This is the intro to my podcast, Left in Oklahoma, episode 25, for Feb. 6, 2018.
It’s a complaint as old as protest itself: “Your tactics are wrong. You are too strident, too radical. Be rational,” they say, which means to think like those who get to decide what “rational” means. They say: to be heard, to be allowed a seat at the table, you must be respectful. What they don’t acknowledge, is that that metaphorical table is a myth, the power it represents is already allocated, assigned or obtained. Good behavior, being defined by those at the table, of course, does not buy you a ticket.
No, these shushes, stiffles, and not now/ not here directives are the complaints of someone who, well, probably has few complaints about the status quo.
People who resort to attention getting tactics do so for a very real and obvious reason: They are NOT getting heard. Their group, their community, their issue is NEVER represented at the table in any meaningful way — usually not at all. They are invisible for all extents and purposes. And when you are invisible, and unheard, you do things that are attention-getting and unconventional (which by its very definition is contrary to convention, the characteristic of blending in).
What has always been true in this country, which began by demanding liberty and justice for all … landed white men, is that democracy is aspirational, and rights and representation must be demanded and acquired through struggle, struggles that are combated with propaganda, mountains of money, and blood if necessary. The first volleys to stop dissent are always in the nature of what is now called tone policing. It’s amazing how effective this still is. Don’t fall for it!
But, despite many progressive advances, the elite power center re-establishes itself, with the vast majority outside and quibbling over scraps. Really, oligarchs reign today as completely as any feudal king. It’s their economy, their media, their Congress. They think it’s their world.
The military, law enforcement, the courts, and the capitalistic perimeters of our civil society all are geared to serve that elite, to protect or expand their property and rights. Schools are run, elections are held, jails are filled, and wars are fought, with the underlying aim and ultimate result of keeping those in power, in power. But you mustn’t say so, mustn’t complain. Power doesn’t want to hear your cry of frustration or pain, and it sure doesn’t want to see you display an embarrassing public message all over its fancy table.
Yesterday, three indigenous women dropped a banner in the Oklahoma legislature chamber as Gov. Mary Fallin gave her State of the State address, primarily to the government leaders who work in the Capitol, and who, collectively, are responsible for the decimation of our state for the benefit of a handful of oil and gas barons. It was a glorious act of defiance and self-affirmation, of the right to be seen, heard, considered, included. But many have condemned them for violating the supposed sanctity of that space and event. For being “disrespectful.” Really?
Let me just harken back to the historic struggles against tyranny, by Jesus of Nazareth, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. among the best known, and say that there is a big difference between peaceful and respectful. I am a believer in and advocate for nonviolence, but I will not “respect” what is fundamentally unjust, abhorrent, selfish and cruel. If you are speaking against this action, because of the “tactics,” I urge you to think again, and consider that historic context.
Here’s some context, too: Our schools are grossly underfunded, our teachers holding charity drives for supplies, but “be respectful” to those who made it so. Our sick and elderly are suffering unduly, but “be respectful” to those who literally took away their food and healthcare. The very foundations of our homes have been riddled with cracks, caused by horizontal drilling, but “be respectful” to those who gave this practice the greenlight, and a big tax break along with it.
All this and more abuses have been showered on the people of this state, the powerless people. To call it Disrespect doesn’t begin to cover it.
I’ve previously shared on this podcast some thoughts on this political power imbalance, my own thoughts, but mostly those of people more clever and articulate about it than I am, about how power has been more and more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. I’ll continue to do so, not because I didn’t already know that, and figure you do too, but it’s a matter of keeping sane in an insane situation, with most of our so called representatives, our so called business leaders, our media, our entertainment and culture complicit in perpetuating something unbearable to witness and unsustainable to our state, country and Earth itself. It’s about not letting the dominate paradigm get by without comment, without resistance.
Resistance is not a buzzword, it’s a matter of life and death. Dropping a well-timed, well-positioned banner is one thing you can do; there are many others — rally, write a letter, demand accountability of those who purport to serve you, support the defiant, expose corruption with whistleblowing from the inside, run for office as an Incorruptible. In the converse: refuse to participate in exploitation whenever possible, boycott or strike destructive or discriminatory businesses, reject expectations of compliance with the status quo.
But don’t ever yield to the demand to be “rational and respectful” to those who are destroying our land, our welfare, our health, our liberty or our very lives. In the face of our circumstances, in Oklahoma and beyond, be as revoltingly revolutionary as necessary.
They are, by design, few. We are, by damn, MANY. Join us, the Many, and fight for what’s rightfully ours.
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