Saturday, August 22, 2009

No Popular Uprising From the Sick and Tired

Late last month, there was talk of the possibility of a popular uprising in the United States. It was a far-fetched notion to begin with, and now, that talk has died away. The town hall meetings on health care have taken all the steam out of that movement.

There is an enormous level of suspicion about any supposed grass roots movement at this point. It cannot be a grass roots effort if it is run from New York, Washington, and London. The largest group of agitators at the town hall meetings were health care and insurance employees. Some of the most visible turned out to be lobbyists and Republican staffers, and they appeared to be coordinating their efforts. There was an undercurrent of racism among the people who went to disrupt the town hall meetings. After you see the photo of Obama with a Hitler mustache added and hear the rhetoric from the people carrying it, it is hard to escape the suspicion that their real objective is to prevent black people from getting access to health care. Some of the rhetoric we heard was so unfamiliar, so disconnected from the American political discussion, that people wonder whether it was domestic in origin. Those who are less charitable are asking if the people speaking out so vehemently against institutions and policies that exist only in their imaginations are merely crazy. So there is a strong chance that it is not a grass roots movement at all, or if it is, it is the plantation owners coming to get us.

A popular uprising can’t get going if the people who seem to be at the center of it are more worrisome than the government is. It also can’t get going if activists are so divided. The revelation that some of the political action against health care was orchestrated by a political strategist paid with Whole Foods Market money (the supermarket chain’s position is that people should just eat healthy food, like the products they sell, and then they probably won’t need health care) has some activists working on a boycott of Whole Foods Market. When activists work against each other, the powerful interests that actually run things can just sit back and watch.

And people are tired. I saw it in the television pictures of the town hall meetings. When you see how tired people get from a two-hour forum, you understand why so few people stand in line to vote. The Hollywood notion that a popular uprising starts with people saying, “I’m sick and tired and I’m not going to take it anymore,” strikes a chord with people who feel powerless, but the reality is otherwise. Only the strong and energetic can lead any kind of movement. There are not nearly so many strong and energetic people in the United States as we like to imagine.