20 years later … and has anything changed?

It was twenty years ago today, about 4:00 pm … I was awoken with a hospital orderly barking: ” You have to get up! It’s time for your crutch training. You have ten minutes, man – I gotta get out here!”

The day was April 29, 1992, otherwise known as Day 1 of the Rodney King Riots. For me, the day had dual meaning. Not only was the city of Los Angeles set ablaze – that Wednesday I had cancer surgery in Glendale, California, directly adjacent to Los Angeles. Fortunately the Fibrosarcoma in my leg was successfully excised, and later that day I was on my way … after my abbreviated crutch training of course. Living in path of the impending wrath, my orderly had one foot out the door.

The aftermath of the Rodney King Riots

The riots started in South Central Los Angeles (which is now politically incorrect to say) and marched north on Normandie Ave. to Koreatown in Mid-Wilshire. Koreatown was chosen because Korean shop owners in South L.A. had a reputation of overcharging the locals, especial the black community. So to focus on Koreatown was natural.

As it turned out, my surgery happened on a perfect day. I worked in Koreatown, on Normandie and Wilshire – the apex of the fury. The mob burned out my local gas station, my sandwich shop, my dry cleaners and numerous other stores I patronized on a regular basis, often daily. While I felt for these shop owners … I did not condone, by any means, their actions – but I held no contempt towards the demonstrators either.

The acquittal verdicts returned in favor of the police accused in the of beating Rodney King, was not only no justice for the black community … it was a slap in the face to those, who twenty-seven years earlier in this very city, had changed the course of civil rights in the United States. To these pioneers and their children, now grown – how much had really changed? Maybe on the surface, for appearances it had. But truly, in some people’s hearts, in their souls, obviously for it hadn’t. That was evident in that courtroom in Simi Valley.

Now we come to today April 29, 2012, exactly twenty years after the Rodney King uprising and almost fifty years since its predecessor, the Watt’s Riots … I ask you what’s changed.

If it were 2009, I would say a lot. After all a year earlier we had elected the nation’s first black president. We had turned the corner … or many thought, me included. But just as the awakening from the dormant state of the “seven-year Cicada” … so was the awakening of the racism that laid dormant in the souls of many Americans.

And joining in the chorus of hatred from the mouths of these racists has been bigotry, misogyny and homophobia. In my life I have never seen such divide in this country. The phrase “black and white” has extrapolated far past race to virtually every aspect of society. There is no grey area, no compromise. The Occupy Movement has brought to attention to the economic disparity between the 1% and the rest of us, the 99%. The presidential campaign of 2012 has shown the true lack of unity we have in this country. Social issue disagreement; decades dormant, if not assumed dead – has now taken center stage in the national dialogue with the introduction of “right-wing” Draconian legislative proposals. And tragically tied to this dialogue, is the assault on civil rights long thought of as being fundamental and untouchable.

Again, I ask; “20 years later … and has anything changed?”

We can pass laws and we can repeal laws. On the surface, things change – or they appear to. But down deep, in our hearts and our souls … I hope we know we still have a lot of work to do.

But what is it going to take for us to actually do it?

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I can found on Twitter at @clayforsberg

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“I never thought it could happen”

“Damn, is it already 5:00 am? I’ll never get used to that train. That reminds me though, I have to get that logistics report for our joint venture with Halliburton done today. I can’t believe I’d ever be working with a company that partners with Halliburton. But I guess there’s the upside. I get to go back up to the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota  … my old stomping grounds when I was a kid. God, I still can’t believe Dick Cheney’s still alive, especially after his second heart transplant last year. Doesn’t say much for the integrity of our transplant system.

“What’s the temperature out there today? Where’s my iPhone? Maybe if it’s not raining I can get out there for walk before the “Gestapo” hits the streets. I can’t believe that one post “The People Have the Power,” stirred up so much crap. And that was six years ago and I’m still on the radar. Thank God Alex “jail-broke” my phone so my real number is hidden when I use it. At least I can get my stuff out. I just hope it just keeps working, it’s seven years old.  I just hope.

It was six years ago during the summer of 2012, when it happened … when everything changed. The Trayvon Martin shooting and the resulting acquittal of his murderer, George Zimmerman, sparked an uprising not seen in this country since the Civil War. Violent clashes in virtually every metro area pitted the black community and the Occupy Movement against local police forces and the National Guard. After three weeks of bloodshed, the rebellion was beaten down. And then martial law was imposed. The United States had become a police state, with racism, bigotry and homophobia reigning front and center. There was no middle ground. Either you were with the government – or against it, and a target.

The 2012 presidential race was turned upside down. Mitt Romney, the assumed Republican nominee was depicted as being not conservative or strong enough and turned on. Through the unprecedented conservative financial support of the Koch Brothers and Carl Rove Super PACs, previously committed delegates flipped at the convention and nominated Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the author of the “Hunger Games budget.” Then it was “Game On!” In a close election, Ryan defeated Barak Obama and became the 45th president of the United States.

Over the next four years, Draconian civil and social policies were put in place. First it was privacy, or should I say the abolishment of it. Next was full-on censorship.  Twitter and Facebook no longer exist. In the name Homeland Security, anything you did or said was fair game for the government to act on. You thought SOPA or CISPA were bad … you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Even the smart phone manufacturers, Apple and the Android group were put under wrap. Starting in 2014, as a condition of their corporate existence, surveillance firmware was added to each phone manufactured. Fortunately a group of hackers and ex-Apple employees, my daughter Alex included, squirreled away a bunch of old iPhone 4s that still had the open architecture. These phones were smuggled to the “resistance,” as we so like to call ourselves. Most had their numbers altered, like mine – so we could operate in stealth. Getting caught plotting, or even vocalizing government discontent, didn’t work out well for you – especially with dramatic rise and influence of the “prison for hire” industry financed by Wells Fargo. Fortunately a group of American techno-nerds, along with Jack Dorsey (former founder of Twitter) moved to Sweden to assist in putting together an underground Twitter-like network. RISE was our social media outlet and the means to spread our message.

“It may be 40 degrees, but with this wind it feels like North Dakota in December, but it’s worth it. I had to get out and get the blood going. It’s my only day off this week and I have to get my next piece out. I remember when Steve and I used to go for these morning walks. For Steve it was his hangover cure. Oh, and he definitely needed something most days. I haven’t seen him in six months, though. I hope he made to the “generation camp” up north in the Sierras. Steve’s tough … I’m sure he made it.”

“Generation camps” first came into existence during the summer in 2016. I believe the first one was outside of Bend, Oregon. As a result of the Ryan “Hunger Games budget,” the social safety net was ripped to shreds, and nobody was there to sew it up. Unemployment insurance was reduced nationally to four weeks. Welfare benefits were limited to one year and Social Security and Medicare were privatized resulting in drastic reductions. 2015 welcomed in the era of “Social Darwinism!”

By 2018 the United States had formally become a two class society. The “haves” lived in gentrified suburbs not unlike the neighborhoods depicted in the Tim Burton, Johnny Depp movie “Edward Scissorshands.” Everything, everywhere was the same … and perfect. The “have-nots” were banished to the urban cores which were left to decay as a reminder of them being the preference of the young, the creative – or the in the minds of the of the “haves,” the impedance to their lives of opulence. Creativity and entrepreneurship had been replaced by mega-corporate supremacy and control.

In 2016, communicating with hacked iPhones, a group of young people decided to escape the ruins of the inner city to set up communal encampments in the American outback. And with the ascendancy of Monsanto as largest corporation in the world, commercially purchased food was virtually guaranteed to be genetically altered. And with these GMOs came unexplained diseases. Staying in the inner core was the equivalent to a fall into “Dante’s Seven Levels of Hell.” Which level you had fallen to – determined your likelihood of making it out. The sooner you get out the better.

The young brought with them the “old-timers,” the down and out elderly who had the same limited opportunity and distaste for the status quo as they did. Thus came the name “generation camps.” By 2018 there were some 150 of these encampments scattered though out the country, randomly set up in the hills, the mountains, the forests and the deserts. Holdovers from the National Forest Service, now part of Homeland Security, fortunately turned a blind eye to these nomads and let them exist. Some say these “generation camps” are the seedlings of a country reborn. Maybe they will be.

“Finally, a text from Alex. I’ve been trying to get hold of her for two days. |I’m all right Dad. I’ve been over at Natalie’s. She threatened to kill herself because of the baby. I’ll call you tomorrow. Stay safe. Love you.|

My daughter lives in Los Angeles, one of the last strongholds of somewhat liberal thought. The police, not far-removed from decades of bad publicity and scrutinizing reform, have been sympathetic. Alex living down there puts me  somewhat at ease, because she is a renegade and doesn’t put up with anything, from anyone. Other areas of the country wouldn’t work out so well for her. Her old Twitter name used to be “Katana Girl.” It kind of says it all.

Her friend Natalie is twenty-three, and pregnant. The father of the baby is abusive and she’s been trying get away from him for a year, but to no avail. The last thing she wants is to have a baby with him, forever enjoining their futures. In 2012 this wouldn’t be that big of a deal. She could have had an abortion. Not the case in 2018. Abortion is the equivalent of a capital crime.

The conservatives’ War on Women peaked in 2014 with Roe vs. Wade being overturned in return for the support of the Catholic church and other evangelicals. Performing an abortion was escalated to a charge of 1st degree murder. Natalie feels her only option is to put an end to her life. Fortunately she has Alex there with her. But what her next step is … they don’t know. Maybe they can find a “generation camp” that has a doctor who can help.

 ~

What you just read was fiction. Or was it reality, not yet realized.

If we don’t act – it could very well be the latter. If we continue to shop at Wal-Mart rather than our neighbor’s grocery store, hardware store, or pet store … it will. If we continue to harbor our money at Bank of America rather than take the hour or two it’ll take to move it to a community-friendy local back … it will. If we decide to skip that local election, because; “what difference does a school board member or county commissioner make anyway” … it will. And if we assume “that everyone knows what could happen and we need not worry because someone will step up” and we don’t get out there spread the word … it will!

If we think there’s no way it could happen here, after all it’s the United States of America – and we’re free … it will.

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You find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

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The Hunger Games … articulation of the Occupy Movement

Fear is our strongest … our most primordial emotion. It manifests itself in the unknown. Uncertainty generates thoughts of worst case scenarios.

Over the years marketers, politicians and the like have attempted to harness it to their benefit, seldom successfully though. But when they have – the results have been unmistakably effective.

The Occupy Movement started in New York on Saturday, September 17, 2011 as a reaction to Wall Street abuse and the reluctance of the government to do anything about it. Within weeks it had grown into a worldwide movement. In no time people were occupying almost everything. But even though thousands of people were demonstrating in the streets, they received virtually no mainstream media coverage. To most Americans it’s almost like Occupy hardly existed.

Even though their message resonated with virtually everyone, or as they called it the 99% … the 99% percent didn’t really view Occupy as their representatives. What were they really occupying – and these were injustices that had already happened, and they didn’t happen to everyone.

There is the disconnect. There is frustration, and in even in some cases anger. But is that enough to motivate … to get people to act. Plus there was no central communication point. Nothing to really hang on to.

There was no fear. At least not yet.

That may have changed last Friday due to efforts of Suzanne Collins, Jennifer Lawrence and Gary Ross. On Friday the blockbuster movie Hunger Games opened and proceeded to gross a staggering 155 million dollars over the weekend in the United States alone, setting numerous box-office records. But what does this have to do with Occupy?

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE - 2013 - FILM STILL - Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson, left), Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, center), Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, right) Photo Credit: Murray Close - HANDOUT

Everything I believe.

The Hunger Games is a movie, directed by Gary Ross, based on the bestselling book of the same name, the first of a trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. It is written in the voice of sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence), who lives in a post-apocalyptic world in the country of Panem where the countries of North America once existed. The Capitol, a highly advanced metropolis (home of the 1%), holds absolute power over the rest of the nation. The Hunger Games are an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 from each of the 12 districts surrounding the Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle in which only one child can survive.

Do I really believe this could happen?

Did I think Trayvon Martin, a black teenager in Florida sporting nothing but a hoddie, a pack of Skittles and an ice tea – would be shot point blank by a neighborhood watchman? And even though he confessed to the killing, has not been arrested after twenty-nine days.

Did I think after years of endless rhetoric, our declining education system has initiated no substantial reform except more and more standardized testing … testing that only what we don’t teach?

Did I think we would renew this country’s war on women’s rights to the point that the Wisconsin Legislature in their wisdom has initiated a bill that would penalize a single woman for having a baby? And that’s just one of many absurd Draconian measures that are under legislative consideration nationwide.

Did I think, with no media attention at all, our Congress time and time again continues to strip our civil rights in the name Homeland Security and the war on terror. George Orwell is probably rolling over in his grave?

And most of all, did I think I think our Supreme Court (which isn’t going anywhere soon) would make judgements that effectively hands our government, and in turn our country, over to special interests and big money. Soon we’ll be nothing but serfs in the fiefdoms of the all mighty 1%.

And all this has happened in the last two years. At this rate I can’t even imagine what could happen in the next thirty years, or even twenty. How far away are we really  from a Hunger Games scenario.

And it’s interesting that nobody is actually saying anything negative about the Hunger Games. The well articulated message, the extraordinary acting (especially from Lawrence) and excellent production make this film riveting, intense and thought-provoking. Even with the startling unspeakable content, everyone seems to be on board. Both the left and the right identify with it. The movie has been a topic of conversation on both MSNBC and Fox and virtually every other news network in between. Liberals identify with repression of the 99% while conservatives identify with abuse of big government.

Occupy represents neither party. In their minds, both are equally to blame for the problems we face. Seldom is there an opportunity that can help movement more than the one at the feet of Occupy right now. Now is the time grab this opportunity. Occupy can use the Hunger Games to invoke fear, the fear of the apocalypse … to move their agenda.

And the Hunger Games is just the first movie. There are three more sequels to come. That’s four years of “in your face” reminder of what could happen if the 99% doesn’t stand up for their rights.

Why not hang on to Jennifer, Suzanne and Gary’s coattails. It can’t hurt.

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I can found on Twitter at @clayforsberg

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Also read: “The People Have the Power”

What if things would never be the same again …

Update, January 24, 2017: I wrote this five years ago during the midst of the Occupy Movement. The change that many of us hoped for never happened. What is happening in the United States today is a whole different matter. Our federal government, and many of the state governments are hell bent on their version of change which is nothing more than a societal retreat. The status quo isn’t an option – and maybe it shouldn’t be. Progress is not linear. It’s a series of lunges forward, steps back and deep breaths. Patience and persistence must always be with us.

Published December 15, 2011

Yesterday TIME magazine came out with their “Person of the Year” award. It wasn’t really a person, well not just one. TIME’s “Person of the Year” was “the Protestor.” By its very definition a protestor objects to the status quo. Protestors want change. We saw this in the Middle East and the “Arab Spring” and we’re seeing it here – first with Occupy Wall Street and now occupations across the United States and the world.

“Are you ready for change?”

It’s obvious that we are in a period of transition, a period of change. And whether we like it or not, there’s nothing we can do about it. But what if the change was so profound that, “things would never be the same again?”

What if unemployment didn’t drop? What if our “do nothing” government did nothing? What if corporate America didn’t start hiring – but rather continued to ship jobs oversees and spend their ballooning profits on productivity  rather than people?

What if the realization finally sets in that a college degree no longer provides that fail-safe career protection. Instead of the promise of a BMW in the garage and an ever-increasing 401K – you get a five if not six figure school loan debt. And no longer does getting a higher education land you that decade long dream job with a Fortune 500 company.

What if investing in that “white picket fence” doesn’t provide that retirement security it did for you parents. What if buying that house did nothing but turn you up-side down, and send you underwater because of that reworked mortgage you thought was such a good deal at the time. And what if that same mortgage not only strapped you today, but also anchored you to an area where employment opportunities were slim at best … far away from the new hotbeds economic success.

Unfortunately too much of the time, we evaluate ourselves by the money we have in bank, the toys we have in the garage and the address on that diploma on the wall. As we’re finding out now, and as our predecessors found out, times of change, “times when things aren’t the same anymore” – monetary worth is fragile. We may try to hedge, set up backup plans and do whatever we can to preserve our “things” – but we can’t stop the wheels of change. And often our “things” get run over in the process.

If we choose to pursue a life based on security and the preservation of the status quo, we have to make assumptions, assumptions based on the past and the value systems of prior generations. Unemployment will drop, college is a safe bet, buying a house is your retirement and success is “things” – may no longer be relevant.

But “what if things would never be the same again.” What would you do?

A few years ago, I saw a movie about life after an economic and societal meltdown. The things that were valuable before, were no long. And things taken for granted, such as water and gasoline – were invaluable.

Now I’m not predicting Armageddon, but it’s obvious that we’re staring right in the face of change – not just here, but worldwide. The things you hold near and dear, may soon be gone. That security that was always first and foremost in your mind, may now become nothing but a memory of “the good old days.” All the constants you believed in … are now just more variables, variables you have to figure out. What are you going to do?

You have two options. You can hang on to yesterday – a yesterday that may never be again. Or you can look forward to living life differently – shedding yourselves of the same, the convenient, the comfortable – and replacing it with the unpredictable, the inconvenient and the exciting. Rather than fearing the inevitable change, what if you embraced it? What if you built your life and raised your children to expect the unexpected?

When I say unexpected though … I don’t necessarily mean bad. Not having rock-solid security is not a death sentence, it’s not a cancer diagnosis. In fact it may be the key that unlocks the door of your self-imposed prison. Imagine every morning you looked forward to what the day could bring you, who you could meet – that opportunity that could change your life for the better. Imagine this … rather than worrying about what wasn’t in place or what could happen when you retire.

One thing we know for sure, things change. They’re not going to be same tomorrow as they were yesterday, no matter how much you may want it to be. The only question will be is how you handle it.

” The mind can make heaven of hell … and hell of heaven.”

Personally I don’t do well in the heat, how about you?

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Occupy needs to stop occupying …

Now I’m a huge supporter of the Occupy movement. If you’ve read any of my posts over the last couple of months, you’d know I have no love loss for big banks, major corporations and even the government. And it’s about time someone stood up and said something, and I’m glad Occupy has.

The Occupy Movement has been occupying a lot a of things. They’ve occupied Wall Street, along with a whole lot of other streets around the country … and the world. The movement has protested unethical practices and outright thievery by the banks. They’ve protested high college tuition – and most of all they’ve protested the economic inequality that has become commonplace throughout world in the last decade. And as I write this, the “occupier”s are occupying Congress in protest of home foreclosures.

While there’s a lot of exposure being generated (both good and bad) – not all has turned out as wished. The “occupiers,” or protesters as the press calls them (I like freedom fighters, better), have not had an easy run. They have been characterized as “the unemployed and unwashed.” Their encampments have been destroyed. And they’ve been beaten … no matter the age, gender, persuasion or profession. Even the press corp covering the movement has been treated with disdain.

One thing the Occupy Movement has done though, is ruffled a whole lot of feathers. It seems like anyone with a stake in the status quo is “hell bent” to put these hooligans in their place. Panelists on Fox News have even gone so far to say that real Americans should exercise their 2nd Amendment rights and rally against the “great unwashed.”

You’d think some of the liberal members of Congress would side with the movement. But nooooo! After all, their hands are in the coffers too, just like their brethren on the other side of the aisle. Only Bennie Sanders in the Senate has vocally embraced the protestors, and he doesn’t even belong to a party. Even Obama, the professor of change and the salvation of the young … has remained mute. In fact there’s evidence that the federal government has provided riot gear and tactical support to local police battling the “occupiers.” But does that surprise anyone? Obama received more money from the financial sector in 2008 than any other candidate, plus he’s surrounded himself with a posse of Goldman Sachs deputies. (Now I don’t dislike our president – I just have issues with a some of his contradictory positions.)

Now you may call me pessimistic … but I’m not seeing how these protests and encampments is movement the movement where it has to go. We’re also entering into the cold of winter – making the situation even more inhospitable. Unless the great 99% jumps on board, and in a big way, the establishment money is going squash this desperately needed movement. I’m not saying this will be the only opportunity to make change, but it’s going to be a whole lot harder next time – when the adversarial ivory tower types are even more prepared and entrenched.

My solution … stop occupying! Yes stop occupying, well stop physically occupying. Fight with the resources you have. Don’t fight the “ivory tower” on their terms, in their game. They own the police, they own the government. So physical occupation is not going to be effective unless the entire country rebels. That’s unlikely since there are too many that are either uninformed (or get their message from the simplistic, big money controlled national news outlets) – or apathetic, resigned with their plight in life.

But that doesn’t mean we stop the Occupy Movement. On the contrary … we fight harder and smarter!

First, we fight with our money. You don’t like big banks … don’t bank with them. It may be inconvenient  – get over it! Spend a couple of dollars more and buy on Main Street rather than at the Wal-Marts, Targets and Home Depots. Not only do you weaken the 1%, you strengthen the 99% – your own community. Also, 45% of a dollar spent at a locally owned business stays local – while only 15% of that same dollar does when you spend it at a big box store. Think about that next time you whine about weedy parks, nonexistent snow removal and your local hangout being out of business. And on the plus, nobody is going to outright fight a “buy local” message. Even American Express used it for their Saturday Buy Local campaign after Thanksgiving this year – and they’re as 1% as it gets.

Second, mobilize support using the medium we know best … social media. Facebook, Twitter and the bloggers in the Middle East played a significant role in what a year ago seemed impossible. And we don’t need to really overthrow anything – just work around the fringes to create a better country and a better world. Social media also allows for a more discreet approach, an approach that might be more palatable for the less rebellious types. Can you say the main stream union members – nurses, teachers, etc?

And third, if we’re going to play in the political arena, play on our home field. In other words, participate in the local elections – the mayor, the county commission, the school board. The national elections get the press, but it’s at the local level changes are made that truly affect our lives. Whether it features Occupy generated candidates or just fellow community members sympathetic to the message … these are battles that can be won. Historically poor turnouts, changed by youth registration drives and inexpensive guerilla campaigns make for ideal upsets.

Again, I’m not criticizing the “occupiers.” On the contrary, I admire them and their tenacity. I’m just saying a change in tactics may be in order. We all know there’s more than enough things to complain, and even protest about. On a daily basis I want to scream  from my balcony: “I’m as mad ad hell … and I’m not going to take it anymore,” like Howard Beale in Network. But maybe the adversarial “in your face” tactics aren’t doing the unity message of the Occupy Movement any justice.

We’ll never convince the hard-core 1% to move to the enlightened side … nor should we spend the time trying. All we can do is work on the 99%, and make them realize they are … us!

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I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg

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