This story was originally published in March of 2011. Since that time the schisms have deepened and the anger grown more intense. We felt it was time to revisit this essay and humbly submit it to our readers one more time. Peace.
JPR and MJT
Even though we find ourselves on the outer shoals of a few fallen empires, living a rather bubble existence in the midst of a chaotic nation, we do feel that recent world events, from Madison, Wisconsin to al-Manāma in the U.A.E., merit a brief comment.
As our regular readers know, one of us used to be a history teacher in Brooklyn. At the end of most years he’d challenge the students with a thought experiment by way of review. The students would be asked, knowing what they now knew, which side they’d choose to be on in the moral struggles that defined American history. Directly, they would be asked: Would you have chosen to be on the side of resistance to brutality or the side that imposed brutal order? Would you prefer to have trudged alongside brother and sister on the Trail of Tears, or have been a paid centurion, hustling the old and infirm to uncertainty, depredation and death? Would you prefer to have received the lash or given it on the plantation? Would you prefer to have been a striking miner shot in the back protecting a neighbor in Ludlow, Colorado or the Pinkerton who pulled the trigger? Would you have marched with Dr. King and received the beatings, or would you have stood with Bull Connor and held the cudgel?
Or would you have sat on the fence, quiet as a mouse, not daring to offend?
To our minds, those ruminations are transferable to the history of any nation, and inevitably lead to a much larger question, one that we would hope the students wrestled with over their summer breaks. Fundamentally, it is this: Does each human being have inherent value, or are some of them just parts to be removed, destroyed or otherwise disposed of when the larger machine demands greater efficiency, greater output, greater rewards for the strong?
To our minds, how someone answers that question goes a damn-sight further to evince their true belief in a soul than could decades in a church, temple or mosque.
Fundamentally, it is this question: Do we matter?
Conventional wisdom up North says it is wrong to make comparisons between what is happening in Wisconsin, where public sector workers are fighting to maintain their rights to collectively bargain, with the Middle East, where people are fighting for the more existential issues of being allowed to live a life free of fear, oppression and unrestrained state brutality. We, at La Cuadra, agree — but only to a point.
These movements are each struggling towards social, political and economic justice. And in each unique situation, the solutions are being forged by turning away from leaders and towards one another. So, sure, the situations are vastly different, but whether it’s the Wisconsin State House or Tahrir Square, people are expressing a root truth about what is right and what is wrong. And it is wrong to stand by, silently, while your brothers and sisters are being harmed.
The protestors are showing those of us on the outer shoals of empire, again, that when someone comes to take from you, or from those you love, there are still individuals who will place their bodies in front of the lash, the tractor, the tommy-gun or the tank to defend our common humanity by laying themselves, in fear and solidarity, on the line. And they are doing it for one another. Because they believe that one another matter.
As for the governors and governments who sense it is in their interest to break the solidarity of their citizenry, we humbly suggest a Bible verse. Specifically, Genesis, 4:9. Way back then, while still in Eden, God asked a question and we seriously screwed up the answer. As a species, we’ve continued to screw it up time and time again over the past several thousand years.
But the universe never stops asking and we always have the chance to get it right — this time. Are we our brother’s keeper? Because if not us, then who?
So we send our love and our solidarity to those in the grand struggle tonight, because if we matter, then so does the side we choose. Always.
MJT and JPR