I began the year 2012 with two New Year’s resolutions: submit an article to CounterPunch, and write a thank-you letter to Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador. The former has been an idea for many years, the latter a result of surviving a horrible bus accident in January (more on that later). A quick glance at the calendar reveals that we nearing the year’s midpoint. I had better get started…
The Jo Becker and Scott Shane article from the May 29, 2012 New York Times (“Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will”) compelled me to write. I need not summarize the piece since other contributors – Ralph Nader and Alexander Cockburn, for example – have already done a fine job, and the title alone hints at the horrors of an executive office’s proud and accelerating conversion to an execution chamber. Upon reading the article, I did what many angry, fed-up liberals tend to do in the struggle for their country: I remained seated behind my computer and emailed the story to a couple of friends, adding my biting sarcasm. “Obama 2012! I’m on board!” was the witty subject line. The next evening and here I am again, firmly planted and typing away. Watch me go: words, words, and more words, flapping away where nobody even hears my actual voice.
But please believe, fair reader, when I say that this might be my only recourse. I have sacrificed much, served far and wide, in attempts to counter the monstrous actions and attitudes of our “homeland”: a year of volunteering at a Head Start program, two years of service in AmeriCorps, a year as an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College, a stint in the Peace Corps, boycotts, anti-war rallies, environmental rallies… I even shouted down John Edwards from a few feet away, disrupting a 2007 speaking event while he was still a Democratic darling and his biggest problem was the media uproar over $400 dollar haircuts, a lot to pay for a simple side part. Regardless, the point is not to provide a life’s résumé. These are merely a small sampling of what has been tried, and what has only culminated in a sense of utter hopelessness.
I became politically active in early 2003, and my first ever vote for president was in 2004, naively for John Kerry and the now-disgraced Edwards. The choice was simple: the Bush/Cheney Republicans are the bad guys, so I must side with the Democrats. This is what liberal, progressive types from the “blue-state stronghold” of New York do, right? How predictable. In fact, that sad line of thinking is so expected that I fell right in line two years later, voting straight Democrat and helping them pummel the Republicans in the 2006 midterms. Remember Nancy Pelosi and friends reaping the benefits of our indignation towards the Iraq war that year?
And yet nothing changed. The wars still chewed up lives and spit out more death. The Patriot Act and similar erosions of civil liberties continued, full steam ahead. Our local police officers became combat-ready storm troopers. What the hell did I just vote for, and twice? I stopped relying on MSNBC and CNN to frame the world for me in nothing more than anti-FOX context. Even Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were abandoned, because what has been happening simply is not funny. It never should have been even remotely amusing, and I am sorry that I ever laughed at all. After just two election cycles and serious research into such topics as the power and reach of the military-industrial complex, the influence of campaign financing, and the two-party duopoly that is American “democracy”, I realized that the game is rigged. That certain liberal “intellectuals” still have not come to this realization after decades of being scammed is beyond me.
Just prior to joining the Peace Corps, I was working for the state of Florida and the 2008 elections were approaching. Faced with almost daily Obama worship at the office, one afternoon I finally burst into breathtaking rant in the middle of the cubicle farm. Poor Kim, the part-time secretary from the temp agency; she never saw it coming:
When you go into that voting booth… When you are about to push that button or pull the lever… The first and most important question on your mind should be, “How many people are going to die as a result of my vote?” Humans halfway around the world will be shredded by bullets, bombed, suffer and die, based on your choice! Hundreds, possibly thousands, of innocent people will be murdered! Now, take that with you into the voting booth, and try to pick the candidate who will kill the least amount of people! Go ahead!
I apologize to you now Kim, wherever you may be. A simple inquiry as to who I might vote for may not have deserved such an explosive response.
A few more months passed, and I barely managed to convince some close family and friends to reject the Democrat/Republican scam. But what can be done about the millions who will continue falling for the left/right trap, election after election? How many more garden rakes must they step on? Apparently, as long as the citizens continue caressing their cell phones, tweeting away and updating their Facebook status without a clue about their surroundings, there will always be plenty of rakes waiting to whack them in their overfed faces. Hopeless.
There have been enough United States outrages for quite some time now. A person need only access their memory archives from twelve years ago – the election of 2000 – and play the tape forward from there. Stolen elections, lies about weapons of mass destruction, invasions of sovereign nations, war crimes, torture, covert warfare, bank bailouts, phony healthcare reform, drone strikes, murder of American citizens overseas, FBI entrapment, wiretapping, email spying, the NDAA, guilty until proven innocent… My question then, and the subtitle of this article, is, “Time to jump ship yet?” At what point do we look around and realize that all the anti-war protests, the votes for hope and change, and the peaceful occupations are not working? They are not listening to us, period. When do we decide that we have taken on too much water and it’s time to abandon ship?
I already have.
Remember the bus accident from the opening paragraph, and the thank-you letter it will inspire? You see, that crash occurred in Ecuador. Following my time with the Peace Corps, I moved down to this humble South American country, and I have lived here for approximately three years. Life is good, but by no means is it perfect, hence the accident. Indeed, the bus drivers sometimes neglect the rules of the road and the safety of their passengers. They forget how easily a massive, multi-ton, 40-plus passenger machine going 60 miles per hour can tip over, slam on its side, slide along the highway, and plow itself headfirst into a ditch. This is what happened to me, and it was awful.
However, I was immediately rushed to a public hospital, treated, and released, all without paying a cent. About two weeks later I went to another public hospital for removal of the stitches and cleaning of my wounds. Once again I received excellent attention, and once again it was completely free. This is Ecuador, the country I currently inhabit, where the doctors, nurses and staff at the second hospital did not even ask for my name, because helping a fellow human being was their only priority. Not my nationality, not my health insurance provider (I have none), not my socio-economic status… The only thing that mattered was that I had lots of glass embedded in my arm, and blood was leaving my body. I thanked everyone at those two hospitals during my visits and I resolved to contact the president as well, to thank him for his leadership and the $1,755 million his government has invested in healthcare.
That may be just one anecdote from one man, and surely a lone example does not serve to conclusively win many arguments. However, I can assure you that the government of Ecuador is not engaged in the brutal slaughter of thousands of people around the world, nor the other crimes and atrocities listed a few paragraphs above. Therefore I invite all of you down here to join me, to join us, really. If you believe in social justice, health care for all, friendliness, peace and international cooperation, then abandon ship! As long as you think that a government should invest money in building homes for the poor and not bombing them to death – 55 brand new houses were recently handed over for free in my community – then we want you. Take a look around you and analyze the direction that the United States is headed. That ship is going down. Time to jump.
Now if you will excuse me, I have a second New Year’s resolution to tackle.
Estimado Presidente Correa,
James Madden is a first time contributor to Counterpunch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org