Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation
Hundreds of Wall Street protestors were arrested yesterday on the Brooklyn Bridge. Even the mainstream media is reporting that. That in itself is a milestone. For many years, groups organized by one faction or one political party or one self-motivated organization or special interest or another have tried to grab mainstream media attention and have failed to do so.
Advice to those out there protesting corporate greed and its stranglehold on all of us who choose not to be in the club wielding greed’s agenda? Keep it simple. Keep it real.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in media consulting and P.R. work has been spent trying to sell progressive and conservative positions. Hundreds of millions of dollars has been paid to progressive and conservative media spokespersons and even to writers and reporters who on the surface seem to be “independent” to ensure the message of those signing the checks. It hasn’t been just the Koch brothers spending to sway the outcomes. Some of the payments (the amounts, the payors and the payees) would shock the sensibilities of those who want to believe the movement or cause in which they have invested themselves has been devoid of greedy, corporate influence.
It will be very difficult for the current and growing populist protests not to be overtaken by those who have paid so handsomely to have their messages or their CEOs on the front pages of the New York Times or seated at the right hands of the godfathers of large television “news” programs. Keeping it real and keeping it simple will be difficult indeed.
There will be some joiners welcome to the streets if authenticity is at the core of their joining. And likely someone will seek to step up and claim themselves as the leader or leaders of the movement and the moment. That will be interesting as often the best way to tell a leader’s authenticity is in how that leader has come to the point he or she has come to be elevated – upon whose shoulders and from what place of moral authority does the leader or do the leaders come? Keep it real. Keep it simple.
The lessons we all learned in the simplicity and innocence of childhood should still apply as we consider who is messaging and who is selling a message – who is movement building and who is power-seizing? It may be impossible to find one or even a dozen or a hundred “leaders” who come to a position of populist leadership with a completely clean slate and populist credentials that include goodness, kindness, mercy and justice.
But that doesn’t mean we ought not to try to identify those traits among those upon whom we bestow any sort of higher position of movement. Caring about those living in poverty and leading their populist uprising cannot be authentically done by folks who abhor the poor. One doesn’t have to be poor to be the real deal, but one certainly shouldn’t live a privileged life in which he or she does everything possible to keep from associating with those in such a lower “station” than his or her own. Authenticity requires, well, authenticity.
It is heartening to see the movement against corporate greed growing and spreading across America. I’ve seen nurse-led protests in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street and all across America over the past few months where there was no shortage of authenticity. You can read about how the current Wall Street occupation folks acknowledge the earlier nurses’ Wall Street protest. And surely many seeds of discontent were sown in the largely unreported protests in Madison this winter and spring.
Before that, Americans rose up in protest all over the place – yet only right-wing, ultra-conservative group got much coverage and that coverage changed the entire political reality. We can learn from that.
For any one of the greed-mongers and exploiters of the poor or working class, there are hundreds of people who have been harmed at their hands. Crimes against humanity are being committed in America. Savings have been stolen outright. Homes have been taken without legal process. Workers have had their rights actively squashed and seen CEOs revel in the exercise of raw power to harm people. And justice will have its day. Keep it simple. Keep it real.
Know that wherever you are and however you are engaging in authentic protest work, it matters. Other protests have thrown pebbles and sometimes boulders into the lake of seething unrest that until recently had no clearly identified focus. I have said it in so many venues over the past four years and will keep saying it. Every authentic point of pressure matters and matters mightily.
Many lives have been sacrificed already on the alters of greed and in the board and conference rooms of the powerful. The many millions of us who have lost so much – our homes, any hope to retire, our own health, and our faith that anyone cares at all about those losses – must help this movement stay real and stay on message. Corporate greed kills. A nation that has given itself over to the worship and protection of the religion of greed is snuffing out the hopes and dreams of all of those who might get in the way.
So out on that Brooklyn Bridge and way across the country with the occupiers in Los Angeles or Spokane or Las Vegas or Chicago, keep it real for the rest of us. Thousands of people are dying and hurting today in America who might have had healthcare or might have had homes or might have had a future – that’s as real as it gets. And I hope the last thing those who are suffering and dying see is a headline about your uprising and not one that bemoans a lower number at the closing bell on one trading day on Wall Street. Your life mattered. Your suffering was not forgotten or ignored or even just part of a profit for someone else. What I would hope those who have suffered might see and know is, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
Keep it real. Keep it simple. Let authenticity guide the day.
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