Civil unrest in the USA
Early coal mines did not have ventilation systems, so miners would bring a caged canary along. Canaries are especially sensitive to methane and carbon monoxide gas, which made them ideal for detecting any dangerous gas build-ups. As long as the bird kept singing, the miners knew their air supply was safe. A dead canary signaled an immediate evacuation.
Today we use the phrase to describe a harbinger of the future. One small event in an isolated area may not seem especially noteworthy, but it may offer the first tangible warning of a larger problem developing. The killing of Michael Brown is the first sign of a deeper problem than racial prejudice and a sign of a more pervasive poison contaminating the life support mechanism of our nation.
On the day before Thanksgiving, a crowd of demonstrators in San Diego closed down Interstate 5 freeway during rush hour to protest the grand jury exoneration of the policeman who shot the teenager, Michael Brown, multiple times. This protest happened near the University of California San Diego campus located in the affluent LaJolla community, so elite that Mitt Romney has one of his many houses there. A friend of mine who is a PhD biotech researcher mentioned his surprise of “civil unrest” happening in this privileged, educated, upper class neighborhood with seemingly little similarity to Ferguson, Missouri. He wished he could have participated.
Could this possibly point out how race might be a red herring in the Ferguson debacle? It is telling to witness the hatred and frustration in some of the San Diego locals’ comments, even though most of the protesters in this incident were not black. They were feeling solidarity with the disenfranchisement that is becoming endemic in our nation.
If you take race out of this equation, you have the police force-a means to enforce power for a prosperous minority-being held to a different standard than normal citizens. This is an extreme case showing all of us clearly what we loathe to admit, the system is being rigged toward the rich and powerful. Our anger is clouded by racial issues, but much of our frustration is transferred on to those less fortunate than us rather than realizing and feeling how disrespected and disposable we are to those with the wealth and power.
This is a modern day version of the peasants with pitchforks confronting the corrupt nobility. This is not about an incompetent white police officer killing a belligerent black teenager, or whatever arguments are used to distract us. This is bigger than race. To many of those with the wealth and power, we are all pawns undeserving of respect and compassion.
It is important to view what is happening in my friend’s term: civil unrest.
Ferguson is just a typical town in Middle America trying to figure out two things:
- how to stay afloat in a world that is adapting to tectonic shifts in economics
- how humans are valued in these new equations.
We have become no more than “human capital”, bought and traded at bargain prices on the world market. Woe be it if you are black/brown, female, or culturally different than Western norms. We so desire to be part of the “haves” that we gladly will throw the “have nots” under the bus so we can keep what little dignity we still possess.
It is important to own our anger, embrace our fears to avoid transferring them onto others.
Now is not a time for action, but of mourning and introspection.
- Where is this “unrest” emanating from?
- What pressures are driving us to such polarization?
- How does the injustice of wealth and power inequality affect each of us and our communities?
Turn off the TV and internet babble and listen quietly to your heart’s deep stirrings. When we find harmony within ourselves, we can work to achieve the same in our communities. To do otherwise fuels the fires of violence both to us and, sadly, to the most vulnerable ones on the margins.
The canary is dead, and the atmosphere of our nation’s economy is becoming toxic and dangerous for all of us. The poor and disenfranchised among us are the most sensitive, but all of us are vulnerable to the gathering threat.Photo: erix!/Flickr