This weekend I watched the newly released movie ‘Serena,’ directed by Susanne Bier and starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. The source material for the movie, the book ‘Serena,’ written by Ron Rash of Appalachia, takes place in North Carolina at the beginning of the great depression in the 1930s. ‘Serena’ is a riveting tale of greed and the obsession for power. The main characters are George and Serena Pemberton, husband and wife timber barons hell-bent on cutting down every tree in the country (and even in Brazil). And they will stop at nothing. It’s not so much about money as it is power … obsession with power to the point of being psychopathic.
Partially based on true events, a major sub plot included is the United States government wanting their land for a proposed national park. This park would eventually become The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To counter this threat and accumulate more power, the Pemberton buy politicians, law enforcement officers and kill anyone remotely suspected not being on their side.
The tale is Shakespearian, specifically Macbeth – with Serena being Lady Macbeth, the driver in the relationship. She is the equal of any man in the mountains. Serena even travels with an eagle that hunts rattlesnakes. And the snake symbolizes the ruthlessness of their efforts and intentions.
Serena … revisisted
It’s now 2015 and it appears the Pembertons have risen from the dead. We need to look no further than last week’s Republican CPAC convention where as their slogan says, “Conservatism Starts Here.” In attempts to rally their ardent followers, 2016 GOP presidential candidates and other faithful spewed venom far and wide. Of course their primary targets were Obama and the democrats. But it didn’t stop there.
Scott Walker, one the GOP frontrunners, figuratively connected the peaceful protesters in his home state of Wisconsin to the murdering zealots of ISIS (even if he is backtracking a bit). This is Madison, Wisconsin – once considered a nest for progressive discourse during the civil rights movement of the ’60s. Not to be outdone, Phil Robertson, patriarch of the ‘Duck Dynasty’ reality television show, went so far to say AIDS was payback for the hippies ‘godless’ wanton behavior. And this is just the start of the twenty month mass media propaganda deluge disguised as the American 2016 presidential campaign. We can only imagine what the media has in store for us next. And neither political party is immune from nonsensical ideology.
No matter how these politicians are legitimized, they not leaders, they are addicts. Only their addiction is political power, influence and money rather than heroin, cocaine or alcohol. And their addictions are just as strong. But while substance addictions are mainly self-destructive, addictions of the former destroy others. And the others being us.
Being 2015, it’s not just our timber and landscape being ravished. Now it’s virtually everything. Down to basic tenants of the constitution this country was founded on, nothing is off-limits. Whether it’s ravenous multi-billionaires; tax-evading, oil spilling, “above the law” corporations; or even our own government … the resemblance to the Pembertons in ‘Serena’ is uncanny.
The Koch brothers, the godfathers of disgust (through their political front ‘Americans for Prosperity’), along with gluttonous corporations such as Exxon Mobile, Wal-Mart, Morgan Stanley, Monsanto and others – are the Pembertons of today. Their henchmen, rather than Rhys Ifans’s character Galloway in ‘Serena’ … are our beloved, paid-off, elected officials. And worse yet these ‘officials’ tell us their actions (or inactions) are good for us. After all, isn’t anything that produces ‘jobs’ what this country is all about – no matter how detrimental to society the by-product may be? You could literally substitute George Pemberton with Mitch McConnell or John Boehner as Bradley Cooper stands on his soap boxes cursing the alleged demons of environmental oversight and stewardship in front of a group indentured loggers.
My home state of Montana is on the front lines of this hideous mockery of popular grassroots sponsored legislation. ‘Americans for Prosperity’ operatives have practically set up cots on the capitol chamber floor in their “24/7” pursuit to ‘arm-wrench’ state legislators to assume control over federal lands so their daddies, the Koch brothers, can rape and pillage the Montana forests – Pemberton style.
The institutions created to serve us have turned on us. They have become nothing more than pawns of the perverse oligarchy in their ivory towers. And it will not get better. These institutions and the special interests that fill their pockets will not magically become enlightened … especially the government. The decisions they make only benefit themselves, and those that insure their political longevity … not us. And we are naive to think any different.
The recent superbug outbreak in the UCLA hospital in California has highlighted this fact. Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, the only microbiologist in Congress, has repeatedly warned of this type of phenomena happening. Yet thirty years of attempts at legislations curtailing the exorbitant use of antibiotics in our food supply have been stymied by the big-pharma lobbying money and the politicians they buy off. What will it take to break these unsavory ties … deaths piling up from routine cuts or trips to the doctor’s office?
The democracy created by Jefferson, Madison, Adams and Franklin is long dead and nothing more than a relic of the past. In the beginning politicians were leaders and were chosen to make decisions for the populus because they were more learned. Today I’m willing to bet that the people reading this piece are every bit as informed and learned as their supposed elected representatives, and a whole lot less narcissistic. And no mythical Phoenix will rise from the ashes in Washington or for that matter in any state house to change that.
The people can prevail however
But not all is lost. In the tale of Serena, the Pembertons and the evil they embodied are eventually toppled through the nobel efforts of the beleaguered workers of the Pemberton logging empire. We can do the same. But as long as we let these obscene institutions and their conspiring maniacal excuses for capitalists keep us dependent on them – they will win. And we will be nothing more than modern-day serfs.
But we can recreate this country’s original participatory vision, a vision born from American compassion, ingenuity and self-reliance by the founding fathers and mothers of the United States. This is the vision that is other democracies wish to emulate … not the one we wake up to every morning staring at us in our morning newspaper.
To do this we must regain control of our communities and our neighborhoods, the footholds of our daily lives – where we spend our time. We must take back the streets where we live and work. We must take back our parks and create new ones. We must build our cities for us … not for an automobile culture designed to ferry people out of their neighborhoods to mass replicated Wall Street box stores.
And we must take responsibility for the preparedness of our young, the future of our country. We must resist the assumption that schools will be the all-encompassing answer (however well-intended they may be). As communities, we must provide the support and mentoring most often ignored. For it’s the young, when properly educated and emotionally adjusted, that will be our Davids in the face of Goliath.
There are signs of hope
We have reason to believe there is hope though. Just last week, the people through our relentless internet barrage of millions of comments, letters, tweets and posts – persuaded the FCC to keep the internet neutral. This was no small feat considering the millions of dollars cable companies and internet providers poured into Congress and the media. We will see if this decision holds up however. Goliath will not go easily into the night.
Oversees, Greece elected a ‘people first’ administration to lead them in the fight against the oligarchy and the Euro bank overlords. While by no means is Greece’s war on austerity over – its Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, have won initial concessions to stave off the wolves from the door. We’ll see how strong their door is and wish them luck.
Elsewhere in Europe, Spain braces for an election this year in which the Podemos party, originated in the aftermath of the 2011–12 Spanish protests, is gaining support fighting against inequality and corruption. It’s leader Pablo Iglesias, found his inspiration in the 2010 Occupy Wall Street movement.
But for every Tsipras and Iglesia there is a Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far right National Front party, stirring up the anti-immigrant ‘roll back time’ sentiment by riding the coat-tails of the reaction to Paris Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks.
We must find the strength in our neighborhoods
Taking back our neighborhoods, our cities and our countries won’t be easy. We must shun the Wal-Marts, the Targets and rest of the Wall Street owned purveyors of consumerist conformity. We must treat them like the plague. We must do same to the McDonalds, the Taco Bells, the Popeyes and the plethora of other low quality chain junk food pushers. Our local restaurants, bars and stores are owned by our friends and neighbors. These are the places that give our communities, our little part of the world, its personality and individuality. And these are the places and people who are dependent on us for their survival. And we can’t let them die. Because if they do … a part of us dies too.
And our diligence is especially important. City governments and municipalities routinely hand over the keys to the city to outside corporate conglomerates in hopes they will be the proverbial “white knight, in the white hat on the white horse.” Seldom, if ever, does this work out though. Rural, suburban and even urban communities are littered with a plethora of stories of corporate subsidies pledged in return of promises of “jobs.” Oh that word “jobs;” it’s as intoxicating as the snake with the apple in the garden of Eden. But the apple and the snake … that didn’t work out either.
Capitalism, as like democracy, can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing. But it’s up to us to make sure it exists for the benefit of the community, the commons … not the few with unfettered public access via money. We have gotten complacent, assuming once an institution is put in place, it will forever work the way we idealistically believed – without any effort on our part. Like anything, capitalism and democracy need constant oversight and maintenance, no different from a car … or even yourself.
With the 2010 the United States Supreme Court “Citizens United” decision, democracy and in turn capitalism has come under frontal assault. It has opened the flood gates to corporate and “Pemberton” like money primarily designed to help irresponsible mega-corporations in their malignant metastization attacking our communities.
But remember it’s only money.
Unfortunately the embedded structural corruption in Washington and most state capitols prevent us from just “throwing out the bums” like in Europe. Our two-party only system virtually prohibits that. The bums are everywhere, regardless if their affiliation is Republican or Democrat. But as we found out, the people can en mass and reassert their power when sufficiently motivated. Well, it’s time to get motivated. We won’t be able to change the “Citizens United” decision, but we can change its effect.
Eventually we can starve these gluttonous behemoths until they wither from our communities and from our neighborhoods. And who knows, maybe they’ll even wither from our governments, giving us ones that serve us not the behemoths.
But most of all – we must ween ourselves from the illusion that government is on our side. We can do this by caring for each other instead. We can do this by sharing our possessions with our neighbors rather than looking at theirs with disdain and jealousy. We can do it by extending our hand (literally and figuratively) when we would normally … just walk by. And most of all we can do it by looking for opportunities to give … rather than for opportunities to receive. We all have it in us.
We just need to let it come out.
Note: To start, check out this wonderful organization run by my friends, LendOneHand.com.
You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg