“No man is free if he fears death. But the minute you proffer the fear, at that momentyou are free.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
When people speak of Gandhi and Martin Luther King with great reverence, as role models for successful non-violent resistance, what is often being overlooked is the fact that not only did those resistance leaders apply counter-intuitive methods and not only did they speak with great charisma. What made those protests successful back then was the protesters’ complete determination to their goals, a determination so complete they would go to great length and would take all kinds of personal discomforts and disadvantages on themselves, willing even to go to death for their conviction. The symbols of freedom they created and held up have not just been mere declarations of preference, taste, ideas, or moral indignation. It was the protesters’ perseverance in complete determination to their goals that gave power to those symbols, and only through determination was it that they were able to touch the hearts and minds of their fellow men, and inspired them to support their plea.
The situation today is of similar urgency, yet we don’t see that kind of determination and perseverance much these days. Have we given up the struggle for social and environmental justice because we’re tired? Is it because we don’t believe in our cause any longer? Are we, as a society, as mankind, too fragmented, too deeply lost in identity politics, in selfish strive for personal happiness? Is it that we believe, instead, in a materialistic world view which has all but killed life’s spirit within us? It might be one of those, or, more likely, all of them together. The Gandhis and Luther-Kings of today run by the name of Vandana Shiva, or Arik Ascherman, or Ahed Tamimi, people who did not surrender to injustice, did not get scared into silence by threat of violence, will continue to speak up for what they know is right, and continuously take action in favour of their proclaimed goals. It’s not that their number was small – it isn’t. What is missing, though, is the support on the streets, with the determination to withstand anything it takes to end the evil system which is devouring the world.
As a protest, Standing Rock has been standing out because there was an urgency to it, and an international solidarity rarely seen these days. Standing Rock has also been a complete disaster, not because they’ve been overrun, but because there has been no public outcry, no follow-up activities, no spreading of civil disobedience across the US and other industrialized countries.
In the same way, Occupy and its sympathizers have failed to continually block and boycott the powers they were up against. It’s like the late sixties all over again, like the stone-throwing student protester Joschka Fischer who, thirty years later, as Germany’s first Green Party foreign minister, in breach of international law, sent soldiers to Serbia, into the country’s first war after WW II. This transition from fringe opposition to conformity just happens so much faster now. All of us, we’re back to work; all of us, we’re populating shops and malls and sales, as if our indignation and our lust for something new had been just a passing phase and as if our continued functioning as cogwheels in the Machine didn’t contribute to the very injustices we’ve been pointing out. As if it weren’t our lives that are at stake now. Or aren’t they? Is this just me making up worst-case scenarios or is our planet actually getting dismantled right at this moment? And if this is so, would we let ourselves get shepherded to the butcher’s block, or would we rather stand up and shout at the top of our lungs, “I shall not surrender! We will never surrender!”, just like the people of Palestine do in their seventy-year struggle against Israeli occupation and apartheid policy?
I’m not saying that, “if everyone had joined the protests the problem would have been solved”, for the fact remains that this kind of logic doesn’t work, neither hypothetically nor actually. Still, there lingers the question why, at a time when our survival as individuals, as a community, and as a species stands under immediate threat, our eyes and ears stay closed, our minds stay numb, our mouths stay shut, our hands stay deeply stuffed within our pockets.
Is it because we’ve sold our bodies to the man for a little bit of dough, we’ve sold our minds to the establishment for a little bit of hope, and we’ve sold our spirit to the likes of Adam Smith and Richard Dawkins, for the promise that selfishness will continue to make the world go round?
If you plan on not letting yourself get silently led into the dark, bloody night of the slaughterhouse, your time for making a statement is exactly now, and you better make it a matter of life and death – because that’s what it actually is.