Category Archives: Across the Globe

Politi-cillin: a Painful (but Necessary) Dose of Reality

Syringe 5 with drops.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a rule at work that we can’t discuss politics or religion. Every day, I bring the newspaper to read during my lunch break, and my coworkers ask me if there’s any good stuff in there, pointing to advertisements for half-off Swiffer Dusters and $19.99 Bed, Bath & Beyond Deluxe Juicers—all of which are sandwiched between articles about mass murders in Syria and the Sudanese border conflicts. Sadly, the conversation goes far enough for me to pull out the ads and glance at them for a second before we ponder aloud whether or not Macy’s has better deals. Then, as quickly and boringly as it began, the conversation is over.

Likewise, in our modern social lives there’s an unspoken rule to not discuss anything political or religious. After all, it might lead to hurt feelings. It’s much simpler when we can just contribute a comment about Jessica Simpson’s Weight Watcher’s deal and then keep sipping our lattés in peace. Even Congress members don’t want to ruin the day by talking about the political climate of the country. In the midst of falling off the fiscal cliff, it only took the faint smell of a Christmas turkey before they had their jet-black SUV’s lined up and waiting for them outside.

So what’s happening in modern society that no one can, or will, have friendly conversations about the world-altering movements that are shaping our lives? Certainly the issues haven’t become more pressing than they were in the past, nor the perspectives more radical, nor the people more convicted in their beliefs. Yet the dialogue has slowed, almost halting altogether. Rather than engaging in philosophical discourse, everyone avoids the subject in fear that it will turn into a whirlwind of Hatfield & McCoy finger-pointing. So many interesting truths can emerge during a discussion about the role of government, the influence of religion, and the way social programs aid society. But everyone shies away from honest discourse, something I’m sure the CEO of Lehman Brothers would agree with. So what’s the real reason for this—the reason why I have to skip over the World News section of the paper to talk about Swiffers and Juicers or the reason why it’s not polite to ask my friends who they voted for in the elections?

The reason is that people are self-serving. If someone disagrees with us, it’s a personal affront to our way of living. People connect to political and social issues as if their very opinions are going to shake the world into perfection, often by expressing these opinions on Facebook (while subsequently cowering in the corner when any real discussion is about to occur). No longer does our society feel satisfied listening to others’ beliefs and then weighing differing perspectives. Why do that when it’s easier to shout something out an open door and then slam it shut? After all, ignoring others’ responses is as easy as turning off the computer. Influencing politics through discourse and then action is too altruistic in a world where we constantly want to shout (or tweet) our own beliefs, ignore everyone else’s, and then run away from action. People are self-serving. And it’s creating a world where each man is only out for himself.

The solution, then, lies in realizing that just as we all covet our national right to vote, we should also covet our ability to have open and honest discourse with our bunk-mates on this planet.

Talk about what matters. Get heated. Have differing opinions. Observe how our government officials problem solve and interact during conferences and through various new channels; watch how they discuss the most critical issues plaguing our nation.

And then use it as a model of what not to do.

Protesting: Really Worth the March?

WTO protests in Seattle, November 30, 1999 Pep...

WTO protests in Seattle, November 30, 1999 Pepper spray is applied to the crowd. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone who watched the NATO news coverage last weekend would have to agree: the Chicago Police Department came out of the whole ordeal looking like shining stars, calmly maintaining composure after being punched and provoked by deodorant-less, mask-donning protestors. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, they warded off angry demonstrators trying to forage across the Chicago River Bridge to claim Michigan Avenue as their own. Day after day they tried, but to no avail. In fact, the NATO weekend came and went with the protestors barely making a dent on the city or on the American public.

But had these protestors made it to the Magnificent Mile to spread their messages, would the outcome have been different? Would more Chicagoans have been influenced by their angry messages and meticulously crafted signs? Would they be able to sway those darned American families who insist on patronizing corporate America by taking their hard-earned cash out of the evil banks just to spend it frivolously on education and mortgages? Would the protestors have prevailed if only they could reach this Chicago population?

Probably not.

And this isn’t because I don’t think that demonstrating free speech is effective in relaying messages to the public or creating a dialogue about important issues. In fact, past demonstrations have achieved remarkable milestones for Americans, especially in efforts to grant equal civil liberties. But this protest held a different charge, lacking in many ways when compared to forerunning demonstrations. How?

  1. Police Preparedness: This summit was not the first time the United States has hosted a multi-national political event, and Chicago P.D. was able to use this to their advantage. In fact, the 1999 World Trade Organization Meeting in Seattle was a perfect way for the police to refine their tactics by looking at what did and didn’t work when trying to keep protests peaceful. What catches more news coverage: a line of police firmly (but calmly) standing their ground while protestors chant and raise their signs, or rioting anarchists throwing Molotov cocktails? The police just didn’t give the protestors a chance to be violent the entire weekend.
  2. Disjointed Messages: Unity is dead—nobody’s messages this weekend were coherent. Some folks were marching against corporate greed, others against the institution of higher education (ironically they were students from a state university), and still others whose issues didn’t even warrant protesting (“NO PORK ON MY FORK”…easily solved by just not eating pork). In the end, most protesters were not fighting for any succinct (or rational) cause. And even if they were, their logic was completely disjointed: corporate greed is one thing, but shouting for “a world without work or money” is farfetched and impossible unless you want to live alone in the woods.
  3. Outdated Tactics: What is the best way to express a desire for the government to assist the hardworking lower and middle classes who can’t seem to make ends meet? Probably not by splurging on $3.00 bottled water and cigarettes and then fighting police officers who, themselves, often fall into the 99%. What would be impressive, however, is if the protestors all banned together to build houses and tutor kids in Chicago’s Southside. Now that’s making a bang. Not only would the protestors gain respect and worldwide news coverage for their causes, but everyone would be so impressed by their efforts to work towards change rather than complain about it, that it would likely make others attempt to better the world as well.

So perhaps protesting in America is just not the most effective way anymore. Perhaps the best way to express frustration for government, foreign policy, education, and environmental issues is to find a group of like-minded thinkers and work towards the cause. Hate that we are still in war? Educate yourself on effective ways to stabilize a country and volunteer to work towards that cause abroad. Wish every American had an equal opportunity to be educated? Volunteer to tutor in low-income neighborhoods and then get involved with state-or nationwide educational policy.

Don’t chant about change, be involved in change. And don’t be afraid to do it in a peaceful and respectable way.

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