Get off your feet and in the street

Steve Hammer

I missed the president's State of the Union speech because I was talking to a beautiful young woman on the phone while he spoke. Some things are more important than politics, after all.

I did watch the reaction to the speech, however, and was pleased to find out that Bush groveled to his opponents quite a bit and pleaded for their cooperation.

And, while I respect the office of the president as much as - or even more so - than Mr. Bush, this is not the time for those who oppose him to remain silent and acquiesce as our government is ravaged by corruption and cronyism and war.

It's, instead, time to turn up the heat quite a bit more and demand change. It's time to organize massive street protests, shows of civil disobedience and resolve to never again let our government be hijacked as it has been.

We have the 55,000 extra Ohio voters who voted for Bush in 2004 and gave him the election to blame, as well as the Supreme Court and its shameful decision in 2000. But we also have ourselves to blame.

For five years now, we've sat back and allowed the federal government to be transformed into a profiteering war machine. The people no longer run the government, the war machine does. Our vice president was a defense contractor before the Supreme Court gave him his current office and it's the defense industry which has flourished as the rest of the economy declines.

Only once in the last 140 years has a populist movement swept through the country and effected massive change. The civil rights movement succeeded mainly because their tactics were morally superior to their opponents.

In reaction to violence, they adopted nonviolence not only in theory but in fact. Even when fire hoses and police dogs were set loose on them, they did not react in violence.

Martin Luther King Jr., despite his well-publicized human failings, was a disciple of non-violence and a master of shaming leaders into doing the right thing. He knew how to work the media and knew that a spotlight shining on the evildoers was the best way to deter them.

His non-violent philosophy was questioned widely in his own lifetime and his violent death seemed to negate it entirely. Now, the idea of non-violence as a means to effect social change seems quaint and obsolete, like the abacus.

It doesn't have to be that way, though. Just because non-violent protest has been ineffective since 1968 doesn't mean it always has to be that way.

One reason why the non-violent protests for civil rights worked so effectively is that the national media was there to document the problems in the South. When Bull Connor unleashed the attack dogs in Birmingham, the pictures were carried across the nation and the world.

The images were so vivid, the violence so stark, that the country was shamed into action. Only when the civil rights movement moved North, to places like Chicago, did it stall. Northerners were quite happy to advocate change in Alabama but were much less eager to embrace the fact that things needed fixed in their backyard.

But a return to non-violent protest in massive numbers is just what's needed now. With corruption at an all-time high, with body bags coming back from Iraq in droves, with compassion at an all-time low, it's time to take to the streets in protest.

I know that protests are held all the time. But the media never pays them any attention. The new era of protest needs to be so loud, so clear that even Rush Limbaugh and Fox News have to pay attention.

In the old days, the bad guys were Southern sheriffs and redneck politicians, easy targets to identify. Now, the bad guys wear three-piece suits, gab on AM talk radio about how Godly the president is and introduce backwards-thinking laws.

Let's start with a national work stoppage. One day of a general strike where nobody works. As someone said to me, it'd really send a message to the powerful people if they woke up one day and there was no one to cook their Big Macs or deliver their mail.

One day where people don't work and make a statement with their feet. When the crowds reach half a million at the Washington Monument, even the conservative-owned media will have to note it, if only to mock it.

There are a lot more of us than there are of them. Most people in America don't want the religious right to run the presidency, the Supreme Court, Congress and the media. But by people of good conscience not being steadfast enough, that's exactly what has happened.

Registering to vote and then voting will help, but only to a point. We saw in 2000 and 2004 how vote fraud, combined with help from the powerful, can swing an election from one side to another.

Mainly, we need to hit the streets like they did in the 1960s. We need to win people back to our cause, a cause that transcends us all: justice. Right now, it's available only for the powerful.

One voice, 10 voices, even a thousand voices can be ignored. But if you're sick and tired of the way this country is being run, it's time to get off your feet and on the street.

Dr. King saw injustice and tried to right it. Things are worse now in every single way. We must act now, in his name and the Lord's, to stop this conservative coup before it gets any worse and finally implement a just America, where the high-minded words of our Constitution are finally heeded.

Let's roll.


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