An intelligent US public? That’s not the goal of the media, with its dumbed down soup of fear, sensationalism, and unquestioning patriotism. Radical grassroots activists, overwhelmed with the flood of insane patriotic imagery, make a false assumption: that people who buy into the stupid american dream are themselves…. Stupid.
True, it’s a lot easier to write folks off as stupid, than to actually engage with them. But when we focus on insane displays of patriotism, rather than the person behind them, we actually let the media and the government win. We perpetuate the fear of disagreement, debate, and critical thinking that allows this government to build an empire on lies.
Who are we, as radical grassroots activists, often based in urban areas, writing off? We don’t write off the urban poor, and other traditionally “oppressed” people – native people, migrant workers, for example. The people we discount are people who have bought, to some extent, into the american dream. From the far left, we see the folks in cookie-cutter suburban neighborhoods, the folks flocking to the mall, the callers on AM Talk Radio, all feasting on american milk and honey.
Undeniably, folks who love the american dream are buying into a web of oppression. But the fact that they don’t appear to see this truth and fail to analyze the consequences of their actions, doesn’t mean they’re one-dimensional humans without potential for change. The american dream is the status quo, easy to adopt, if hard to actually obtain. People often have thoughts and feelings much more complex than what’s seen on the outside. Truth be told, many “oppressed” people also want the american dream, it’s just not happening for them.
Neither is the appearance of american-style success a guarantee of happiness. There is real pain in the suburbs, small towns, rural areas, as well as in the cities—generalized dissatisfaction with life that goes far beyond 30-second sensationalized trauma spots in the news.
Many grassroots activists know this pain – many of us came to the urban scene from suburbs and small towns. We know that people can be stupid fucks and be damn proud of it. It’s fine that we’ve moved on. But we must remember that beneath that brainwashing is an actual brain, being fed practically nothing but grossly manipulated media.
In many parts of the US, there’s little access to the world news and analysis that the left thrives upon. American media does not encourage critical thinking. Issues are draped in patriotism, not framed in ways that foster consideration and discussion. Debate forums that do exist, like talk radio and political debate shows, are overwhelmed by dogmatic right-biased spectacle. So-called ‘alternative’ free weeklies have become cookie-cutter clones spewed out by a few companies.
Serious questioning and disagreement are tantamount to treason. Bush and Co’s conquering mentality – that there’s one answer, it’s American, and if you disagree, you are less than human – applies at home as well as abroad, and is essentially the end of debate.
The military industrial complex has powerful tools to smash dissent. The real threats of surveillance, infiltration, prison time, etc make anything beyond very mundane disagreement with the government very scary. In this climate of fear, support for the government, whether active or passive, is much easier than fully articulating and acting upon dissenting views.
But imagine a world where disagreement was okay. Where you could support people you disagreed with, where tolerance for difference was the norm. Where critical thinking and raising questions meant respect and discussion instead of being a nerd, a pinko asshole, or a domestic terrorist. This is the antithesis of the american imperialist view of the world, and it is the real meaning of freedom.
Radical activists can start spreading this freedom today, by engaging with people outside our tight, friendship-based circles—people who don’t automatically share our view of the world, with whom we might disagree. This is not a critique of doing activism with groups of friends, nor is it necessarily a recruiting assignment for the suburbs. This is a call for engagement in support of critical thinking. Before I try to persuade somebody to adopt an anti-capitalist view of the world, I want them to have the critical thinking skills to actually consider what I’m saying. I want people to feel empowered to think critically about the daily news, the political double-speak, the whole nine yards, in hopes that once people start viewing the news with a critical eye, events will seems as blatantly ridiculous to them as they do to me.
This is about listening and sharing ideas with people as people, not as stereotypes. Folks won’t take you seriously if you don’t prove you care about what they actually think and feel. This effort is about sharing information, listening to people’s response, suggesting analyses—and then stepping back and trusting people to arrive at their own conclusions. This is the fundamental difference between recruitment and engagement.
I don’t expect people to come flocking to our movement. People have their own ways of processing information and creating change. Politicizing doesn’t necessarily mean organizing—that’s its own very valid project. I’m scattering seeds, not looking for immediate recognition and political affinity. In the process, we might very well meet new friends and action partners, people who would find this activist scene on their own in a few years. Why should we wait for people to find their own radical grassroots movement? Let’s put ourselves out in the world!
Let’s go to people in neutral environments, where they’re comfortable. Let’s think beyond the old recipe of “talking” to people – sometimes a surprisingly challenging act. Let’s go to the suburbs with flyers, posters, sticker campaigns, street theater, several times a year. Let’s go in approachable small groups, looking like we’re interested in people instead of attacking The Man. Let’s cover cafes and Laundromats in alternative media. Let’s listen to people, so we can understand people outside of divisive stereotypes. Let’s try to discover the many motivations behind what comes off as unquestioning patriotism, so we can better understand why people put up with — and appear to enjoy – all this shit.
Some folks will call this an invasion or a missionary expedition. I think it’s mutual aid. We don’t want folks to become slaves to ideology. The message is, Stop – Don’t React – Think.