Tag Archives: be the change

Free book excerpt #15 from author, blogger and Web pastor Paul J. Bern

Of The Bullies, By The Bullies, and For The Bullies

(excerpt from chapter 5 of my book, “Occupying America: We Shall Overcome“) © 2012 by Rev. Paul J. Bern all rights reserved

 

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Perhaps the most ominous sign regarding the true nature of economic discrimination and class warfare against the middle class and the poor, which invariably includes people of color, is that of bullying, intimidation and similar forms of abuse directed at employees in the workplace. Although I’m certain that everybody who reads this can think of an example of having a really bad boss, the following alarming example of abusive management in the third world is the best (or worst) example I have found. The question is, could this “method” of management be coming to America’s shores next? Worse yet, is it already here?

More than a decade ago, shoe giant Nike came under fire for its use of sweatshop labor in the production of its products. Most of the criticism focused on its Indonesian workforce, where workers, largely young women, were forced to labor under harsh conditions and abusive supervisors. In 1997, filmmaker Michael Moore made Nike abuses a subject of his film “The Big One”, and met with Nike CEO Phil Knight. Knight explained that the reason his company was using low-wage labor in Indonesia is allegedly because “Americans don’t want to make shoes”.

At the Taiwanese-operated Pou Chen Group factory in Sukabumi, Indonesia, which makes Converse shoes for Nike, and PT Amara Footwear factory in Jakarta, workers alleged that they are paid ultra-low wages, regularly verbally and physically abused, and even fired for the act of taking sick leave (this has since become a fact of life in the American workplace as well). The 10,000 mostly female workers at the Taiwanese-operated Pou Chen plant make around 50 cents an hour. That’s enough, for food and bunkhouse-type lodging, but little else. Some workers interviewed by the AP in March and April described being hit or scratched in the arm ― one man until he bled.

An internal Nike report released to the AP found that ‘nearly two-thirds of 168 factories making Converse products worldwide fail to meet Nike’s own standards for contract manufacturers. Meanwhile, in 2010, Nike CEO Mark Parker received an 84 percent hike in his annual compensation, raking in $13.1 million, an amount many of the workers in Sukabumi and Jakarta can only dream of.

If the top 1% has their way, these kinds of workplace abuses and sweatshop conditions will be making their way to your workplace. Here in Georgia where I live (plus several other states, mostly in the Southeastern US) we have what are called “right to work” laws. Basically what it means is that anyone can be terminated for any reason, or sometimes for no reason at all. So no matter where you work, there is always this cloud of uncertainty hanging overhead, knowing that you can get canned without warning, even if you are doing everything right. Imagine what Jesus would say about this if He came back today! Would he be pleased? Absolutely not! So I would say that being forced to work in what amounts to a hostile work environment is just one more reason for us all to rise up against the top 1% and take back all that they have stolen from us. Our dignity, our human rights and our governmental, economic and political systems will be taken and confiscated from the rich no matter how long it takes!

The fact of the matter is that this type of brute-force management has lately spread from much of America’s professional life over into our personal lives, with the most obvious examples being the militarization of our police departments combined with the lost cause known as the “war on drugs”. In so doing, those who used to be sworn to protect and to serve have become those who harass and intimidate. They have become the lackeys of the top 1%, with some in law enforcement chomping at the bit for an opportunity to lock up a few people and bloody a few heads, if not worse. However, I also believe that there is no small number in the law enforcement community who realize that they are actually part of the 99%. When they do, and especially when they realize that they are just pawns for the 1%, they will join us in droves, coming over to our side having realized that they were only being contemptuously used to guard what the 1% has hoarded at the expense of all the rest of us, including themselves.

The police arms race has very clearly spread well beyond the urban borders of the only cities to actually be targeted by foreign terrorists. Now, police officers routinely walk the beat armed with assault rifles and garbed in black full-battle uniforms. The extent of this weapon “inflation” does not stop with high-powered rifles, either. In recent years, police departments both large and small have acquired bazookas, machine guns, and even armored vehicles and tanks for use in domestic police work, as if such things were truly needed. They aren’t.

The most serious consequence of the rapid militarization of American police forces, however, is the subtle evolution in the mentality of the “men in blue” from peace officer to urban soldier. This development is absolutely critical and represents a fundamental change in the nature of law enforcement. The primary mission of a police officer traditionally has been to keep the peace. Those whom an officer suspects to have committed a crime are treated as just that — suspects. Police officers are expected, under the rule of law, to protect the civil liberties of all citizens, even the bad guys. For domestic law enforcement, a suspect in custody remains innocent until proven guilty. Moreover, police officers operate among a largely friendly population and have traditionally been trained to solve problems using a complex legal system; the deployment of lethal violence is supposed to be an absolute last resort.

Soldiers, on the other hand, are trained to identify and kill the enemy. This is a problem. Cops are increasingly seeing the citizens they’re hired to protect as ‘the enemy’. This is in part how nonviolent protesters end up tear-gassed and shot at. This is part of why violence is so often the first resort of cops dealing with any sort of tricky situation, rather than the last. The idea that we need our cops to be the heavily armed soldiers of the streets instead of, say, social workers and peacekeepers with the power to arrest leads to bad recruiting, bad training, unnecessary deaths, mass distrust of the police by vulnerable communities, and the contemptuous feeling of many cops that they themselves are above the law.

The trend toward a more militarized domestic police force began well before 9/11. It actually began in the early 1980s, as the Reagan administration added a new dimension of literalness to Richard Nixon’s declaration of a “war on drugs.” Reagan declared illicit drugs a threat to national security. In 1981 he and a compliant Congress passed the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act, which allowed and encouraged the military to give local, state, and federal police access to military bases, research, and equipment. It authorized the military to train civilian police officers to use the newly available equipment, instructed the military to share drug-war-related information with civilian police and authorized the military to take an active role in preventing drugs from entering the country….

The September 11 attacks provided a new and seemingly urgent justification for further militarization of America’s police departments: the need to protect the country from terrorism. Within months of the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, the Office of National Drug Control Policy began laying the groundwork with a series of ads tying recreational drug use to support for terrorism. Terrorism became the new reason to arm American cops as if they were soldiers, but drug offenders would still be their primary targets. In a particularly egregious example comparable to going duck hunting with a bazooka, the seven police officers who serve the town of Jasper, Florida — which has all of 2,000 people and hadn’t had a murder in more than a decade — were each given a military-grade M-16 machine gun from the Pentagon transfer program, leading one Florida paper to run the headline, “Three Stoplights, Seven M-16s.”

In 2006 alone, the Department of Defense distributed vehicles worth $15.4 million, aircraft worth $8.9 million, boats worth $6.7 million, weapons worth $1 million and “other” items worth $110.6 million to local police agencies. After 9/11, police departments in some cities, including Washington, D.C., also switched to battle dress uniforms (BDUs) instead the traditional police uniform. Critics say even subtle changes like a more militarized uniform can change both public perception of the police and how police see their own role in the community. One such critic, retired police sergeant Bill Donelly, wrote in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, “One tends to throw caution to the wind when wearing ‘commando-chic’ regalia, a bulletproof vest with the word ‘POLICE’ emblazoned on both sides, and when one is armed with high tech weaponry.” Departments in places like Indianapolis and some Chicago suburbs also began acquiring machine guns from the military in the name of fighting terror….

The total number of SWAT deployments per year in the U.S. may now top 60,000, or more than 160 per day. SWAT teams have been used to break up neighborhood poker games, sent into bars and fraternities suspected of allowing underage drinking, and even to enforce alcohol and occupational licensing regulations. Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that the police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed. Never mind the collateral damage! Earlier this year, the Department of Education even sent its SWAT team to the home of someone suspected of defrauding the federal student loan program. In so doing, the inability to repay one’s student loan has now become criminalized. This is why we are occupying and will continue to occupy America. Being poor and broke is not a crime. We the American people will not stand idly by while poverty becomes criminalized. Enough is enough!

Class warfare has been declared upon us all by the top 1%, and the main assault against the remainder of us has already commenced. Starting with the Occupy Movement in September 2011, and the ‘We Are the 99%’ Movement at about the same time, the counterattack by the 99% against the elitist 1% has begun in earnest. In so doing, although a second American Civil War has been started by the wealthy elitists, it is we the people – the 99% – who comprise the overwhelming majority of America, and it is we who will finish it. In fact, this counterattack has already begun, it’s just that it wasn’t that apparent at first. It wasn’t supposed to be. In the next chapter I will shed as much light as I can on how this is occurring, and highlight a few methods about how this can be accomplished in as peaceful a manner as possible.

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You Want Change? Then It’s On You to Be That Change Which You Seek

Instead of Complaining About the Status Quo,

Become the Change You Desire and Live It

By Pastor Paul J. Bern

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We all need to look for ways to improve our lives and change our world for the better. We’re all here for a purpose. It’s why God put us all here. It’s nice to make and keep new year’s resolutions, put a troublesome person out of your life and break other old habits, but many more people are waking up to the fact that it’s smarter to improve our surroundings and make the kind of contributions that leave legacies than it is to merely break a bad habit. Breaking bad habits is good, but helping to build a better world is far better. To begin with, we can’t create a better world if we haven’t yet imagined it. How much better then, if we are able to touch such a world and experience it directly, can we enact in the here and now the world we actually want to live in. These kinds of organized grassroots efforts come in all shapes and sizes. At the bottom end of the scale we see Utopian flavored mass movements like “the 99%”, Black Lives Matter, the fight for a living wage, and Occupy Wall Street movements with their stands against inequality, and for free libraries, ethic of social and economic justice, and experiments in direct democracy. At the other extreme we see the ongoing civil war in Syria (and its predecessor, the Arab Spring of 2011) which continues to this day.

 

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality,” Buckminster Fuller once advised.“ To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” A brilliant insight, but he was only half right, because the best direct actions – and social movements – actually do both. Consider the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s. They were not only brave acts of resistance against the racism of the Jim Crow South, but they also beautifully and dramatically prefigured the kind of world the civil rights movement was trying to bring into being: blacks and whites sitting together as equals in public spaces. The young students didn’t ask anyone’s permission; they didn’t wait for society to evolve or for bad laws to change. In the best spirit of direct action, they walked in there and simply changed the world. At least for a few moments, in one place, they were living in an integrated South. They painted a picture of how the world could be, and the vicious response from white bystanders and police only proved how important it was to make it so.

 

Many people at the forefront of the nonviolent civil rights movement were moved to action by their Spiritual commitments. Be it the “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” of the Four Gospels, or Gandhi’s call to “Be the change you want to see in the world,” the ethical traditions of many religions have powerful roots in dogma that is largely the teachings of men. It is only when people of faith, such as followers of Jesus Christ like myself, try to live out their deep principles and actually walk their talk in the Spirit that they they tend to come up against the power of tradition. Jesus himself (who promised that anyone who followed his teaching would always be in trouble) was one of history’s more brilliant invaders of the human conscience. He didn’t merely argue that true greatness comes from humbly serving others, he illustrated it by washing his disciples’ dirty feet just before the Last Supper. By socializing with outcasts and the poor, visiting lepers, and always raising up “the least of these,” Jesus didn’t simply prophesy a future filled with a beloved community of believers, He made it manifest. And if Jesus did it, so should we!

 

With the dominance of market capitalism and its apologists proclaiming an “end of ideology” (whatever that is), provocations that stretch our political imaginations are more vital than ever. I would go a step further, arguing that we need to bring back Utopian thinking. Utopian thinking is necessary, because it provides a compass point to determine what direction to move toward and a measuring stick to determine how far one has come. However, in an era of media saturation and distrust, this is increasingly hard to do via criticism alone. Using dystopian visions to sound the alarm – a more and more popular strategy – is just another form of criticism that leaves the status quo standing. What is needed instead are direct interventions that both embody and point toward Utopian possibilities. Contemporary social movements, it turns out, are chock full of them.

 

Of course, we all know that this has about as much chance of occurring as the WTO has of abolishing itself, that GE is actually going to give back the taxes it dodged, or that DuPont is finally going to do the right thing and compensate the 100,000 victims of the Bhopal chemical spill for decades of suffering. Could we possibly ever live in such a world? “Yeah”, people are saying, “why don’t we live in such a world?” And we’re more motivated to go out there to make it happen!

 

In 2006 members from a coalition of environmental groups posed as a government agency – the Oil Enforcement Agency – that should have existed, but didn’t. Complete with SWAT-team-like caps and badges, agents ticketed SUVs, impounded fuel-inefficient vehicles at auto shows, and generally modeled a future in which government takes climate change seriously. Clever protest campaigns can bring little shards of utopia not just into the streets but also into our elections and even legislatures. When Jello Biafra ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1979, one of the planks in his platform called for beat cops to be voted on by the neighborhoods they patrolled. Once out in the open, this and other seemingly radical ideas were revealed as the reasonable proposals they were, and thousands of San Franciscans voted for Jello.

 

Even legislation can be Utopian. A legislative bill called, “What Would Finland Do?” aims to introduce a bill in the New York legislature to prorate traffic fines according to the net wealth of the driver. It wouldn’t pass, but a lot of New Yorkers might think: “Why not?” and the long fight for greater economic equality might inch a tiny bit forward. (Finland, by the way, has such a law, and in 2004 the 27-year-old heir to a sausage fortune was fined $204,000 for driving 50 miles per hour in a 25 mph zone.) Whether religious or artistic, a playful thought experiment, or a serious attempt to be true to one’s values in the face of state violence, Utopian engagement allows us to experience for ourselves (and demonstrate to others), that another world is necessary, possible, and maybe even beautiful.

 

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