Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fighting for Positive Change

On Tuesday, January 25th many Americans sat with their eyes glued to their television sets as President Obama gave his State of the Union Address. I watched it with several dozen of my best friends at Busboys and Poets (@ 5th and K streets in NW DC), a local restaurant/bar which is frequented by activists.

Obama drew much applause as he emphasized the need for quality education. He also gained favor as he promised to create more green jobs. He even supported the "Dream Act" without calling it by name. He said things that appealed to all segments of the American populace (and avoided some hot-button issues like the Israel-Palestine conflict). But the advocate (or sycophant) in each of us quite naturally causes us to focus on the issues that interest us the most. And I'm no exception to the rule.

So, I was pleasantly surprised when Obama said toward the beginning of his speech that, "Due to the invention of robots, a hundred workers in a steel factory can now do what used to take a thousand people". The League of Revolutionaries for a New America (LRNA - www.lrna.org), of which I am a member, has built its manifesto, purpose and goals around the notion that modernization is taking jobs. We believe that those jobs aren't coming back and that this "jobless recovery" of our economy is only helping the few and leaving the many high and dry. However, the solution lies not in smashing the robots, but in moving from a "work ethic" to an "abundance ethic". that is to say that, since the robots are mass-producing goods that can't be sold due to people's poverty and robot-induced unemployment, we should develop a system that gives these goods away or sells them at a drastically lower price.

Mr. Obama also caught my attention as he discussed tax policy. He spoke of reducing government spending but emphasized that we must not do it on the backs of our poorest, most vulnerable citizens. This has been the rallying war cry of my fellow housing advocates and others who are fighting to preserve the social safety net.

However, I was less than impressed by his American jingoism. He spoke of America as having been number one in several fields and of our decline. He stated his desire to see America regain its status as number one in the world. I take issue with this attitude insomuch as it has underpinnings of one wanting to move upward by stepping on others. During the open-mic at Busboys and Poets immediately after the speech, one of the several points that I made was that we need to be certain not to get cheap products at Walmart if they came from sweatshops in south america where 10-year old kids are working for $2.00 per hour (or less) when they should be in school. We must make certain that we are not moving ahead at the expense of others.

But what impressed me most about Obama's speech was his support of the "Jasmine Revolution" in Tunisia. I'd hardly expect a head of state to support an uprising, namely due to the fact that it might happen in his own country as well. Nonetheless, President Obama is on the record as stating his support for the rebels.

I support the rebels myself. They are just everyday people trying to make ends meet. After all, the uprising was sparked by the death a a young man who committed suicide after the government took away his food cart, thus depriving him of his livelihood. He has accomplished more with his death than with his life, though I don't suggest that anyone commit suicide. Nonetheless, one man's death has sparked a revolution that has spilled over into yet another country and which may result in the liberation of tens of millions of people before it's all over.

An interesting fact about Tunisia is that it was the home of Hannibal Barca who is considered to be the greatest general to ever live. As a matter of fact, present-day generals still study his tactics. Hannibal who came out of the city-state of Carthage (near present-day Tunis) fought Rome for 20 years (c. 220 B.C. to 200 B.C.) and is best-known for his war elephants. He was in the process of taking Rome when he received word that his home was being attacked. He ended his seige of Rome and went to defend his home, being defeated by Scipio Africanus at the Battle of Zama. His soldiers were taken as slaves; but, as a courtesy to the general, he was set free. Rome had him followed for the next 17 years or so (in an effort to keep him from reorganizing) until he, being tired of the constant harassment, committed suicide by drinking poison. If Hannibal had finished taking Rome, the Bible would have to be rewritten and Christ might not have been crucified.

Though Hannibal's War (The Second Punic War) ended more than 2,000 years ago, the People of Tunisia have rekindled his fight against oppression, won that fight and empowered the downtrodden of surrounding nations to do the same. But at the end of the day, the fight in the Arab world is for the basic necessities of life and for stability. The Tunisians (and the Egyptians) want food, housing, employment, peace and to live free from oppression. That said, We are all Tunisians.

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