When it happened in Egypt and spread across the Middle East between December and May, we called it the "Arab Spring." Now that it is happening in United States in October, it seems appropriate to call it the "American Fall." And yet, when this term spontaneously popped out of my mouth last Saturday on my radio show, it immediately felt wrong. None of us who are involved in this movement want to think we are participating in the felling of our country -- what we hope to do is raise her up again. However, in order to do that, something must fall -- and it is Empire.
I do not speak for the entire movement, but that is what I will be protesting at OccupyPortland this Thursday, October 6th -- the American Empire. The empire that spends 671 billion dollars a year on defense while it cuts Social Security at home. The empire that maintains over 800 military bases around the world while 1 in 4 of its children go to bed hungry every night. I will be protesting the American Empire that has turned the devastating neo-liberal policies designed to extract wealth from places like South America, on itself.
Because ever since the stolen election of George W. Bush in 2000 we have seen crippling debt, privatization of The Commons, destruction of unions and the corruption of democracy creep toward the status quo in the United States. It is no mistake that these have also been the hallmarks of American foreign policy for the last 40 years. These policies simply are, to quote Malcom X, "the chickens that have come home to roost."
A lot of us understand this now -- that America is an empire devouring itself. In many ways, this is nothing new. This is what empires have always done, because they share the same weaknesses with the humans that constructed them: greed, aggression, lust for power and an unrelenting commitment to self-destruction. Empire is a function of our own hubris, made possible by another hallmark, human weakness -- apathy.
When we elected Barack Obama on the promise of "change" we "hoped" he would challenge the empire for us because hey... we kind of like our apathy. It's comfortable. There's a big screen television there and an XBOX and a fridge full of good things to eat. But alas, no one person can dismantle an empire. And even a people who love their iPads and Snuggies as much as we do know when it's time to grab some Gogurt and get off the couch.
So what we are seeing move across this country is a massive self-correction, a mobilization of democratic energies that is demanding an end to the empire its indifference help to construct. It is a dance between those who believed themselves powerful and those who believed themselves powerless, to reconfigure the distribution of wealth and control before we all lose our balance and fall off the stage.
In this dance, those who believed themselves powerless must recognize something essential -- that they are, and always have been, the center of political power. We are seeing this now. And those who believed themselves to be powerful, must be willing to recognize the opposite -- that their power is, and always has been, an illusion -- a power granted to them by those who have conceded their own. This understanding has yet to be seen.
And so in this struggle, Empire will not give up without a fight. We can't expect it to. But what we can expect is that when enough of us are willing to turn off the T.V., dust off our democracy, and sacrifice our warm, cozy spot in the world, that empire will finally drop to its knees. And when it does, there will be an "American Fall." And it might be painful. But there will be good news, too. Because the very next day... Freedom and Justice will rise.
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