Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

“The imaginary lines on the earth’s surface only needed to be unimagined. The airborne birds skipped them
by nature. How mad the frontiers had seemed to Lyo-Lyok, and would to Man if he could learn to fly.”

T.H. White

Ath-thawra 3alami: The revolution is global

Finding an image to accompany a post is often a painful as well as a painstaking process. I search under various terms in DuckDuckGo Images, and eventually settle for something with which I’m not necessarily satisfied. But this picture, of demonstrators in Madison, Wisconsin, expressing their resolve to halt their governor’s drive to deprive public employees of collective-bargaining rights, was an exception. It leapt from the page and buried its fangs in my visual cortex.

Protest for labor rights: Madison, WI

Madison, Wisconsin, 2011: With all the pomp of power looking down upon them, protesters speak up for
collective-bargaining rights.
[ Image Source ]

This transfixion was not the result of technology or the digital artist’s sorcery; actually, much of the photograph is blurry and some is grainy. But the iconography of the juxtaposition it depicts transports it to a realm of metaphor in which such aesthetic standards mean nothing.

What do I see in this picture?

Two opposing cultures (and the economic classes they represent) are on display here. Looming in the background, its pristine white dome illumined by spotlights, is the state capitol building; silhouetted against it in the foreground, amid the protesters, a martial statue stands. And all around, mostly facing away and to the right and none discernible as an individual, there are people.

Dan La Botz has written an excellent article, and I commend him for it. He has offered us historical context for the American labor movement and candidly confessed astonishment at the new forms in which it is now appearing. He has described with admirable lucidity the problems of the lower and middle classes as they come under increasingly heavy attack from the corporate ruling elite and its lackeys in government and the media. And he has prescribed tactics and hinted at strategies by which American workers might begin to create real resistance in what has so far been a one-sided class war.

Even so, there is an element missing here. The article recognizes as axiomatic the essential unity of those outside the elite across the United States. But it fails to take due note of the commonality of concerns that links ordinary people across the world, and unites them in a common war against an elite that has always ignored the invisible lines on earth's surface which have for too long divided us.

This revolution is global.

In Cairo as in Tunis, in Manama as in Tripoli, we can see a pattern. Although the scenes and actors vary, the theme is a constant: All the pomp, the grandeur, the symbolic authority and might of the ruling elite takes shape in buildings, in statues, in spotlights, domes and fluted columns — all intended to awe citizens into humility and compliance and the complaisance of those whom power has taught to reverence it. And then, dwarfed and blurred by the anonymity of their numbers, there are people. And who must ultimately win, when the people finally unite against their despoilers and bid them begone? Ask Zine Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak.

Remember it. For there are two sides, and there always have been: the ruling elite, and the rest of us.

Originally published as a review of a Monthly Review article on the history and present condition of the U.S. labor movement.

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