WE CAN GET THERE FROM HERE
by Mike and Melanie Masching
Mike Masching is the only one of 160 Caterpillar workers discharged during the 1993 strike for union activity who has not been permitted to return to work. The UAW union has refused to demand his reinstatement, and instead has submitted his complaint to arbitration. Melanie teaches junior high school in central Illinois. ED
We recently had dinner with friends of many years. The conversation ranged from careers, families, and politics, to homes and landscaping. Prior to meeting them we said we wanted to bring up a particular topic, the social injustices within our system. We had never discussed this topic with them, but they knew that we are involved in activities which we consider necessary for providing a brighter tomorrow.
Though our friends share the same hopes and dreams for the future as we do, they didn't seem to be hopeful that change is possible. As we gently approached issues and possible solutions, they seemed overwhelmed by our hopeful attitude towards change. Their response was, "Masching, you might as well learn to live with it, because you're never going to change the system." Michael responded, "Oh, I have no intention of changing the system ... I have a more powerful thought. We are going to encourage people everywhere to realize that through their desire for a better tomorrow, change is possible." Our friends wished us well in a task that, in their eyes, seemed overwhelming.
As we were driving home, we asked ourselves the question, Why don't our friends want to discuss the injustices of society? They both had plenty to add regarding the injustices at their individual workplaces. So it wasn't that they didn't want to discuss "injustices" per se; rather the "solutions" seemed to be the overwhelming part for them. We came to the conclusion that people like our friends feel this way because they feel they have no control over what takes place outside their corner of the world, so they'd rather not discuss it than discuss it and feel powerless.
HOW CAN WE BE A PART OF CHANGE?
WOW! How could we ever be part of a revolutionary movement? It does sound overwhelming. We both remember our first thoughts when we were considering our involvement in this movement. And we must admit that "overwhelmed" would best describe our feelings.
But building a revolutionary movement doesn’t have to be overwhelming if we put it into perspective and break it down a bit. "Revolutionary" means to change fundamentally or completely. A "movement" consists of people engaged in a series of organized activities working towards an objective. Neither definition comes with any sort of time restraints. Further, since movement implies motion, to reach our goal we also need to understand four factors: (1) where we are; (2) how we got there; (3) why we remain there; and (4) what it will take to move forward.
Melanie was recently very impressed with the featured guest on a TV talk show, life strategist Phil McGraw, Ph.D. People asked him how to get "there"—to a better time and place. He responded that in order to get "there," you first must be aware of where you are. The directions for getting to Chicago differ drastically depending upon whether you're currently in New York or California. Until people truly understand where our society is, we will remain at worst motionless, at best moving with no sense of direction.
We would like to share some thoughts on these key factors. (We are not going to address "how we got there," since the answer could be quite complex.)
WHERE WE ARE
Just by turning on the television or reading the newspaper, we can see where we are as a society. While Melanie was recently reading the local newspaper, the following headline jumped out at her: "X Corporation donates $3000 to Boys and Girls Club." Well, quite frankly, $3000 is only milk money to Corporation X. They don't even blink an eye while writing out a check for such a paltry amount. Why do we see major corporations economically raping employees, while giving token gifts to visible community projects? Consider this for a moment. If corporations were willing to pay employees a decent wage, the employees in the community would be able to support the community projects themselves. That could be dangerous for the corporate sponsors, however. If the people were able to support these projects, then they would have a sense of ownership, and the corporations would lose their ability to prey on the people who partake in the projects. In addition, they would lose having their hand in innocent people's lives. Do we really need our children walking around with T-shirts displaying corporate logos? These very corporations are the ones who refuse to treat their employees with dignity! Talk about subliminal brainwashing! While wearing their Boys & Girls Club T-shirts, these children serve as walking billboards promoting the very corporations who contradict the values and morals of human society.
We're also at a place in society where individuals in the work force are feeling more like a liability to their employer than an asset. They're being made to feel like their "output" equals their "being." This is very good for the corporate CEOs. Keep the struggling employee feeling like he's the "problem." He'll be much more likely to succumb to the employer if he feels like he has to succumb or he'll lose his job. We know that people resist equating their self-worth with their output in their personal lives, yet at work we are told that YOU—not the machine you're running—are the problem.
WHY WE REMAIN THERE
Why do we, as a society, remain in this unhealthy place? There must be a psychological reason behind it, as there is certainly no justifiable reason for it. It doesn't feel good to us. It is far from healthy. It's certainly not in our best interest. It doesn't allow us to think for ourselves. Why do we remain here?
Many of us, not unlike our friends, feel powerless to change anything. Because we feel powerless, we tell ourselves, "Don’t rock the boat," or "Things aren't that bad." Well, things are that bad. Things are worse than bad. And until we realize the "place we're at," we cannot go forward.
There is a process that all of us are subjected to by the capitalist system that makes us feel isolated and weak. Our strength as human beings and our real sense of fulfillment come from our solidarity and relationships with each other. But the system is always attacking these relationships. There is so much stress and anxiety now in all facets of day-to-day living, stress that is continuously brought on by the drumbeat of competition.
Take this example. A preschool child is watching cartoons and is told that if his parents buy this brand over that brand they will be "better than Tommy's family." When he enters the educational system, the child is constantly bombarded with competitiveness: keeping the "competitive edge," being in the top percentage of your class, etc. It doesn't stop there. It continues through adolescence and well into adulthood. We are bombarded with the style of car we drive, the name brand of clothing that we wear, the ever-changing hairstyles that attempt to identify who we are. We are told that all of these external factors define our "self-worth." Our eyes are constantly being focused on what we are supposed to need to attain acceptance.
When we are kept in this mode of competition among ourselves, it really becomes hard for all of us to see the similarities that do join us together which could enable us to change the system that has failed us greatly. When we first meet someone, rather than defining them based on their surface level— their clothes, car, hairstyle, brand name of shoe, or perhaps where they live—we, as human beings, have a burning inner desire to recognize and be recognized for ourselves. This, we feel, the capitalist system can never provide: human bonds among people based on our true shared worth as human beings. Capitalism creates an opposite effect that can only be satisfied by the drive for profit-making and materialistic possessions.
We pose the following question: Is the capitalist system really meeting our needs or is it undermining our needs by giving us artificial motivators which actually result in feelings of inadequacy and isolation? We don't want to take on these feelings, yet we fall prey to these decoys that they use to create these feelings in us. The capitalist system can only provide the emptiness of false gratification through materialism.
This may seem very simplified, but as we see it, inequality in the distribution of our resources and the drive to control seems to be eroding away some basic needs and values that we as a civilization were meant to share and enjoy equally together. Now, being realistic, we don't believe that anything totally equal is fair, or that fair means totally equal. However, all human beings have certain basic needs. To fulfill our humanity, we need a society in which we are working together to make this world a better place for all, not competing in a rat race.
HOW TO MOVE FORWARD
There’s another side of "Where we are" that is completely ignored by the media and covered up by the corporations. This is the resistance to the system we each partake in daily to combat the attacks upon our humanity. This resistance includes our relationships and helping one another, rather than "getting ahead." We do this in our families and we do it at work, when we support each other because it’s the right thing to do.
If all of us were to look at the whole world without the competitive lens clouding our vision and see the world as a workable puzzle, a solution would be on the horizon. Look at your family or "corner of the world" as one piece of the puzzle. While looking at your own puzzle piece, think about your everyday relationships. In those relationships, do you:
If you answered yes to many of those questions, your puzzle piece fits into the finished picture of a better society. And with each additional piece, not only are we closer to a solution, but a beautiful picture. For it is only when the puzzle pieces come together that we are able to form that beautiful mosaic—a world in which we see that indeed, the ties that unite us are far more powerful than any ties that could ever distinguish us from one another, be they race, religion, gender, profession, political affiliation, or personal interests.
Mike has had the privilege over the past twenty years to travel abroad as well as within the United States. During this period, he has had a variety of goals to accomplish. Fortunately, those goals have always centered around families and their basic needs. He has always drawn the conclusion that people’s fundamental needs and desires are essentially the same. From those who were so hungry that he could hardly turn his back on them to continue on his journey, to those who only wanted what they rightfully deserve to be able to sustain a livable standard of life, he was able to recognize the similarities uniting the human race. With a single hug and a look in their eyes, he has always experienced a unity for longing and friendship.
Could this possibly be the foundation for a revolutionary movement? Could this be the common thread that is woven into a fabric to clothe us all with the comfort of unity? A revolutionary movement should acknowledge the strengths and motivations that we all mutually exhibit and then share them daily.
While Michael was growing up on his family's small central Illinois farm, there was a newspaper clipping strategically placed for all to see in their bathroom cabinet. Its message of few words has always lingered in his head as he grew up searching for the reasoning behind it. It read something like this: "Challenge yourself to perform some act of kindness or perform a task to lighten the load of another today, but do not let them or anyone else know that you did it or it will not count." Michael feels that this may be perhaps the most influential message he has ever received. Not only did it offer direction, but it also allowed for him to see that others were doing the same towards him.
There is no reason to be overwhelmed by the task of building a revolutionary movement. Think of builders beginning a construction project. Just to look at the final print might seem overwhelming. So the engineer breaks down the project into very explicit, simplified drawings that will need to be completed by all the many craftsmen in order to complete the final project. As craftsmen, we cannot be overwhelmed by the print of the completed project. Instead we must follow the detailed print for our craft, skills, and abilities, and know that completion of our task is every bit as important as the next craftsman's. Everyone's input is equally important and without everyone's view and skills, the entire project will be delayed and less complete.
The revolutionary movement aims to build a world that brings together the million pieces of mosaic from all of our lives into a beautiful picture. That is the blueprint of what we wish to build. Now let us each identify the skills that we are able to contribute to building a revolutionary movement.
Originally published in New Democracy Newsletter, November - December 1998.