On the Marine Corps birthday, I saw “The Diary of Anne Frank” at the Cape Fear Playhouse. On Veterans Day, I tolled 11 bells with Occupy Wilmington at a candlelight vigil to honor veterans and re-affirm a commitment to non-violent struggle for social and economic justice. Every Occupier present either served or thanked a close relative for their service.
The Occupy movement is refreshing. People speak and are heard. People vote. Ah, this is what democracy looks like! Conspicuously underrepresented are folks my age. Are we half-centurions still pre-occupied with our trivial pursuits? We were born during JFK’s Camelot, challenged to ask what we could do for our country, not what our country could do for us. But it seems most of us have played Trivial Pursuit for 30 years in an information age that lacks JFK’s wisdom.
Perhaps Vietnam sapped our sense of shared sacrifice. We still suffer from unhealed wounds of Vietnam. Our volunteer military comprises less than 1 percent of the population; only 9 percent ever serve. Volunteers seem to come from the same families, many from North Carolina. Is that shared sacrifice? Perhaps Nixon’s betrayal strangled Kennedy’s idea that the common good is as necessary to the survival of the Republic as rugged individualism. Maybe Carter turned us against the better angels of our nature by preaching the inconvenient truth that the world will not eternally support our gluttony. Surely Uncle Ronnie proclaiming government “is the problem” turned us away from considering the common good, well, good.
Our belief in Uncle Ronnie’s proclamation also absolved Wall Street. Greed Street had been the site of social justice protests since the late 19th century. No longer. It became our salvation. It was a movie. We believed Gordon Gekko. “Greed is good!” Money wasn’t the root of evil, making money became the only means to combat the twin terrors of Communism and “Big Gummit.” The moral market changes the world for the better. And with money making the world go ‘round, why concern ourselves with issues of true gravity? Social activism? Irrelevant. We allowed ourselves to be transformed from thoughtful empowered citizens able to non-violently protest for racial justice, and against an unjust war, into faithful impotent consumers, willing to believe that our government will kill us, but Walmart, Exxon and Bank of America have our best interests at heart.
Some half-centurions did choose careers based on passion and compassion, not greed. Regardless of whether you voted for him, when many of his classmates were buying and selling the lie that wealth trickles down rather than builds up, our current president worked local communities, advocating for a more level playing field for the 99 percent. His early efforts show an insight (though he has strayed) that our most important checks and balances aren’t between the three branches of government, but between a government of the many on the unbridled avarice of the few.
It’s near Thanksgiving—quite fitting that Occupy Wilmington thanked veterans. Soldiers sacrifice for the good of the many, not the interests of the few. Whatever the agenda of those sending them into harm’s way, I doubt any modern (post Manifest Destiny) U.S. serviceperson ever knowingly took up arms to open markets. Most soldiers really want to wear white hats, to liberate the oppressed and give voices to our Anne Franks, to shut-down concentration camps, not concentrate wealth in the hands of the few and shut-up dissent. All servicepersons swear to defend the Constitution, not the corporation. It’s not capitalism but democracy they die for.
Bottom line is it’s not Halliburton, Goldman Sachs or AIG that defends democracy and my right to vote. Sure, corporations like the vote. That’s why they buy so many politicians and judges. They don’t even mind me voting on the 1st Tuesday in November, as long as I forget to vote every other day and shop on Black Friday.
I intend to try to meet JFK’s challenge, as well as honor veterans by voting every day. I’ll vote against Trivial Pursuit, choose work and play that doesn’t exploit others or destroy the environment, Occupy my time with non-violent struggles against injustice, buy local, move money into credit unions, volunteer at Full Belly, turn off TV, support local theatre and read encore. That is what democracy looks like.