What is the difference between an Inca Indian in Bolivia, and a middle-class wage-earner in America?
Answer: The Inca Indian knows where her or his interests lie, recognizes that the leading political parties are thieves and agents of international and domestic corporate interests out to rob them, and joins with thousands of like-minded comrades to take to the streets and drive the crooks and charlatans from power, using everything from sticks to sticks of dynamite. The American, in contrast, is easily snookered by politicians who use “wedge issues” like abortion, gay marriage, defense against “terror,” or posting of the 10 Commandments on public buildings to get her or him to vote against her or his own real interests.
Result: Bolivia has just seen a corrupt president driven from power and his would be successors deterred (so far) from replacing him, and is on the edge of a possible revolutionary transformation, all over the issue of whether the country’s sizeable natural gas reserves should be opened to plunder by international oil companies. The U.S. meanwhile, has recently opened fragile artic wilderness (and native lands) to drilling, and continues to despoil other ecologically fragile areas, particularly in coastal waters, is about to approve yet another “free trade” pact that will massively shift jobs out of the country, and is robbing workers of pension benefits while simultaneously planning the gutting of the public Social Security system–all with scarcely an organized protest from the public. Congress even passed a repeal of the estate tax, which only fell on people with assets of over $1.6 million ($3.2 for a family)! And the public cheers.
What explains this huge difference in political awareness and political action in the face of clear threats by the rich and powerful to the welfare of the majority?
I would suggest that it is the collapse of community in the U.S.
In Bolivia, as in many developing countries, the ordinary people, often without even access to televisions, have a strong sense of community. They meet routinely and naturally in social settings-street markets, plazas, churches, and at festivals-where their common experiences and concerns are discussed.
Americans are increasingly atomized and connected to each other only through the mediation of mass electronic entertainment vehicles, which convey the official version of reality. We travel to and from our places of work in isolated automobiles, from inside which we view other vehicles and their drivers primarily as obstacles and rivals whose only significance to us is that they interfere with our ability to get to our destination. At work, we operate in neofeudal settings that discourage open discourse and that punish free speech, and that have attacked and largely destroyed any sense of collective action by virtually legislating trade unions out of existence.
Meanwhile in our communities, most of us live in single-home isolation, with green barriers or even high fences separating us from our neighbors, attending churches that, while providing some limited sense of community, at the same time increasingly act more to divide us–one church from the other (or from non-churchgoers)-than they do to unite us. In those few settings were we might be in close contact with others-at the supermarket or the gym-we plug earphones in our ears and tune in the radio or our ipods so we don’t need to relate to others except for commercial transactions.
Little wonder that we are all strangers in our own neighborhoods, and that we are all fighting–and mostly losing–our individual struggles for survival while Bolivia’s Incas are marching enmasse to defend their rights.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org