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Savers Workers Fight Pregnancy Discrimination

Last Thursday, at my job at Savers in Henrietta, NY, I clocked out early for lunch and stepped out into the bitter February wind to join the fight for labor justice already in progress.  Outside, coworkers and organizers from the union local were gathering with local activists, ready to deliver a statement to management on behalf of Betzaida Cruz, another coworker of mine who, back in August of 2014, Savers saw fit to fire because she was pregnant.

Allow me to repeat that for emphasis.  In the United States of America, in 2014, this billion dollar corporation fired a young woman, because she was pregnant.

Betzaida’s affidavit to the EEOC describes a senseless, frustrating battle with bureaucratic authority worthy of Franz Kafka, complete with the brutal, winner-take-all amorality of an Ayn Rand novel.  Suffering from pregnancy-related illness, Betzaida spent more than a week ping-ponging between the doctor’s office and the manager’s desk, receiving notes and authorizations, explaining that she could work, but with a twenty-five pound lifting restriction.  The restriction should have been no problem, as her position as a cashier never required her to lift anything that heavy.  Nevertheless, in the end the store manager and a representative from Savers corporate HR kindly advised her to “go home and take care of her pregnancy,” as Savers would not be providing her with any more work.

Since then, Betzaida has been unable to find another job.  She is currently couch surfing, moving from one friend’s house to the next, which is a slightly more palatable way of saying that she is homeless.  She lives the kind of chaotic, nomadic life that I enjoyed when I was a beer-swilling punk rocker in my mid-twenties, except she is still under the legal drinking age, and expecting a child in less than two months.

So often my life has been touched by young single mothers, like my mom, like my sister, like Betzaida, and I find myself dumbstruck by their sacrifice, by the depth of their courage, and I ask myself how they do it.  When I can barely stay awake for prime time TV after a long shift on the job, I wonder, where do these underpaid and discarded heroes find the strength to carry on?  Cases like Betzaida’s beg another question: how in God’s name we allow billionaire corporations to punish them and to make their lives harder than they already are?

Thursday, while the union reps and I were handing out leaflets to workers and customers, a group of volunteers from the local community activism group Metro Justice delivered the charges to the manager and asked for an explanation.  Her response was craven.  She claimed to have no idea who Betzaida was, and asked the activists what right they had to be in the store confronting her with the facts of her own actions.  The other managers on duty busily snatched leaflets from the hands of employees, to save us from the burden of becoming informed.

In response, the next day management called the employees into the breakroom and read us a statement.  Predictably, Savers denied any wrongdoing.  They claimed, contrary to the facts established in the EEOC investigation, that Betzaida ended her employment of her own accord.  The statement went on to claim that Savers does not practice discrimination, and that they are very proud of their diverse workforce.

As a member of that diverse workforce, I’d like to point out that Savers pays us all minimum wage.  They provide us with shoddy healthcare coverage and force us to incur co-pays for doctor visits if we get sick and need to stay home for even one day.  In Betzaida’s case, she did it all right.  She jumped through all the hoops, got all the doctor’s notes, and still, the manager and the HR rep took her behind closed doors, and told her, “respectfully”, they claim, to kiss off.

Thrown out of work with one in the oven.  Some respect.

Finally, to my fellow workers, all of us in our diverse array of races and nationalities whose meagerly paid hours of hard work makes Savers’ millions in corporate profits possible, I say, we are all Betzaida.  When we were hired, we all signed statements saying that our employment was “at-will”, meaning the company can fire us at any time, with or without cause.  We all deserve better than this.  No one should work a forty hour week and still not make enough money to provide for their family.  No one should lose their job because the boss doesn’t like them, because they are sick, or because they are having a baby.  This is why we need to stand together to help each other out.  Put simply, this is why we need to form a union.

Who can we look to for help if we don’t organize to help one another?  The store manager and the corporate hierarchy are simply different faces of the same power structure, each one blaming the other when they disregard our needs.  Your pay raise doesn’t carry over when the minimum wage increases?  Blame corporate!  Can’t get the day off when your sick kid is vomiting all over the place and the daycare won’t take him?  Blame the manager!  It’s a game we can’t win, because we weren’t meant to.

By contrast, when we are organized, we are no longer subject to termination at will.  With a union, we have a contract, and we have real, binding power to fight with management for the kind of pay, benefits and policies that we need.  If we had a union when Betzaida was fired, she wouldn’t have been in a locked room with two different bosses telling her to hit the bricks.  We wouldn’t have to take the company’s word for it that they did the right thing.  Instead, there would have been a steward in that room, one of us, whom we elected, whose job it was to make sure that she, or any of us who find ourselves in that position, would be treated fairly.

Now that’s democracy, and it’s the way it should be everywhere.  That’s the world we need to live in.  So let’s keep handing out flyers in the cold, let’s keep fighting with the boss in the morning meeting, let’s keep standing together and holding our heads high, until we make it real.  Power to the people.

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This is What’s Happening in America

Because what’s happening at my job is also happening in America, this matters.

I work in a retail store, part of the service industry, that disregarded and maligned sector of the work force in which most of the new jobs in this so-called economic recover are being created.  So, for example, when my coworker develops a case of carpal tunnel after two years of repetitive labor in a dusty warehouse, and the boss tells her (and I quote!), that, “Everybody has it,  You just need to deal with it,” that’s a direct assault on every worker in this country.  That’s an employer refusing to improve their labor standards because they know, in this job market, they don’t have to.  That’s the new economy.  That’s the country we live in.  We should all pay attention.

Here at the store, we make $8.15 an hour, fifteen cents above New York’s minimum wage.  Most of us work full time, during daylight hours.  Exactly none of us are high school kids working after school so we can afford a used Dodge Neon.  Many of us have kids to take care of, and since we’re living in the real world and not in some well-heeled ideologue’s fantasy of what the nuclear family should be, we’re also supporting ourselves on a wage that leaves us several thousand dollars shy of the federal poverty line for families.  And with all of that, we’re lucky.  We’re lucky we have full time jobs, lucky we make more than the national minimum wage of $7.25.  It’s a frightening reality of the broke and work-weary world that three decades of neoliberalism has left us that- viewed through the eyes of the multitudes of unemployed and many more working multiple part time jobs- we’re the fortunate ones.

As the bosses are fond of reminding us whenever we complain about our low pay or the pace of work, the constant, arbitrary push to make quota, to keep our numbers up, we could do worse.  In fact, there’s an army of out of work folks out there who know how to fill out an online application and who can start tomorrow, if we decide that we want something better than this.  We’ve all been part of that army before, and we’re not eager to reenlist.

Still, quitting this hellhole and looking for work elsewhere is an option that more people take, week after week.  Employers like ours count on high turnover, comfortable in the knowledge that finding another crappy job somewhere else is always easier than coming together at the job we already have to fight for higher wages.

So what other choices do we have?  Besides putting ourselves back on the job market, what can we look to as a source of positive change?

Should we “lean in,” knuckle down, cowboy up, put on a big, fake smile and work twice as hard as we already do in anticipation of a raise or a promotion that may await us like the Emerald City on the horizon, assuming we don’t get sick or injured or fired somewhere along the yellow brick road first?  Maybe, if we all kick in hard enough and put the company’s profits ahead of our personal needs for long enough, at some point the corporation that employs us will become so fantastically profitable that they will pay us more and offer us a better health plan out of sheer abundance.  Not really.

In the first place, there is overwhelming statistical evidence to show that this sort of trickle-down prosperity is an idealistic fantasy that never comes to pass.  When corporations make more money, they invest that profit in other money making schemes; they don’t use it to make their workers’ lives better.  And besides, the company we work for is already enormously profitable.  They bring in over a billion dollars in annual revenue and their EBITDA profit margins are higher than those of major corporations like Wal-Mart and Macy’s.  How they maintain such stratospheric rates of return is no mystery; they do it by writing off most of their expenses as charitable donations and, more importantly, by paying their 19,000 worldwide employees next to nothing.

Perhaps we should rock the vote, hope for the Democratic Party to deliver us change through the electoral process.  After all, election day is upon us yet again.  But once more, prospects for the kinds of changes that will improve our lives are bleak.  Research shows that the power of corporate lobbying in American politics, even on the local level, is all encompassing and that the power of ordinary citizens and community activist groups to affect changes in government policy is near zero.  Six years ago, Obama swept into the White House amid a carnival-like atmosphere of civic involvement, promising, with his trademark vagaries, to deliver a change that millions of Americans seemed desperate for.  But instead his administration has delivered us six years of corporate backed double talk and lock-step conformity with the same rank economic policies that wrecked the working class in the first place.  Looking at the hyperbolic, schizophrenic stalemate that is our national political discourse, can any of us honestly believe that some politician more liberal than Obama will ride in and snatch our democracy from the jowls of the corporate leviathan?

No, the change we need will never come from our bosses, or from the politicians who our bosses pay to keep wages low and make sure the bulk of the tax burden falls on the middle class.  We have very little power to change anything from the ballot box.  we have power in our communities and in our jobs.  In our communities we have the power to support one another, to lift each other up and provide the kind of social safety net the government gave up on back in the Reagan years.  In our jobs, we have the power to unite together and withhold our labor.  Our labor is the only source of the bosses’ wealth, and that’s the one thing they hope we never figure out.  It’s our hand on the spigot.  Every penny the bosses make comes through us first.

There is a union organizing drive going on at my job, and it has brought some changes.  They put a TV in the breakroom, and they let us watch dvd’s at lunch time.  Over all, the management style has gotten less Stalin-esque and more friendly, more approachable.  If you take a sick day or come in late because your babysitter flaked and you need to make sure your kids get on the bus, you’re less likely to get fired for it than you were a year ago.  But as measly and inconsequential as these changes are, they didn’t come from the bosses suddenly having a change of heart.  It has happened because the bosses are afraid of what will happen when we are actually organized.  If we ever made it past the level of idle chatter and joined together in a union, they would have to meet us at the negotiating table and offer us a contract with the kind of wages we would vote on and agree to.  That terrifies them.

We’ve just come through the Halloween season, which, for the for profit thrift store industry, is the busy season.  For the last two months, we’ve been asked to work extra hard.  There has been a chart on the wall in the shape of a skeleton, where the manager charts our daily sales to show how close or how far away we are from making our quarterly and holiday bonuses.  Those bonuses have been the carrot dangling i our eye-line for months.  Last week, during the morning meeting, our store manager let us know, with a magnanimous grin spread across her cheeks, that we were on course to make at least the quarter bonus, if not the extra payday for Halloween sales.  Those bonuses would be $150 each, for a total of three hundred.  But, she told us, that money would be taxed at 55%, meaning that if we get them both, the reward for our having brought who knows how many thousands of dollars in sales into our store will be less than a hundred and fifty bucks each.  That’s not store policy, she said, that’s the federal government.  Blame them.

Well, pardon me for being a drag on workplace morale, but balls to that.  I say, let’s get on a different program, one where we make a decent wage for our hard work and we have a contract that guarantees our rights in the workplace.  I’m working on a little scandal where we, the people, actually get to have a say as to what goes on in the workplaces where we spend most of our waking lives, where we stop working ourselves ragged for pitiful bonuses and start working together to make life better for our families, and to make this country a decent place to work for a living.  I got a plan.  It’s called democracy, and it starts when we all get together and decide we’re not going to be exploited any more.

Because this is America, home of the brave, and this is the change we really need.

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Brothers and Sister, This Job Stinks: An Open Letter to my Coworkers, Regarding our Union Organizing Drive

Hello,internet, it’s been a while.  The following is the text of a letter I wrote a couple of months back to persuade some of my coworkers here in Rochester to support our store’s unionization drive.  I offer it up here for anybody else out there working your Heineken off at some crappy job for low pay, for everyone like me who dreams of a better world and a real democracy.

flourpeople

Brothers and Sister, This Job Stinks:

An Open Letter to my Coworkers, Regarding our Union Organizing Drive

Brothers and sisters, this job stinks.  Sometimes literally, like when I’m rolling out a fresh cart of somebody’s old kids’ clothes that reek of whiz from ten feet off, when I try to sing along to David Bowie or whatever on the Muzak, try to smile through it all, but I can’t fight the awareness that I’m putzing around in an invisible cloud of whatever ammonia scented particulate might infest a dirty old pile of boys activewear pants.  This job stinks metaphorically, too, but I don’t need to tell any of you guys that.  I see you every day, the strain and fatigue written on your face as you drag yourself off the bus line and into another long day of quotas, dust, daily lectures, low pay and general disrespect.  I’ve been working here long enough that I’ve seen most of you in tears, at one time or another, over how you’ve been treated.  If I haven’t seen you cry, then I’ve probably seen you shaking with rage, the way you’ve all seen me before, when my happy-go-lucky act wears thin and I go off like a roman candle of cuss words.  I done seen it all.  I’ve seen you on the job, limping like a zombie, sweat and mucus dripping from your face, when you’ve been too sick to work but couldn’t stay home because the boss said you need a doctor’s note, and you couldn’t afford to go to the doctor just to have him tell you what you already know: that you were too damn sick to work.  I’ve seen people who have been with this store since it opened fired for the flimsiest reasons, or maybe for no reason at all, just so the boss could send us a message.  The message was simple: “You ain’t shit, homeboy, and you better do just what we say, or we’ll find some other desperate American willing to come in here and fritter away her life for a wage a few pennies higher than what Congress has determined is criminal.”  If for no other reason than the fact that they don’t pay us enough to live on, and we all end up working two or three jobs to get by, this job stinks, out loud, 24/7, even when the store is closed.

It shouldn’t be this way, and it doesn’t have to be this way.  That’s why we’re organizing a union.

The Bosses say this is a bad idea.  They even sacrificed a full hour of their precious productivity, an hour that they would have fired any one of us for wasting for any reason, to drag us all into the break room and show us a video about what a rotten idea the union is.  They say we don’t know what we’re getting into, that we’ll be sorry.  But isn’t that always their story, that they know better than us, that we’ll be happier if we just follow the rules and leave all of the decisions that affect our lives, our pay, our benefits, our working conditions, our childcare, our healthcare, our break times, our days off, to them?  When we know that they make every one of those decisions, from how many employees they have at a given store to how many pieces of merchandise we’re expected to process in a day, on the basis of maximum profitability.  When will the company finally be profitable enough that they can start sharing the wealth with all of us who put in the work and make that profit possible?  Will it be when they have a store in every small town in the US of A and none of us are working there anymore?  Maybe when Macklemore finally puts us in a video and gets the white hipster crowd spending their student loan checks here?  Try never.  It will always be more profitable for them to give us less, so you can rest assured that they will never give us a dime that we don’t stand up and fight for.

You all know me.  I stay on the grind, rolling that product, all day long, I guzzle coffee with too much sugar, sit around reading the socialist newspaper and stuff like that.  I have no reason to lie to my coworkers, because we all work the same job for about the same pay.  The company has a simple and obvious reason to lie to us; they don’t want to pay us more.

The truth about the union drive is that we will never have to accept a contract that we haven’t all voted on and agreed to.  The truth is that none of us will ever pay a penny in union dues until we’ve negotiated a contract that not only gives us more pay and better benefits, but also protects our jobs and gives us real power over what goes on and how we’re treated, day in and day out, in our own workplace.  Because while for us this might all boil down to what we bring home on our paychecks every two weeks, for the Bosses this all boils down to power.  They like the current state of affairs, where they listen to our complaints once or twice a year and then tell us how it’s going to be.  They like the system where they keep us hustling, promising us raises and bonuses that never seem to materialize, regardless of how hard we work, and there is exactly doodley squat we can say about it.  They’ll take time out of our day to show us lying videos, they’ll hire lawyers and bring in the corporate drones to eyeball us all like sheep, just to keep the union out, because they don’t want to deal with us on our own terms.  They want to grant us the privilege of begging for crumbs, and they know that when we’re organized we’ll have the power to demand a seat at the dinner table.  Because the union isn’t some gang of organizers off in Buffalo living off dues money.  Those are the people who work for the union.  The union is us, all of us, doing our jobs every day and standing together.  When they say they want to keep the union out, what they really mean is that they want to keep us powerless, working for nothing, scared to death that we’re not going to have a job tomorrow.

The one simple fact that the company tries to cover up with their intimidation tactics, their half-truths and outright lies, is that we only stand to gain in this struggle.  In the worst case scenario, if we win the right to organize and we’re never able to negotiate an acceptable contract, then the union goes away, we never pay a dime, and we end up in the same place we’re in right now.  On the other hand, if we stand together in this struggle, the more cards we sign, the more workers we have united, fighting for our union, the more power we have at the negotiating table.  Raises, vacations, childcare; when we come together in solidarity the only limits to what we might achieve are our love for each other, and our courage to stand and fight.

What we stand to gain in this struggle is more than just higher pay and a better job.  It’s human dignity.  It’s an opportunity to make America a better place for all of us who don’t have family money to fall back on and private school connections.  This is our chance to be a part of a movement to make life better for all us refugees whom the last thirty years of trickle-down economics has left barely scraping by, moving from one underpaid job to the next, always hoping for something better.  This is how we make it better, with our struggle, our union, our lives.  This is where “Power to the people” stops being a catchy slogan and becomes something with concrete power to transform the lives of ourselves and the people we love.  In this fight, we have the occasion to stand together on the side of Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr., to let this nation reverberate with the echoes of, “Si, se puede,” and, “I am a man,” and to unite against the George Bushes, the Hitlers, and the Rush Limbaughs of the world who want to tell us, whatever their rationale, that we’re not good enough, that we don’t deserve decent pay for honest work.

So that’s my bit.  I’ll see you all out on the floor, in production, in the break room.  You might notice that I’m not scowling the way I used to, not muttering curses and shoving product around on the racks like I’m trying to kill it.  That was the way I acted back when I had no power, when I was withering away at a meaningless, minimum wage job that insulted my humanity every second of the day.  Since the union drive started up a couple weeks ago, I no longer feel that way.  Now, every time I go into work, I know that I’m building something that matters.  I’m doing something that will make life better for me and for all the other people who I see every day, putting in work.  These days, nothing the management says or does can faze me.  When the boss comes up, singing that tire old refrain, “You ain’t shit, homeboy, you better do what we say,” I don’t get mad.  I get moving.  And I hope you all join me, because the only thing it takes to win is for us all to care enough to stand together.

Peace,

Dave.

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My Hot New Conspiracy Theory!

I have an idea for a nutjob conspiracy theory.  I’m talking about the kind of thing you can put up on a cheap website, with everything in html, with pictures of pyramids and creepy floating eyeballs; one of those sites where the background is black and the text is white, except for the really, really scary parts, the stuff about the antichrist and the Bavarian Illuminati, those parts are highlighted in red like the words of Christ in an old bible.  I’m talking about one of those Youtube videos where some grizzly old dude is glaring into his webcam with the eyes of a starved prophet, and the second you click it you can just smell the mildew stink from the old books and the militia newsletters straining his Ikea shelves; this guy yelling about the government or the Jews or what have you, and even over the internet you can smell the dirty camouflage fatigues and the gunpowder.  I have an idea for that kind of conspiracy theory, and isn’t that what the world is waiting for?  Aren’t we tired of believing in space aliens and lizard people?  Doesn’t it seem like the Illuminati should spend more of their time enslaving the world and less time encoding hidden references to themselves all over a culture they’re supposed to be hiding their own existence from?  Isn’t it high time we, as conspiracy consumers, start demanding higher quality, more credible theories of covert world-wide domination, especially at a time when the US military and security state are openly behaving in ways that make the reptilian overlords look like the incompetent Sleestacks I have always imagined them to be?  I believe so, and to that end, I’d like to submit my thesis for a new wing-nut conspiracy theory that should chill you to your bone, so get ready to pack that extended clip full of rounds and refill your Adderol prescription.  Because here its, in bold typeface, and, what the hell, all caps:

FOR CENTURIES, THE NAZI-COMMUNIST SLAVEOCRACY HAS BEEN USING BRAIN CONTROL TECHNOLOGY TO TURN YOU INTO A RACIST.

Over the last several decades, the most respected academics in the fields of history and sociology have confirmed the existence of the Slaveocracy, but it is only recently that top-secret documents have been discovered, detailing their extensive involvement in genetic engineering and their development and implementation of Nazi-Communist mind control technology.  These documents, initially discovered by Buster Handsometown, a haphazardly courageous blog commenter and part-time karaoke host, have unfortunately been lost, and probably suppressed forever by the Nazi-Communist Slaveocracy that controls over ninety percent of the world’s digital information.  Mr. Handsometown came across the documents quite by accident, while setting up the mixing board for a karaoke party hosted by the Skull and Bones society in the top-secret Buffalo Wild Wings hidden in a sub-basement under Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  Handsometown decoded these documents, known in conspiracy circles as the B-Dubs Papers, and was moments away from posting them to the Infowars discussion board, when he tragically fell dead behind his computer in his Zanesville, Ohio, home, a death attributed in official documents to a massive coronary failure.

However, Handsometown’s death has always been shrouded in mystery, as Muskingum County EMT and long-time friend, Derrick Shaver, a first-responder at the scene, reports,

“I been friends with Buster since we was in Cub Scouts together, and I know he never passed by a Hostess snack that he didn’t cram immediately down his never-ending abyss of a throat.  More than once, I saw him wolf down a box of Nutty Buddies right there in the aisle at Kroger’s, without paying or nothing, so I’m not going to sit here and tell you Buster was a health nut.  And I seen what the coroner’s report said, too.  But I tell you this; I ain’t never seen a heart attack make somebody’s brain explode like that, and leave itty-bitty chunks of skull all over his Sony Vaio.  It just don’t happen.”

In another unexplained tragedy connected to this case, moments after giving this interview, EMT Shaver was hit by an intense bolt of blue lightning that evaporated his body instantaneously, leaving no trace except a Google logo smoldering in the blacktop on State Route 40.

Before his untimely death, Buster revealed the contents of the B-Dubs Papers to me during an all-night eighties karaoke jam at a dockside bar in Buckeye Lake.  The details he laid before me that night, as one after another intoxicated men in Realtree camo boots croaked the choruses to Every Rose Has its Thorn and Pour Some Sugar on Me, were nothing short of shocking.  Based on my copious notes, unsure whether I will live to click the “Publish” icon on my WordPress blog, or if I too, will fall victim to the murderous will of the Nazi-Communist Slaveocracy, I now relate the contents of the B-Dubs Papers, as shown to me by Mr. Handsometown, on that fateful night.

The roots of the Nazi-Communist Slaveocracy go back to the seventeenth century, during the early days of European colonization of the North American continent.  The Slaveocracy was comprised of those wealthiest among the settlers, who saw in the new continent an exciting new source of revenue.  The uncultivated lands of the Americas were the ideal place to begin farming tobacco, a popular new luxury item then wafting its smoky way through the posh salons of Europe.  To grow tobacco, however, the Slaveocracy needed access to large quantities of land (which was readily available in America) and large amounts of intense human labor, which was not.

So the Slaveocracy imported laborers, at first drawn largely from the dispossessed lower classes of European society.  But the European migrants showed little interest in toiling under the lash on the Slaveocrats’ tobacco farm after the terms of their indentures were up, and so they left the tobacco fields to form farms of their own, becoming a nuisance and occasionally a source of competition for the Slaveocrats themselves.  To curb this threat to their power structure, the Slaveocrats imported large numbers of slaves from Africa, who were considered the property of the individual Slaveocrat.

This state of affairs, while beneficial to the Slaveocracy, was detrimental not only to the imported Africans, who were systematically stripped of their rights and humanity in a series of decisions by the Slaveocracy’s colonial legislature, but also to the poor European population who, unable to compete with large-scale growing operations that utilized slave labor, found themselves dispossessed again in their new homes, scarcely able to eke out a living on the frontier.  But, crucially, this social structure created the basis for a common cause between the enslaved Africans and the poor Europeans, who lived on the new continent under conditions that hovered between serfdom and abject destitution.  Both groups stood to gain if they united forces to overthrow the Slaveocracy.

This was always clear to the architects of the Slaveocrat society.  They consciously crafted laws to divide their African subjects from their European subjects, and create a false antagonism between the two camps.  But it would take a rebellion, specifically the upheaval known as Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, to push the Slaveocracy into action.

Bacon’s Rebellion saw the nascent flourishing of class unity between the enslaved Africans and the destitute Eurpopean population.  This was intolerable to the Slaveocracy.  To deal with this threat, the Slaveocracy put into motion the most draconian and satanically-inspired plan in the annals of human cruelty:  the invention of racism.

To keep the different colors of poor people upon whom their wealth and power depended from uniting, the Slaveocracy made a literal pact with the devil.  The B-Dubs Papers explain in gratuitously bloody detail how, on the banks of the Potomac one dark night when the New Moon coincided with the black feast of Samhain, the prominent members of the Slaveocracy met under the scarlet glow of an enormous bonfire.  There, they spilled the blood of a sacrificed virgin (hence the name of their colony, VIRGINIA!) onto the open pages of the only known copy of the mad Arab, Abdul Ahazared’s, infamously vile book, the Necrinomicon.  Thus, with the aid of the ancient Philistine sea-god Dagon, they were able to import Nazi-Communist brain control technology from the future.

The Dagonic Nazi-Communist Slaveocracy conspirators set to work immediately, using their stolen technology to modify the brain patterns of the European inhabitants of the English Colonies.  Through mind control, they convinced these dirt-farming paupers, who the Slaveocracy had hitherto only valued as a buffer against Indian attacks, that they were members of a mythological construction called the White Race.  This race, the Nazi-Communist Slaveocracy told their European brain slaves, was superior, the natural master of all other races, juxtaposed specifically against the “black,” or, “Negro,” Race of Africans who were suited only for servitude.

Of course, the mythology of the “White Race,” was complete fiction.  Before the ascendency of the Slaveocracy- indeed, before their Dagon-Satanic introduction of Nazi-Communist technology into human affairs- there was no mention, no concept of any such race.  Prior to the intervention of Nazi-Communist brain control, humans saw themselves as divided by tribe, by nationality or religion, even by familial clan, but the concept of a race, delineated by skin-color, who were the inheritors of mastery over all other skin-color races, was new, invented out of whole cloth by the Dagon-Satanic Nazi-Communist Slaveocracy to serve its own economic interest.

It is important to note that the White Race mythology conferred no real physical or material benefit to the class of poor “white” farmers to whom it was peddled.  They continued to labor in poverty under the heel of the Slaveocracy, with no meaningful political rights.    In fact, the political and religious myth of the White Race convinced the poor “whites” to act as enforcers for the Slaveocracy, wielding the lash themselves and helping the Slaveocrats keep their slaves, “in their place,” as the new parlance of racist ideology would have it.  So, while the mythology of racism told the white farmers that they were the scions of a superior race, the ideological intent and the material effect of racism was simply to make the poor whites more obedient and enthusiastic subjects of their Nazi-Communist overlords.

So, we see that the invention of the white race, and its attendant ideological construct of racism, was a product of Satanically-inspired brain control aimed at enslaving the very race of people who it invented.  It proved remarkably effective as an ideological weapon.  The Slaveocracy shared its Nazi-Communist technology with their allies in the John Bull Protestant Mercantile Empire, and the Dagon-Satanic framework of racial hierarchy and White racial supremacy found a natural expression, as the British military began to conquer large portions of the globe in its name.

Time passed.  A new class arose in the world, its coffers stuffed with the profits they gleaned from the remorseless plunder of Africa, India and points East.  Soon, the Slaveocracy was able to offer slave-produced cotton as grist to the new industrial textile mills, and so began the greatest accumulation of wealth the world had ever seen.

Slavery was the crucial factor in this early economic accumulation, so to protect profits, the “peculiar institution” in which human beings were treated as property, their subjugation branded in their skin from birth to grave, was codified in American law.  More so than democracy, personal achievement or equality of opportunity, The Nazi-Communist lie of White Racial supremacy became the foundational tenet of American society.  The fundamental nature of this Dagon-Satanically created idea in the social structure of early America is evidenced by the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott Decision, which held that the framers of the US Constitution viewed Black Americans as, “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”  Clearly, the founders of the American State were themselves deeply involved in Nazi-Communist mind control activities.

With their wealth and power based on agriculture, the Slaveocracy needed to expand geographically in order to continue to thrive economically.  They once again employed brain control technology to propagate the notion that the US had a “manifest destiny” to control the entire continent of North America, and in the name of that Nazi-Communist idea, they used the disposable children of the laboring class of white Americans as cannon fodder in an expansionist war against Mexico, and as foot soldiers in a protracted campaign of genocide against the American Indians.

This would not be the last time that the Slaveocracy would use Nazi-Communist brain control to dupe lower class whites into fighting a war in their interests.

The expansion of the Slaveocracy put them into direct conflict with the moneyed interests of the industrialized North.  When these tensions finally erupted in civil war, the Slaveocracy, in need of millions of soldiers to fight its war and protect its power, put its Nazi-Communist brain control technology to use again.

The mass of poor white farmers and workers in the South had no material interest in defending the institution of slavery.  Without the means to own slaves themselves, poor whites were forced to the margins of the economy, abjectly dominated by the superior wealth of the Slaveocracy.  In order to convince these marginal farmers to throw their bodies in front of Union musket balls in their hundreds of thousands, the Nazi-Communist Slaveocracy fabricated the idea that theirs was a battle for “States’ Rights.”  Rather than a fight for slavery, this war would be a war for freedom, the freedom of states to allow their citizens to own slaves.

This ubiquitous talk of States’ Rights was a transparent falsehood from the start.  The Fugitive Slave Law, as well as the aforementioned Dred Scott Decision, were both acts of government that curtailed the rights of states in favor of the rights of slaveholders.  If the Slaveocracy really held states’ rights to be sacrosanct – indeed, so inviolable that one of the bloodiest wars in history was necessary to protect them – then they should have defended the rights of free states to offer refuge to fugitive slave if they so choose.  Of course, they did not, because that would have conflicted with the economic interest of the Slaveocracy.  The Civil War was entirely about defending those interests, that is to say, it was entirely about slavery, with the half-baked notion of States’ Rights offered as a convenient ideological cover, enforced, as shown above, with Nazi-Communist brain control technology imported from the future.

Of course, in a tremendous victory for the cause of human emancipation against the machinations of the Dagon-Satanic Slaveocracy cult, the Slaveocracy lost the war.  For a period of several years, known as “Radical Reconstruction,” the power of the Slaveocracy was broken up.  This allowed space for the flourishing democracy that the American South had never seen before, and, tragically, would never see again.  Fair labor practices, the creation of public schools, and voting equality were among the advances made during the Reconstruction period, before they were turned back by a resurgent Slaveocracy.

In order to regain its stranglehold on power in the South, the Slaveocracy again turned to Nazi-Communist technology to spread the ideology of racism, this time relying heavily on tactics of violent terrorism (i.e. the cultic and clearly Dagonist Ku Klux Klan) to spread their message.  In many southern cities, Nazi-Communist race riots overthrew democratic Reconstruction governments and reinstalled the Slaveocracy by force.  The important thing to note here is that the disempowerment of the Slaveocracy, and the reforms instituted during the Reconstruction period, was beneficial to poor whites as well as to freed slaves, but that poor whites participated in the racist backlash and the return to power of the Slaveocracy.  And so we see, yet again, that the white population, under the influence of Nazi-Communist brain control, succumbed to the lie of race privilege and took an active role in its own re-enslavement.

After its return to power, the Slaveocracy merged itself with the Northern industrial money power, and for a century used the Nazi-Communist lie of racial superiority to control the population.  Racist segregation created a class of hyper-exploited workers within the labor market, which put downward pressure on wages and blunted the effectiveness of labor struggles.  Under the influence of Nazi-Communist brain control, the white workers north and south organized to harass and exclude their black brethren, and thus short-circuited any opportunity to unite together and fight for their own livelihoods against their common oppressors, the Financial and Industrial Monopolies.

During the 1950’s and ‘60’s, as the rising tide of the Civil Rights movement began to break through centuries of aggregated mind control that had led to racism’s general acceptance among massive portions of the American population, the Slaveocracy again tried to counter it by trotting out the tired, old, “states’ rights” argument, but this time it was much less effective.  This is partly because the power of interracial unity as the people united to fight segregation was stronger than the southern elites’ brain control, and partly because, as they tried to keep black students out of schools and keep them segregated in restaurants and buses, as they used crude and patently ridiculous measures to keep them away from the ballot box, it was obvious to most observers that the White Slaveocrat power structure were just being cocks, states’ rights notwithstanding.

To counter the gains made by the Civil Rights Movement in the sixties, the Nazi-Communist Slaveocracy switched party alignments, from the southern Democrats they had previously supported to the Republicans who had once been the party of abolition, and developed a new brain-control strategy.  Eschewing the clunky and archaic rhetoric of states’ rights, they would now focus on issues around crime and the welfare state.  During the seventies and eighties, through to today, Dagon-Satanic racist politicians and Nazi-Communist propaganda blowhards on talk radio and cable news have spread the message that our society is besieged by criminals, and that welfare cheats are plundering our nation’s taxpayers, spending their monthly checks on crack cocaine while churning out babies by the dozen.

For this new strategy to work, they had to avoid open appeals to racism.  And so, while avoiding directly racist language, they used a wink and a nod, combined with a powerful dose of brain control hypnosis, to strongly suggest that the criminals and welfare cheats that they were referring to were black.

The influence of this type of Dagon-Satanically influenced thought pattern can be seen in statements such as this one from beloved nineteen seventies cock-rocker Ted Nugent, who, in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, said –I’m paraphrasing here– , “I’m not a racist, I like Chuck Berry, but I simply assume that every black person I see is a criminal.”

This newly framed racist brain control tactic has proven enormously effective at further oppressing and impoverishing the already oppressed and impoverished black community.  “Tough on crime” policies, virtually unassailable from a political standpoint, have fostered the buildup of one of the largest and most sophisticated prison systems the world has ever seen.  The United States imprisons more people than openly totalitarian dictatorships like China and North Korea.  Most of those in prison are racial minorities, and come from communities with little economic opportunity that are also disproportionately targeted for police enforcement.

But, over the last thirty years, the Nazi-Communist brain control regime has also invested much of its energy in the liberal academy.  There, it has spread the concept of “white privilege,” the notion that white people, all white people from your cousin smoking weed and dying of preventable disease in the trailer park to the upper echelons of the transnational corporate class, reap direct benefits from the social structure of racism, and therefore have something to gain from perpetuating racist oppression.  Nearly all college students now believe some form of this idea.

Of course, it is a lie, a false construction propagated by the Nazi-Communist Slaveocracy.

As noted above, the intent and the result of racist mind control, from the start, has been the disempowerment and economic oppression of most of the “white” population.  Recent studies demonstrate how profoundly this Nazi-Communist brain experiment has succeeded.  Since the beginning of the neoliberal era in economics, an era that coincided roughly with the “tough on crime” policies that have instituted a police state in the cities of America and the policies against social spending which, inspired by Dagon-Satanic race bigotry as an attack against black people, have destroyed the social safety net and made life more brutal for black and white alike, white people have seen their wealth and incomes fall more than any other group.

When Buster Handsometown showed me this documentation, documents that have since, sadly, been eradicated, I was aghast.  I felt cheated, manipulated, and powerless to do anything about it.  Here was incontrovertible evidence of a vast, cynical conspiracy that has, for centuries, successfully ripped me and my forbearers by cleverly insinuating that we were members of some mythical master race.

I was bereft.  Crestfallen.  So intense was my feeling of hopelessness, that I actually spent several days stumbling from bar to bar, drinking straight liquor in Zanesville, Ohio.  I found myself standing on the Y Bridge, sullenly gazing down into the murky water of the Muskingum, contemplating the end of my life.

And that’s when it hit me; there was something I could do.  I could spread the word.  I could use the internet, and tell all tell all the rest of my white people how royally we were getting shafted.

So listen up, white folks.  We’re boned.

People who think they’re better than us have been pumping us full of bullshit for centuries, and that bullshit is known as racism.  They want us all blaming black people and Mexicans and Chinese and brown people of all shapes and sizes for our problems, so that we don’t get together and fight for a better life.  The Nazi-Communist Slaveocracy has  been keeping us down since the sixteen hundreds, and we’ve been helping them out.  Every time we told a racist joke or accused Mexicans of taking our jobs, we were helping them.  Every time we sat in judgment on someone who had less than we did, we were helping them.  Every time we let the lie of racial superiority convince us it was a good idea to oppress someone else, we were participating in our own oppression.

So now I’m posting this to my blog, my finger trembling as my cursor hovers over the “publish” button.  I may not live to see any of you again.  If, tomorrow, I’m found dead of a “self-inflicted” brutal decapitation, please remember my words and carry on the message for which I gave my life.

DOWN WITH THE NAZI-COMMUNIST SLAVEOCRACY!

STRAIGHT TO HELL WITH RACISM!

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August 17, 2013 · 5:42 pm

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, My Crappy Job, and the Dying Dream of Democracy.

You don’t gauge tyranny by the presence of government, but by the absence of democracy.

If you can manage it, forget for a second about the National Security Agency’s enormous domestic spying program, our government’s obsessive desire to monitor absolutely all of us, all the time.  Forget about their cartoonishly psychotic reaction to the whole affair, the desperate manhunt as the Empire and their toadying media hop the globe in their efforts to deflect attention onto everything in the world besides themselves, and the fact that they’ve been exposed as sci-fi Stalinists.  Put it out of your mind, for the time being, because it’s all too stiflingly despotic.  If you focus too hard on it, you’re likely to be left feeling abject, helplessly ground under the heel of a totalitarian nightmare from which there is no escape.  And that is not a useful feeling.  So do your best to put it out of your mind.

Now, let’s talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  The TPP is a NAFTA-like free trade agreement that the Obama administration is currently trying to fast-track through congress.  It would eliminate trade barriers between the US and a number of nations in Asia and the Pacific, and encourage those nations to do business with the USA instead of with China, the gigantic economic powerhouse in their own backyard.  Like NAFTA before it, the TPP is designed to make it easier for capital to move across international borders, to facilitate the free-wheeling whim of trans-national corporations to chase higher profits by skirting tariffs, destroying labor laws, and thumbing their noses at basic morality and human decency.

So, in case you were concerned about unemployment, about our domestic labor force weakening as US capitalists chase slave labor around the globe, well, the various governments and corporations in this part of the world are conspiring to make it easier for them to do just that.

But this trade agreement does more than that.  If or when it is enacted, the TPP will establish tribunals of corporate lawyers empowered to force local and national governments to comply with the inexorable law of corporate profitability.  That is to say, if any of us decide, democratically, that we want to enact things like environmental protections or fair labor standards, this agreement will allow a gang of monopoly lawyers to overturn those laws and punish us for daring to let our own needs stand in the way of corporate money-making.

Now that’s freedom.  Forget about your right to keep a gun in your waist or marry someone with your same wrinkly bits, if you’re a billionaire transnational, this agreement allows you to do whatever the hell you please to make a buck, and gives you the power to boss the government around if they stand in your way.

As I said, Obama is trying to fast-track this agreement through congress, so that it will be the supreme law of the land before any of us lowly citizens has the chance to look at it.  And we can expect it to pass, too, because even though the Democrats and Republicans make a big show of being viciously antagonistic to the point of intransigence when it comes to passing any legislation that might help any non-millionaire in America live a better life, there is effortless bipartisan agreement on questions of imperial expansion, free trade, and the corporate drive to profit at any cost.

Now that the big picture is out of the way, and we can clearly see our ruling class colluding to erase any pretense of popular governance, let me take a couple of paragraphs to whine about my job.

I work for a grocery store, a small, family-owned chain that started right here where I live, in Rochester, and has become a beloved institution in the upstate New York area.  For the last several years, it has been consistently voted one of Fortune Magazine’s top five companies to work for.  The company has a carefully manicured brand image that focuses on portraying the firm as a business that puts things like customer health, community involvement and worker satisfaction and well-being ahead of the bottom line.

The votes that allow them to claim the title of “top five company to work for,” year after year, are compiled from a questionnaire that, each year, the company allows hundreds of its most happy and productive employees to fill out.  They aren’t likely to let someone as constitutionally disgruntled as I am to have a vote.

It is not my purpose to portray it as a horrible job, simply as an unexceptional job.  Worker morale is maintained, not through a living wage and generous benefits, but through a benevolent hierarchy of layer after layer of stratified management constantly smiling in the rank-and-file workers face to remind him or her that, “we care.”  Instead of a health care plan, I get five different bosses a day going out of their way to call me by my first name and ask me how I’m doing, to let me know that they’re my friends.  Instead of democratic power in our workplace, workers are assailed with ubiquitous posters and constant sloganeering that seeks to create an atmosphere of insipid team spirit that pervades every aspect of the job.

The break room is often stocked with baked goods that would have otherwise been thrown out.  The posters on the wall inform us that the recent store-wide increase in break times from ten to fifteen minutes came as a result of them taking heed to our suggestions.

But there’s the rub, ain’t it?  We have the privilege to make suggestions, which management, after figuring out all the angles and profitability, may or may not be magnanimous enough to grant us.  We don’t have the power to demand anything.  So, late last week, when we all found letters in our mailboxes informing us that, in anticipation of the Obamacare provisions that will, two years from now, allow us to purchase health care exchanges, the Wegman’s company is no longer offering health insurance to workers who receive less than thirty hours a week.  Of course, workers who work more than that are considered “full-time,” a position of relative privilege that is only granted after an extended vetting and review by one’s higher-ups.  Full-time work comes with increased pressure and responsibilities, and most full-time employees perform semi-managerial functions.  So the typical wage earner at Wegman’s stores is now cut off from even the possibility of health benefits, and has no recourse to demand better.  We can stuff the store manager’s box with comment cards, but they knew what they were doing when they made this decision.

One of the many strata of managerial monitoring and control at our job is the office of the “Employee Advocate.”  The Employee Advocate is a person hired by the company to listen to the problems of employees and to intercede with the management on their behalf.  The advocates are paid a much higher salary than that of a typical worker.  The store I work in employs two such advocates, as I imagine is the case in the other five-hundred or so stores across the northeast.  So that’s at least a thousand people, all trained in the jujitsu of the affable smile, each collecting a decent middle-class salary and benefits, whose only job is to diffuse worker dissatisfaction.  What does the company buy with all that money?  What return do they get on that multi-million dollar investment?  They get a compliant workforce that is nearly impossible to unionize.

Which begs the question, what are they afraid they would lose if we formed a union?  If they, the owners, are willing to spend that much money to keep the union out, how much more do we, the workers, stand to gain by bringing democracy in?

And there’s the commonality between the Trans-Pacific Partnership and my own chintzy job in the dishroom.  What they are afraid of, more than anything, is democracy.  That’s why Obama wants to fast-track a plan through congress that will surrender our national sovereignty to a money-hungry cabal of suit-and-tie pirates.  That’s why my employers are willing to shell out millions of dollars to keep us workers talking to management about our problems instead of talking to each other.  Because, when it comes down to it, they don’t really think we’re as stupid as they treat us, they don’t think we’re as ignorant as they try to make us.  Deep down, they know what we would be capable of if we ever got together.  And it scares them to death.

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July 24, 2013 · 2:38 pm

Dave and Shandi’s Distressingly Metaphysical Christmas Spectacular!

Based on a true story.  Also based on a medieval legend.
This Christmas I gave Shandi an antique store purse. It was creamy yellow leather with white trim, a mod fashion accessory that looked like it came from the sixties, but what do I know. Christmas morning, as she peeled away the lumpy mess of tape and red wrapping paper I had cobbled around it the night before, it occurred to me that I hadn’t looked inside the purse when I bought it at the antique store. There could be anything hidden in there.


What, I wondered, would be the hands down, Christmas miracle, coolest thing to find inside an old antique store purse?


Like a gangster movie wad of cash.

She's crying cause she broke her teeth on the old-ass gum, right?
Or a really old pack of gum.

Alternate text for the "Dave" character:  "I can explain why this is racist in 500 words."  College jerk.
A dubious piece of art from, like, Andy Warhol.


How about the keys to the amusement park?


Or the zoo.

Kurt Vonnegut has a surprisingly shapely ass.

Maybe just a snapshot on faded Kodak paper, a picture of boozy celebrity from the Dean Martin age, totally in flagrante.

But as Shandi pulled back the zipper and opened the bag, maybe for the first time in decades, it hit me that there was a far more astounding possibility than any I had imagined. I saw the swimmy metallic glow of miraculously luminescent gold beaming from inside the purse, heard the unmistakable sound of a holy choir fill our basement apartment, felt its bass notes and its wild, heartbreaking crescendo shake the bones in my chest. Trans-Siberian Orchestra my ass! Her hands trembling with holy terror, Shandi rustled the sacred object free of its bed of tissue paper and held it aloft.
Slack-jawed and moon-eyed, we said in astonished TV dialog unison,

No such thing.
Pardon my French.

Cretien De Troyes.  Pardon my French.
The vodka was nice, cold, bitter and smooth, but as it ran down our throats it got heavy with religious symbolism. The phrase, “This is my blood which is poured out for you,” stuck in my head like a bone chillingly horrifying pop melody. The liquid dripped into my stomach and formed a well of absolute sorrow.
Nobody ever sang a song dreaming of an existential Christmas.


I suddenly felt like the world was full of people I loved so much I couldn’t stand to imagine myself without them, and they all treated each other horribly. I thought about some of them blowing each other up in wars, and others profiting from those wars, about some spending their lives in poverty and how others profited from that, too. What I had always taken for granted as the natural order of life became an obscenity too vile even to imagine. I thought about, I saw, I intimately knew all these people worrying about bills, dragging each other down, feeling bad cause they were drunks and couldn’t stop it, cause they were whores and queers and everybody knew it, or cause nobody wanted to do it with them at all, felt their dread as they wondered where the money would come from, felt the emptiness grow as the hourglass sands of their life energy poured into meaningless work, their shudders and their love as they huddled together in the thunder of chopper blades and gunfire, knew their shame, cause, big deal, they were dumb as a box of hammers, or their skin was pocked and ugly and bulging with puss, or they kept making the same mistakes or just kept getting fatter.
My heart broke for them. I wanted to die to save them but couldn’t imagine what good it would do. Shandi and I sat there, holding onto one another, buried in an abyss of hopeless love, our mouths dry with the taste of vodka for who knows how long. The dogs got nervous and impatient.
I’ve never been much of a talker. I may never have spoken again if Shandi hadn’t broken the silence.
“Jesus Christ,” she said, but I don’t think she meant it in a bad way. The concept of taking the Lord’s name in vain meant something different to us now than it ever had before. She said, “Can you even imagine? I mean, to love people so much and then find out you’re God Almighty of the homophobes. They put you on a banner and go conquer other people, turn you into a flaming cross for racial supremacy? But, it’s like…”
Her words were failing her. I saw her grasping, trying to match words to an idea being born in her mind, trying to force it out through the tears. She put the grail to her lips, tilted her head back and drank from it in gigantic, sloppy gulps, the blood of the lamb pouring down her cheeks in rivulets of clear alcohol. She took a bigger drink from the cup of grace than any sane person ever would. A golden glow bathed the room as she shimmered with some holy radioactivity, a waxing abundance of grace that was clearly dangerous to the social if not the physical fabric of this fallen world. She seemed to have trouble catching her breath as she finished the cup and said,

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October 15th Occupation, Columbus OH

Photo by Shandi Rine http://www.facebook.com/shugabee

To be fair, I wouldn’t say I occupied anything.

I went down to the Statehouse to participate in Occupy Columbus today, but only stayed for a few hours.  Less of an occupation on my part, more of a visitation.  It was a beautiful fall day, sunny and crisp, the kind of weather people are referring to when they talk aboutPhoto by Shandi Rine http://www.facebook.com/shugabee how they love fall.  Real football weather.  There was a throng of people on the sidewalk in front of the Statehouse, and down the center of High Street was a solid line of police cruisers.

The cops didn’t seem to be causing anyone any trouble.

This was to be be my first interaction with the Occupy Wall Street movement that started in New York about a month ago and has since inspired similar protests in cities across the country and incited a hurricane of smug dissent on message boards the internet over from the type of creeps whose greatest pleasure is to tear down anyone who ever takes a stand on anything.  You know the creeps I mean, the types who copy all their ideas from South Park and pass it off as original thinking.  Those folks have been hyperventilating in the weeks since Occupy Wall Street started, usually -and predictably- basing their criticisms on some stereotype of the protesters themselves rather than confronting the issues that they are raising.  Oh, you’re a college student?  Clearly, you’re a spoiled brat.   You’re unemployed?  Then you must be an entitled loafer looking for a handout.  You own an electronic device?  Well, then shame on you for wanting a job that pays your winter heating bills or a healthcare system that doesn’t bankrupt you should you have the moral ineptitude to get sick.  On my way down to the rally, I was aware of the danger that my natural inclination toward sarcasm could lead me down exactly such a cowardly, unenlightened path.  I could spend all of my time making fun of people and become just another priggish know-it-all with something snarky to say about the Occupiers.  I resolved to steel myself against the nose-in-the-air, self-satisfied, willfully uninformed irony that tends to negate all discourse in these dark times.

One of the cops at the rally took this picture of me and Shandi.

With my guitar slung over my shoulder, I waded into the crowd.  The first thing I noticed was a young man standing up on the low stone barrier to the Statehouse lawn and making statements that the people huddled around him would then repeat in unison.  I thought they were attempting some sort of a Fight Club reenactment (it was reminiscent of the scene where the members of Project Mayhem all gathered around repeating, “his name is Robert Paulsen.”  This, by the way was not a completely improbable assumption, as a great deal of activism these days patterns itself after popular movies, but more on that later…), and was immediately turned off.  Once a second speaker stood up and the crowd resumed the same behavior, chanting her words as she came to the end of each sentence, I realized that what they were doing was not in fact a creepy cult routine but a resourceful way to overcome the lack of a public address system.  The gathered mass turned themselves into a sort of human microphone, amplifying each speaker’s words not only in in volume but importance, as only with intense effort could one repeat someone’s words without thinking about them.  It was the kind of PA they might have used in ancient times, if the ancients hadn’t been content to let the thundering voices of the great orators run roughshod over everyone else.  On one hand, I found this solution elegant and ingenious.  On the other hand, I found it infuriating because I had personally seen someone with a megaphone in the crowd and knew there was a simpler way.

Photo by Shandi Rine http://www.facebook.com/shugabeeThe speakers were a diverse group, reflecting the diversity of the movement itself.  Some read prepared remarks; some extemporaneously shared the personal struggles that they have faced in this crisis born in the contradictions of capitalism and spurred on to greater depths of cruelty by unrelenting corporate domination of every aspect of our society since; some were practiced activists, others were working stiffs, sixties leftovers, anarchists and college kids.  I think there were even some of the dreaded communists the message boards have been so upset over addressing the crowd.  There were liberals there, too, but with this subtle difference:  regardless of how bland anyone’s political tastes may have been, no one involved in this movement could have any illusions that the Democratic party is capable of solving the problems they had come out to the forbidding, windswept squares downtown to protest.  That simple fact explains the power and possibility of this movement.  It’s not about funneling popular anger into yet another doomed attempt to trade one political party for another; it is about ending a corrupt system that subordinates the needs of the millions in this country who work for a living to the avarice of those who extract profit from our labor.

Peppering the crowd were several protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masked.  I want to say they were all men, but I don’t have any proof

Photo by Shandi Rine http://www.facebook.com/shugabee

Mike Ravage as Guy Fawkes

of that.  I see a mustache on a face and I think it’s a dude.  Maybe it’s the result of the terrifying experiences I had as a youth in the Utica Haunted Forest, but I find mingling with masked people to be unnerving.  One such person approached and turned out to be Michael Ravage from Screaming Urge, who I have a ton of respect for.  It was a very Shakespearean moment, and left me a bit shaken.

Photo by Shandi Rine http://www.facebook.com/shugabee

Another Fawkes

The Guy Fawkes masks were popularized by that movie V for Vendetta a few years back.  For a while they were the symbol of the 9-11 conspiracy movement, then they were associated with people who protested against Scientology.  Now the Guy Fawkes look seems to be gaining popularity in the Occupy movement.  I think it’s meant to invoke the specter of some kind of gleeful terrorism, some stance of faceless defiance.  In the movie, the whole mob of common people don those masks and throw a big revolution.  Everyone becomes a superhero, and the fascist authorities are unable to to subdue the popular upsurge.  A powerful symbol, but I didn’t really like that movie, so it is, alas, spoiled for me.

A meeting of the General Assembly began at around one-thirty.  Here, i thought, was my chance to see democracy in action, the beating heart of the Occupation.  Five minutes into it, I remembered how tedious these kinds of assemblies can be and started to get antsy.  Fifteen minutes later, while the assembly was still arguing over time limits for speakers, I started looking for somewhere to go have a sandwich.  Like many of the activist organizations I’ve been involved in over the years, Occupy Columbus relies on consensus decision making, which means that everyone has to agree on an proposal for it to be adopted.  It’s a deceptively undemocratic arrangement that allows any individual to block any proposal regardless of how much the rest of the group wants to get on with things.  At its best, consensus decision making is a recipe for mind-numbing hours of  tedium and debate over obscure points of order.  At its worst invites the tyranny of the intransigent and cripples organizations.

Photo by Shandi Rine http://www.facebook.com/shugabee

Live democracy: The General Assembly votes.

I know my energy would be better spent involving myself in these meetings than standing aside and criticizing the way they are conducted.  It is not my purpose to mock the organizational structure of the protests.  I looked back in on the GA after about half an hour, and they seemed to be on the verge of agreeing to an agenda for the meeting that they had yet to really start.  It is a testament to the enormous commitment of these activists that they would be willing to stand there, repeating the speakers, paying attention, putting their names on the stack, waiting their turn, being respectful, through so much boring, frustrating back-and-forth for their cause.  They may get hung up on side issues now and again, there may be the odd stubborn hippie intent on derailing everything, but these folks aren’t taking orders from some national organization in the thrall of entrenched power; they’re creating a movement to rescue the American working class from the nightmare of greed, disregard and decadence that our capitalist overlords have drug us into, and they’re doing it by themselves every miserable step of the way.

But it wasn’t miserable.  Without a doubt, the prevailing mood as I slunk between the people at the rally was one of joy.  It was light on the singing and chanting species of enthusiasm that usually lets you know when a protest is really starting to cook, but people were excited to be there.  It’s likely that a lot of them, like me, had been reading about OWS for weeks and were anxious for the opportunity to Photo by Shandi Rine http://www.facebook.com/shugabeeget involved.  There was a nervous, itchy quality to the excitement there on the statehouse sidewalk, like teenagers on a first date, on edge and unsure of how to act.  All over America, people have been waiting, slipping under a flood of economic disaster while the rich ask us to bear the burden of their sins and our politicians in both parties tell us to sacrifice.  Their path to recovery is worse than a swindle.  We’ve been swindled for decades and now we’re being crucified.  Their plan is to make us pay, to cut back on our wages, our living standards, to destroy our education and the services we depend on, to let life in this country get worse until things are so bad for us that it becomes profitable to start investing in businesses again, then start hiring us back at minimum wage with no benefits and call that an economic recovery.  But we know there has to be another way.  That’s why this movement is growing.   We’ve seen what this system has to offer us and we’re ready to chuck it for something better.  We can imagine something like democracy that doesn’t allow a tiny minority of the powerful to enforce their will on the rest of the population.  Whatever limitations the Occupy movement may have, it contains the kernel of possibility to start moving toward a better world, that mustard seed of faith in the common people that can move the mountain of wealth, privilege and entrenched power and throw it into the sea.Photo by Shandi Rine http://www.facebook.com/shugabee

As I’m writing this, the latest news is that Occupy Wall Street has taken Times Square in New York and the riot cops are moving in.  This is the beginning of a movement.  We can’t win if we don’t fight.

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