Yesterday, as we are all aware, was ObamaDay. Unicorns with rainbows shooting out their asses grazed on the Whitehouse lawn to herald the new dawn. OK, I'm being facetious. I'm happy. Very, very happy. But my sense of elation is balanced by an competing sense of doom.
Tuesday morning, as I drove to Trinity United Methodist to join my friend Rich's flock in catching the festivities on TV, a dense fog limited visibility to around 200 yards. I was again struck by how the world always seems to offer up the right metaphor at the right time. The economy's gone to hell and local and state governments appear poised to balance their budgets on the backs of the poor. The feds are no better. The Mid-East situation seems perfectly calibrated to the Mayan Calendar, and I just know my transmission's going to go one of these days. I can see about a block in front of me. Beyond that? Who knows? Might be blue skies. Might be a twelve car pile-up with me in the middle.
The good news, I recently read, is that the US prison population only rose by a mere 2.5% last year, which is what passes as progress these days. Crime, by the way, fell by 4%. More good news.
In the afternoon, I made my way to Westlake Center to speak at an Inauguration Day student march and rally that was making its way down from Seattle Community College. I arrived before the march to find the police prepared for virtually any terrorist scenario one might imagine.
A black Command Vehicle, which looked like a cross between a tank and a semi, was parked near the Starbucks. About ten riot-gear clad cops — half of which had ominous black knit gear on their heads that revealed eyes and nose only and made them look like ninja gym rats — stood casually shooting the shit, awaiting The Threat. Plainclothes cops were everywhere as well, and not trying real hard to be inconspicuous. As the march made its way down Pike, a phalanx of police motorcycles came before and after. Bicycle cops diligently hemmed in the sides to ensure public safety. There were maybe 100 marchers. It was a sad spectacle. I estimated the overall student to cop ratio at around 2-1.
Democracy, apparently, scares the shit out of these guys.
I joked about this when I spoke. "What?" I said. "Were they afraid you were going to loot the Starbucks for their herbal teas?"
My speech was about Real Change's campaigns against the homeless sweeps and the new municipal jail. The root issue here, I said, is surplus people in a global economy, and a system that writes off the less skilled and educated as a form of human waste that just can't compete and therefore needs to be dehumanized, criminalized, and eventually imprisoned.
I don't really expect this problem to be on the Obama Top Ten issue list, but then, he's only been in office for the better part of an afternoon.
I congratulated them for "taking it to the streets," but said they needed to up the student to cop ratio to around 10-1 next time to make a more respectable showing. Taking it to the streets matters I said, because poor people only get taken care of when one or two conditions are met.
The first is when there's an expectation that the market will once again need the very poor for their labor. Under these circumstances, their stock rises, and they get to live.
Noone really expects this to happen, I said, so scratch that.
The second is when people are organized to the extent that they actually offer some sort of a threat to the system, which is why we really need better than a 2-1 student cop ratio. It might be ObamaDay, but the cops and the prisons are ready for us nonetheless. We shouldn't kid ourselves. The bar for organizing has been set rather high. Are you up for the challenge?
— Photos by Revel