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The Audacity of Sacrilege

Former President Obama’s slim volume, The Audacity of Hope, must by now be on the remaindered shelves of book stores where copies have too long lingered in dusty basements.  The challenge of his audacity was a reclaim of the American dream of prosperity that persisted during the mid 20th century. Certainly not this century’s early wakeup call from today’s president; Make America Great Again.

Both men came to their lofty posts with little experience. The man from Chicago with just 46 months experience in the US senate was set to become president. He gave a barn stormer of a speech at a Democratic Party convention, which put him in the public and more importantly, the flickering lime light of his own political party.

The other president is a New Yorker with no experience of political office, a businessman son of a businessman father. But one who had enjoyed and developed a fondness –addiction might be a better word – for TV limelight.

It seems audacity counts for something.

Especially so, if it contains trace elements that challenge the existing order. That is, symptoms of an established disorder – male, white, political or military experience – known colloquially as the insider. Of such stuff have US presidents been made. To suggest otherwise is sacrilege.

***

In the USA, keeping a pistol in a drawer by the phonebook, or an automatic rifle locked, not too far away, with a few ammunition clips is not out of the ordinary. Not every US citizen goes along with this but to many, suggesting home life without these domestic trappings is sacrilege.

That this custom is protected by the Second Amendment to the Construction is a source of comfort and righteous entitlement. And why should it not be so?

After all the amendment says, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” OK, we’ve got the guns, what about the militia?

Without fine tuning let’s start with the following. A militia is a body of citizens under arms, organised for their protection and in defense of rights which national government or other groups seek to forcibly infringe.

My father’s generation in Ireland had two such militias. The Ulster Volunteer Force in the north obtained guns from, (not Britain’s best friend) Germany because some feared Ireland might gain a measure of independence from the British Crown. In the south, the Irish Citizen’s Army under the command of the Marxist trade unionist James Connelly in 1916 led an armed rebellion against the Crown and its army in a quest for Irish independence.

Is this all part of the garbage of a historical dustbin? After all, such things could not happen nowadays. Or could they? Britain’s former prime minister and Labour Party leader Tony Blair was recently speaking at an Open Britain event in central London. Tony, like Hilary Clinton, is fond of a lucrative liaison and spend easy speeches with bankers, be it in the City of London or Wall Street.

Huffed at the decision of the British people to leave the European Union he urged them to, “rise up in defense of what we believe in.” We, it would appear, meant him and his banker buddies. But to be fair, he did qualify that with “calmly, patiently, winning the argument by the force of argument . . .” Some will remember him wining the argument to go to war in Iraq alongside George W Bush, calmly, patiently and by force of lies.

The lives of British armed forces, to say nothing of Iraqi civilians, mean little to Tony, we’ve established that. How much the lives of Middle East refugees, Muslims in general and neighbouring Mexicans mean to President Trump may yet come to be reveled. If a Kristallnatch is revisited in a 21st century form will the Second Amendment come to the defense of a people under attack? Should we be considering some kind of militia now?

***

In times of crisis a clarion call from the Left has long been “Left Unity.” It has served as a guiding light for generations of activists. Historically there have been many attempts to cast it into a convenient and functioning mold.

The early part of the 20th century made  much talk of “one big union”. That was mostly huddled around mining and industrial manufacturing workers of North America. As the century advanced British trade unionism evolved the idea of a “triple industrial alliance” in 1914. Usually referred to simply as the triple alliance, this brought together three major trade unions; the Miners Federation of Great Britain, National Union of Railwaymen and the National Transport Workers’ Federation. Allied they might have been, united in action they were not.

One element these movements and organizations shared was a base in industry, what we now refer to as traditional industries. What it did not achieve was political and much less, ideological unity.

In the early 1970s Britain’s Conservative government launched an industrial strategy that would have brought an abrupt end to ship building and repair work on the upper reaches of Scotland’s River Clyde. Shipyard workers took the lead in resisting this and showed organizational and intellectual skills that would eventually put an end to the government’s policy.

One of the leaders of what became known as the Upper Clyde Shipbuilding (UCS) Work In, was Jimmy Reid, who later served as Rector of Glasgow University. His inaugural speech was carried by the New York Times and heralded as the greatest speech since Gettysburg.

The shipyard worker took as his theme the subject of alienation. “We are not rats we are human”, he said. Beat that one, Tony Blair.

Reid moved from the Communist Party to the Labour Party then to the Scottish National Party. Perhaps left unity is a fluid concept. OK for a short spell like an industrial dispute or community crisis, even a prolonged one. But as a sustainable strategy for the present day and tomorrow it is at best flawed.

Put bluntly the Left doesn’t do unity for more than a sprint. Nevertheless, to call for anything less than unity is sacrilege in traditional minds. But be of good cheer. The Left is showing itself to be quite apt at diversity, even bringing in those that don’t share a Left identity. At least not yet.

As struggles surge and ebb; Standing Rock, European anti austerity, Latin American and Caribbean interstate cooperation, et al, the opportunities for convergence rise. Is that not the same as unity you might reasonably ask? I think not.

Unity implies a oneness. We might yearn for it, it’s not really bad after all. We might give lip service to it or flee from it, frightened of scary associations with “that lot.” Convergence, particularly as it immerges in cultural, scientific and technology experience is different. It implies wholeness, without loss of specific identity.

The rust belt, Rio Grande crossings and refugee camps are all social sicknesses of modern life. A generation of political leaders and people unfriendly policies are the infested carriers that have funeraled in such suffering and insecurity.

Those familiar with the 2014 British film, Pride and the story of the Lesbian and Gay Support the Miners (LGSM) group which supported the Welsh coal miners during the 1984-5 miner’s strike will understand convergence. British miners and the lesbian and gay community both suffered under Prime Minister Thatcher. Two struggling groups shared an understanding of alienation. Two distinct communities shared experience and action.

No one said it better than Dai Donavan from the Dulais Valley Lodge of the National Union of Mineworkers, speaking at a LGSM gig.

“You have worn our badge, Coal Not Dole, and you know what harassment means, as we do. Now we will pin your badge on us, we will support you. It won’t change overnight, but now 140,000 miners know that there are other causes and other problems. We know about blacks and gays and nuclear disarmament and we will never be the same.”

***

In the search for peace and stability in the Middle East the Holy Grail for decades has been the Two State solution. Radicals and establishment of the Left and Right has supped from the chalice. Poisoned as it well may be an antidote might just lie in a good dose of sacrilege.

With the lack of progress on the two nations front it’s not unreasonable to think that this brew contains insolubles. Some new thinking may be required even if it offends a generation of believers, Secretaries of State, Presidents and Prime Ministers. I read somewhere recently where a commentator was suggesting this idea and called for something – I paraphrase – that isn’t the two state solution but looks very like it.

Failing that, we could always return on Bertolt Brecht’s poem, “The Solution.”

Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?”

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Sam Gordon worked in a Belfast factory, then an engineer in the merchant navy, a trainer, researcher and co-coordinator of community projects in Scotland. A graduate from various universities, on a good day he claims he’s a decorative artist and sometimes writer. Most days he’s a blacksmith, welder, and painter in Nicaragua.

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