Just found this image online in a small grouping of pictures. Featuring a man running alongside a carriage; a near-extinct scene that was once a common feature of American life unfolds. The caption with the picture said, “Rich Men in carriage and Poor Man running along side.”
With his hat out to the men in the carriage it is abundantly clear that a transaction is proposed — by the running man — the beggar we like to say in this instance.
Immediately my mind came back to the Occupy New Hampshire split with the libertarian and Free Stater wing of the group today. The divide for the most part occurred on the issue of guns. Apparently some in the group chose to open carry at meetings and proposed open carrying at events. Those who open carried in early Occupy NH events, particularly actions during the NH primary last year were never challenged. Some brought their weapons, unconcealed to meetings. While a gun fight never ensued and no one attempted to remove these individual’s right to bear arms, the Occupy movement lost some very key supporters and activists as people in near droves left, citing their disparagement that Occupy lets their General Assemblies turn into “2nd Amendment Show and Tell”.
The issue of guns and their presence at Occupy or their association with Occupy caused a heated debate that lasted for months and presented such an organizational challenge that the core members begged that the discussion cease. Pressed to take a stand on the issue, ONH decided to not decide and tabled it with the result that those who wished to open carry could do so. The result was immediate; people left the movement. At one General Assembly people literally ran out, vowing never to return when an individual came to the meeting with a hulking semi-automatic gun strapped to his side.
In trying to please everyone by making no statement, the Occupy made a statement anyway and the carry advocates won. As a result, Occupy NH gained a few self identified Free Staters or libertarians which soon dwindled down to about two or three. But the capitulation remained regardless. Some Occupiers seemed to have some inherent problems with identifying where they stood on most issues, but would suddenly awaken and find their voice that seemed more often than not to swing libertarian and thus confusion would ensue. Do we talk about this? Do we make a stand on that? Shall we? Shan’t we?
As a result, further and deeper analysis of oppression — discussion around who holds the power, that this type of work demands, never ensued. While some proposed that Occupy NH have some direction or mission, many, mostly Free Staters or their sympathizers blocked this decision repeatedly. Direct disagreement occurred about the cause of our present corrupt political system, stymieing the process yet again. Libertarians seemed no less reluctant to delve further into the meaning of the marketing phrase “Get money out of politics” than a cat to swim.
Also, when an effort was made by many to bring more structure and organization to the meeting process by bringing in the use of consensus and move the organization further forward, the obstruction began again in earnest. Why have structure? the libertarians would ask, isn’t that mimicking the process of the state? Every decision had a stall; aren’t we turning into the enemy if we bother to take notes, record them and (gasp!) put our money in a credit union, register our name? So Occupy NH came to a halt with funds from the primary stored in a can. Movement forward on decisions and planning took a nosedive.
Efforts to have discussion around core issues such as white privilege, racism and all the other ‘isms’ — that is systems — that divide and thus oppress everyone gasped and choked for air as they were beaten down with heated vitriol by online libertarian warriors, resulting in the issues never playing out at meetings. “Get Money out of Politics” remained a hollow catch-phrase. While the earlier statewide GA’s, such as Nashua’s with their workshops, started the discussions on such issues as the NDAA or ALEC, actions never materialized as discussion evolved into disagreement and disagreement to tabling and tabling to stagnation.
Which brings us back to the picture posted above. The man in the picture runs after the carriage. He knows his target well. He is the hunter and all his last energy and strength will propel him forward, running fast enough to keep up with the men. Keeping up long enough hopefully to gain some change. Out of options, if he doesn’t get the means for sustenance, he goes without. Long enough and he’ll die.
To many who propound the libertarian viewpoint, such suffering should concern no one. In fact, sufferers, they say, need to look back inside themselves for their solution. If this fails then obviously the individual did not deserve to participate in society. They would say that the hungry and the starving possessed an incurable personal deficit that caused such failing. Therefore, having proven their unfitness to belong in society, they had to expire. No more thought required. No social contract exists they say, to compel the men in the carriage to give up a small sum to a starving man. To the libertarian, the unequal power balance that exists between those who have resources in abundance and those who haven’t, defines a concrete balance of nature. Going so far as to equate taxation with theft, the libertarian serves the owner/wealthy class by ignoring the simple metric that labor produces the wealth. While labor seeks through taxation, agitation and other means, to take back the fruits of their labor, the wealthy seek instead to preserve the unequal balance. By refusing to admit the power created through ownership and inequality, libertarians support the oppressive system in our culture.
Unless one has suffered the type of desperation that would drive someone to run along a carriage like a dog or has experienced being pursued by hungry children in a developing nation, running to catch up around any American, they can never understand the cruel injustice of poverty. Until one has worked everyday only to find their efforts simply make the rich richer, can one never understand where the real crime of theft occurs. Cushioned as they are today, with the web of government programs to alleviate at least the most visible effects of capitalist greed, libertarians rarely get to see first-hand the brutality of that greed left to its own devices. Nor are they challenged to see how their own lives depend upon the inter-relationship of government and citizen interest. Ignorance is bliss.
Today those at the Occupy New Hampshire General Assembly got to see live the many libertarians who espouse views favorable to the elite class. Amazingly its clear and most libertarians will be the first to say, that they are not part of the 1%. Why then protect their interests so fervently? What particularly came to this writer’s observation was the presence of those with visible disabilities and some with the infirmities of age. What would happen to many of the people at that park, if the austerity measures they wish on others ensnared them?
Libertarians claim they have these issues in common with Occupy:
Gay marriage: To libertarians, a freedom issue. To Occupiers, a human rights and justice issue.
Anti-war: To libertarians, a mix of xenophobia, isolationism and budgetary concerns. The core issue of American imperialism, the military/industrial complex and the threat to human rights that military might and guns empower, never gets discussion. Simplistic and shallow notions of the state remain. Analysis of the deeper connection between the melding of corporate power and state power never occurs, with demand that the simplistic notion of the state as a rogue remain unchallenged. Hidden then is the fact that the real unaccountable rogue force is the corporate state, that would grow like algae in a fetid pond, if not controlled somewhat now by the government structures the people put in place.
Occupy New Hampshire finally broke away from the libertarians, stating for once that the values of Occupy throughout the country do not align with libertarianism. While flame wars carry on on Facebook unabated, the real issue on the ground is settled; Occupy can now move forward. Arming itself with education, knowledge and awareness, the development of effective and strategic methods of messaging and direct action can begin. We have a long battle before us and the time to start was yesterday.
We at Occupy have no desire to have a country of desperate beggars running alongside cars hoping for the voluntary generosity of those who horde the wealth of the people. Possibly the only similarity between Occupy and libertarians is the claim of “taking it back”. But it ends there; we wish to take back the people’s power, the people’s resources and the people’s voice. The past is what we wish to leave in the dust like a speeding carriage wresting loose from the grips of the parasitic disease of corporate/government entanglement.
Kathryn Talbert, Progressive Action NH
Thank you for this, Katie. You explained articulately and eloquently the history behind this split and why it was inevitable.
Reblogged this on NonviolentConflict.
Right-libertarian “ethics” are so messed up I don’t even know where to start. As far as they’re concerned, a rich man who can’t afford his seventh house due to property taxes is more “oppressed” than a poor man who can’t afford an apple, I’m not kidding!
There are way more forms of systematic oppression than barriers to entry in the market, a concept many right-libertarians can’t (or won’t) understand.
Great post Katie. Good to see such substantive discussion of core issues.
Hear hear! Well said, Katie.