Let’s say for the sake of argument that you’ve come to the following conclusions:
- That large corporations, the oligarchs that run them, their lobbyists and the military-industrial-intelligence complex pretty much control the federal government of the United States.
- That their greed and lust for power is killing people at home and around the world, accelerating catastrophic climate change, and making this country’s longstanding regional, economic, ethnic and social divisions terrifyingly worse.
- That what goes on in Washington between our two nominal political parties is but a crummy community theater production performed by a venal, sad, craven group of puppets.
- That it means, if we have any chance of avoiding a very grim fate, we have to get together and save ourselves (which, incidentally, is democracy).
If these premises hold for you—and hold with a genuine level of urgency—then I have a question for you and for me and for all of us. And that question comes directly from the lips of actor Sean Connery when he was playing a tough Irish cop in the 80s G-man and gangster movie The Untouchables: “What are you prepared to do?”
Okay, stop. Don’t answer yet. To be honest, I’m not even fully sure of my answer. But let’s hold up a minute. The second you ask yourself that question, you have to confront certain realities about what it means to act in this world. It requires risk. There’s no way around it. And there are people among us, known and unknown, who take some of the biggest risks.
One of the most glaringly obvious is Julian Assange. He put himself at extraordinary risk to create a technology platform for whistleblower-driven journalism and that platform has been very effective. He and his compatriots have given all of us a remarkably clear window into how our world really operates. He’s pissed off multiple powerful governments and intelligence agencies. His reward, for all intents and purposes, has been solitary confinement and progressively failing health. If he lives and somehow manages to get free again, he’ll probably go on in a permanently weakened state and die young. He hasn’t seen his kids in years. It stands to reason they hardly know him anymore. Can you imagine that? My daughter is six years old. Keep her from me for more than a week and I’d probably go to pieces.
Now step back and envision in your mind’s eye whole groups of people who put their freedom, their safety, their comfort, their family lives, their financial security, and their futures at risk to try to take power away from the elites who control and misshape much of our world. Water protectors, Black Lives Matter activists, anti-fracking & environmental activists, feminist activists, Internet freedom activists, antiwar activists, dissident doctors, nurses, intellectuals, engineers, soldiers, students, teachers, athletes—it’s a long list but we know, relative to the overall adult population, it’s not a lot of people. These are fellow human beings who answered the question “what are you prepared to do?” with “everything”. I don’t care if it’s cheesy, but that answer is also a supreme declaration of love for all of us who are not prepared to take the same risks.
But here’s something to remember. The question isn’t “are you prepared to do everything?” It’s “what are you prepared to do?”.
One of my favorite movies, “Running on Empty”, was directed by one of Hollywood’s most political directors, Sidney Lumet. It starred River Phoenix, Martha Plimpton, Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a husband and wife, ex-Weather Underground type 60s radicals who have been living on the lam from the FBI for decades while trying to raise their two boys. They’ve sacrificed most of the things that make life safe and comfortable to try to make the U.S. a freer, more equal, and less violent culture. They move through the world in a constant state of anxiety and danger. They’re among those who answered with “everything”.
There’s this tiny little scene where the boys’ mother Christine Lahti needs dental care and a little help with some logistics. Do you know who helps her? The dentist. Turns out he’s an ex-radical from the old days and he’s part of a network of regular people who help underground dissidents. He’s not taking the really huge risks, but he is prepared to do something—and the little something he does makes a difference in keeping the family safe, which is pretty badass.
When I saw this film years ago, it had a big impact on me. I’ve probably watched it five times now. Because most of us are not going to answer Sean Connery’s question with “everything”. And a lot of folks, deep in their hearts, feel like shit because they haven’t got that answer in them. And they wind up bitter, paralyzed, and afraid—and they end up having very little impact on the world. But that little scene is a marker, a signpost that tells you there is a spot in the road between being willing to sacrifice it all and not being willing to sacrifice anything. It also shows how powerful it can be when those of us who are mini-dissidents direct our energies toward supporting the people who, without ever meeting us, love us enough to take really big risks. Click To Tweet
If you radiate out from this vantage point and allow yourself to not be the star of your own movie but, instead, a supporting player, whole vistas open up.
I’ve always felt the ‘what-if’ is an amazing call to action. What if you and me and millions of our fellow citizens who have relative health, a measure of leisure time, regular meals, and roofs over our heads simply picked one or two things we were really passionate about, identified what groups of people were taking the biggest risks in that area, and did something to support them? Can you imagine the collective impact that would have?
We could be proud bit players, non-heroes in an epic quest to evolve past our petty human tribalisms, our subservience to illegitimate authority, and our mortality-fearing, death cult inclinations.
“I can’t change you and you can’t change me, but together we can work to change the world.” ―
I don’t want to tell you what to do, but as an example, here’s one place we could start—and that’s where we turn for information about what the fuck is actually happening in our country and the world. Not the pantomime, not the irrelevant argument between the two donkey-elephant death-cult political puppet people, but something more real.
Six large corporations control most of the information we get. They are an important part of the elite’s control system and, in many respects, the most vulnerable. The great writer and non-partisan dissident Caitlin Johnstone has been hammering away at this vulnerability for over a year now. At the very least, we could start by ghosting these corporations. There’s a guy writing on Medium named Gris Cray and he took it upon himself a while ago to compile a list of non-corporate political analysts and news outlets across a full spectrum of viewpoints. These are groups of people who are taking genuine risks to take control of the narrative away from our supposed corporate overlords. They could use our support. Why not check it out? If you think he’s missing some journalists or sites, leave him a comment. He’s adding new material all the time.
Maybe start with that and move on to the even bigger stuff. And then perhaps make a little mantra to tell yourself. I kind of dig it:
“I’m a bit player. And bit players are badass.”
*Feature Photo Credit: “Into the Night” by TimOve