Thursday, September 10, 2009

Keeping Clear of the Pod-People: After Last Night's Speech

(Ant With Acorn from Tugboat Printshop)

I was once friends with someone who is a direct descendant of Edmund Ruffin. For those of you who don't recognize the name, Edmund Ruffin is the South Carolina slaveholding farmer who is credited with fining the shot which began the Civil War. My friend was, among other identities, an anti-racism activist. She spent a great deal of personal energy coming to peace with her family history, her white Southern identity, and her owning class roots.

According to my friend, her family's version of events is that Ruffin was definitely a fierce advocate of slavery and secession, but he was not a nutjob. In particular, they claim the men around him got him liquored up and then convinced him the Yankees were attacking in order to persuade him to be the first to fire. After the war, Ruffin committed suicide, and his family believed it was because of shame rather than an inability to adjust to a changed world.

But believing in slavery, advocating secession, and choosing suicide are all clear indicators of an inability to handle reality. They all exist on the continuum of crazy. So, alcohol aside, Ruffin was living in a particular zone of denial which won't allow his actions the excuse of an unforeseen accident. Any more than Republicans can claim there was no warning Al Qaeda would attack the U.S. in 2001 using domestic airplanes.

Richard Blair at All Spin Zone has a post up today which begins "It’s hard to believe the 'lone gunman' theory of Joe Wilson’s (R-SC) outburst yesterday evening during the president’s address to congress. Someone put him up to it. Low level hit men in crime families don’t freelance."

I agree with him. The larger point is that while there is a solid 30% functional delusional segment of our population (see my post of yesterday), there is also an organized, highly orchestrated effort being made by the Republican Party, their mouthpieces on hate radio, and the corporate elite who fund them to persistently exploit that Crazy 30% to keep change from occurring. They used fake terror alerts and trumped up wars during Dubya's tenure. Now they're relying on more "grassroots" means to scare the shit out of the rest of us and immobilize us enough to keep their dominion going.

What happens in a democracy when nobody listens to each other any more? What happens when guns and camouflage are commonplace sights in public settings? What happens when you can shout absolutely anything at an elected official? This is not protecting or promoting freedom of speech, this is tyranny by the few at the expense of information reception by the many.

And, let's be clear, the Right will be thrilled if the progressive response is to start putting curbs on public expression, because those laws will be enforced by the status quo and will not come down in our favor. (Just like hate crime laws, which I oppose because they are overwhelmingly be used against poor and/or nonwhite people rather than the most flagrant perpetrators of hate.) I think the best reaction is going to be one which comes from us, the masses, rather than through courts or g*d forbid taser-wielding SOA trained urban cops.

The tools at our disposal are education, thinking on our feet, humor, community, common decency, and, most importantly, our liberal belief that respect for the individual trumps blind adherence to authority.

There's a joke among lesbians of my generation that when you came out to your family, a day later it was as if you'd said nothing at all -- not through acceptance, but because the news was so disturbing to them, they blocked it from family consciousness. This would occur simultaneously with someone, usually your mother, saying "All right, but don't tell you're father, it'll kill him."

Alix Dobkin, famous singer/songwriter, became intrigued with this notion of lesbian as a word that is so powerful it passes by without registering and concurrently can strike men dead. As a result, she wrote one of her most famous hits, "View from Gay Head", which uses the word lesbian 22 times. The rollicking chorus goes
Lesbian, lesbian,
Let's be in no-man's-land
Lesbian, lesbian
Any woman can be a lesbian.

Thus, one mechanism of oppression is preventing certain words or kinds of speech from occurring -- though not all restriction of speech is oppression. Oppression, remember, has to be part of a systematic and institutionalized imbalance of power, not simply reflecting a difference of opinion. Another mechanism is ignoring reality, such as how the corporate-controlled media is simply not reporting on the large numbers of people currently meeting for/organizing around their need for a public option in health care reform. On a daily level, this plays out in households when someone can reel off sports statistics in minutiae going back decades but cannot recall how to load a dishwasher or separate laundry. Such deliberately obstructed learning and listening is common currency to Republicans, and if it can be linked to an underlying vein of culturally-embedded oppression -- sexism or racism, for example -- it seems "normal" enough to often not be challenged as attempted domination.

Here's a few immediate actions you can take regarding the extreme disrespect and obstructionism displayed during last night's speech on health care reform by our President:

(1) Progressive Change Campaign Committee has launched a petition asking Congress to censure Rep. Joe Wilson: "Enough is enough. On an issue as critical as health care reform, it's time to stop the lies, the misinformation, and the uncivil disruptions. Rep. Joe Wilson went way over the line by yelling 'You lie' during President Obama's speech, and Congress should censure him immediately." You can sign it by going here.

(2) Since Joe Wilson's outburst on the House floor his Democratic opponent, former Marine Rob Miller, has received over 11,000 individual grassroots contributions raising over $414,000. If you want to contribute, you can go to his Act Blue page here.

(3) Make sure this is not simply attached to Rep. Joe Wilson, but that it is linked to the overall Republican effort to bring down Obama and stop ANY reform from occurring. Alex Koppelman, writing for The War Room at, in his post Joe Wilson Wasn't The Only Disrespectful Republican points out: "There's video of Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the Minority Whip, on his BlackBerry during the speech, for instance...When Obama addressed the charge that he plans 'panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens,' someone on the GOP side shouted out 'shame!' The president went on: 'Such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical.' 'Read the bill!' someone shouted back. Obama mentioned those who accuse him of a government takeover of health care. 'It's true,' someone shouted back .... Even as Obama delivered a tribute to the late senator Ted Kennedy, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga), a leader of House conservatives, perused his BlackBerry. Shortly before the speech ended, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) walked out to beat the rush."

Call your Member of Congress today at (202) 224-3121 to express your outrage.

Longer-term, it's important to keep naming what's going on for what it is. Identify crazy when it is crazy, and don't let them shout you down that you're not being fair. The ability to scream at a President while s/he is speaking to Congress is not a right granted by the rules of that body. The assumption that this long-standing rule could be broken is NOT DIVORCED from the fact that the President in question is African-American and the Representative in question has been a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans. As researched by Dave Neiwert at Crooks and Liars, the Sons of Confederate Veterans is a white supremacist organization tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center which, among other things, defends slavery as a benign institution. What Wilson was calling a lie was Obama's denial there would be health care coverage for undocumented immigrants, a key recruitment issue for the Republican Party's white supremacist base.

It's also important to keep our eyes on the prize, which is not simply countering their terror, nor is it Obama's appeasement path (doomed to fail).

Our goal is No more loss of life or livelihood because health care is currently rationed by profit-obsessed death panels (called insurance companies) rather than being acknowledged as a basic human right.