A government for the people, of the people, by the people, requires people to care, communicate, and exchange in the marketplace of ideas. It is absolutely necessary. Deep down, we all know this, but somewhere along the way it translated into something else. And our actual reality got lost. There is a time and a place for discussion. But wait, not at work. Oh, and church is probably a bad idea. And no, most certainly do not bring up politics at family holidays. And before you know it, there doesn’t seem to be anyplace where discourse is allowed, unless it is a meet up group, or a club of some sort, and well…. if you participate in those, chances are it is because you feel welcome in said club, and chances are your club or group are pretty similar, so you aren’t really engaging in discourse anyway. This is part of the problem.
As a school teacher, politics came into my classroom often. I taught literature, and most of it was within a historical context so as to shed light on the writing and themes. How does one discuss A Tale of Two Cities without talking about the income gap? How does one make a huge novel by Charles Dickens relevant to modern youth without bringing up common parallels? How does one teach The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without discussing the deep satire of Huck preferring to go to hell rather than treat Jim badly and its connection to modern racism? How does one teach The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven without discussing the blatant racism visible in towns bordering Native Nations? How does one teach The Scarlet Letter without talking about the power of the State to dictate parental roles? How does one teach The Great Gatsby and not discuss The American Dream being sold to the rich and powerful? Answer? You can. And your classes will suck, and you will reach very few students. If you want to be a great teacher – you engage. And that makes parents very nervous. So politics come under fire in public places, and before you know it stale, meaningless education is dictated, because saving children from conflicting ideas is more important than true education. Look at the world. Look at fake news. This is part of the problem.
Every year when we get to awards season, this topic comes up. What will Sean Penn say? How about Meryl Streep? What did Robert de Niro say this time? What did Stephen King just tweet? Yeah, we loved Joker, but do we really have to listen to Joaquin talk now? And the topic surges forward. In general, people do not want celebrities to speak out. They do not want them to use their positions of influence to become ad-hawk politicians. This is VERY obvious if you look to music. Even at our local level here in Phoenix. Politics make people bristle. The walls come up. The gloves come off. And in general, political discourse makes out society either very nervous or very angry, very quickly. So you will see bands go out of their way to not offend anyone. Want proof? Ask Marc Norman if he has been allowed to wear his own Marc Norman 2020 shirt at every one of his shows. Then ask yourself why. Why do so many of us, again, even locally, once we start moving towards a public life silence our own voices? Think hard. It is easy.
Because we don’t want people to hit Unfollow or Block when we are hunting fans for our projects. And that is as easy as silencing people has become. “Oh, he made a post about guns.” Block. Unfriend. Unfollow. Silence for 30 days. And that person isn’t coming to your show. They are not buying your book. They are not following your band or your blog. They have removed you from their world view. With a click. So people choose to stay publicly neutral. This is part of the problem.
Then I discovered The Haymarket Squares. They have a song about private prisons. They have a song about Sheriff Joe. They have a song called Oligarchs. “Holy Shit!” my inner mind screamed, “Where has this band been my whole life?” If you have followed me on social media for really any time at all, you know that these songs are literally mirroring my own thoughts. And they are from Arizona, an incredibly hard state to be out spoken in. Especially if you are a liberal! I was inspired.
When I was growing up, and really developing my thoughts and views on the world, honestly literature didn’t really start speaking to me until after high school. I was into college, and suddenly my mind was exploding. Early on, this fire in my brain was kindled by music. Do you want proof that our world has changed? Pink Floyd. The Wall. U2. War. Depeche Mode. Black Celebration. The Cranberries. Zombie. Rush. Anthem. Politics drip from most of my favorite music. Constantly. Art is infused with politics. But last time Roger Waters comes to Phoenix and flashes “Trump is a Pig”? Outrage. Roger Waters has always been political folks, our society just used to be able to handle it. Our society also didn’t used to have news channels that would simply cater to exactly what you wanted to hear and were willing to pay for. We have created a world where these things are all supposed to be private. And that is part of the problem.
At work one morning about six or eight months ago, a co-worker was talking to me about my use of social media. He does not agree with me on, well, much of anything, and at one point in the conversation he said, “Yeah, but you have hundreds of followers; you influence people.” To which I answered, “Yeah, I should hope so. That’s the point.” But that short exchange says a lot, especially if we link it to the above topics. I am an independent writer. I have four books and I write a blog. I have been featured in the local news media and radio. But I am far from a celebrity speaking at the Oscars. I am far from The Haymarket Squares spreading their message through music everywhere people can hear them. And people at work still put me on that scale of, too many people know you so you now have to be quiet. This is a problem. At what point does celebrity not buy you a voice to use from the pulpit you earned, but celebrity can buy you the Presidency of The United States? Where does one person’s right to free speech start, then stop, then start again?
If you read these rhetorical questions, and really answer them, we have built an insulated world. Charter schools. Churches. Community groups. And now even work places and social media. News. Everything is compartmentalized to each, individual consumer, just like Google Ads. And realities are a matter of perception, and that truth, is eroding our ability to govern ourselves or even have discussions that don’t lead to violence.
Bands like The Haymarket Squares, with their powerful Bluegrass/ Punk for the People, and public figures like Robert de Niro and Stephen King, and local independent writers like Ryan B. Clark, and local citizens like YOU… have a responsibility to our social fabric to speak up. We have a social obligation to use those talents to somehow reach people. Otherwise…. we are all hanged. The only way to break the chain described in this poem…. is to speak up.
While you still can.
You cannot have a government for the people, of the people, by the people…. when the people are too complacent, divided, and/ or angry to care. But, I have often wondered because I know that most people in the world are just sick to death of the constant barrage of political rhetoric, am I just part of the problem? Am I just making everything worse? But what happens if I am silent? Does anything get better? What then is the right thing for a civic person to do? And again, The Haymarket Squares had a song for that too.
But I would ask you, here at the end, what does it say about a person, any person, who never asks themselves, “you know, am I just part of the problem?” What kind of person is that? What kind of person never takes that kind of personal assessment? So… perhaps… just perhaps…. it is worth listening to the thoughts of those people.
Worth a thought. Listen to The Haymarket Squares. Engage.
And Keep the Greasy Side Down, Amigos.