Whether you are of the school of thought favoring the theory that the first tool bearing hominids acquired their proclivity for industry somewhere during the long slog from tadpole to accountant or you are more inclined to believe that the first ardent search for natural resources was Adam and Eve’s desperate hunt for fig leaves to hide their shame, there can be little doubt that there have been some profound developments since the halcyon days of our primordial paradise. Almost every aspect of the world we currently inhabit would undoubtedly be entirely alien, even to our more recent antecedents. The artificial environments we have created, our perception of the cosmos and our place in it, life’s expectations, life expectancy, our connection with the land and our relationship with the sources of our sustenance – all have been overturned since the mothers of humanity found themselves alive and covered with ash at the base of the Mt. Toba 76,000 years ago.
Until recently, the world in which we live was perceived as incomprehensibly vast and impervious to our presence, but now a shrinking planet is revealing the fissures wrought from an age of uninhibited industrial growth: social disparity, dwindling resources, spiraling debt, escalating population, a changing climate, and a state of perpetual war are all threats that paradoxically stem from our success as a species and the unnatural means by which we have accomplished our current status. Progress in the industrial age has been a process of displacement and specialization and the majority of developments have been universally accepted by the general public with excitement and gratitude, largely because the tools provided by modernity replaced sundry mundane tasks long perceived as a burden and a curse, freeing people to pursue dreams beyond that of a subsistent existence.
A vast array of machines designed to save time and energy has evolved, purportedly to serve humanity. However, it is consumers who have been serving machines, not the other way around, and the reward for our cooperation has been the equivalent of the boxes of beads and trinkets that were given to the Lenape Indians in exchange for the island of Manhattan. The American people have been betrayed by our leaders but we also are also culpable because we’ve been buying what they’ve been selling.
The social consequences, both benign and malevolent, of this highly technological world of instantaneity is interwoven into the fabric of our every day lives. We have come to expect satellite tv, jet planes, wifi, spiffy threads, rodeos, and football games; convenience stores, steak dinners, and open highways, all in the open knowledge that many of the luxuries we enjoy are unsustainable in their current form. Admittedly, we are risking the prospects of our children and grandchildren by stressing the importance of growth as a presiding economic paradigm as the population nears 7 billion on a planet of limited resources – but somehow, we can’t quite bring ourselves to jump off the bandwagon.
The standard of living that has been attained in the West is due to a prolonged “bubble,” in common economic parlance; a bubble that has enriched a few by the colonization and monopolization of markets in a similar way that countries were formally colonized. However, the pillaging of the earth and the oppression of its people can only go so far and now that bubble too, is bursting. The occupiers are calling all of the right issues into question. Only very few solutions have been provided. What practical measures can be taken to make an immediate impact on the plight of the disenfranchised masses, considering the daunting spectre of the entrenched power that the occupiers face?
The global strike on May 1 is a good place to start. I understand why many people may be reluctant to participate. Because of the broad scope of the strike, objectives are necessarily unclear and the outcome of the strike is far from certain; but the patriots who founded this country and fought for it and forged the principles that we still adhere to today wouldn’t back down from this fight. Those individuals did put their families and fortunes at risk for the freedoms we enjoy today and they did it for reasons of economic injustice.
Our venerable founding fathers spoke often of the fragility of the democracy that they were forming and warned that the time would come when our freedoms would have to be defended. Since that time there have been many alerts, some by former presidents, about the presence of entities within and outside our government that undermine and subvert our democracy and manipulate financial markets to the detriment of nearly ever one, and to the advantage of a few. By now this should be obvious to all.
The Occupy movement benefits from the most lopsided margin ever attributed to a social movement against an adversary, 99 to 1, but the movement is not leveraging its mass appeal to maximum advantage. Protest marches and camping out in public spaces have their time and place. Public demonstrations work up to a point, but if a movement doesn’t quickly move beyond this stage, the agitators are quickly isolated, vilified in the press, fire-hosed, pepper-sprayed, jailed, and the movement eventually dies.
Truthfully, we are in control of our own destiny and if we band together we can collectively choose a better way; not a utopia but a path to vibrant and sustainable local economies, where the entire cycle of production is contained within the community. Global commerce must also be properly regulated. We don’t have to sacrifice a high standard of living to live a sustainable life. Not if you’re under the assumption that a tomato that you grow tastes better and is better for you than one that is shipped across the country and sprayed with chemicals; not if you think that the cobbler who lives down the street can fashion a better pair of kicks for you than an underpaid worker in an Asian sweatshop; not if you believe that a strong community can support itself and can survive and thrive in this world on the merits of its land and citizens. It is time for us to take up the torch and accomplish the task that history has handed us.
On Tuesday, May the first, don’t go to work, don’t go to school, don’t shop or do your banking. Do your part to let those individuals who wield power know who really holds the reins. Show them we’re willing to sacrifice for a prosperous future for our children. If we stand together, the numbers suggest we will surely succeed.
You might think that with the state of the economy and your many responsibilities you can’t afford to go on strike on Tuesday May 1, but I would pose that for those very same reasons, you should consider that you can’t afford not to go on strike. Just for one day. Join the global strike on Tuesday, May 1, and show the 1% that the 99% means business.
Freeman Robie is the editor of Santa Barbara Jingle, where this essay was originally published.