Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hamburger Hill -OR- Same As It Ever Was

"I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition."

100 years ago Eugene Debs ran for President in a four-way race (Look it up!). He got 6% of the vote. He ran again in 1916, then once more in 1920 from his prison cell. Eugene Victor Debs was a dangerous man. He spoke out for peace and justice. He spoke against the draft. He encouraged dissent.

He was a real person. Not some novelist's hero. Who sought a fair deal. Without expecting to be dealt with fairly. He understood that the hope and change, for a fair deal, were not gifts that could be bestowed by benevolent leaders. He knew that our nation's capitalists were not particularly concerned with the plight of the average person. He preached rugged individualism and personal responsibility enjoined to achieve a collective, common goal.

"Your honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believe in the change of both but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means....

I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children who, in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years, are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul....

Your honor, I ask no mercy, I plead for no immunity. I realize that finally the right must prevail. I never more fully comprehended than now the great struggle between the powers of greed on the one hand and upon the other the rising hosts of freedom. I can see the dawn of a better day of humanity. The people are awakening. In due course of time they will come into their own."

100 years removed, without a Eugene Debs, a labor movement, without the vast manufacturing labor pool or a reliable counter-balancing media? With Super PACs and Media Consolidation and Must See TV? Progress? Really? Economic Apartheid? We haven't come all that far. Is an alternative to this insanity any more insane? Someday if we look back, how will this period be viewed? How that in the span of a few decades, hope and change were brutally slain. Prospects rolled back to the pre-anti-trust levels of economic servitude? But it's all good because we can tweet about it? If it's just a cycle, it's not a particularly tolerable one.

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