Friday, February 22, 2008

The Revolution Is Here

Run DMC made me.

Sort of.

I grew up in a small town in Ohio in the '80s. At about the same time my fifth grade self started scratching out a world view, I dubbed a friend's copy of Raising Hell. After might say it was all down hill. Hurtling toward a perspective that was simultaneously wide open and narrowly defined.
"Fuck Amerikkka, still with the triple K..." ---Ice Cube
Public Enemy. NWA. BDP. EMPD. Redman. Cypress Hill. Rakim. All of 'em trailed Run DMC fairly predictably. At best, that music told stories which didn't appear in my history books and never made the reels of the newscasts available to me. At worst, it violently condemned the majority of the dogmas which had been fed to me. Resulting in what would best be described as a very young, paling version of Black militancy. I viewed a lot of the things in this world--things like the US Congress, Nike and all basketball referees--not simply as enemies to be opposed to, but as special incarnations of evil.
"Every official that comes in/cripples us, leaves us maimed/silent and tamed and with our flesh and bones/he builds his home..." ---Rage
Hip hop, of course, is not the only music I've ever encountered. And Black militancy is not the only philosophy I've ever digested and spit back up, in some part, as my own.

As I've aged, supreme righteousness has given way to agnostic cynicism. Sort of. Maybe it's more like practicality at this point. It's very easy to snipe at the country you live in when your passions are tweaked by local injustices. But in the long, broad view so many of the things that I find fault with seem to be less about what is unique to the United States and more about the most common shortcomings of humanity in general. That recognition can be fleeting when witnessing the grossest of grievances in one's own backyard, but it has become part of the base of my personal belief system. It does, however, contrast sharply with hope. The salt that desperately needs some pepper to prevent a belief system from succumbing to a self-loathing fatalism.
"Now you know I'm only human, instead of all the things I'd like to be..." ---Gil Scott-Heron
America has a bloody history. Some of the ugliest moments in the whole human narrative.

Slavery. Annihilating the First Nations. Japanese Internment Camps. Jim Crow.

And that's just the easy stuff to condemn. Nevermind the pieces of the story that concern hoarding of wealth and resources. Or the unequal distribution of rights allegedly guaranteed all citizens. Or...well...I'll stop there. I think you get the picture.

But, in the big picture, what country is not bloody?

Nation building is not an idyllic endeavor. At best, it involves a war of words. At worst, men make oceans of blood in order to draw the boundaries separating them from their neighbors. Mayhaps, they kill their neighbors to get more land for themselves. Whatever the case, it's not a pretty picture.

What counts most, though, is what a nation does after the blood has been spilled.
"The Revolution is here..." ---Common
Let's suppose that a motivated group of Americans decided that we hated what America has become and agreed to re-revolt. Today, we wage a massive war and we win our revolution overthrowing the government in the process. Tomorrow, what are we gonna do? We have to build our own country. And what country are we gonna build?


That's a damn good question, inn'it?

We would have to build something. Otherwise, we'd run the risk of a counter-revolution. And all our efforts would be for naught.

Of all the different forms of government we could cut and paste or modify to our liking or create from scratch...are we really gonna come up with a remarkably better system than the one that is already in place and has been evolving for 230+ years?

Frankly, I think not.

Resignation does not hold an obvious place within the act of revolution. Within the process, though, it is a key component.
"Change is easy. Living it is hard." ---Kelly Tsai
I am a Bicentennial Baby. Not quite as Twy-centennial as my friend born on July 4, 1976, but born in '76 no less.

The bulk of the bloodiest, most unjust chapters of the American story precede my life. Among those chapters, there are many egalitarian pages. Whether charting the best or worst of times, I cannot say that America itself is solely to be lauded or denounced. Rather it is the people who created and maintained our institutions who deserve credit or blame.

It is the people whom this Grand Experiment has always been by. It is the people whom this Grand Experiment has always been for. It is the people who have changed institutions to make this union more perfect. Rather, more closer to perfect.

And it is the people who will always have to live with those changes. Even the ones that make us less perfect.

When we encounter those changes, though, that's when we get revolutionary.

Rather, more revolutionary. Than we already were.


bda said...

I would restructure our constitution to include affirmative rights to fair employment, health care, education, food and shelter (as many western democracies have).

I would probably restructure the Senate in such a way so as not to allow small states to block popular initiatives. I would put a constitutional right to vote in writing, and give DC full voting rights.

I would ban the death penalty in the constitution and rewrite the habeas clause to avoid all the current shit about detainees.

the_capital_t said...

I'm so glad you found this post.

I was gravely wounded by the love-it-or-leave-it vitriol spewing from the Right last week following Michelle Obama's comment about her pride in her country. Consequently, I spent a lot of time reflecting on where I stand and this is what I came up with.

I feel like a lot of us on the Left are coming to terms with our Americanness. Like, so much of our identity is traditionally about the "not in my name" rants that react to the war in Iraq or to death penalty cases or to whatever historical abomination is being discussed. But we're not any less American simply because we are acutely and unapologetically critical of past (current) transgressions.

FTR...I would probably do everything you would do. And I would certainly vote for you for whatever office you were running for.

Speaking of...15 years from now...If you don't find a progressive candidate to write speeches for City Council. Or the State Legislature. Something. You're one of the good guys and the world needs good guys to stand up for us.

bda said...

Also, I would end the legal fiction of corporate personhood.

I would put into a new constitution a prohibition on the use of chemical or biological weapons and an official no first strike with nuclear weapons policy, then let the UN convene a summit to call for other nations to do the same.

I don't know what would do to fix the moral disaster of American Indian policy, but it would be something big.

As a lefty who is usually a lot more critical than laudatory, I can say I'm proud as hell to be an American. Proud because the promise of the American democratic experiment is one of the greatest things in the history of mankind. But, to quote Obama, quoting Barbara Jordan quoting I'm sure someone else, we have more work to do to make America fulfill that promise.

Thinking on it now, the "not in my name" rhetoric is not useful. We ought to be taking collective responsibility for our country, not implicitly disavowing our accountability for it.

I used to ask people the morning after an execution in Texas how they felt to have killed a man the previous night. I'd explain that in a democracy, the state's actions are ours (at least in theory). And that we as a people had consciously killed a man the previous evening. It always got a weird reaction. That's "the government", not "us". And while I smile when I see the bumper sticker "Love my country, fear my government" I wonder long-term is such self-imposed alienation from this democratic experiment a disastrous thing?

the_capital_t said...

Can you press up an answer bumper sticker for me?

I want it to say this:

"Is self-imposed alienation from this democratic experiment a disastrous thing?"

Make sure there is an answer answer bumper stick that says:

"Fuckin' A right."