Hyperreality at the Recall Kasich Rally, 8/6/11… Is Protest Better than Facebook?

Photo by Shandi Rine http://www.facebook.com/shugabeeSaturday afternoon I was standing on the sidewalk downtown, trying to wrangle a protest sign that kept folding double in the breeze.  There’s always so much wind down at the Statehouse.  It has something to do with the tall buildings, maybe the Coriolis effect.  I’m not a TV weatherman, but it’s hard to light a cigarette at a protest.  And there’s always somebody playing Bob Dylan.  In spite such hardships, I’d like to advance the hypothesis that this, Times They are a-Changin’ and all, is better than staying home on the internet.

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

Shandi out by the car after the rally. Cutest protest photo of the year.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The life of the typical Left activist is rife with disappointment.  Half the time, nobody shows up to the rally or the film showing, and nobody but nobody cares that you got What’s Her Name from the Socialist Worker to come give a speech.  You spend your time watching the politicians that ride the tide of working class disenfranchisement into office bend over backwards to please the Right Wing while the most committed activists spend their time trying to elect Democrats in an echo chamber of failure that passes for democracy.  Most of your friends think they’re too clever for you because you never learned to take an ironic posture of tight-pantsed hipster blase toward the problems of the world.  And even when you overcome these problems and get something like a movement going, the Anarchists start fighting with the Marxists and everything dissolves into a hundred splinter groups that only care about dumpster diving or some such nonsense.

So it wasn’t a surprise when we arrived at the Statehouse at 2:30 on Saturday to find only a handful of people gathered on the steps for the day’s “Recall Kasich” rally.  Over 170 had responded to the notice on Facebook and said they would be attending, but that was before a ten minute downpour around 2:15 spoiled people’s appetite for justice.  But those who had made it to the protest refused to be daunted by the low turnout and charged through the sticky humidity and ninety-degree sun to set up a PA on the platform at the west side of the lawn.

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

Mark Haynes

The rally had been organized by Mark Haynes, local religious leader and provost of the  Eastern Union Bible College.  Haynes is the driving force behind the recently initiated campaign to recall Ohio’s governor John Kasich.  About a year ago, Kasich rode a wave of venal Right Wing backlash into the governorship and has spent the last seven months viciously attacking the Buckeye State’s already beleaguered working class.  Like most of the Republican party (and a good portion of the Democrats) these days, punishing the poor and the workers for the economic disaster caused by the rich is the only idea he has to meet the current crisis.  The centerpiece of his program to cure our state’s economic woes thus far has been Senate Bill 5, a satanically inspired bit of legislation which, like similar bills in states across the country, attempts to solve the budget shortage by robbing teachers and other public workers of their collective bargaining rights.  As if Ohio’s workers weren’t in enough trouble, this half-assed Mussolini offers lower wages as a magic bullet for all our problems.  As if Ohio’s schools weren’t already languishing in decades of underfunding and inequality, this Marie Antoinette with a two-dollar haircut suggests we cut our teachers’ salaries.  In a hellishly cruel move that saves the State of Ohio absolutely no money but simply aligns with Kasich’s faith in the most wicked pronouncements of talk radio demagogues, Kasich sent $176 million in federal unemployment funds back to the federal government.  One wonders what the government used that money for.  Perhaps a payment on a tiny fraction of the federal debt or some more high-tech death to throw at people half a world away?  Who cares, we needed that money in Ohio and he gave it away for no other reason than to prove that he was a hard ass.Photo by Shandi Rine http://www.facebook.com/shugabee

Well, Kasich, you’re an ass, alright, and, as evidenced by the widespread protests against SB5, Ohio’s working class is tired of being forced to foot the bill for the problems that your corporate cronies and Right Wing cohorts have gotten us into.  Saturday’s rally was the jump off for a grassroots campaign to remove Kasich from office.  It was small, but then the Recall Kasich campaign doesn’t have the advantage of the corporate funding and media sweetheart status afforded to groups like the Tea Party.  Recall Kasich could, however

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

I think this guy made all the placards by himself. Dedication.

boast the dedication of activists who apparently spent hours making enough hand-painted placards to go around in a much larger rally.  The police showed up as soon as the PA and the instruments were set up to say that everything would have to be moved.  Not even a gathering of around twenty people (my high estimate) could escape the repressive watch of the Columbus PD

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

Of course, it wouldn't feel like a protest without the smack of police repression.

if they hadn’t filed just the right permits.

The protest was forced to move to the sidewalk just outside the Statehouse lawn.  It turned out to be a better place for the rally than where we had originally planned.  If things had gone on where they were first set up, the statues on the lawn would have hidden the small crowd of protesters from public view.  As it was, we were on the street, getting honks from passing motorists and spreading the good word.  Dr. Haynes gave a speech emphasizing that this was only the beginning and stressing the need for determined activism as we move forward in the campaign to remove Kasich from office.  Gahana High School

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

Working class heroes

student Sam Campbell gave a moving talk that highlighted the real-world affects of Senate Bill 5 and the ways in which Kasich’s policies had disrupted education in his own school.  An ad-hoc collection of local musicians (there was even a saxophone) played a set of protest tunes that, thank god, leaned more on the Lennon-Guthrie tradition than on the tired Dylan standards.  They got a good sing-along going with “Power to the People,” a song that I always find is underused at rallies.  It’s a solid protest jam, it’s politics are spot on and transcend the era in which the song was composed, and you don’t even have to know the words to sing along.Photo by Shandi Rine http://www.facebook.com/shugabee

So the numerical aspects of the actual event were dwarfed by their electronic counterpart on Facebook.  Still, I argue that, no matter how well attended the rally is, going out to the protest is better than staying home and signing a Facebook page.  Maybe not in every way.  For instance, raising your voice in support of something someone says in a speech or a song might be more visceral than liking a comment, but it disappears the second it escapes your lips.  Nobody knows you liked it and you can’t start a thread.  You can’t keep the people you meet in a protest in an easily accessible menu with pictures matching the names to remind you who they are.  I hate that about real life.  But the powers and principalities of this dark world will never listen to a Facebook page, no matter how many RSVPs it gets, no matter how many people repost it.  To make a difference to the self-satisfied, power-mongering liars and thieves who run the government, you need to show up with a big mob of people who look like trouble.

That’s why I’ll be there for the next rally, at the State Capitol, 3pm on September 17th, and why you should be there, too.  Maybe we’ll never have the votes to recall Kasich.  But enough of us making enough noise can frighten those swine into listening to us.

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

"This land was made for you and me."

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Armageddon Time! Excellent! (Part Three)

Part Three:  On Earth as it is in Heaven.

I couldn’t sleep last night, so I crept into the bathroom and opened my Bible to the page I had marked in Jeremiah.  In my experience, insomnia and the Old Testament go together like acid and Dungeons & Dragons; it’s the perfect combination for all the wrong reasons.  In chapter twenty, verse seven, I found this nugget, “O Lord, you deceived me and I was deceived! You overpowered me and prevailed.  I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me.  Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction.  So the word of the Lord brought me insult and reproach all day long.”

It’s depressing stuff.  Later in the same chapter, Jeremiah laments the fact that he wasn’t murdered in the womb.  It’s pretty much how I’ve been feeling about my facebook posts for the past month or so.  The time that I haven’t spent cradling the vomit can in the throes of a seemingly incurable illness I’ve been spreading the bad news about the economic outlook for the working class and generally trying to bum everybody out.

Here’s how it lines up:  Unemployment was up again last month, back up to 9.2% after reaching a “low” of 8.8% back in March.  But these official figures only account for those actively looking for work who qualify for unemployment benefits.  This is the first time in my life that I, personally have ever met the qualifications for benefits, but it certainly isn’t the first time I’ve been out of work.  Counting all those who need a job, the number is 12.9% unemployed and who knows how many underemployed.  Put in practical terms, that’s a hundred jerk-offs with exactly my qualifications lining up to fill out applications every time a pizza place is hiring.  Meanwhile, governments are slashing jobs and wages are going down as the only economic strategy our politicians can agree on is a continued cash giveaway for corporations and the rich.

Such was the economic picture last week as I rose from my sickbed long enough to drive down to the Cleveland Avenue CVS to fill my prescriptions.  By the register, I saw the Columbus Dispatch sporting a front-page story about unemployment fraud.  The article claimed that one dollar in nine paid out in unemployment benefits is currently being paid fraudulently.  I couldn’t find a link to the Dispatch article, but this one from the ever-vigilant Fox News makes basically the same case.  Clearly, Freddie the Freeloader and Wilma the Welfare Queen are back in the habit, sucking off the ample teat of government largess and dragging the economy with them into a pit of idleness and depravity.  The article struck a chord with me because portions of it actually described my personal situation.  And so, in flat defiance of good common sense, I present to you The Absolutely True Story of How I Became an Unemployment Cheat.

It all started in June.  The summer was just starting to get hot and it was clear that I was living in some mad, dystopian, vision of the End Times.  I was unemployed and had taken to spending portions of my afternoons watching the police helicopters circle my neighborhood.  How long, I wondered, until it would be my turn.  Of course, it wasn’t at all clear whether I should be concerned about the police watching from above or about the criminals they chased, but it was certain that both sides were armed to the teeth, so I decided that I should be, too.  I found myself living hand to mouth, attaching my resume to increasingly needy sounding emails in replies to Craigslist ads while a clip full of 7.62x39mm hollow points nestled with each other in my rifle.  Dark times.

A shaft of light broke into this darkness in the form of a long-awaited call from a temp agency I had signed on with weeks earlier.  They offered me a job at an injection molding plant for eight bucks an hour.  When I asked how long the assignment would last, the woman on the phone told me that they would probably keep me on as long as I kept showing up for work.  That, at least, sounded good, even if the pay seemed unrealistic.  Light industrial work was definitely something I could handle.  I told them I would be there at seven the next morning.

I worked at that job for one full day.  The work wasn’t bad.  The medium-fast pace helped the day pass quickly.  It was the kind of mindless, boring labor that really tests your ability to press two buttons at the same time.  The worst part about it was tying the finished parts up in bags of plastic mesh that tore my fingernails up and kept getting caught on the button of my Dickies workshirt.  The stuff was impossible to work with and kept slowing me down.  It was noisy and dirty, but it still beat telemarketing.

Going in for the second day of a job is always a nauseating experience.  Even when I like the job, on day two I find myself remembering the worst parts of the job, a cartoon devil on my shoulder saying, “You’red not going back to that, are you? Don’t you have any respect for yourself?”  That devil tends to overestimate my self-respect by a wide margin.  But going in for the second day of work in June, I felt a tempest in my stomach that had little or nothing to do with workplace angst.  The Gatorade and store-brand Apple Jacks I had for breakfast that morning were plotting an attack.  I didn’t last an hour.  Before eight o’clock I had left the hot, injection-molded pieces of duct work to pile up where they fell under the press and trotted off to the bathroom with a blanched, worried face.  By nine I was going back to the toilet at ten minute intervals, heaving neon yellow acid from deep in the pit of my stomach, knowing from months of nasty experience that this was the start of a cycle that wouldn’t end for at least the next two weeks.  I paced the tile floor, rereading the “Lavase los manos antes de regresar a trabajo” sign over and over again to give myself something other than intestinal distress to focus on, trying to overpower my wimpy stomach with my powerful mind and force myself back to work.  I thought about the embarrassment of going home sick on my second day.  Most of all, I thought about how much I needed this lousy job, no matter how sick I was, no matter how little above minimum wage they paid.

I went home at around ten in the morning.  I pulled off the freeway once on the way to spew yellow bile on the side of the offramp.

The next three weeks were a nightmare of vomiting and trashing in bed.  On my repeated trips to the emergency room I would get the uninsured special; a day or two’s worth of IV fluids that I can never dream of being able to pay for to get my fluids and electrolytes up to normal before they sent me out the door with another prescription for another expensive anti-nausea pill.

Thinking that the day and a half of work would void my unemployment, I decided not to claim it when it came time to file again.  After the stress and expense of being sick and buying medicine, I needed the government dole money more than ever.  Sure, I know that legitimate freeloaders are out there, but when I hear the scapegoating statistics about unemployment fraud I can’t help but imagine that most of those people are in situations like mine, unable to count on the income from their inadequate, poorly paid jobs with nowhere else to turn.

Following the simple maxim of loving your neighbor as yourself would logically lead one to the conclusion that we should do more, not less, to help the unemployed, that perhaps we should even (hold onto something here) spend government money to create jobs and a healthcare system that didn’t endlessly punish the poor in order to protect the profits of the insurance and pharmaceutical corporations.  The idea that we should enact the Kingdom of God, creating conditions on earth as we imagine they would be in heaven would lead one to the we should alter this corrupt system based on exploitation in even more fundamental ways than that.  But such moral considerations don’t trouble our corporate-funded lawmakers.  Republicans, with the Christian Right in their pockets, push forward an agenda that is homicidaly obsessed with making the poor pay for the crimes of the rich (see Kasich’s twisted unemployment scheme, just Voldemort level evil), while democrats agree with them on all the major points.

Austerity is the watchword in Washington, which means that both sides of the aisle are united in their resolve to push the cost of the bailouts and the economic collapse onto the working people and those most vulnerable.  They got us into this fix by giving the corporations, the banks and the rich whatever they wanted for three decades, and they’re shit scared not to give them what they want now.  It’s time we made them afraid of us instead.  We need a workers’ movement that raises the specter of that thing they fear most, real workers’ democracy.  Something like an occupation of Washington would be a good place to start.  After all, we don’t have jobs, so we don’t have anywhere to go.  If they can’t guarantee us such a simple, reasonable thing as employment, then they don’t deserve the wealth and power we’ve given them.  It’s time to move.  Our only other option is to let the bosses keep blasting away out our wages and living standards until things are so low that business becomes profitable again.  Or to clutch our bibles to our hearts, turn our faces to the sky and wait for the rapture that never comes.

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Armageddon Time! Excellent! (Part Two)

Part Two: Your will be done…

We finally broke free of the worst of the lunch traffic rush around Oklahoma City the first time I heard Can’t Buy me Love on oldies radio.  It was June, 1996.  My family was driving home from a wedding in a crippled old Ford Thunderbird we had bought off a guy from church for a hundred and fifty bucks the week before we had set out for Oklahoma.  By the time we hit Tulsa the Ford was farting clouds of black smoke across the interstate.  The pistons melted, fused to the engine block, and the whole motor locked up and died a few miles from the Missouri border.  We left the Thunderbird on the side of the freeway near a town called Vinita.  My stepdad, Craigar, traded my Grandparents’ video camera with an old couple who owned the motel we stayed in that night and we hit the road the next day in an dust brown ’83 Caprice with a cassette deck and a bad oil leak.  We didn’t make it far into Missouri before the billows of smoke engulfed us again.  While we waited in the broiling heat outside a quick-lube in Joplin the mechanic explained the problem.  “You’ve got oil all over the engine,” he said.  Real helpful guy.  So we set off like the Israelites under a pillar of smoke that wasn’t leading us anywhere.  That night, broke down on a dark offramp outside of Marshfield, Craigar and Mom huddled in prayer over the hood of the Caprice.  Frustrated and desperate by this time, stinking with the heat of the summer freeway and caramelized engine grease, Craigar asked God to show them a sign if we were going to be home the next day.  At that moment he looked up and saw a shooting star tear across the night sky.

It was the sign he had asked for, but that old Chevy had a will of its own.  We didn’t make it out till five days later, by which time we were all delirious, dressed in Craigar’s hockey jerseys and cursing the State of Missouri.

Today the people of Joplin are having a worse time figuring out what God is telling them, trying to read the divine will in the tea leaves of splintered houses and shattered lives.  I have a friend who tells me, based almost entirely on innuendo, that the government has a weather controlling space ray that is to blame for the floods and tornadoes, not to mention the Japanese tsunami and the Haitian earthquake.  As ludicrous as that seems, boiling everything down to a nonsensical and self-contradictory conspiracy theory beats the pants off imagining a god capable of authoring such pointless misery.

Over the past year I’ve been reading the Bible, trying to make sure that I’ve actually read it all and don’t just think I have.  Right now I’m reading Isaiah, a book that combines deep outrage at social injustice with an apparent lustful glee in retributive destruction.  God judges Israel and Judah for growing rich and decadent from by oppressing the poor and ignoring the misfortunes of the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.  Chapter 3, verse 14-15 says, “The Lord enters into judgement against the leaders of his people: ‘It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses.  What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?'”  God’s judgement arrives in the form of the army of the Assyrian empire, presented as God’s instrument in chapter 8.  However, the judgement of the Lord soon turns against Assyria itself, and in chapter 10, verse 12 the Lord says, “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.”  Where Israel is destroyed for oppressing the poor, disobeying God and following idols (Check out 10: 1-2), Assyria is punished for imperial hubris.

Which brings us to America’s current wars.  Because the prophetic books of the Bible spend so much time describing apocalyptic battles in the Middle East, often in horrific detail, it’s tempting to see the battles for control of that region as the prelude to the prophecies’ fulfillment.  It isn’t hard to put the pieces together.  As all the opposing sides remain irreconcilable, as the wars and occupations rage on long after the boogeymen they were incited to destroy are sent to their eternal judgement, as each consecutive American president builds on the work of the last, sending more troops, bombing more countries, crying, “Peace, peace,” while punching the war machine into its next highest gear and stomping the gas, it’s easy to imagine it all building inexorably to some final conflagration.

Obama’s recent speech to the British Parliament makes it clear that there is no hope for an end to the conflict coming from our democratic leaders.  The Leader of the World’s Greatest Empire declares in no uncertain terms that US control over the world economy is his end and that military conquest is the means by which it will be accomplished.  Obama’s hymns to the replenishing power of the free market hint at the more disturbing aspects of his call for Western leadership.  The free market forces nation-states to compete with each other for shares of the world market.  From that point of view, the ascendancy economies like China, India and Brazil, combined with the relative decline of the US economy, make it all the more essential that the United States maintains political control over the oil resources of the Middle East, and that it holds a death grip on whatever economic power it still holds internationally.  Basically, now that the US has entered these wars, it cannot possibly relent without losing everything.  In that light, Obama countering the view that Western leadership is on the decline with the statement “The time for our leadership is now,” should cause us all to shudder, especially those of us in the working class who will be asked, once again, to absorb all the bullets and shrapnel while the ruling class that treats us with unrepentant spite sends us to war to protect their own power in the world market.

So the sampled, regurgitated, technotronic beat of war drags on, soaked in the saccharine, autotune cheerleading of patriotic platitudes and takes on the illusion of prophetic inevitability.  America’s cynical behavior toward the revolutionary upsurge in the Arab world, combined with its steadfast determination to pursue its previously established agenda bodes poorly for the current wave of nonviolent protests in Palestine.  The armies of the world seem to be gathering along the edges of the valley of Meggido, and the Abomination that Causes Desolation is starting to sound like sweet relief.  Obama (and you can bet this goes double for whatever liberty-touting charlatan replaces him) promises not to relent until this nation we’ve built has no more tax money, no more bombs, and no more working class young men to lay on the poker table and our society rots from the inside.  It’s more or less the same thing that happened to the Soviets when they tried to invade a country whose name escapes me…

Is all of this, after all, merely the culmination of God’s plan?  If you believe that God’s will is manifest in the self-interested actions of the rich and powerful, you find yourself on the same side as Saint Peter (1Peter 2:13) and with the Christian Church of the middle ages that saw the system of feudal oppression as an imposition of the divine order that conveniently placed the Church itself on top.  You’d be on the opposite side of Jesus, who tends to portray all the authorities of this world as being satanically inspired, but Jesus and the prophets, as they oppose the oppressors and the empires that they faced, all looked forward to the coming days of turmoil and bloodshed as heralds of the destruction of the current, wicked system, and its replacement with the just and equitable Kingdom of God.

The truth is that God isn’t responsible for the actions of the world’s rulers any more than He is responsible for floods and tornadoes.  We live in a universe governed by physical laws of cause and effect, where whatever god may have set everything in motion is content to let us all struggle through the contradictions of the world we create for each other.  As it stands, we’re still at the whim of those who, cheered on by such dark prophets as Machiavelli and Nietzsche and Ayn Rand, grab power for their own ends and bend the world to their heroic wills.  The mass of people continue to toil for the edification of those who say that it is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.  But it isn’t God’s will that makes things this way, only the armed power of the state organized to protect the interests of the ruling class.

It’s a fool, likely a comfortable liberal fool, who looks at the world today and doesn’t see an apocalypse  in the offing.  But what form that apocalypse takes is entirely in our hands.  We can strap in to the rollercoaster that drags us to our destruction as the ruling classes of different nations compete for a larger portion of the wealth we produce, or we can bring on the chaotic zombie apocalypse of the common people and bequeath the world to the meek and powerless.

In the Kingdom of God that Jesus advocated as the future for humanity, the last will be first and the first will be last.  It seems to good to believe in a world that gets as ugly as ours.  But it still beats the hell out of believing in anything else.

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Armageddon Time! Excellent! (musings from a dying empire in three parts.)

Part one:  Your Kingdom, come…

After about the eighteenth rapture joke on Saturday I started praying for Harold Camping’s doomsday calculations to have been right after all.  Truth is, I kind of miss being stalked by the fear that the all-out, blood and guts End of Days was coming, and soon.  I miss the creeping terror between my shoulder blades and the haunting, arcane language of scripture.  As a kid, I would wrap my blanket around myself and sneak to the crack of my bedroom door to listen to Jack Van Impe or John Hagee speak in sepulchral, sanctified tones about the armies of Gog and Magog, about the Antichrist and the computer chip implants he was developing, in California, with a government grant.  I read The Late, Great Planet Earth in a dark room after midnight, unable to tear myself away from the pornographic thrill of biblical prophecy and its spooky, forbidden knowledge.

The rapture was like Freddy Krueger, only unlike the razor-fingered sadist of the dreamworld, every adult I knew assured me that the rapture was real.  This was the nineties, so we were also taught that an honest-to-God, baby-sacrificing Satanist cult operated in every small town, and that there were mind-controlling messages and demonic incantations hidden in pop music.  Being a Christian back then was such horrible, blood-curdling fun that we didn’t mind giving up Halloween.

So, whether it’s an obvious false trumpet sounded by some addled crank out of California or a new Kirk Cameron movie hitting the box office, Armageddon talk tends to fill me with the sort of giddy exhilaration that I’m given to understand accompanies giving a rat’s ass about soccer.  It’s like the biggest World Cup ever, only with blood up to a horse’s shoulders.  Which is why this weekend seemed so godawful boring.  There were no candlelight vigils, no petrified believers trembling before their God.  Camping’s rapture scare failed to generate even a small fraction of the lukewarm paranoid stir that greeted the turning of the millennium or the inauguration of Obama.  It was a big hipster joke.  A hundred lame reposts on Facebook.

Maybe what I miss the most about preparing for the End Times is the sense of order and meaning that it imposed on life.  I’ll admit to spending more than my fair share of time wistfully daydreaming about the zombie apocalypse.  If only life could be as simple as bludgeoning the undead and surviving on a doomed, capricious society’s leftover caches of canned corn beef hash.  Burying stockpiles of guns and waiting for the Big One is fun, but it’s escapism.  In real life, the government doesn’t come for your gun; you end up pawning it to keep the electricity on.  That’s the sort of dystopian nightmare we actually face, one where the world never ends.  The Four Horsemen continue to gallop across the backs of working people, spurred on by an ideology of greed and an irrational system that turns abundance of resources into famine and spreads mechanized death across the planet.

We can’t count on the trumpet to call us home to the conquering savior who meets us in the sky.  This is America.  We got bills to pay.

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