Last week I attended a presentation by Robert Ford, the first United States Ambassador to Syria in five years. Just two months ago, Ford was recalled from Syria because of safety concerns. More than 3500 people, including children, have been killed there.
Charming and warm, Ford delivered a riveting talk. He’s a storyteller, providing historical information interspersed with details about diabolical dictators who delight in pulling fingernails from enemies. When he described his responsibilities and offered his opinions, Ford also mesmerized the audience by weaving in adventure narratives, some of which were Harrison Ford-action-movie suspenseful. And just as entertaining. A relative, perhaps?
As Ford talked about the people who live in the Middle East, he distilled the problems to a single word: “dignity.” Essentially, people just want to be treated with dignity.
Yet, it cannot be found on any line item of US foreign policy.
I think of the assignation of titles for military actions: “Shock and Awe.” How the hell can this be translated as “dignity” to the people our troops are devastating when we level their homes, their hospitals, their schools, and their lives?
When Ambassador Ford spoke about the threat of Iran and mentioned sanctions, I thought of Iraq. And the words of former Secretary of State Madeline Albright during a television interview when asked if she thought the death of half a million Iraqi children [from sanctions in Iraq] was a price worth paying. Albright replied: “This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.”
What about the deaths of 500,000 children is dignified?
Ambassador Ford addressed the uprisings throughout the Middle East and North Africa, launched when Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian and college graduate, self-immolated after police confiscated the fruit and vegetables he sold without a permit. Bouazizi’s act of protest against a corrupt government started a chain reaction now known as Arab Spring. In Egypt, demonstrators are amassing despite a brutal military crackdown and violence leading to daily murders of those who will not back away.
Ford emphasized that this internal rebellion is the preferred means for change to spread democracy.
Stunning, isn’t it?
Because we are witness to rebellion from within, the Occupation Movement (OWS), right now, here at home, in our own supposedly “democratic” society. With each violation perpetuated by pepper-spraying, riot-geared police officers, the protestors’ determination strengthens.
Still, OWS’s future is being debated. Cynics predict its demise while others insist that today’s unacceptable conditions have awakened people to engage and remain involved.
A new report released by the US Census Bureau says that 100 million Americans (one in three), now, are living in poverty or near it.
For greater impact, protestors must target the nemesis that brought the country to economic collapse—the bailed-out bankers who committed criminal acts with impunity along with the non-financial corporations that suck productivity and dignity from the 99 percent. It is not bridges that should be blocked or the halls of Congress but Wall Street where the uber privileged continue to provide platinum salaries, diamond bonuses, and golden parachutes for their executives, the 1 percent who operate our politicians and render our voices mute.
Recently, Michael Moore spent four hours in a meeting with activists from OWS in NYC. This movement needs no input from the Moores of the world who add tangents to the demands. Stick with breaking up the banks and no more bailouts for financial institutions. In other words, focus on Wall Street, for now. By cutting the flow of money to DC and the oligarchs, a new system of government can be achieved. The rest, like improved Medicare for all and ending war, will follow.
As I listened to Ford, I thought about occupy sites all over the country, raided and shut down only to regroup and surge, inspiring more and more people to join in a demand for economic equality and justice. As we, the 99 percent, stipulate this within our own country, we also must also work to ensure a foreign policy that exacts the same for our brothers and sisters throughout the world.
Missy Beattie lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org