30 December 2011

Good luck USA and remember I love you

[The thirteenth and last of a series called 'Love notes to democracy', written while in the USA as a member of a team of international monitors overseeing the US Presidential Election 2004]

In “The Town Line”, a daily newspaper serving Central Maine, USA, I came across two postings under the “personals” in the classifieds section.  The first one said, “Dear Mom, you are right.  I’ve decided to get an education.  I’m running away to join the circus.” The second, further down in the section, said, “Dear Daughter, life is a circus, and the clowns are running the show.  Good luck and remember I love you.”

This was just one week after the US presidential election.  I don’t know if the mother and daughter involved were related to each other or if these postings referred in any way to the democratic process.  However, it occurred to me that if one were to substitute the word “politics” for “life”, one could obtain a fairly accurate description of political life in the United States. 

A circus is a spectacle.  It is grand.  People get to see it, but are not allowed to participate.  In the spotlight are clowns, acrobats, jugglers, high-wire artistes, fire-eaters, stunt artistes, and animals.  They make audiences laugh, make them gasp, give them thrills, win their adoration, and make them cheer wildly.  After the show is over, the audience returns to its separate, individual lives, and memories of the spectacle are replaced in their minds by issues such as rent/mortgage payments, the education of their children, healthcare, the increasingly probability of a draft, and the “need” to retreat into the happy land called Apathy to name just a few of the after-laughs.  The circus manager does not resolve any of these issues, either for the collective or for the individual. 

Yes, they go to the circus, so what?  Yes, they had a presidential election, so what?  One could articulate both these questions without changing tone, without changing facial expression.  You don’t go to see the circus everyday.  You don’t have an election every day.  One’s senses are flooded by an orgasmic flush now and then, but always momentarily.  The United States elected a president, amidst an outburst of political activism.  The people have gone to the circus.  They’ve had their moments.  They’ve had their laughs.  Now they have gone home! And on their way out, a giant sign told them, “Glad to have entertained, glad to have performed for you.  We’ll be back in 2008.  See you then!”

Of course, this is caricature.  If politics is a circus, then there are many circuses, many of which are not called “Presidential Election” and many of which refuse to see entertainment as a sedative, but as a potent stimulant encouraging audiences not to remain passive recipients of cheap thrills but to participate, flip and/or change scripts, to re-choreograph their lives and their communities. 

Jorgensen’s, the coffee shop in Waterville, Maine, where I am typing this, has a couple of note books for people to scribble down their thoughts.  Someone has written, “I think I am off-stage in someone else’s play and I can’t decide if this should bother me.”   It brought me back to the “circus postings”. 

If Mom, above, saw circus as the appropriate metaphor for the political mainstream, she is absolutely right.  If the “daughter” believes that “circus” refers to that other politics, she is going to learn and probably write her own political script. 

She might encounter Charlie Chaplin, the grandmaster of laughs, who was named for “un-American activities” and whose American residency was sought to be terminated.  She might also hear of the singer Paul Robeson, described as the  epitome of 20th Century Renaissance Man, who was denied a passport and like Chaplin named for “un-American activities”.  She would be appalled by the continued relevance of McCarthysm and the persistence of the Jim Crow ideology.  She might learn of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.  She might revisit the famous statements by Malcolm X regarding “American Democracy” and “the American Dream”. 

She would learn of Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement and how Uncle Sam robbed that democracy of its luster.  Of Salvador Allende and Chile.  Of Patrice Lumumba and the Congo.  Of other honorable people and brave nations bloodied and pillaged by the United States through guns and deceit.  She would learn of the Uruguay Round of the GATT spawned the World Trade Organization and how poverty and idiocy were globalized. 

She would also, I am willing to wager, discover the Third World that exists within the borders of the United States.  She would realize that this “country” is a resource plunderer and a market-seizer outside this country.  She would learn about the political economy of war.  Hopefully, she would feel the warmth of the fraternal embrace of other peoples in other parts of the world, who too are scripting their lives in the alternative circuses that spell the future of hope. 

In this process of recovering education from the grasp of clowns, she would be able to distinguish the true, educative clowns from the imitators that are legion in this polity.  She would realize that saying “no” is not necessarily a negation, but an affirmation of the will to be different, to resist the invasion of the mind by everything-will-be-alright type of propaganda. 

She will have my salutation.  She will have my embrace.