The United States is in crisis. The world is in crisis. Inequality in all of its manifestations defines the economics that run our lives. For those in what we used to call the Third World, war or the threat of war is a fact of daily life. For those of us living in the rest of the world, those wars frame our existence in ways we accept as normal–militarized security, refugees in camps and detention centers, and the possibility of a terror attack in almost any public venue. Of course, the fact that there would be fewer war refugees if Washington and its NATO supplicants did not insist on instigating and fueling war is lost on most citizens of the northern nations. Meanwhile, the climate melts around us, a phenomenon exacerbated by an unsustainable pursuit of profit.
In the workplace there is no respect for the workers. Their jobs are not secure, their debt is guaranteed since wages do not pay enough to afford modern life in the neoliberal capitalist horrorshow. Black residents fear murder by the police while immigrants—especially those with brown skin—are made constantly aware of the hate that defines the mindset of many of their neighbors; it is a hate encouraged by the policies of the regime. Prison is where the State sends its unneeded and unwanted, except for those it leaves on the streets to scramble for survival. The political system is owned lock stock and barrel by the very banks that we owe our lives to and the corruption of that system has never been so obvious or impregnable. The media is little more than a public relations firm for that system, its wars and its rulers. Substance is replaced by idiotic shows about a reality that is not real and news that is not news. It’s like Bob Dylan sang many years ago, “Meantime life outside goes on. All around you.” It’s all too much for much of the world. At least that’s the message we are told. Therefore, let the rich and the powerful take care of business. There’s nothing for you to see here. Move along.
From the lives of schoolchildren to the efforts of their parents; from the racism of the system to the struggle against it; from the domination of the military/security state to the leaks by hacking organizations; from the attacks on unions by right wing lackeys of supercapitalists like the Koch Brothers to the walkouts and strikes in defense of those unions; this is the world we are living in. It becomes ever clearer that something must be done. The question, then, is what?
Long time activist, one time wanted man, educator and writer Bill Ayers takes this question on in his latest book Demand the Impossible! The title is inspired by the French uprising of May 1968 and the Situationist graffiti from which it is lifted. The book is subtitled A Radical Manifesto. Like manifestoes that came before it, Ayers’ text dissembles the current situation, neatly breaking down the individual aspects of the greater crisis. He begins each chapter with facts and figures relating the crux of the problem. He then spends each chapter discussing the elements of those problems, providing a little history and a little hope along the way. Occasionally, he suggests possible actions we the people can take, but for the most part he just lays out the issues that need to be addressed and resolved.
Underlying the critique and explanation of the current crisis is an understanding that cannot be stated enough. That is this simple fact–the problem is the system of capitalism itself. A system defined by the need to pursue profit is a system that can only destroy itself and the world it profits from unless that system is overthrown. This is Ayers’ ultimate statement. Everything else in the book are explanatory notes to help the reader make sense of this basic fact. I put it this way in a talk I gave in Olympia, Washington this past May:
Imagine a movement of groups and individuals dedicated to ending capitalism. If you can’t imagine that, at least you can imagine a movement dedicated to insuring free or affordable health care, quality public education and housing for every individual. A movement dedicated to ending the stranglehold of the military-industrial complex and the financial industry on our lives. A movement to end imperial wars. A movement determined to end police brutality and murder. A movement to end systemic racism and make reparations to those so wronged by the racist history of this nation. A movement to end systemic sexism and create gender equality. If you can imagine such a movement, then you can imagine a movement to end capitalism—since these are symptoms of that cancer upon humanity’s soul.
This manifesto authored by Ayers expands on this call in both detail and reach. The book is simply formatted and powerfully written. The problem and situation are clearly stated and the need for change made explicitly clear. Ideally, Demand the Impossible! would be distributed for free at every rally and meeting called to discuss the issues explored therein. It is not the only book or article that provides an outline of what must be done, but it is certainly one of the most concise and evocatively written ones. Imagine a series of speeches designed to inspire and teach; to move us from frustration and apathy to the streets; that is what this book is all about.