Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “oppression”

Why Riot?

I’m still away from home – down in inland southern California where it’s about 110 degrees (you may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not). Right now, I’m hiding from the heat, indoors with the air-conditioning going strong.

It’s a good time to think about when and why people seem to put themselves in a less-than-comfortable situation such as a protest or even a riot. Recently, riots have erupted all around the world – London, the middle-east, France, and right here in the USA (although not TOO out of hand for the most part). Let’s, for now, overlook the criminal behavior that oftentimes erupts from these events so that we can concentrate on the reasons the events happen in the first place. I certainly don’t intend to do some sort of exhaustive, academic treatise on the subject, but just to explore a couple of thoughts.

I’ve written about this a bit before, but let’s take it a little further. People protest when they feel that “the system” isn’t working for them. They riot when they feel helpless – as if the only thing they can do is to lash out – often against whatever target is handy – even if it’s wildly inappropriate or even counterproductive. These often savage actions arise when a crowd has decided, some individually and some only because they go along, that there is nothing else to do.

In the past, many of these uprisings have led to bloody revolutions – or at least attempts at such. In the past, insulated, uncaring governments (monarchies, dictatorships, oligarchies, etc.) have concentrated power and wealth more and more until the lower classes saw such a dismal future that they felt they had to act. What else was there to do? Vote?!?

So now we, at least in the so-called western world, have the power to vote. But what has changed? Well, some important things, to be sure. But our democracy has been around long enough to have been finessed, schmoozed, and finally taken over by the most powerful. This is true not only of the U.S., but many European democracies as well.

Many feel themselves back in the same-old situation – oppression by the powerful. And they have voted, but the options in the elections are basically red corporate dominance… or blue corporate dominance.

So what’s left? Futile acts of mob violence, directed (or misdirected) at almost random, meaningless targets. I’m not defending this, nor in any way supporting it, but this is what happens.

Again I find myself wanting to call for unified, LEGAL action. We the oppressed cannot simply strike out blindly. Instead, we have to identify the lies that have got us here – such as, “With lower taxes, corporations will create jobs,” and then get this information out to the people. Then we must, as a people (in whatever country you reside) REJECT any politician who forwards these lies.

It’s time for economic as well as social myths to be shattered. This won’t bring an end to violence, but it will surely diminish. We don’t have to be helpless.

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com


An Iraqi Veteran Against the War

I had a conversation with an ex-soldier who served in Iraq at my local coffee shop last week. I saw a sticker on his laptop, which said “Iraq Veterans Against The War” and struck up a conversation.

The first thing that hit me was his suspicion about why I was asking. It took a while to establish that I am a caffeine-addicted blogger and not an undercover MP or a reporter, despite wearing a necktie (I did score points for it being a Jerry Garcia tie). A number of times throughout the conversation I needed to confirm that I would not reveal his name or anything that might identify who he is. At first I felt he was being a trifle paranoid, but by the end, I found I have checked this article a number of times to see if I possibly left a trail.

I do not know this person, his views, experiences or anything else about him. He told me that, like so many of his peers, he saw the army as a porthole to learning a profession or getting a degree, an alternative more attractive than flipping burgers. But there was more that attracted him – a sense of belonging and pride and the opportunity to make a close group of friends. ‘I felt it would make me a better person as well – more confident, more perspective, more worldly.’

I asked him why he had the sticker and he shared two points. The first is that he felt America is dabbling in a region and culture that we have no connection to or understanding of. The people there generally don’t want us there and feel that our presence is just an obstruction to their country standing up on its own feet. I asked him if all Iraqis that he met felt this way and he replied no. There are many who see the US army as the only things standing against religious extremism.

But it is the second reason that he mentioned that has stayed with me: the feeling that the reason the US was so involved in Iraq had to do with oil. He mentioned other countries that are suffering from violence and oppressive regimes to whom we are giving little more than lip service. Guarding the interests of those who make fortunes from an energy source that is destroying the world is no reason to employ the US army, he told me.

War Vets focus their protest on the petrochemical industry's connection to the war.

While these are his thoughts and beliefs written in my words, he spoke calmly and intelligently. I felt considerable respect for this young man.

Where are the boundaries of war? Having read Khaled Hosseini’s ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns,’ I feel justified ‘freeing’ the Afghan people from Taliban oppression. I want a world where people have the freedom to choose their government, their religion, and to express their political beliefs without fear. I believe in freedom and desire to eradicate its antonym: oppression. I believe our perfect world cannot evolve without the use of force when oppressive powers refuse to listen to the needs of their people. But this is a far cry from justifying military actions to protect energy sources.

One more thing that this young war vet wanted me to make clear: He is a patriotic and proud American and would have no hesitation donning his uniform again to defend our freedom.

I believe him. He is just another Accidental Activist.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Why This Night Is Different

Tonight, Jews all over the world will sit around the dinner table and participate in a ritual thousands of years old. Two weeks ago, I joined a number of Jewish colleagues to question what is Jewish peoplehood. One answer is that it is the sharing of a collective memory. There is perhaps nothing as powerful to illustrate this as the Passover Seder (the ceremony). We have been doing this for a few thousand years and, hopefully will continue for a few thousand more.

Passover commemorates the exodus from Egypt of the Israelite slave nation. It is essentially a celebration of freedom. This year has been different. Many peoples, in the Middle East, are seeking their freedom. Some have paid for it with their lives, others have seen their homes and neighborhoods destroyed. What is so awesome is that many are trying to realize their freedom through non-violent methods.

Some will succeed, others won’t this time. When the Israelites were freed, it still took 40 years to create our peoplehood. Casting off the chains of our oppressors is one thing, but it is what we do with this freedom that defines who we really are.

At the Passover Table tonight, let us lift a fifth glass of wine for the people in the world who have freed themselves, or who are trying to free themselves. Let us offer up a prayer for their futures, that we may create a world where human rights and freedom are the only options.

And let us toast freedom for all – Le’chaim!


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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