Of Occupy Wall Street :: Democracy, Free Press, Police State & the American Liberty Myths

“We own half the world, oh say can you see
And the name for our profits is ‘Democracy’
So, like it or not, you will have to be free
‘Cause we’re the Cops of the World, boys
We’re the Cops of the World…”
– Comrade Phil Ochs (1940-1976)

“State Police Keeps Press Away; Arrests and Assaults Peaceful People”

This is the Democracy that brings the likes of Bush and Obama to power. The Democracy that lets Democrats and Republicans contend with each other to run the American imperialism. The Democracy which exemplifies itself as the freedom forum to force its way into rest of the world. The Democracy that thrives on individual liberty, and free press!

And, when the rest of the world opposes the mammoth contradictions and brutalities of what the Democracy comprises, the Democracy then teaches the world a lesson. Across the world, the lesson comes in the form of lingering unforgiving wars where the Democracy annihilates the humanity that disregards its proclaimed superiority.

And, nearer home, the Democracy manifests in its nakedness, in its actual being, in the status of a Police State.

American Democracy does not even have to preach its virtues. In fact, it does not need a propaganda press. It simply does away with the press. American Democracy is not answerable to anyone, except those who own it: the wealthy class and their puppets, the lawmaking agencies, executives and representatives. They do not need the lobbyists at Washington. They are the lobbyists of capitalism themselves. A monstrosity that sustains itself. A system that perpetuates injustice as though it were normal, and necessary.

When NYPD forcefully evicted all the peaceful dissenters at the Liberty Square earlier tonight, and dumped one of the the largest collections of progressive books and literature literally into trash cans, it was a true reflection of what the civilized Democracy looked like. Not only were the people who claimed to be the majority brutally teargassed, handcuffed and unjustly arrested, but even the media/press which are supposed to represent the voices of the American society were disallowed from covering the ways the events unfolded in the middle of the night. Even the airways were blocked, lest the “free press” sends a helicopter to cover the brutalities that might give the much sacrosanct and vulnerable Democracy a bad name!

Really, what is this thing called Democracy? A system where the police decides to grant credentials to the press, a system where the media are owned by a bunch of millionaires to air their collective capitalistic interests, and a system where the reporters are forbidden from covering one of the most significant news events in recent times?

What happened today was worse than any other event of state brutality ever recorded in modern history. A right to peacefully dissent is not an exclusive form of American liberty grant. It is a fundamental human right everywhere in the world. It is so fundamental that every revolution and every mass movement has depended on its actualization.

Any government, by virtue of being one, is merely a temporary entity that is duly allowed to be there at the first place by the majority of people in a given society. May it be Hitler’s Germany, or FDR’s America, or Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China, or Nehru’s India, a government is always in place with the support of the majority of people. Political scientists can call a government a form of dictatorship, communism, a monarchy or a democracy. The fact remains, without at least the implicit support of the majority, no government can stay in place. People implicitly, or overtly lend support to any regime for it to continue.

And therefore, it is the people who also inevitably change the governments and replace the systems.

Each time the people protest and make the changes, the events are duly recorded and the governments take notice of the oppositions. In the ongoing war, the people’s wills are always taken note of. No matter how politically polished or uneducated they may appear to be. When the Berlin Wall collapsed, one could dispute the collective intelligence of those that rejoiced. When the fascist minded folks walked the grounds to exhibit their deep-seated racism in Nazi Germany, one could virulently attack the sanity of the people. When George Bush was reelected to power in America, one could ceaselessly apologize on behalf of the electorates. But the reality is in each successful implementation of a political framework, it is the majority people, whose will has always prevailed sooner or later. And it is no wonder then, that this will has always been recorded in the pages of contemporary world history.

Except when the Democracy is questioned.

In the Wall Street area, where the Occupy Movement first started, when the police swiftly, hideously and murderously took over the Square amidst the darkness of a long night, American Democracy did not feel alarmed. American Democracy was not allowed to be recorded by the media to be the brutal, dysfunctional and oppressive construct it actually was. And the world’s earliest Democracy, the most vigorously tested Democracy, the world’s most successful Democracy did exactly what it was supposed to. It was not the Obama government or the Bush government that failed the people’s aspirations. It is the majority of people’s will to sustain an inherently failed system of Democracy – a system where money buys the votes – that failed the peoples’ aspirations.

Occupy Wall Street had major flaws no doubt, but it would have failed its purpose had it not enlightened the people about the failed system of Democracy that it was fighting within.

Fortunately, when the movement was overpowered by the Democracy, it veritably succeeded in its mission.

In its failure to succeed, the mass movement gains its success. Such is the nature of the Democracy.

Either we accept this contradiction, or we must redefine the word Democracy.

(Saswat Pattanayak, 2011)

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Occupy Wall Street: Challenges, Privileges & Futures

“One who tells the people revolutionary legends, 
and who amuses them with sensational stories, 
is as criminal as the geographer 
who would draw up false charts for navigators.” 

– HPO Lissagaray, “History of the Paris Commune of 1871” (1877)

The challenges to Occupy Wall Street are many. Some even more critical than the very issues the protestors are fighting against. Whereas it claims to be the 99%, yet the movement practices the age-old privileges of class and race blindness. Similar to most white liberal movements, the OWS is hardly inclusive of the people of color. Although the spirit is radical and the intent is revolutionary, the movement itself suffers from a lack of critical understanding on how race and class intersect. In reality, 99% of people do not form a class in themselves. This is because the 99% of population comprise a significant amount of aspiring rich, a “middle class” category of people who have steadfastly refused to side with the poor working class whenever the latter has organized itself. In the US, this segment of opportunistic liberal citizens have always believed in the country’s racist foundations, its heritage of exclusionary democracy, and its segregated educational system, and amply benefited from patriotic allegiances. And as a result, they have lent unconditional supports to electoral reforms that sustain an individualistic social order, to corporate policies that help private business thrive, to political outfits such as the Democratic Party in recent times, which upholds the status quo in every level of governance defining American imperialism.

In the current romanticized version of revolutionary zeal at the Wall Street protests, there is a marked denial on part of the “General Assembly” of the movement that it could be perceived as supportive of the status quo. Proudly boasting of a movement without specific goals and leaders, the movement publishes formal newspapers and handouts clearly stating its disavowal of “Tea Party” right-wing movements. Not only is the OWS appearing left-wing and liberal – a political lineage that may not find endorsement among the 99% of people – it is also claiming to be without ideologies and specific goals. OWS is in a state of denial that anarchism of various forms are themselves ideologies, and the organizers of the movements are their leaders, the money which enables publications of the “Occupied Wall Street Journal” has sources to its sponsors. If rejection of current economic situation is the inspiration for the movement, the rejection of the current economic situation is the goal.

The biggest challenge for the OWS is to humbly acknowledge that it is a movement driven by a specific ideology which refuses the use of violence as a revolutionary tool, demands increased taxes for the rich, envisions student debt relief, opposes the Tea Party politicians, demands “direct democracy” as a political approach, and has raised over a half a million dollars within a couple of weeks to fund its campaign. And, it has allowed MoveOn, a multimillion dollar partisan initiative to speak on behalf of OWS to the media. The Occupy project has organizers who decide when the General Assembly will take place, which celebrity will address them, which entertainers will put up shows, which specific websites will be declared “official”, which post-box addresses the charity checks will be received at, and what heads will the money be spent on. Despite massive financial assets, when the OWS refuses to replace the drums of an activist which was destroyed at the protests, it is unilaterally decided by the specific organizers.

In their postmodernist hues, when political movements decry ideologies, refuse to take sides on political issues and pretend to distance themselves from power struggles, they smack of redundancy at best, and hypocrisy, at worst. When the educated youths refuse to acknowledge their race and class prerogatives, and claim that their movements let everyone have equal voice, it speaks of the gravely misplaced understanding of how freedom of speech is interlaced with entitlements. If the Occupy movement has not attracted majority of Black and Latino people into its fold, it is a sad reflection of how the movement has failed to address the needs of the most oppressed while boasting of representing them.

People of color are disproportionately incarcerated, disenfranchised, and unemployed in the United States. There is a rigid American class society in place ever since the country was founded. And yet, “class” as a realistically oppressive concept is seldom discussed in the country. Without any necessary critiques of the class society, majority of white liberals almost never understand their hidden privileges. They unequivocally endorse similar newspapers, television channels and textbooks that are inherently biased against class and race analysis. They invariably exalt founding fathers who owned slaves, presidents who denied racial disparities, and swear by the prison-military-industrial complex of the largest imperialistic society in history of humanity. OWS is based on the primary notion that the American society was absolutely democratic and fulfilling until Reagan spoilt the show. If they tried to include black people who suffered the brutality of every presidential regime in American history, the Occupy movement would not be wishing for the American democratic model to continue while singling out Wall Street.

Occupy Wall Street has every possibility of becoming its own nemesis. A separation of economy from politics of the day is naive and reactionary. Merely opposing a bunch of corporate houses in the Wall Street without disrupting the political climate in Washington DC is a hopeless distraction. Calling for arms may or may not be a suitable alternative to political misrule, but to clearly disavow any use of violence while calling for “revolution” is a utopian approach. In fact, just around the time when majority of Americans were clearly fed up and were beginning to demonstrate repressed anger with the entire political establishment, when a Malcolm X demand for replacement of the existing political economy by “any means necessary” was going to be a possibility; a movement that preaches nonviolence and targets a few corporate houses as the only stumbling blocks in the path to progress while giving the Democratic Party and its fundraisers a space within its platform either defies progressive logic, or works towards crushing collective demands for concrete replacements at the corridors of power, in lieu of possible electoral gains in the coming year.

The problem with a movement such as OWS is that majority of white liberals who protest at Wall Street do not live in colored neighborhoods, nor do they acknowledge that they have any similarities with the poor working class of the country, the homeless and the destitute of America, the black families whose children are imprisoned without trials, the Latino construction workers whose health issues are not covered by any insurance corporations that the otherwise liberal Democratic Party leaders have been receiving donations from. Yet, year after year when neglected teenagers from minority communities are routinely murdered and assaulted and detained without justice, most white liberals refuse to show up at demonstrations led by minority leaders to challenge the police state. The OWS should be a venue for rendering apologies with an effort to seek supports of lesser privileged comrades, not as a self-proclaimed glorified uniqueness in the history of protest movements.

Serious issues have been affecting the majority of people in America; they are all for real. They have been well known crisis, nothing abstract to articulate for months on. The tall claims for forming “consensus” through direct democracy are also without merit considering that a huge majority of people that are apparently being represented by the OWS, are the very folks who are not privileged enough to join the “General Assembly”; and timely decisions must be taken on behalf of them without waiting for any consensus. This demands for organized leaderships charting out the most pressing – and therefore, known – issues affecting the most oppressed.

For instance, unemployment crisis is neither new nor shocking for the people of color in this country. Racism is alive and thriving at an institutional level. And demonstrations and marches have been carried out by black people in this country against unjustified administrative policies concerning wars, atrocities, discrimination, and immigration procedures. People of color vastly are drafted into the military facilitated by an economic system that has failed to work for them from the days of slavery. It is not a mere coincidence that Wall Street is not controlled by racial minorities. In fact, it is a common knowledge that capitalism was founded by plantation/slave economies.

That, the majority of working class folks of color who survive by dodging random bullets in their abjectly neglected neighborhoods shall suddenly identify with the rich spoilt educated group of youngsters that abruptly woke up to an accidental American nightmare while having always lived amidst downtown luxuries remaining predictably clueless on specific demands of a movement, is an insensitive expectation. That, the “illegal aliens” from the restaurant kitchens owned by overprivileged “citizens” who are upholding American flags at the Occupy Wall Street, will somehow join this movement to sing glories of “First Amendment” rights of the liberals selectively granted by a Constitution that refuses to recognize people in dire despair as full human beings, is utterly inconsiderate a demand.

A movement which fails to adequately address the needs of the most oppressed among the oppressed is a movement that somehow must end up diluting the most basic needs of the society with the peripherals. Such a movement can only enhance general cynicism, which is certainly a desirable wake-up call, but transformative revolutions that address the roots and not just symptoms call for agenda-driven optimism, armed organizations for self-defense, and principled leaderships with theorized visions that must replace political economies which have failed their subjects for hundreds of years.

Occupy Wall Street has the same potential of evolving into a revolution as countless other marches across the globe. The first American peoples’ revolution would have well begun, if occupations had inculcated limitless revolutionary imaginings, duly recognized the possible sparks, drew the most oppressed to clearly charted out radical visions in a timely manner, dissociated itself from the very political parties and electoral systems which have historically facilitated capitalism and phony democracies,

After all, there are no surprises in revolutions. They are historical necessities.

(Saswat Pattanayak, 2011)

SlutWalk Must Evolve Into WomanWalk!

SlutWalk has turned out to be a phenomenal movement on a global scale, aimed at challenging rape culture, rampant sexual violence, victim-blaming and slut-shaming in our society.

Historically, in the garb of tradition, culture and mannerisms, men have conveniently imposed upon women certain moral standards that upholds patriarchy, reduces women into objects of either desire, lust, or procreation while at the same time stripping them off their intrinsic and equal human rights as individuals who can object to such strictures as and when necessary.

In so many ways, a movement such as SlutWalk is a vociferous expression of the radical notion that women are human beings at equal footing with men in our vastly sexist world. Women must be able to wear what they want to wear (or, not wear), they must be able to consent to sexual advances when they want to engage in a sexual activity, and similarly, their wishes must be respected whenever they refuse to be touched. No matter if a woman is being “slutty” or being “serious”, when she says maybe, it means maybe, when she says yes, it means yes, and when she says no, it means no. A woman – a girlfriend or a wife, a co-worker or a flight attendant, a model or an adult porn actress, a sex worker or a corporate bank employee – she must be allotted a lifetime of safe space, no matter what role she is expected to play in a society.

A movement such as SlutWalk probably acknowledges this. After all, it is quite liberating to witness women on the street wearing short skirts and bikinis and holding placards that say “my skirt is not worn for you”. As a form of new tactic against rape culture, which began in Toronto, Canada this March, when a police officer told a group of women that the best way to protect themselves would be to “stop dressing like sluts”, SlutWalk is at once emancipatory, and it creates a platform for the women to speak their selves in manners never experienced before in the world.

The Lessons from the Past

Except, that, SlutWalk might have overlooked the lessons from the First and Second Waves of feminist movements. This is clearly a movement which welcomes everyone, except that it has failed to recognize that not everyone might have felt welcomed. Reclaiming of the word “slut” or normalization of the word “rape” – especially as a metaphor – is often a privilege duly limited to the educated white liberals. Majority of women in the world – which obviously includes “Third World” women in Asia and Africa, and the African-American women right here in the United States – may find the word “Slut” not only unacceptable at every level, they also shiver at the thought of the word being reclaimed by their sisters.

There is a great necessity to reexamine not the spirit of the movement as such, but the framing of it. Slut as a word is much similar to the “Ho” word, which in turn is similar to the N-word. There is no telling how women should and must have every right to wear or not wear whatever they want to, irrespective of what their parents, teachers, preachers, or the so-called societal traditions demand of them to. But that is not an equivalent position with that of associating oneself with the very demeaning phrases the majority of women in the world are struggling to dissociate themselves from. In fact, quite the contrary.

Women of color have struggled to position themselves in the larger feminist struggle for several decades now, essentially because their unique/exclusive issues have not been taken up by the mainstream liberal feminists. The significant contributions of the early feminists notwithstanding, it is critical to note that the inherent biases of the theorists of the first and second wave were informed by the dominant consciousness of the respective times. The feminists of those periods (from 1930’s to 1970’s) had drastically failed to understand and apply lenses of social location intersections. Whereas the white women struggled for dignity of labor and hoped that their struggles would equate their worth with that of their husbands, the women of color struggled at a much more oppressed level, usually riled up within more than doubly oppressed states. Women of color not only had to raise their voice up against the racism perpetuated by white men and white women during those times, but they also had to contend with their own husbands and other male family members who, largely due to their own enslaved situations were more vulnerable in terms of displaying masculine tendencies mirrored after the masters.

Its fashionable today not only to forget the lessons of slavery as though it took place in another planet, but also to conveniently ignore the evolution and lessons from feministic growths, the complexities within the feminist movements when it comes to allowance for intersections of gender, race, class and nationalities to be addressed.

For the above reasons alone, the first SlutWalk in New York City was an uneasy experience for me. It had a conspicuous absence of women of color. Not because women of color do not agree with the vision that consent is more important than clothes, but because the existing tensions and appeals were being sidelined or ignored by the core organizers. When women of the world perceive themselves as the oppressed gender, they can merely look towards the most oppressed among them for the most essential issues that pose as the common denominator across classes, if not races. And this is where the SlutWalk failed to empathize with the very women they claimed to represent.

The Challenges Ahead

Relabeling is the foremost key. Slut as a word does not need to reclaimed, it needs to be denounced. Again, it need not be shamed, it needs to be eliminated. Much like the N-word. Especially when Slut or the N-word are used by the privileged class, they take a different dimension. Often people argue if it amounts to hypocrisy to suggest that Black people can utter N-word, whereas they do not approve of its usage by the people of other races. The reality is an objection to this demand for sensitivity is more often than not the case of historical misreading. Most pejorative or slang terms today owe their origins to the creators of the dominant narratives, who have over the time been privileged enough to move farther away from the underground they created; and with time the historically privileged have embraced certain modes of sophistication in an elitist manner.

However, the ones who were victimized by the nasty words have over the time “owned” those very words that were meant to demean them. Unable to gain entry into the elite clubs of mannerisms, for the oppressed, they have probably nothing left except what is their own, by default, for better or worse. There are scores of “Snaps” they repeat to each other in ways that can shock the uninitiated. For example, some snaps include creating jokes about the rival’s mother being blacker than one’s own! It would be ghastly racist if a person from another race creates such a joke for amusement. But this is part of the cultural heritage, howsoever unacceptable, for the oppressed. This duality that exists in terms of pejorative usages of adjectives is bound to disappear over time. Or it will disappear with conscious movement from within the Black people themselves. But any attempts to reclaim the racist and sexist terms on part of the privileged gender or race in order to universalize its usage in a trivial manner is bound to spark debates and consequently, condemnation.

Considering the technological possibilities, this is the most feasible time for greater unity among women all across the world. And while attempts are being made in this direction, it is crucial not to alienate those very women who are the most oppressed. In this sense, SlutWalk should probably have addressed to the emotional (and rational) appeal made by Black Womens Blueprint. Instead, like the flawed feminism of the past century, the issues have got all mixed up this time. In place of serious reflections on the most pressing issues of rape culture, there is sensational attempts for media space while relegating black women to the sidelines.

Without the working class women – and men – of color, no feminist movement will ever resemble more than a repackaged bourgeois coalition of neocolonial mindsets. Let the black women take the stage, propose the agendas and carry out the next WomenWalk. Inclusiveness should be the only priority now, if patriarchy has to be systematically addressed. And a movement that does not include its most oppressed, turns out as history suggests, most opportunistic.

(Saswat Pattanayak, 2011)

Further Reading:

“SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy” by Aura Blogando

“Why I Don’t Care to SlutWalk” by Chai Shenoy

“Ladies, We Have a Problem” by Rebecca Traister

“AF3IRM Responds to SlutWalk: The Women’s Movement Is Not Monochromatic.”

“The Open Letter”

“SlutWalks v. Ho Strolls” by The Crunk Feminist Collective

“Woman is the N of the World…” placard held by Erin Clark and others –

http://on.fb.me/mR1uQ7

http://on.fb.me/p7FukO

“Mother Tongue Monologues”

Wall Street Spring :: Americans Demand Democracy

The homeless and the Hippies, the socialists and the students, the communists and the commoners – the Wall Street has been occupied for good by the countless human beings demanding dignity of life denied to them under American capitalism. Every disenfranchised minority is now decrying the citadel of private capital, greed and monstrosity. And contrary to White House assertions and corporate media verdicts, the defamed Wall Street has been denied a bail-out – by the people of the United States.

Braving the NYPD interventions and assaults, seeking solidarity with the otherwise indifferent bystanders, and hoping that the collective aspirations of the oppressed masses finally prevail, thousands of radicals are demanding the revolution – not in faraway Libya or Syria, but right here in the centerpiece of global imperialism, in the New York City. This is the Wall Street Spring – a significant demonstration of solidarity among anti-capitalists and class struggle prisoners!

Wall Street Spring is radical in manners that have shaken the foundation of mainstream media in this country. Both liberal and conservative media have cautiously covered this uprising, essentially because unlike in the past, this gathering is truly diverse, and phenomenally radical. The revolutionaries are not endorsing any simplistic political ploy by a liberal party to garner support through expressions of politically correct rhetoric. In fact, quite the contrary. A placard prominently reads – mocking the Democrats – “Job Creators, my ass”.

In many ways, “Occupy Wall Street” is reminiscent of the several marches across the country over the past decades. People from various sections of society have gathered to march against police brutality and societal inequality. And yet in significant ways, it is rather different. The goal today is not to reconcile following legislative changes, but to revolt to ensure a peoples’ democracy. The march is not silent. The march is not harmoniously conducted hand in hand with musical backgrounds. The march today is disparate, heterogeneous, expressive of collective anger and resentment against the status quo. More of an extension of the Black Panthers taking over college campuses with loudspeakers and radical agendas; than a pacified demonstration of hopeful placards. It is not a congregation to reconstruct the capitalistic society, it is one that speaks through the voice of the latest victim Troy Davis: “Dismantle this unjust system”.

“You Must be Asleep to Experience American Dream”

Long ago, Malcolm X announced how he was experiencing American Nightmare, not American Dream. For several decades his call for the people to literally “wake up” were ridiculed, suppressed and relegated to dustbins of history by the private media enterprises. From Hollywood flicks to CNN headlines, frivolous entertainments were repackaged as news for popular consumption. Big businesses through advertisements and various forms of sponsorships pushed their agendas for a ferociously vital American economy – an economy where capital would be privately held, with solitary aim for unlimited profits, and where the capital would invariably triumph over the labor.

For decades, the American Dream – a fictitious and opportunistic claim that anyone can selfishly prosper through individual efforts – has been demonstrated as the encompassing ideology of global capitalism. The phrase has gained approvals because it has gone unquestioned. Much like the accompanying rhetoric: Democracy.

The dream and the democracy – both are at stake this time. In the past, the masses demanded to restore them. This time, they are demanding to dismantle them. No wonder, the New York Times failed to deconstruct what is happening at the Wall Street. “Gunning for Wall Street, With Faulty Aim” read the headline on the Times. For decades the mainstream corporate media defined for the people what their aims should be in order that the status quo is duly maintained. And usually in the western world, the protests have invariably taken a reformist shape, because the goals are precisely laid out, the conversations are articulately arranged, and the legislative conclusions draw the final lines.

However, this time, it is different, to say the least. It is not just the Wall Street. It is Occupation United States. Similar “occupation” movements are taking over various cities in the country, almost in a way, that it is difficult to fathom the direction they shall take. Many critics of the Occupation are arguing that this movement shall fail because it does not have specific goals. For instance, the otherwise liberal Colbert Report ridiculed the occupation as a mindless gibberish because the humorist found the lack of an articulated goal to be quite unacceptable.

Unacceptable, it sure is. Protests, demonstrations, and marches have traditionally been easy to contain because they tend to address specific issues and have extremely limited sphere of influence. They usually do not address the system as such because strictly from a pragmatic standpoint, it delays the process of redressal. And from a political standpoint, an attack on the system is a call for dismantling and possibly, overthrowing of an existing political economy – something which is outrightly rejected by not just the ruling class members of politics and businesses, but also by a great number of citizens who live in class denial.

War Has Been Brought Home



Occupation movement this time around offers no immediate solution – nor does it harbor much hopes either. If the collective demand is to have Obama administration dissociate itself and the United States from Wall Street money, the collective intelligence says it is probably not possible. Demanding a solution from the very system that needs to be dismantled is a worthless endeavor. And no one knows this better than the radicals themselves. And yet, what is much more important is the historical knowledge that revolutions take place not through pessimistic withdrawals, but through constant engagement with all available avenues of protests until the status quo is reversed.

In our fast-paced, solution-oriented, just-do-it society, it is quite predictable that many intellectuals and journalists, politicians and diplomats shall continue to question the viability of movements that offer no concrete alternatives. But a reflective and critical study of revolutionary theories and unique histories of various progressive movements shall demonstrate that all that the masses need are a few sparks, and there is no telling what turns the events will take!

Capitalistic America today appears to be insurmountable. It appears so, because it is depicted as thus through textbooks and newspapers, amidst televised programs and blockbusters. The deep vulnerabilities and classic contradictions of capitalism are deliberately omitted in an effort to celebrate the manufactured notions of freedom and democracy in the western world. But as humanity continues to evolve, and as consciousness of the masses across various oppressed social locations continues to be raised, the protocols are bound to shatter. The people will emerge as the leaders themselves. And their collective aspirations – to inhale the air that celebrates human dignity, free from greed of private accumulations – are bound to prevail. Its just a matter of time. And, that clock is ticking today at the Wall Street.

(Saswat Pattanayak, 2011)

Gil Scott-Heron :: Revolutionaries Live Forever

The brother who prophesied that the revolution won’t be televised is no more.

Many of us did not believe in his cautionary words. Some of us caricatured the concept of revolution as manifesting in fast cars and expensive elections. Those in Egypt claiming themselves to be revolutionaries even held up signs to proclaim revolution was indeed being televised. Some Iranian protesters claimed revolution was being Twitted. Indeed, during his lifetime, Gil Scott-Heron was ridiculed, neglected and relegated to a hopeless corner. After his passage, he will probably be obliterated from prospective history narratives, as our liberalized society continues to glory itself in post-racial illusions.

After all, Gil Scott-Heron was not a gem or an ornament in any literary tradition. In obituaries he will probably be called a Godfather of Rap, but he consciously distanced himself from such tags. Naturally enough, he was neither a millionaire nor a philanthropist. He was not a best-selling poet on New York Times lists either. And certainly he was not counted among Time Magazine’s most influential persons of the century. He was not a charismatic leader or evangelical preacher providing hope pills and change promises on television channels. It is critical to remember who he was not, in order that we can identify with the actual tradition and legacies of Scott-Heron.

He was never a pawn in their game. Scott-Heron, an extraordinary poet of radical consciousness never became a sale-out. Besides, he was determined, not to. He cared more for his free mind than anything else in the whole world. When he died today, he died penniless, and homeless. He was still searching for a place to call his home in a country whose consciousness he strived to influence throughout his life. Some called him a hero, some a godfather, some a genius. But none could dictate him what to write, say or express. He was as Gwendolyn Brooks called him: a “chance-taker, street-strutter, untamed proud poet, rough healer, he is his”.

The rough healer that he was, Scott-Heron had a prescription for America’s oppressed: “Free will is free mind. Free to evaluate the systems that control our lives from without and free to examine the emotions that control our perspectives from within. We have things to do for tomorrow. Our children will have to deal with all the mistakes we make today. To live in dignity they will have to erase many of the personal compromises we made. We must actively search out the truth and help each other.”

Brother Scott-Heron’s attempts at truth-seeking were exceptionally radical. They were so fundamentally trenchant that they would shame the contemporary progressives. He was unforgiving towards the lousy liberals who equate electoral systems with democracy. Voting as an act of resistance is deeply imbued in the culture of the oppressed, especially considering the long struggles on part of African-Americans, among other racial minorities, for political rights. But Scott-Heron always warned against the accompanying complicity coherently characterizing the basic fabric of the so-called free world. Every four years, the theater of the oligarchs seduce the majority masses into reposing a manufactured faith in an inherently flawed and politically illiterate, disempowered system. Scott-Heron without mincing words, declared the American democracy phony and rigged a system. He wrote:

“How much more evidence do the citizens need
that the election was rigged with trickery and greed?
And, if this is so, and who we got didn’t win
let’s do the whole Goddam election over again!”

His methods as a poet-activist were intrinsically incisive, and relied upon substantial amount of topical realisms. “The Revolution will not be Televised” is a much-cited classic in this genre, but there are less prominent works of his that are equally powerful tools of social justice struggles.

In a scathing criticism of the military-industrial complex, Scott-Heron declared Eisenhower as “politically dead” and wrote:

“The military and the monetary
Get together whenever they think its necessary
They have turned our brothers and sisters into mercenaries
They are turning the planet into a cemetery.”

Peace is a merely wishful thinking if the efforts towards attaining peace are not made with levels of ferocity usually reserved for war preparations and escalations. Scott-Heron was never the one to subsume under prevailing doctrines of war hypocrisies that positioned peace as a status quo, wars an aberration. In fact, quite the contrary. Scott-Heron, like Langston Hughes before him, argued that war is the normative of our times, peace is simply absent from our lives.

He wrote:

“We’ve got to work for peace.
If we all believed in peace, we could have peace.
The only thing wrong with peace is that
You can’t make no money from it.
…….Peace is not (merely) the absence of war
It is the absence of the rumors of war the the threats of war
And the preparations for war.”

Unlike many pacifists, Scott-Heron was not delusional about the prospects of peace. For him, “peace ain’t coming this way, we’ve got to work for peace.” To that extent, he expressed staunchest oppositions against imperialistic tendencies. If Reagan did not escape his radar those days, Obama would not have today. Both of them were architects of war against Libyan peoples, among others. Scott-Heron lambasted America’s war-mongering obsessions in no uncertain terms –

“We hounded the Ayatollah religiously,
Bombed Libya and killed Qadafi’s son hideously,
We turned our back on our allies, the Panamanians
Watched Ollie North selling guns to the Iranians
Witnessed Gorbachev slaughtering Lithuanians
So we better warn the Amish, they may bomb the Pennsylvanians.”

Political poetry aiming towards social justice was the crux of Scott-Heron’s relentless, powerful, and unwavering declarations. His poetry did not follow rules, did not clamor for awards, or literary reviews. His poetry was anti-poetry. His was satire, radical satire, turning the world upside down, turning the world we have come to know through corporate media upside down, turning the world as we would like to believe in through our normalized selves upside down. There is no “good old days”, Scott-Heron announced. Those who want to experience the “good ole’ days” are the ones who mock the movements for social justice. They are the ones who decry the progresses made on the basis of absolute rejection of the halo that zealously protects the heritage of the days gone by. Those that want the “good old days” back declare everything that clamors for change as necessarily evil. Scott-Heron in his “B Movie The Poem” wrote-

“Civil Rights. Gay Rights. Women’s Rights. They’re all wrong! Call in the cavalry to disrupt this perception of freedom gone wild. First one of them wants freedom and then the whole world wants freedom! Nostalgia. That’s what America wants. The good old days. When we ‘gave them hell!’ When the buck stopped somewhere and you could still buy something with it! To a time when movies were in black and white and so was everything else.”

Scott-Heron had no illusions about the ghastly past that the racist liberals and conservatives alike have been wishing for. Sure, America had its golden days in the past in its harvests, and economy; but the golden days were white days, days of the nobles and the lords, of the capitalist pigs, of an extremely limited America, the days when the black folks would not dare mingle with the elites. Sure gas prices were low and the average American household had savings and a house. But the racial minorities were not owners of either their houses or their businesses. America did not belong to all. Neither does it belong to all, even now. And that is why there is a need to reverse the psychology of slavery and servitude, and there is a need to destroy any association of fancy and glory with the collective memories of the “good old days”.

What is even more depressing about today is that the good old days Scott-Heron despised is alive and well. American power continues to prevail as brutally as it did during the cold war era. And the power trip is embraced by the people, the electorate, without much opposition, as it is sugar-coated with the Hollywood cliches. Be it Kennedy, Reagan or Obama, there is a style to the substance in the packaging of war machinery. There is a Marlboro effect. Scott-Heron said the military tune of American war on countries that need to be silenced is the tune of “Macho Man”. America wanted to eliminate Qadafi during Reagan and Bush, and now its the wish of President Obama. Scott-Heron wrote, our Presidents are likely to quote from Hollywood: “Tall in the saddle. Like ‘Riding on or off into the sunset.’ Like ‘Qadafi, get off my planet by sunset.’ More so than ‘He died with his boots on.’”

Even as American imperialism is taking over the world, and still aiming Qadafi in a Reagan-isque manner, there is a parallel revolution that is going on, and that is not being televised. Like all revolutionaries, Scott-Heron was an optimist, one who had undying desire to showcase the untold struggles. Revolution begins with the heart, and it is the duty of the revolutionary to acknowledge the unsung protagonists of the undercurrent. He wrote, “There is a revolution going on in America/the World; a shifting in the winds/vibrations, as disruptive as an actual earth-tremor, but it is happening in our hearts. A change as swift as blackening skies when the rains came, as fresh and clear as the air after the rain. The seeds of this revolution were planted hundreds of years ago; in slave ships, in cotton fields, in tepees, in the souls of the brave. The seeds were watered, nurtured and bloom now in our hands as we rock our babies…There are bitter winds born in the knowledge of secret plans hatched by Western Money Men that backfired and grew out of control to eat its own…No one can do everything, but everybody can do something. We must all do what we can for each other to weather this blizzard. Now more than ever all the family must be together, to comfort, to protect, to guide, to survive because…there is a revolution going on in America/the World.”

As much as his poem reminding us that the revolution will not be televised is indeed truer than before, beloved late brother Gil Scott-Heron’s message that the revolution is going on at the same time is equally relevant a reminder. And the poet might have departed us, but the revolutionary is still alive in spirits…

“Don’t give up,” he said. “It’s time to stop your falling. You’ve been down long enough. Listen to the spirits calling! Remember the spirit of brother Malcolm X. And know that you can leave all your mistakes behind, The day you really make up your mind…”

(Saswat Pattanayak, 2011)