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Light a Candle, Curse the Darkness

by RON JACOBS

 

“A federal judge ruled . . . that the state and federal governments have violated the 1992 Everglades cleanup settlement by allowing repeated excessive discharges of phosphorus into the vast wetlands and failing to meet a key stormwater-treatment deadline.”–

Associated Press report last week

I was just out on the west coast of the United States. Portland, Oregon, San Francisco Bay Area, and Folsom, California. My visit in Portland was to the Southeast part of the city in an area around the Seven Corners neighborhood. A small section of the city, Seven Corners is so named because seven streets meet and form seven corners. The area is home to several cooperative ventures, including the People’s Food Co-op and the Red & Black Coffeehouse. Its inhabitants include a large number of artists, anarchists, and other types of bohemians, along with a fair number of immigrants, working people, students and professionals of all skin tones. Needless to say, there is a large variation in the locals’ incomes, as well. Despite the variations (or perhaps because of them), the neighborhood has a real communal feeling about it. It feels like an intentional community in the middle of a North American metropolis. This seems to be because there is a genuine desire to maintain and build community by the citizens of the neighborhood, despite their differences. When an intention such as that exists, amazing things happen. Income disparities become less important, since all members can contribute something.

From Portland I headed to Oakland-a city with little sense of community other than that created by individual families and groups of friends. Police presence is strong and capitalism reigns. Overpriced homes and traffic a nightmare. My friends there hang out with folks they know from their jobs or from their outside interests-baseball, music, etc. They enjoy their lives but speak about something that they have lost that we all once shared when we lived and traveled together thirty and more years ago. I did find a community of friends at the AK Press warehouse when I went there to speak about the Weather Underground with three other folks. The politics of the evening defined that community. Old new lefties, young anarchists, a sprinkling of Palestinians, African-Americans, Latinos, and Native peoples were in attendance and involved themselves in a lively discussion about history and its lessons for today. The hope of a community flickered in the atmosphere of the evening.

That potential community is defined by its opposition to imperial war and the racism and poverty it creates, yet it needs to learn tolerance for the variations in the leftist and anarchist political views expressed by individuals therein. Furthermore, it must attempt to understand the role religion plays in the worlds’ cultures. We know about the fundamentalists who wish for a time gone past when women were subservient and only certain men knew God’s truth, but are we capable of understanding and encouraging those religious who see the tenets of their faith as a doctrine for progressive social change? Many, if not most, leftists and anarchists consider themselves to be outside of religion, placing their faith in humanity instead of some spiritual being. Either type of faith requires a certain hope that the belief itself will make life better, sometimes on a merely personal level and, at other times, on a societal plane. Unfortunately, those who have the “faith” oftentimes have little patience with those who don’t. From this intolerance of the faithful we get men who manipulate the faith of those who believe in them and/or their god. These manipulations begin with intolerance, especially towards women, and usually end up with murder. In today’s world, it appears that religion is the masquerade the power hungry men of intolerance choose to put on. The Ayatollahs in Iran and the religious right in the United States; the political Orthodox of Judaism and the intolerant fundamentalists of Islam who align themselves with Bin Laden and his philosophy-just a few examples that come quickly to mind.

After leaving Oakland I took the train to Folsom. Yeh, there were some rich folk eatin’ in a dining car, drinkin’ coffee but not smokin’ big cigars, but mostly the passengers were businesspeople heading to California’s capitol and families out on a lark. One of my siblings met me and we eventually talked politics over beers with some of his colleagues. All of them are involved in software development and their politics range from liberal to libertarian. None of them were fond of the war, even though they were all veterans. Two of the three had nothing but distaste for George Bush and his manipulation of religion and fear. Yet, they all have hope that the future will be better, if only the US gets out of Iraq.

As I was traveling I read the posthumously published fable by murdered Algerian writer Tahar Djaout. His tale, titled The Last Summer of Reason, is the story of a bookseller who observes his world of ideas and beauty trampled under the marching feet of his children, their comrades, and their leaders. In the name of their god, the masses of citizens have decided that ideas other than those proclaimed by the men who speak for god are evil and should be eradicated in the name of truth. Those citizens who don’t believe but fear the wrath of the redeemers, as Djaout calls the holy army of fanatics, go along with the program out of fear for their lives. It is this culture of fear that Bush and his homeland security are cultivating here in the US, as well. Just like the Islamic redeemers in the novel, the Christian version of this fanatical multitude exists in the United States. They formed their original numbers in historically conservative areas of the country where powerful forces with money saw a force to manipulate to their goals. Now, these fascists masquerading as holy people control essential sources of power-from the White House to the Air Force Academy and beyond. Those of us who have a different spiritual approach to earthly life are at the mercy of them and the masses that support them.

Of course, it is more than differing versions of religious truth that I am talking about here, for underneath the towers of absolute truth erected by those who force them on the world is the illusory foundation of capital. Illusory because it has no real substance, yet fundamental because it profits from the wars and other mayhem it creates. A philosophy without morals, corporate capitalism makes money from its own cesspool-simultaneously creating and condemning it. It’s the provider of death to both sides in a war and profits from the reconstruction undertaken in the wars’ wake.

This war must end. It benefits only the makers of death and the profiteers of fear. As long as it continues, the fear of the other will cloud the world’s vision, making life better only for those who need the fog of war to perform their deadly deeds and increase their power. The longer the wars in Iraq and elsewhere continue the tighter the grip of unreason and intolerance will become. Those who give up their resistance to the war because of the disproportionate power that fear provides them will intensify and expand a control that would not exist if thoughtfulness prevailed. How to fight the fear, then? If the words of the citizens of Southeast Portland, the left/anarchists of the Bay Area, and the liberals in Folsom, CA. are any indication, then the answer is hope. Like a light piercing the darkness of fear, the candle of hope must never cease to burn.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu

 

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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