The most fundamental political act is that of defining what constitutes a political act

by: Paul Rosenberg

Mon Jan 17, 2011 at 15:00


As in Tunisia, so in Arizona.  In Arizona, they say that shooting a congresswoman and killing federal judge--as well as her staffers and constituents--is not a political act. "It is the act of a madman"--as if the two were clearly and cleanly mutually exclusive. But saying that does not make it so.  Saying that is itself a political act--one that calls out to be contested.

In Tunisia, a young unemployed university graduate, Mohamed Bouazizi, has his unlicensed vegetable and fruit stand confiscated by authorities.  It is unclear how many times this has happened to him, but it has happened more than once.  And it has happened to many more people than him, many more times than anyone can count. Surely, this is not a political matter, not a political act.  It is just the way of the world.  It is an administrative police matter, a code violation, nothing more.  Complete routine.  Unexectional. It is like a traffic stop in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles on August 11, 1965:  nothing political at all.

Until the definitions are changed:

The protests were triggered by a young unemployed university graduate, Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself aflame after his unlicensed vegetable and fruit stand was confiscated by authorities in the city of Sidi Bouzid, in central Tunisia. Bouazizi's fate resembled that of many Tunisian youths, educated but with few job opportunities before them. The dramatic and tragic image of a young man aflame shattered the myth of the 'Tunisian economic miracle' and in its own way, what little legitimacy Zine Ben Ali's rule seemed to enjoy both domestically and internationally.

In no time at all, virtually, Tunisia's social media-driven revolution spread from seemingly isolated small-town ritos to envelop the entire nation. Within a month, the mythical "economic miracle" of Tunisia has been swept away by the whirlwind.  The 24-year rule of  Zine Ben Ali is no more, and in its place I hear The Mighty Sparrow sing "(Wanted) Dead or Alive:"

The rule of the tyrants decline
The year, 1979
From Uganda to Nicaragua
It's bombs and bullets all the time
So they corrupt, so they vile
So it's coup after coup all the while
Human rights they violate
They thought they were too great
So in disgrace now they live in exile
Gairy is a wanted man
Idi Amin is a wanted man
Shah of Iran fighting hard to survive
He too was wanted dead or alive

Strikes, demonstrations & wars
Injustice is always the cause
Politicians turn too soon from
poor people into tycoons
Corruption must bring horrors
South African Vorster resign in disgrace
Muzurewa take away Ian Smith place
The Uganda devil was easily cat straddled
Beaten up and chased, what a waste.
Gairy is a wanted man
Patrick John is a wanted Man
The Shah of Iran fighting hard to survive
He too is wanted dead or alive

The Shah have a short time to live
Because the Ayatollah don't forgive
When you see church ruling state
With pure vengeance and hate
Situation must be explosive
General Somoza from Nicaragua
Thought it was easy with the Sandanista
With the help of Venezuela, Panama and Cuba
They kick him straight to America
Gairy is a wanted man
Bokassa is a wanted man
Ali Bhutto tried so hard to survive
He too was wanted dead or alive.

Grenadian Mongoose was bad and so brave
They send the old Bishop straight to his grave
After that, well Gairy skip town
With his diary  and him obeah gown
No more people to enslave
Trinidad neighbours all expecting mayhem
Anytime anything could happen to them
Eric Williams taking a back seat to avoid banana
but everyone know he 'fraid Carl
Gairy is a wanted man
Park Chung Hee was a wanted man
Achempong tried so hard to survive
He too was wanted dead or alive.

But it only happened because--starting with one man, Mohamed Bouazizi--the people of Tunisia questioned the handed-down definition of what was political and what was not.  The very essence of democracy is that we all get to define what is political, and what, if anything, is not.

If we do not define it for ourselves, then others will define it for us.

Paul Rosenberg :: The most fundamental political act is that of defining what constitutes a political act

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yeah - but there is this - (0.00 / 0)
"According to his friend, Zach Osler, Loughner "didn't listen to political radio, he didn't take sides, he wasn't on the left, he wasn't on the right' and one of his favorite 'thing' to watch was 'Zeitgeist' and the 'real' 'Zeitgeist' should tell ya it's not wise to 'politicize' acts which are done by purposely apolitical madman -
which has very little connection to a young unemployed university graduate, who has his unlicensed vegetable and fruit stand confiscated by authorities of a 'real' police state!  

If Loughner was so apolitical, why did he target a politician and her "followers"? (4.00 / 3)
The act speaks for itself in this case. Sure, he's a nutter, but so are most of the people who commit these acts of terrorism. The guy who shot it out with CHP was a Glenn Beck fan... and a nutter. But his motivation was in fact political, even if it was crazy.

As long as "liberals" buy into this "lone crazed guman" meme, it will always be "liberal hunting season." There's a guy in my neighborhood with one of those "Liberal Hunting License" stickers. He may never act on that sentiment, but clearly he intends to terrorize "liberals" simply by displaying that sticker on his car. The fact that he (and it is a he) is fine with that tells me everything I need to know about my own safety in his presence.

I don't care if he's crazy or not. He threatens people and that's wrong. Oh, and it's all VERY political.  

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates


[ Parent ]
how do you know he attacked 'a politician' - (0.00 / 0)
and not 'a woman'?
And threatening people is wrong - that's why we could leave it to people who disqualify themselves by doing it - but why should I 'politicize' a threat if it is pretty obvious that the threat was - or is 'apolitical'? (unlike your neighbors)
And what's with this  'buying into the lone gunman meme"? It either was a 'lone gunman' or it wasn't - or has this become an issue of believe? and if you are a 'liberal' you have to 'believe' otherwise?
And sure - there are people who use such a desaster to try to score political points - but I always thought this were the dumb ones and i very seldem saw them on 'my' side!

 


[ Parent ]
Giffords is both. Period. (4.00 / 1)
This isn't about scoring points. I'll leave that to the Righties, since they started doing so the day of the incident.

I'm really trying to understand this insistence that this assassination, a de facto terrorist act, is somehow viewed outside of it's broader context. Giffords was targeted through her public event. She is a politician also labeled "liberal" by people who don't really care about accuracy in their definitions. She's a Democrat. By all means, throw in her gender as well, since her male colleagues have received much fewer threats than they have. Loughner knew about her through local media, political campaigns, the hate speech of local Tea Party folks and that's about it, from what we know right now. For it not to have been political, it would have to have been a complete accident that she was there when he showed up. This notion that he lived in some kind vacuum is just ridiculous on it's face. He lived in a good -sized city. Sorry, no vacuum there.

Loughner seems to have been an actual "lone gunman." But removing him from the larger landscape and context is intellectual fraud. The simple FACT is you can't separate them. Apolitical people don't go around obsessing on paranoid conspiracy theories, only to show up at political events and start blowing people away. Apolitical people don't breathlessly digest Glenn Beck's lunatic rantings and then act on them with automatic weapons. Sure, they're friggin' nuts, but they're not APOLITICAL.

Look. I don't know where you live. I'm guessing you live in an area free of these RW freaks. If so, good for you. But I live in an area which does have them and I see them and sometimes overhear their conversations either at work or elsewhere. What you don't seem to understand is that an appallingly large number of these people have their own support group in the media and amongst "mainstream" political leadership. They are getting the green light to act out their inhuman fantasies.

That's a real problem. If you want to pretend it isn't, that's up to you. But don't bother trying to upbraid me for seeing things are they are. This isn't about "points." This is about an accurate threat assessment.


"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates


[ Parent ]
you are right - (0.00 / 0)
we seem to live in completely different worlds - I know some 'RW freaks' - I have interviewed them  - but I also have talked to over 200 young 'apolitical' PC freaks whose whole world is the Internet - and they are able to 'seperate' themselves from 'the larger landscape' in a way you probably won't be able to comprehent -(or you would?) - And they hardly don't watch 'old farts' like Glenn Beck - but they are very interested in any type of conspiracy theory on the internet as long as the dudes who 'create' them promise that they neither 'right' or 'left' - because they won't believe a single word a 'politician' or a 'political pundit' will tell them and if you tell them somebody like Glenn Beck believes in the same Nonsense as they do - they smile and tell you: He is just a follower and THEY are the messengers of the 'Zeitgeist' and if 'political' idiots are trying to score 'political' points with their 'supreme wisdom' they don't care.
And I could keep on going and going with the painting of 'a picture' who would completely confuse a 'coherent' mind like yours? or Pauls? - and this might be the problem - I don't have a complete picture of the world yet - or at least not as solidly built as the world of a 'good' old lefty - so I'm ready for all kind of surprises - even to meet some autistic PC freaks who are none of ALL the above - and so my accurate 'threat' assessment constantly changes -(not as much as the standard American mind) - but definetely it's different than yours - but everything what happens in 'your' world could be excactly as you say!  
Right - Paul?  

[ Parent ]
Okay. I'm starting to see the difference in perspective. (4.00 / 1)
I would just say that those "apoliticals" aren't apolitical at all, if they're into conspiracy theories. We may need to adjust for what they consider politics, but it's still political, since it results in social action along certain lines and is intended to create a certain socio-political outcome... whatever that is.

Being political doesn't mean belonging to a party. Fox News isn't required to be a Right-Wing Authoritarian Follower. But it sure does help!

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates


[ Parent ]
I just used the word 'political' (0.00 / 0)
in the way they use it as: We are not interested in 'politics'! - The 'man' is interested in 'politics' and you have to know who 'the man' is - to understand what they are talking about!

[ Parent ]
Right! (0.00 / 0)
So what is their relationship to "the man?" And what do they intend to do about that?

That's as political as politics gets, no matter how they couch it. Sounds like they're pretty actively ignorant to me, and I'm not even being judgmental in saying that. They just deny politics exist, even when they're being overtly political.

I've met a few anarchistic types (or at least they loosely claim that label, even though they pretty clearly didn't know what it meant... but it's "cool!") who typify this kind of thing. At some point, they'll have to acquire some knowledge, if they want to enjoy any success at all.

Personally, I would refer them to Julian Assange for starters, since he kind of comes from that area and he actually knows what he's doing and can explain himself in clear terms that people will actually understand.

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates


[ Parent ]
It doesn't work - (0.00 / 0)
to tell somebody who tells you that he is 'apolitical' that he actually isn't - You could start a useless discussion about the definition of words but how do you even do that if you are not even familiar with your counterparts 'coded' language and their use of certain words? You could try to understand by studying the Urban Dictionary - but even doing that won't make you understand or understood - You are just living in a complete different world!    

[ Parent ]
but you might enjoy this - (0.00 / 0)
Def: 'policy' - "An excuse to do what you want to do, regardless how senseless it is'.

[ Parent ]
Yes, That's It (0.00 / 0)
Ignore everything that doesn't fit your little picture.  That's sure to give you a true picture of the world.

Why, I'm sure that Loughner himself would tell you that!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
The Guardian today has a piece about Tunisia's own Mighty Sparrow (4.00 / 1)
here, the rapper El Generale, whose song "President, You're People Are Dying" became a rallying cry: http://www.guardian.co.uk/glob...
Of course, he was duly arrested. Musically I have to vote for Mighty Sparrow, but still the El Generale video is definitely worth a watch:


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