wall across our southern border. Or why we must cause climate change to drive our cars and run our factories. It’s why Los Angeles, my home, one of the world’s richest cities, now has the largest homeless population, including with increased removal of poor and vulnerable from inner cities, and where 4003 people died from 2005 to 2015 from homelessness.
Our new house has to be built on abundance. This is nature’s way. If properly taken care of, nature will always provide. Even with destruction, like a wildfire in the hills, nature returns, even coming back with new plants and foliage as if these seeds were deep underground waiting to be awakened.
Capitalism at one time was the dynamo that moved society forward. Now it’s become the chain on our development. It’s clear fossil fuel has done more damage, even if it once pushed our transportation needs to new lengths and heights. It‘s also the lubrication for the earth. With capitalism and oil extraction we’ve now seen more temperature changes, more hurricanes, more earthquakes, more of our earth taken beyond its capacity.
Technology, society’s productive forces, is in constant transition. Despite natural and human disasters, despite wars, famines, and more, we keep expending and extending our tools. In millions of years, we went from foraging on the ground, hunting, hand tools, to planting, hybridizing crops, to creating cities, writing, even things not so good like slavery, wars, and manufactured hunger, to establishing fiefdoms, ruling classes, nations, steam driven apparatuses, to large-scale production, to population-dense cities, to smog, to computers, to airplanes, to space travel, to quantum realities… and onward.
What used to be science fiction is now fact, and in many cases even more fantastic than the original fiction.
The present outmoded social organization is irreconcilable with the new technology, the combined imaginations and intelligences of all people, and with nature’s capacity to replenish.
Imagine, imagine, imagine. It’s about where we’ve been at before, but also where we have to go that’s new and un-traversed.
As for me, with years of organizing, founding organizations, protesting, reporting, teaching, traveling, writing, and more, I’ve pushed the creative/poetic more than anything, including helping establish Tia Chucha’s Cultural Center & Bookstore in Los Angeles and publishing wonderful writers through Tia Chucha Press. I now have 15 of my own books in poetry, children’s literature, short stories, the novel, memoir, and nonfiction, published by Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Seven Stories, Lee & Low, Curbstone, and others. My family of four children, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren is growing. I’ve also been an adjunct professor, interviewed on various TV, radio, and print media, and spent the last two years as the city’s official poet laureate.
For in these times, we need poets more than ever. Here’s William Stafford.
… And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
There’s an ending to our story. Of course, like all endings, it’s also a beginning. Still we have a charge: To make the wellbeing of our children, adults, elders, families, and planet the cornerstone of any new society, and the central adventure of a new story. Any new political party, media, organization, nonprofit, or business must take all of this into account to be part and parcel of this story. A new world is immanent, if we also transcend the rotten and worn out, keep the perennial and lasting, and pray we can figure out what’s what.
It’s time, finally, to come home.