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'We the People' or 'I the Person'?

Linda Wagner Schmoldt

There is a concerted effort these days by the powers that be to break down the structures that allow people to come together.

It is no accident that we see the Supreme Court taking rights and power away from groups of citizens and workers while increasing the powers of the ruling class and corporations. On state and federal levels we see rulings that restrict the formation of unions, negate collective bargaining, and squelch class-action suits.

It is harder and harder to hold public demonstrations and protests as codes, laws, and fees limit where, when and how we can gather. We have lost many of our common spaces--places where we can come together and speak truth to power. The rights of civic/social leaders and organizers are threatened with scrutiny and abuse. Exorbitant prison sentences and fines are imposed on those who gather to protest and/or do civil disobedience. The making of crowd control devices is a strong industry in the U.S. (and in our ally, Israel.) We are becoming a police state and the military is waiting in the wings.

When the news covers demonstrations they always focus on the most radical looking people. They don’t show the old women and the families walking peacefully with their children. The media relishes any show of violence or aggression. The message is clear. These people are not like you. People like you don’t take to the street and protest. We are taught to fear the masses.

And what shall we gather around? It becomes more and more difficult to sort out truth from lies, especially when the lies are echoed across the corporate-owned media and halls of power. Support for Wiki-leaks, or any other organization that exposes the truth behind what is really going on, is labeled as treason. There is a crack down on whistleblowers.

Terrorist alerts and the nightly news, as a police blotter of all the crimes we need to fear, forces us to stay in our homes, to be suspicious of our neighbors and to be fearful of anyone who differs in skin tone, speech, culture or way of life. Report your neighbors; don’t talk to them.

Whole groups of people get labeled as a threat to our security, whether it is gays who want to marry, immigrants who want to earn a fair wage for their labors, teachers and other public “servants” who want to claim the money set aside for their health care or retirement. Our enemies and those we can’t trust increase daily.

We are taught that what are most important are our rights as individuals. Our god is free-enterprise, the unchecked, unregulated right to make as much as we like, even at the expense of our society and our earth. We see regulations as a threat to our individual rights to do business and make a profit.

We are urged to think of ourselves first. If I am not old, why should I pay for those on Social Security or Medicare? If I don’t have children, why should I care about education? If I’m not gay, not an illegal immigrant, not unemployed, not losing my house, not confronting an unwanted pregnancy…

And when crisis affects me, I will blame myself. I will think I am alone. I will think I have to solve my own problems. I certainly won’t blame a broken social system.

Across the world there are huge demonstrations. The powers that be are threatened by masses of people in other countries who force their leaders to put the good of their society ahead of individual and corporate interests. Note the reaction to any resource industry being nationalized. In Venezuela we have spent millions to bring down the popularly-elected Hugo Chavez who has nationalized the oil production and channeled the profits to fund social programs. That’s one of the actions that Muammar Gaddafi was threatening to do as well.

Countries or leaders that might want to put their people first are a threat. We constantly hear about the high taxes individuals pay in socialist countries. If we knew the truth we might start to compare how other countries empower their people by meeting their basic needs--that when the needs of the community are put ahead of individual rights, everyone benefits. We are told the myth that the U.S. is number one and do not see the abysmal ranking of our country on meeting social needs.

To those who want to protect their greedy accumulation of wealth and power, We the people (anywhere) are a scary proposition. God forbid that we should come together and discover our commonality and our strength. We might demand education that teaches us to think. We might start to question. We might want transparency in government or demand truth in the media. We might demand justice and equity, a say over our daily lives.

It is effective to keep us isolated. To use wedge issues to keep us divided. To make us think we aren’t connected to the rest of the world. To keep us suspicious and fearful. To keep us ignorant. To keep us focused on “I the person.”

We, together, are obviously a huge threat, otherwise why is so much effort being expended to keep us apart? Some people this Fourth of July will celebrate their independence and the rights they have as individuals. A few will recognize our interdependence. They realize that we can’t do it alone, that we need community and that democracy is about We the People, not I the Person.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Linda Wagner Schmoldt

Linda Wagner Schmoldt is a “wonderer, wanderer, writer and social agitator” who lives in Portland, Oregon.

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