A letter to an American activist
What has caused the United States of America to sink to the depths of turmoil and confusion that it finds itself in today? This is a country that was founded upon the ideals of freedom, justice and democracy, but that has increasingly lost its way and degraded these noble concepts. Should the ‘statue of Liberty Enlightening the World’ really bow her head and reassemble her broken shackles, and let go her flaming torch? Perhaps those shackles represent not the end of servitude and oppression, but rather the ugly and imprisoning idea of the American Dream as it manifests in such a highly materialistic, divisive society.
Why don’t most of us perceive the dangers inherent in pursuing the American Dream? Everyone understands its meaning in a general sense, in terms of the desire to be successful, rich and happy. But few of us reflect on how that dream has misled the people of America, and increasingly debased the true values of this great nation. Indeed, it is a dream that was originally built on theft from the indigenous peoples that rightfully inhabited the continent. A dream that legitimates the drive for profit through an ever-intensifying path of commercialisation—the necessary basis for fulfilling America’s desire to have a wealthy and superior way of life. The American Dream was not abducted by commercialisation, but freely given to it ever since its inception. And in that process, the Land of Liberty has become the chief proponent of a market forces ideology that it ruthlessly exported throughout the world, leading to widespread social upheaval and escalating international tensions.
From an inner or psychological perspective, the American Dream should really be perceived as a self-centred and harmful concept, in that it leads so many people to pursue wealth and success in an ever-elusive search for happiness, regardless of the consequences for others. It is a big lie that millions of young people continue to fall for, one that poses a very effective tool for the forces of commercialisation to manipulate and misguide us. For in our desire to become a ‘somebody’, to become ever wealthier and perhaps even famous and powerful, it is not long before our personalities are influenced by greed and indifference which inevitably suppresses our emotional intelligence. When perceived inwardly, it is greed alone that separates us from the reality of the heart and its attributes, and gradually influences us to become indifferent to the suffering or wellbeing of others. Even if we do not yearn to become rich and successful by dint of our fame or achievements, the social conditioning of the American Dream still causes us to distort our life purpose through the narrow, acquisitive and selfish pursuit of our personal happiness. Rarely does the question then occur to us: what about the others who didn’t make it? Does their inability to compete mean they have no right to live in America?
The one who is heavily conditioned by the American Dream is subject to a form of mental blindness wherein they see only themselves, and not the spiritual reality of our interconnected lives among seven billion people. Their love is often crushed in such a way that they are proud to call themselves a patriotic American, even when, all around them, countless others are living in the most deprived and desperate circumstances. This pernicious conditioning also encourages children to grow up with the idea that America is the most important country in the world, leading them to enter into adulthood with little awareness of the extreme poverty and hardship that is experienced by the people of less privileged nations. It is not uncommon for those who live in the United States to have absolutely no idea where Africa is situated on a world map, let alone any notion of how devastating American foreign policy is for countless innocent people in far-away regions.
The very phrase ‘American Dream’ is divisive and divorced from spiritual reality, for it has sadly misguided generations of ordinary Americans from perceiving the reality of humanity’s oneness and interdependency. No matter how it is defined in a dictionary, from a spiritual or moral standpoint the American Dream will always be associated with division and injustice, as evidenced in past centuries until this day. It is in fact a peculiarly self-centred idea that is only unconsciously tinted with spiritual aspiration—for if it were inspired by a truly spiritual vision then it would have been the One Humanity Dream, and nothing else. As a consequence, the American Dream has always separated itself from the highest ideal of the commons; that is, the common good of humanity as a whole.
It is natural for the people of America to love their country and their way of life, if they find they can fit into that way of life and close their minds to the world’s problems. But the American Dream of individual prosperity and happiness is not connected to reality anymore, not in light of all the crises and mass injustices that plague the earth today. To carry on repeating the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, while America fails to open her arms to the rest of the world, is really a narrow-minded and meaningless gesture in this respect. Can you imagine pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America with your hand on heart, while your other hand holds a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—which declares that everyone in the world has the right to liberty and justice, and not just Americans? How would that feel—knowing that millions of people are needlessly dying from hunger and poverty each year, while America hoards and wastes such a vast proportion of the world’s resources?
The true American Dream—a dream that represents the soul of the nation as a whole—is to help and uplift the world in cooperation with other countries. That is very different from the old idea of the American Dream that has crystallised over many generations, and exists with its polar opposite in the form of socialism and communism. A true and noble concept should be inclusive and not exclusive, and yet both the capitalist and communist nations have failed to live up to their respective visions of equality and the general welfare, and have instead violated human rights on a colossal scale and instigated widespread global conflict. Despite all the pain and suffering these ideologies have caused both before and after the two World Wars, none of the major powers have learnt the necessary lesson of sacrifice and cooperative sharing for the common good of all. In the unique case of America, whose presidents still espouse their role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity, it has continually chosen to go the opposite way by pursuing an aggressive self-interest that is thinly disguised as national security.
One may argue, in its defence, that the United States has given so much in overseas aid for humanitarian causes. But by exploiting other countries through unjust trade and illegal wars, and then donating a tiny proportion of its ill-gotten gains to help alleviate the suffering that it also caused, it really assumes the role of a deceiving world philanthropist. And that aid represents utter hypocrisy when billions of dollars are given to help poor or distressed foreign countries, while millions of citizens within the United States are tragically ignored by their government. Why has America recently given a billion dollars of aid to Ukraine in Eastern Europe, for example, while it abandons the poor and marginalised people of its own in Detroit? The obvious answer is that the federal government primarily serves the nation’s strategic self-interests and opportunities for profit, which is the game of commercialisation that has gradually fused with the old idea of the American Dream, until both are now virtually synonymous.
For too long, America has been guided by this harmful ideology that sustains its global pursuit of profit and power, thereby damaging the lives of other nations with scant regard for its self-professed moral values. If nothing else, the sorry state of America today shows that political and business leaders need a total re-education along more spiritual lines, based on the principle of right human relationship. America has to drastically change its priorities towards itself and towards the world, so that common sense, humility and compassion become the shining hallmarks of its government and society. Yet even to state this simple truth sounds like a fantasy when most of those in positions of power are held sway by the forces of commercialisation, which makes any discussion of basic moral and spiritual values appear almost utopian.
Unless America radically changes its ways, it will soon go down a dark and dangerous alley for some time to come, one where riots, violence and all kinds of social upheaval will increasingly take place. Such is the by-product of continuing to follow an individualistic and divisive idea of progress, as evidenced in all the neurosis, hatred and crime that has long been rampant across the nation. The political process in the United States has become increasingly corrupt and profit-oriented, while its national debt is clearly unpayable—hence a terminal period of financial turmoil will inevitably erupt in the years ahead. And the prospects are dire for a nation that still trains its citizens to believe with pride in their right to achieve an extravagant level of personal wealth and material comfort, no matter what the cost in terms of environmental ruin or exploitation of poorer countries. Now that the prospect of indefinitely sustaining the American way of life has become an absurdity, many citizens across the nation are beginning to question, with a sense of deep foreboding: ‘Where is the hope that our leaders vainly promised, and what is the fate that will soon befall us?’
There is no doubt that the people of goodwill throughout America must rise up in unison together, standing in peaceful opposition to the government’s policies as it profits from wars and defends corporate interests, instead of helping ordinary citizens in their time of greatest need. Who is going to help Detroit now that it is bankrupt, for example? Will it be the Pentagon or the CIA, who usurp so much of the nation’s income and resources? America has become like a dysfunctional family in which the children are being abused and neglected until they are eventually forced to leave home and look after themselves. In a similar way, the government in Washington is like the parent who is failing to look after all her children, namely the fifty states, many of whom like Detroit may soon fall into crisis as the economy melts. Is it not inevitable that many of these states will ultimately abandon Washington completely? For it is the people of Detroit who made Detroit, and the people of New Orleans who made New Orleans—not Washington.
The popular demonstrations that spread across the United States in 2011 revealed how many intelligent young people have had enough of the American Dream and all it represents, even if that awareness is felt unconsciously. Their act of demonstrating as one in peaceful protest is actually an expression of love and maturity, as well as intelligence. For in love there is freedom in the truest sense—a freedom from the old, from injustice, from the grand theft and corruption that has blighted America’s profounder greatness for so many years. Those who stand in the streets and uphold the real meaning of liberty, democracy and justice are the ones who Americans should be duly proud of, instead of clinging on to a false pride in the so-called American way of life.
Many of the Occupy protesters perceived with common sense how the American Dream has misled and divided an entire nation, giving America a vulgar reputation on the global stage. They are the real heroes of the nation, the ones who should be standing on top of the Statue of Liberty and symbolically lighting her torch. They are the ones who want to live with maturity and responsibility, rather than allowing their free will to be constantly manipulated by corporations and self-serving politicians. They are the ones who are denouncing the forces of commercialisation that hide behind the American Dream, and that try to misdirect our attention by telling us what to think and what to do, instead of allowing us to live freely in the moment of now with honesty and detachment. Of course, there are many others who still strongly believe in the American Dream with a misplaced sense of pride, and who therefore looked at the tents in Zuccotti Park with bewilderment and misunderstanding, and even felt that the protesters were betraying the American way of life. But the hour is coming when all the people of America will have to ask themselves: what is the meaning of this way of life, and where is it leading us?
The government and police may believe that they have eliminated those tents from public areas, but they do not realise that they cannot eliminate all the tents that remain in the hearts of America’s youth. The politicians are gravely mistaken if they believe those tents will not return, for they are already multiplying more and more, silently and gradually from heart to heart. It may seem as if nothing is happening right now, but it is foreseeable that, sooner or later, there will not be just one encampment of tents in a city park, but an entire nation of tents that cannot be dismantled by even the national guard.
Perhaps the hour is coming when the police must ask themselves what justice really means, and what is the meaning of law and order. Perhaps they should set up a special body within the Department of Justice to study the political causes of social unrest, and then tell the government to stop causing that unrest through their harmful policies and wrong priorities. For if the government is creating disorder and injustice, how can it call on the police to bring back order and stand for justice? Does it make any sense when many people on the streets are compassionate and intelligent, and out of love they leave their homes to demonstrate for justice in accordance with its true meaning? Should the police therefore continue to arrest and bully their fellow citizens who valiantly march with such goodwill, or should they turn their attention towards the government and say: enough is enough! We are human beings and not machines, and we will no longer follow your corrupt orders to stand against our own people!
For the time being, the dominant laws of commercialisation have swept away those tents and protests from our towns and city squares. But if we look carefully within ourselves, we can see that a planetary tent has begun to vibrate in our consciousness. Let us all begin constructing this planetary tent in a collaborative endeavour, building it in such a way that finally, when we look up into its dome, we can see the reflection of all the faces of every human being around the world. It is up to you, the youth of America, to show us the way by organising a non-stop demonstration in every state, until that nationwide wave of nonviolent protest eventually catches on globally.
All those groups who seek a just and sustainable society based on right relationship should quickly come together, mindful of the fact that it will take time to structure a common vision of change. Do not be discouraged by the pundits in ties and suits who speak on television about your marches and sit-ins, saying that you have no leadership or clear demands. Most of those complacent critics have no idea what is taking place in the hearts and minds of America’s youth today. And it is to be expected that an inclusive call for justice and freedom cannot be structured to begin with, for the forces of commercialisation are like a powerful magnet that constantly overwhelms us and pulls us in different directions. So do not worry about how to structure your call through formal demands for new policies and institutional arrangements, but instead continue untiringly with your creative demonstrations, and in this way try to inspire the rest of the world to join you.
Through the unification of our efforts, we may also quickly realise that the principle of sharing is the master key to structuring our expression of love in society. One of the foremost attributes of this undervalued principle is to bring people together in freedom and joy, which was beautifully (if transiently) realised in the spontaneous protest movements of recent years within many cities worldwide. These huge political demonstrations, in their togetherness and joyful celebration, stood in contrast to all the ‘isms’ of the past and the divisive poison of commercialisation. Compared to the many violent revolutions witnessed throughout modern history, we can feel that something profoundly new has arisen. And that new factor is the releasing of the heart en masse, by simply allowing the heart to speak and freely express itself in unified group formation.
If we empty our minds of intellectual content and look at the world through the perception of the heart, the first thing we see is not injustice but solely a lack of love. Indeed, it is the non-expression of love in a body politic that brings about the expression of injustice in every way. And that is why the principle of sharing holds such unimaginable power. The youth of America must know that freedom has never before and never will exist without love and sharing. Today we live in such complex and commercialised societies that even love has become a wounded, sorrowful and meaningless word. And yet our lives together could be so joyful and creative if only we shared the world’s resources more equitably among us all.
Thus it is imperative that we set aside some time to reflect upon the meaning of sharing in relation to the political economy and our everyday lives, for sharing is our most faithful guide to the expression of a healthy, sustainable life with justice. We are not talking about socialism, or communism, or any other political ism; we are talking about the universal principle that, when implemented into social and economic policies by our governments, can finally heal our ailing societies and solve so many of the world’s problems.
Why, after all, are we demonstrating, if not for the love and joy that has been taken away from all of us? Why are we demonstrating, if not for the extremes of poverty and wealth that has divided us from one another in a world of plenty? Why are we demonstrating, if not for the ideologies and isms that are constantly thrown at us in such a polarised and demoralised society, where each day feels the same as every other day in its soullessness and anxiety? Surely the Occupy protests were not only initiated to change politics and reform the economy, but also to regain our joy of living and spiritually re-occupy our hearts. Are we simply fighting for the sake of our children and future generations, or because we yearn for something better for ourselves, too? Don’t we also want to live each day afresh and new with a sense of connectedness and purpose, free from the constant stress and money-making that suppresses who we truly are?
Even from a purely practical perspective, it is strategically advantageous to unify our call for governments to implement the principle of sharing, rather than to engage in an endless fight against capitalism or the system. The youth should know that when we assume a position of anti-capitalism, we immediately fall into the mouth of the wolf that is commercialisation. The system wants us to adopt the mind-set of ‘anti’ and ‘isms’, for capitalism itself is a very clever and sophisticated ism that voraciously feeds off our opposition and antagonism. While we have the right to express anger and oppose the systemic causes of injustice, it is futile to fight against the system when the forces mobilised to defend it are so formidable and apparently within the law. The moment we oppose those forces they will immediately bring us down and humiliate us, and cunningly push us towards violence. And that violence will beget further violence, which is exactly what the system wants in order to defend and perpetuate itself.
We should therefore be very mindful of falling into this trap, and we should not even entertain the thought of being ‘against’ or ‘anti’ the corporatised system per se. Instead, we should work with intelligence from the heart, for this is the only place where the forces of commercialisation cannot infiltrate. It is the heart and not the idea itself that unites us, for within the wisdom of one human heart lies the wisdom of all humanity. A revolution that is instigated via ideology invariably leads to further social division and violence, but a revolution that originates via the engagement of the heart will naturally lead to common sense, togetherness, sharing and all-inclusive love. Could it be that through millions of people coming together and calling for sharing as the means to achieving justice, even the establishment politicians and the police will eventually come and join us?
So let’s permanently gather in the streets and wisely articulate the yearning of our hearts, away from all the isms and our wrong education of the past. Let’s not demand that our government restructures itself and the economy in the name of socialism, capitalism or any other ism, but rather in the name of who we are—that is, in the name of we the people who are born with an equal right to evolve with dignity, freedom and in peace. This is the shift in consciousness that is necessary to change America and the world, which can only arise in the absence of any thought of ideology or personal self-interest.
We know that all the problems in society are escalating day by day, and it is impossible to go on living as we did before. We are tired of those selfish and materialistic ways, we don’t want to return to that bygone era, and besides we can no longer afford to. So let’s demand a just sharing of resources and not be concerned when the politicians call us naïve, for we know that a call for sharing comes from the heart when fused with common sense and reason. Let’s refuse to conform any longer to the maleficent game of commercialisation, and together let’s demonstrate for a new way of life, a new world and a new dispensation.
At the same time, let’s be aware that there is no such thing as an American justice, but only justice in its universal dimensions. And the concept of freedom does not represent or belong to America alone—it represents life, wherever you are, and belongs to love itself. Such has it always been, and always will be. In this way, our demands should not be confined to American national interests, which was a crucial mistake of the Occupy movement in its original manifestation. Why don’t we also uphold a vision of sharing, freedom and justice for our brothers and sisters in other countries? Why say we are the 99% of all the people in America, and not the 99% of all the 7 billion people throughout the world? We have already focused on our national affairs for as long as we can remember; now it is time for us to embrace the needs of humanity as a whole. It’s time to ennoble ourselves with dignity when we go out in peaceful protest, and to expand our consciousness to the planetary level through compassion and love for others.
Clearly the problems that are happening in America are also happening across the world, as reflected in the unprecedented number of mass protests that are erupting everywhere. If our common demands hail from a truly international perspective of justice and equality, we will be more encouraged to see other groups doing the same in other cities overseas, and vice versa. Together, we will galvanise each other to carry on participating in around-the-clock demonstrations, gaining more and more support. This is how the youth of America can inspire the rest of the world to join them, and how the call for sharing can rapidly grow on a worldwide scale: by upholding the concerns not just of the 300 million people in America, but of the 7-plus billion people with whom we share our planetary home.
From this understanding, we should also adopt as our slogan Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for it will naturally structure our national uprisings and light the way for demonstrations in other countries. As the venerable Article states: ‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.’ Nowhere in the world are these basic rights fulfilled for everyone, and for the evident reasons we have acknowledged—including the laws that protect the interests of elite privilege and commercialisation, and the politics of international competition that effectively renounces the founding vision of the United Nations. The covert manoeuvrings of American foreign policy, alongside the self-interested geopolitical strategies of all the other major powers, represents the implicit denial of Article 25 for many millions of the world’s people. Yet still the United States government shamelessly professes that it stands for global justice and human rights, while 40,000 people needlessly die every day from hunger and diseases of poverty. Do they take us for fools, or shall we continue to remain silent while this daily massacre endures?
If we identify ourselves with the common good of one humanity, it is therefore appropriate that we uphold Article 25 as a slogan that represents the hearts and minds of everyone in the world. We all want peace, we all want justice, we all want a clean and safe environment; but before we ask for that peace and justice for ourselves, we want to see an irrevocable end to the blasphemy of hunger and penury in a bountiful world. It is not only a question of morality and justice, but also of intelligent strategy and common sense. We’ve been fighting capitalism and the system for hundreds of years, and yet the situation is getting worse and worse for the majority poor and excluded. So there is nothing to lose by changing our tactics and unifying our call for Article 25 as a universal approach for transformative social change.
We cannot underestimate the uplifting effect this will have on our societies and our collective consciousness. Never before have we witnessed vast numbers of people in the street calling for the abolition of extreme poverty through ceaseless worldwide actions of solidarity and massed goodwill. Can we envision what may happen if American activists advocate, in this way, for both national and international economic policies based on the principle of sharing? We can be sure that New York City will be full of tents and non-stop protest activity, because the poor will also join in and strengthen this burgeoning mass movement. What’s more, billions of people will heed the call in other continents, from Africa and Asia to South America, because then we are talking about their lives too.
So let this be our resounding call: not to instigate a revolution ‘against’ the rotten system we live in, for this is likely to achieve nothing once our voices get lost in the interminable fighting of ideologies and isms. The system is here to stay, in one form or another, so we should rather transform it through a wholly inclusive demand for what is most urgent and important: the immediate guarantee of basic socioeconomic rights for every man, woman and child.
Just imagine how easily this could be achieved, if only our governments were impelled by overwhelming public pressure to completely reorder their priorities, and to work in genuine cooperation with other nations to share the resources of the world. As history has often revealed, even a handful of people can create unbelievable changes if they are in the right place at the right time, and with an idea whose time has come. And now is the time for us to breathe life once again into The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, until she drops her torch in protest and holds up a giant banner that reads: ‘Article 25: The True American Dream!’
RISE UP, AMERICA, RISE UP!
I miss those tents and those occupiers who lifted my hopes upwards into the light.
Where are you people?
I can still feel your pain and your aspirations.
I can still hear your voices in the heat of the night.
I miss your faces, your joy, your call for a new life. I miss you all.
Where are you people?
For you are the hope of all the world, if only you knew.
Mohammed Sofiane Mesbahi is STWR's founder.
Editorial assistance: Adam Parsons.
Photo credit: Shutterstock, copyright Misti Hymas