Let there be light, and cowboys

Todd Broadman

Even from our snug pocket of relative peace and serenity amongst the hills we call home on the Palouse, it is hard to continue pretending.

Hands to the plow, we throw ourselves into our urgent fruitcake fundraisers, Zumba exercise classes and weekly Bible study groups. The less timid among us, momentarily let go to raise their heads and follow the billowing smoke from the burning tires.

“We are asking for basic services, not a miracle” is the plea of Salam Radif, an unemployed 36-year old protestor in Baghdad, “We want jobs. We want to feel like we are part of this country. We want a decent life so we can feed our families.” His plight is representative of the desperation and vulnerability that has spilled onto the streets and is spilling the blood of protestors from the Middle East to Latin America.

Have you not picked up that acrid scent?

You don’t have to venture too far from home to detect the faint odor: the United Auto Worker’s gutsy yet pathetic efforts to reassert labor rights. Their strike “won” them some wage increases and had UAW Vice President Terry Dittes gushing about “their sacrifice and courageous stand.” GM will spare no time closing three factories as part of the agreement.

Public schools are closing too. The salary demands of Chicago teachers have yet to be met and some 300,000 students have no homework (and no school lunch) for an eighth day.

These stateside disturbances though are mere tinder. More than 100 protestors have been killed by police and military forces in Iraq, 15 and counting in Chile, and thousands of protestors have been killed and injured in Ecuador, Sudan, France, Haiti, Russia, Hong Kong, Bolivia, Egypt and Lebanon.

This is but a sampling, and will do fine for our purposes.

Just as we are beginning to see an intensification of weather patterns and resulting cataclysms to life and property, we are witnessing an analogous intensification in societal breakdown and unrest. The tendency is to look away, click to another channel, dismiss the dissent and rage as a normal, predictable course of history: the age-old tugging and pulling of the haves vs. the have-nots.

Worse yet are the smug moralizers who amuse themselves with theories of karma, like: “they are reaping what they sow.” These “winners of the game” don’t hesitate to apply this same brand of arrogance to governments as well. That’s acceptable elevator banter on the way up to the 50th floor office suite – I used to participate in it.

Subway fares went up 4 percent in Santiago, Chile and the country erupted. That’s all the working-poor needed though, just that additional stick to prod them out of their cages.

Political scientist Patricio Navia explains: “the real reasons behind the rage lie in the frustration of a population that was promised access to the promised land of middle-class status, but that has been denied such access at the gate due to an unlevel playing field characterized by an abusive elite, an unresponsive government and an unkept promise of meritocracy and equal opportunity.”

That’s the despair that the rubber bullets (and now some very real ones) are intended to stop. The tear gas filled streets are a sign of futility. Voices demanding democracy are not being heard. This dissent is global; it follows a pattern.

You only need to follow the bouncing ball of the International Monetary Fund and U. S. foreign policy. They go hand-in-hand. Generous loans are made to rescue the country from economic collapse, to stabilize the currency and most assuredly, to provide access to private credit markets – think Goldman Sachs. Austerity packages are introduced, food and gas prices spike and somehow, through the magic of karma, the underclasses get a bit annoyed.

I greatly admire Robert Fisk, a journalist who covers the Middle East. He lives in Beruit, the current scene of a massive protest. Reflecting upon his posh seaside residence, and the neighboring apartments which are mostly vacant (they were purchased as investments), he commented that “In a country where the poor … and the refugees … exist in shacks, these mighty sentinels of cash stand triumphant: empty, rich and shameful. So I fear we shall have more burning tires on the road.”

After years of globetrotting, Todd J. Broadman finds himself writing from his perch on the Palouse and loving the view.

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