October 04, 2007

Free Burma. And us, too.

Blogging in solidarity with the Burmese

I have to admit to feeling a good bit of political despair lately. It might be considered self-indulgent, so if you're inclined to look down on that sort of thing, feel free. I had a lot more faith that positive political change could be effected before I moved here to DC.

Before I heard the camel-breaking repeat of the pathetic, 'helpless in the face of the process' dodge by the Democrats, or the umpteenth explanation of why handing our dangerously aggressive president more ammunition against a country he wants to bomb doesn't translate into supporting starting a new war against them. Seriously, guys, did all of the Republicans go to better polisci and communications programs than all of you? Did none of you read "The Prince"? Come on. *I* read that.

Before I overheard bloggers trying to call Democrats to be accountable to the voters laughingly, approvedly, referred to as "shrill" in a house full of young, tipsy, partying liberal staffers. Fuck you, too. Really. Fuck you very much. And you should know that I mean it from the very bottom of my shrill little heart. They aren't all like that, I know, I've met some very cool staffers. But the jerks sure are out there on 'our' side.

Before I realized that the established environmental activist organizations, the ones with big money, big research budgets, and big mailing lists, are scared of their own shadows. Tepid, timid, afraid of a fight, of controversy, of acting too 'alarmist' about the imminent destruction of our global habitat. They don't want to be the first to speak up, they want cover from down below, from people with much smaller podiums and reach so they don't have to risk blazing any trails in public opinion. It's like they read Lomborg's "Cool It" years ago and thought, 'oh yes, that's right, we mustn't be too gauche when talking about catastrophes.'

Before I learned that lobbyists all moonlight as a vast, unpaid, highly skilled office temp service for Congress. After the Gingrich revolution, there are no longer enough full time staff positions on congressional committees to be able to put in the hours required to write legislation, reports on committee markups to go to the floor for votes, or report language to accompany the final law, so much of this work has to be outsourced to lobbyists. Think carefully for a few minutes about the implications of that. Then sit with it for a few days.

And it isn't, frankly, like I've even 'seen' all that much. But I think just enough to feel that our political establishment really is as alternately rotten, timid, morally decadent, sheep-like, callous and blisteringly crass as I'd always hoped it wasn't. Silly me. That didn't take long.

But our government isn't rounding people up off the streets, at least, not since the infamous Arab dragnet of 2001. Or unless you're suspected of being an immigrant. Even if they are beginning to restrict travel over arrests at peaceful protests. They aren't gunning people down in the streets. They haven't cut off the internet. Yet. And you can click on the links at the top of this post to get a pretty full and horrifying picture of all the things our grinning, corporate overlords aren't doing here now. To Americans. Yay, us.

So despair is perhaps a little premature. After all, the Burmese haven't despaired yet. They keep hoping that things will get better. I guess they have to. I guess we have to. Because the global economic culture that values the oil-ladling Burmese junta over the Burmese people is the same one that values tax-evading, privacy-invading, pollution-purveying, standard-of-living-degrading corporations over Americans. If we can't fight that here, while we can still speak up without reprisal, then it can't be fought. Which really would be cause for despair.

I hope the Burmese can free themselves. I hope we can. Because there isn't much help on the way from above, folks. Even if we got the perfect progressive president in 2008, they'd have to rely on the public to get their backs. In the end, there's only ever going to be boring, ordinary people deciding that they just can't take the bullshit and the inhumanity anymore and that maybe it's time to act to stop it.

Update: Moderating clause added above.

Posted by natasha at October 4, 2007 11:57 AM | Human Rights | Technorati links |

I have long admired Aung San Suu Kyi. She is an amazing woman and a noble human being in much the same vein as Nelson Mandela. As a result, I have followed Myanmar (Burma) to some degree, which is hard given our media's lack of interest until now. The military junta there is disgusting and brutal, but the country holds no strategic interest or oil revenues for our leaders to drool over, so no one has ever cared. I hope the people there can survive their oppressors and somehow rise up and bring justice to Myanmar (Burma), and then can install Aung San Suu Kyi at the head of the government that she became entitled to almost two decades ago with about 90% of the vote.

Posted by: Scott at October 4, 2007 05:47 PM

I really, really hate imitating ccoaler at this moment, but I think the following link does pertain to a lot of your frustration...

Related story...did you know that the Junior League was initially created in response to snobbery? What happened was that the "old money" in Chicago didn't want to let members of the "new money" into their charitable/civic organizations - very much a "Not our kind, dear" attitude. In response, one of the rebuffed created the Junior League, which, in the 1910s at least, carried a fair bit of clout at cleaning up various urban messes, and haven't entirely given up on that point - for example, as conservative/stuffy as they've become over the years, they are, to the best of my knowledge, still the only group that has ever worked on behalf of African-American youth that try to escape their bad situations (usually gang-related) in Tacoma by hiding out in nearby Federal Way, most especially at what used to called the Sea-Tac Mall.

We, or at least the blogger community and its fellow travellers, have a different kind of wealth - information. You have the ability to access, analyze and assess at a level and at a rate that would be unthinkable fifteen years ago, when blogs really seemed to start becoming more than a plaything. You've had successes that still amaze the old guard, not to mention ourselves from time to time.

And the "old guardians" of all that information and the processed results look at you and say, "Not our kind, dear".

So it was ever thus.

And that means we have to do one of two things, dependent on what's the easier route.

We have to be willing to slog our way through to take over organizations from within, or we have to create new ones that comprehend and will act accordingly to the fact that the situation has dramatically changed.

This will be very hard for our side, because the inertia you'll fight is better organized that we like to admit, and we also have to accept that too many on our side prefer personal catharsis to discussion, organization, and slogging through the muck when it isn't fun.

But you already know this, more or less. Just learn to let the bastards go, and create the situations that make them have to come to you, to us. Create the "salt" ourselves, to show that we can break their monopoly.

And if they don't catch on, we move on without them.

My two bits...

Posted by: palamedes at October 5, 2007 09:16 AM

... before I wrote a paper critiquing the Ecological Economics mainstream on its elitist political consciousness, and had Herman Daly himself accuse me of "ignoring" the assigned writing format.

1. been there, done that.

2. NEVER give up, even when you know you're beat. See, the opponent does not always know you're beat, and that counts.

"It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here, but we are. It's like in the great stories...there is some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for."

Posted by: huskarl at October 5, 2007 02:07 PM


Oil in Burma Fueling Oppression

Posted by: Huskarl at October 5, 2007 03:11 PM

Thank you Natasha, most timely and bleak as well as correct as your observations are...it serves to encourage and inspire. Each and every one of us, in whatever way we give energy in opposition, fuels that very energy and deprives the muck from consuming more.

Posted by: Lietta at October 14, 2007 06:47 AM

Natasha, this is a much-needed observation.

At this moment in US politics, I fear, those who operate with the public good in mind are silenced by the political bullies. If they don't shut up they're told they're threatening national security... or that they're threatening the election of Democrats (or Republicans) -- and thus, national security.

I see some of this group think among bloggers -- progressive bloggers too. I think it's dangerous. I think it's part of the larger syndrome of fear and scorn.

I know there's good work going on by politicians. But in those areas where a stand is really needed, where change is at stake... fear and bullying seems to be driving the outcome.

Is this is what's behind the Democrats' leadership now -- not strategy, not wisdom not carefulness -- but a combination of fear -- mixed with scorn for others -- pushed by bullies and cowards? I think this may be the case.

People are capable of much better. Not only better -- beautiful, inspired, heroic. Decent. That's what I long for -- to see decency and courteousness. Basic respect.

The right circumstances or leadership can bring that out. Things can turn. Underneath and all around the ugliness, people are building the means by which to turn things in a better direction. And I do expect to be surprised. I've been surprised both by the perniciousness of human beings and the goodness. And also at the way that complex systems that seem headed in one direction can, seemingly, instantaneously turn in another.

Posted by: Noemie at October 14, 2007 09:49 AM