David Gay is an independent scholar in Folklore and Medieval Studies who writes about folktales, romances, and the historical ethnography of Europe, in addition to political and economic issues.
I am a Quaker and a socialist. The two are very much intertwined in my mind, because they show me both how to move through this divided and violent world and that peaceful and just ways of acting and thinking are not only possible, they are necessary.
Being a pacifist is often equated with being passive in people’s minds. But that’s wrong: being a pacifist means that you are committed to peace, and work actively for it. In the world today it’s one of the most radical things that you can do: violence of many kinds surrounds us, ranging from the brutal physical violence of the wars to the also brutal economic violence of the ongoing class warfare, and many are stunned into silence by its cruelty and ferocity.
We have just passed through an election cycle, and the normal thing to do is relax for a while. But now is not the time for resting. Now is the time to act on our beliefs and to push for the things that we know should be done. Now is the time to start making noise. Don’t be afraid to get out and make noise; as the proverb goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
We know that Social Security is under threat, so write your congressman and senator and the vice president and president, participate in organized groups against privatizing or cutting Social Security, Medicare, and other social welfare programs: in other words, be active and forceful in the defense of what you know to be good.
The Right has made concepts like entitlements and welfare into bad words, but they are not. Entitlement programs such as Social Security are called that because, after many years of both you and your employers contributing into the fund for you, you are entitled to the benefits. It’s not the government giving you a handout, as many on the right imply.
The Right made welfare into a bad word too; but welfare refers to the well-being of people, and thus caring for their welfare is simply caring for their well-being. Our current economic system assures that there will be unemployed and underemployed people, and homeless people, and the working poor who still need help. Caring for the welfare of the people of the world is a Christian thing to do; it’s a socialist thing to do; it’s a humane thing to do. Creating a system in which the totality of the people of the world are cared for is not some pie-in-the-sky utopian vision; we have the capacity to do just that, take care of all the people of the world, to assure that they would not starve, that they will have good education and medical care, yet we do not do it because we are still too often committed to inhumane visions of the world in which oppression, selfishness, and violence play a key role. Yet, in truth, if the will were there, the money would be there; and it’s far cheaper, and far less wasteful, to feed and care for the people of the world than it is to dominate the people of the world through violence and fear.
Social spending and entitlement programs, like Welfare and Social Security, have done a world of good for people, and for the country, and thus should be continued. But the Right has wanted to shut them down from the moment they were passed; we know the stories about the welfare queens (all of the stories are urban legends, by the way), about the nanny-state, and the other ways that the Right has tried to demonize and trivialize these important programs. And until the Right becomes enlightened enough to see that these programs have worked, and are working, for the good of the country, we of the left will be in an endless war with the Republicans over these programs.
The fights for these programs are only a beginning in the larger struggle for peace and social and economic justice that must be waged. Some we will lose, but it is important that we must then recover quickly and move on to the next battle, and the next. We will also win many of our battles, as we have in the past. We must not stop because we lose a battle, nor should we buy into the assumptions that the Republicans would have us accept about the funding for these programs, or about the economy, or any number of other topics.
Compromise is no longer possible; the far right wing of the Republican party, which now dominates it, has shown us that. They have declared war on those of us to the left of them, and on the middle and working classes, the poor, minorities and immigrants, and women. Their lies and distortions have poisoned American political discourse and misled generations of Americans with false economic, social, and political ideas; these ideas are corrosive of democracy and true freedom. We must fight against the lies of the Right, always being sure that we do not succumb to the propaganda of the Right, because otherwise we will face, as Orwell so vividly suggested, an eternity of oppression with the oppressor’s boot grinding down on our faces.
Even with the Democratic win Tuesday, we have to continue to fight for what we know is right. There should be no space between this win and our efforts to protect what is under threat, and to push for what we know is right and should be done. And we must continue this fight for the foreseeable future, knowing that we may not see the final good results in our lifetimes. The great artist and socialist William Morris wrote that it was necessary for him to be in the fight for socialism, even though he wouldn’t see it in his time, because it was the right thing to do. This fight is still upon us, and growing more important by the day.
We must thus build a Left that can accomplish our goals: the seeds are out there — old groups as disparate as the Quakers and the IWW are still there, and Occupy Wall Street has shown us that new groups are being born.
We have all seen the disasters, some still ongoing (as at Fukushima in Japan). We have all seen the illegal and immoral wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and so many other signs of the cruelty of the current world system, that make it so easy to become overwhelmed, and that make it so easy to simply quit. But the need is for people on the Left to do exactly the opposite.
Now is the time to have the fire to challenge the system. Now is the time to make noise.