Building on Thanksgiving’s blog, today we point to evidence that a fundamental challenge to the status quo is building on several fronts: Occupy, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, and #Metoo are movement that are not questioning isolated injustices but the far more important systemic injustices that are the inevitable consequence of colonialism, racism, capitalism and sexism. Connect those dots and we can build a stronger movement.
In Thanksgiving’s post, I identified capitalism, sexism, racism, and colonialism as a four-headed beast. I noted that the only way we were ever going to achieve a sustainable and just society was for all of us to devote time to understanding the underpinnings of each of these forms of oppression and become ever more articulate in discussing both the oppression and the kinds of policies and cultural changes needed to address each. Click here to review the Thanksgiving blog as it provides a solid foundation for what is discussed today. As I mulled the Thanksgiving post over, I realized that over the past six years, movements have emerged that could be resources for developing our understanding and messaging related to each of the four forms of oppression I identified. What’s more, I realized that in ways that may be entirely new, these four movements are not targeting isolated instances of injustice, but the core ‘isms’ that are the underpinning of our social, economic, political, and environmental systems today.
Occupy directly challenged the wealth gap and Wall St. and introduced the concept of the 1% and the 99% While not creating a sustained movement or advancing a political platform, Occupy questioned the capitalist system at its core and exposed the avarice that is at the heart of capitalism. Before Occupy, anyone fundamentally questioning the capitalist system was viewed by most as an extremist. Today, challenges to the capitalist system are far more commonplace and even among moderate Democrats, questions about elements of the capitalist system are far more frequent. While the Occupy movement didn’t advance a specific platform or a structured sustained movement, in many ways the principles embraced by Occupy were manifest in the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. Sanders advanced, until then, highly marginal pieces of legislation and made them the centerpiece of his campaign. In doing so, he provided legitimacy to universal healthcare, tuition-free college, $15 an hour, Wall St. regulation, and universal quality Pre-K while also making the term socialism more widely understood and embraced. Today, we see Democratic Socialists of America becoming an increasingly legitimate part of civic conversation, more evidence of a fundamental questioning of the capitalist system.
Black Lives Matter has shined a constant light upon racial injustice in America, and while their lens is rightly focused upon police oppression and police violence and murder committed against the black community, their campaign has caused America to question the militarization of urban police, drug laws that imprison mostly people of color while barely touching the white community, the bail system that incarcerates the poor who are charged but not convicted, and the privatization of the American prison for profit system. Just as Occupy and, to a degree, the Sanders’ campaign have questioned the economic system at its core, Black Lives Matter has extended their focus from the racial bias of the justice system to fundamentally connect these actions to systemic racism and white supremacy in other contexts. The utilization of modern technology, primarily the smart phone and social media, personalized racist oppression, and the vivid imagery of primarily white police shooting defenseless Black men, women, and even children was so compelling it led even mainstream media to provide broad coverage, forcing policymakers and white America to confront the scope and scale of racism in America.
Standing Rock elevated the visibility of the environmental movement and integrated it within the movement for indigenous rights primarily by picking a highly visible and sacred location and committing to its protection with such a strong personal commitment of thousands of Native Americans. As with Black Lives Matter, technology, social media, and the mainstream media provided almost daily coverage of the constantly growing confrontation. Militarized police provided echoes of the civil rights movement when defenseless, nonviolent protesters were assaulted with water canons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and batons. The commitment to the land, the water, the planet, and indigenous rights provided a vivid contrast to politicians, banks, bureaucrats, and the extractive industry whose relationship to the earth was one of unsustainable greed, exploitation, and profit from the earth rather than a sacred and sustainable partnership with the earth. The Standing Rock protest also provided a framework for re-examination of our larger society’s prioritization of profit, growth, and consumerism over a less self-absorbed and respectful relationship with the earth, a not so subtle jab at capitalism and its thirst for profit at any cost.
#MeToo. As is evident in the large number of women coming forward with charges of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assault, many from decades ago, sexism and gender-based oppression are clearly not a new phenomenon. Indeed, none of the four ‘isms’ being discussed are new in their oppression of America. What is new is the degree to which these ‘isms’ are being exposed and acknowledged by an ever broader segment of our nation and world. America didn’t invent capitalism, racism, colonialism, or sexism, but we have certainly perfected and codified it in law and culture. In the past, most women experiencing sexual abuse did not raise their voice. Societal norms, corporate practices and family dynamics tended to shame the victim rather than acknowledge the oppressor. With the explosive eruption of #MeToo, not only are the victimizers being acknowledged they are suffering the consequences of their actions. Moreover, the movement has exposed systems of gender oppression that had previously inhibited women raising their voices. #MeToo is shedding a bright light on the sexist nature of the entire system and the oppressive male supremacist culture that had permitted and protected sexual predators.
Wall Street exploitation, black oppression, indigenous colonization, and gender-based exploitation are not new phenomena. What is new is that the four movements above are not just lodging a protest against an isolated injustice, but against a system of oppression. It is incumbent upon all of those who seek justice and a sustainable life on this earth to begin to connect the dots and weave together the threads that unify these four movements and expose the systems of oppression and exploitation that have for centuries allowed the profit of the few to trump the needs of the many. There is much to be done to move America to understanding the degree to which an offense against one is an offense against all, and that a protest of the flag does not besmirch the flag but rather celebrates one of the founding principles of this Nation: freedom of speech. It is our job to help those Americans who are offended by movements and protests, to help them see that these protests are identifying the systems of oppression that keep America from achieving its purported aspirations. Too many Americans still view America as the greatest country in the world, a land of opportunity and freedom. To hold those views requires avoiding a history founded on economic, racial, sexual, and environmental oppression. Only by coming to grips with that reality can we ever begin to create sustainable justice and the democracy we have never had.
Paul & Roxanne