All social movements in the U.S. are betrayed every day not only by police (including campus security) but by passive observers. The offspring of the people who watched fire hoses turned on peaceful protestors in Selma—and I am among them—now watch with the same muffled horror as the line of sitting people, linked arm to arm, bowed their heads while campus security, with casual aimlessness, doused them repeatedly with pepper spray. Seeing this clip, I was astonished by the casualness of the officer’s arm gesture, as though he was watering his porch geraniums.
Who authorized it?
Who ordered it?
Or perhaps there was no need of an order, for once these men are armed with pepper spray, the order to use it is automatic. The same argument holds for the ominous and endless spread of nuclear weapons: if a nation has them, it will eventually use them.
Meanwhile, what we used to call the mainstream press continues to ignore or belittle the protesters, as though they are slightly troublesome bands of mosquitoes that will buzz off with cold weather.
Our obliviousness as spectators and the counter measures of authority will not prevail in the end. The nation’s sense of grievance is profound, and it is shared, even by those parked permanently on the sidelines. This is the grievance that the Tea Party tried in its ham-handed way to express; it is the grievance that all entrenched power systems, whether Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, ignore, or combat, tediously and fruitlessly, with beatings, arrests and pepper spray.
Injustice in all its forms.
And there are other examples.
As a feminist from the day of my birth, I began to hope, in the seventies, that as women slowly rose on the social rungs, making a little more money (now 77 cents to the male dollar, for comparable work), elected to state office, sitting in meager numbers on the boards of corporations, we would all see beneficent changes: more concern for those left out—are we not known for our compassion?—more resistance to war—have we not always objected to the slaughter of the young?—more support if not active involvement in the complicated machinery of change.
None of this has happened.
Today I read of a woman pepper spraying a crowd of shoppers at a California Wal-Mart so she could grab the newest version of the Xbox. Pepper spray, screams, a stampede in which twenty people, probably all women, were hurt.
Is this the face we women are offering to the world—a face distorted by greed and desperation? In our economy, this shopper, with or without pepper spray, is as essential as the newest breed of bomber. We don’t so much hold up half the sky (the title of a California exhibit of work by women) as hold up half or more than half of the functioning, grinding machinery of capitalism.
In an economy of high unemployment, dependent on five percent annual growth, the woman spraying her fellow shoppers joins the ranks of the immigrant shattering the peace of a neighborhood with a leaf blower and the bulldozer beeping as it destroys a hillside for another expensive development.
Consumerism as empowerment; destruction as a national necessity.
I wonder what the woman with the pepper spray felt when she took her prize home, unwrapped it, and began to glory in its new abilities: probably satisfaction, the same satisfaction a bomber pilot feels when he eliminates a group of hurrying dots that turns out to be human beings.
But this is Thanksgiving, when no one gives thanks, or rather its cursed aftermath. Seeking a little hope, I remember the number of fathers I’ve seen this weekend, toting or pushing children on the streets of Los Angeles, behind swings in the playground, wiping noses, untangling toys, presiding over disputes.
When I began, there were no fathers to be seen in such surroundings.
It seems a slim hope, and a strange one: that these men, newly liberated into consciousness, will continue the revolution we women have betrayed.