Dear Dirty America

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Barabbas, Patron Saint of May Day (pt II)

May 08
01:11 2012
Dan Rudy

 
PORTLAND, OR
 

Easier said than done, it would seem.  Making the rounds, an eight block long river of people stopping outside the Justice Center, Wells Fargo, City Hall, the courthouse  –  all the halls of power Portland has to offer, save perhaps the Nike Campus and its golf clubs.  Shouting, cursing, chanting, and standing, each stop feeling invariably less potent than the last.  Because with every snarky grimace on every police officer’s face and the accompanying stares of daft amusement looking down from the offices of Wells Fargo, one can’t help but feel that by tomorrow morning the whole thing will be weathered and forgotten.  That it’ll leave no more of a mark than any parade or passing circus, a thing to be outlived only by the Liberate May Day tags sprayed all over town.

One of the main things I noticed about our march – and perhaps chalk it up to growing up in a Calvinist household, forever panged by doubt and self-loathing – was the notable lack of personal ownership taken, so far as how our own roles within society contribute to the general state of things.  The economy is held to be someone else‘s fault, never the result of our own choices and consumerism.  Seemingly ignored a point, much of the state of today’s economy and our country’s slow slide away from manufacturing (or traditional ‘steady jobs’, in favor of shorter term, more flexible service positions) is at least in part fuelled by the way we consume and shop, in the way we must ‘have it all’, increasingly on credit or a second mortgage if need be.  Opting for the cheaper, the trendier, and the more conveniently expendable (i.e. ‘upgradable’).Simply redressing the wealth disparity isn’t a guaranteed fix in the long run.  Rather, the answer lies more in reconstructing an economy not dependent upon irregular consumer appetites and fashions, a one that is prepared to meet the real needs of an expanding population as many functions and services become increasingly automated; people need jobs, or at least a livable income.  Ignoring this, our problems are only bound to worsen, to pile upon themselves and multiply until there really will be no turning back.

So that’s why ‘Barabbas’ leapt to mind, standing amid the dense throng of angry picketeers.  Workers united perhaps, but as consumers still intransigent as ever.  Laying blame upon the institutions we really have come to rely on economically, insurance and banking and investment.  Things that, unless we as a society work to change the way we trade and interact and exchange (and produce, consume, et al), we will ever be dependent on no matter how much we rail against their misdeeds and their gormless, boundless greed.  In this monotheistic paradigm of ours (one nation, under the almighty invisible hand of the Dollar) we cry to crucify that which we really do need most.  What’s needed instead (sticking to the metaphor) is a new Enlightenment, a very nitty-gritty sort of liberation of the minds and pocketbooks (hell, the mind beyond pocketbooks) that can take us into a new and wondrous age.
But I ramble.  The march coming to a close as a dance party was beginning, at last I felt the time had come to catch the next bus across the river, to a nice plump bourgeois couch to rest my protest-weary legs upon.  My buddy-of-a-friend agreed, tailing behind as we nudged our way through the throng, turning the corner opposite the half dozen assembled motorcycle cops diverting traffic.  To my surprise, there were about twenty more amassed around the next block, bright yellow jackets and bicycles at the ready.  We move along past them, avoiding eye contact as we spot the blue placard of our stop just up the street.  A pair of vans laden with SWAT personnel quietly roll by down the hill.  One assault trooper waves with a shock-black gloved hand to a passing child.  For no reason at all, I waved back; I guess it was knee-jerk.
“Christ, I think they’re getting ready to bust some heads,” I observed, saddened for the undocumented workers staging a protest outside the courthouse, hoping they can wrap things up peaceably and return to their two jobs, their taxes, and their country.  As it turns out, they did not.  Several were arrested as the power of Portland descended heavily upon them, shortly after our Number 15 had already crossed the river.  I wasn’t too bummed to have missed the standoff that followed.  As I say, I’m not a protester by nature.  My element is rather to blather, to look out the window as three helicopters and a slow-drifting drone float above my city.  And to lament.

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