Truth is a commodity in short supply in politics. Maybe this has always been the case? Certainly the people who take wealth and power from the many and concentrate it amongst the few have a history of grand deceptions based on the ignorance of the masses. From Latin bible read to illiterates through the divine right of kings up to the democratic nationalist state elites have dominated through lies. In the current system of supposedly democratic government lies are particularly corrosive. They butcher the language that is so crucial for the very act of politics, understood as cooperation and compromise. Lies destroy the ability of the people to comprehend the actions of their rulers and undercut the few in the political class who seek to make constructive progress. It is as if two men are handcuffed together at the wrist and not only can they not agree where to go, but cannot decide the meaning of left or right anymore.

 

This is why the Obama presidency is so shocking. By calling his actions other than they are he has corrupted the very base of serious political discussion. He runs on a platform that contradicts his actions and symbolises ideals that he has never, ever pursued. He is a peace prize winner who expands war and continues to attack civil liberties. Bush lied, for sure, but that was never in doubt. He did it with a wink and sly, smug smile that said as much and let everyone know it didn’t matter that they knew, because he could get away with it. Obama is following to a quite amazing degree in the footsteps of Bush, yet Bush doing the same resulted in backlash from reasonable people whilst Obama gets cheered on by the same. At least one knows where they stand with a used car salesman; an accomplished con-man is far more dangerous.

 

In an environment where both political parties have become so corrupted that the very language they talk has lost meaning in reality, it is important to treasure the truth. By calling things simply as they are, shorn of jargon, political phrases, or media buzz-words, there exists the hope for movement towards an improved reality. For people who care about peace, it is imperative that peace does not mean war. To this end, it seems to me, that the critics of the current system must guard against following the fashion of the times and trading on half-truths or worn out slogans.

 

One of the great slogans of the Occupy movement is “We are the 99%”. However, whilst travelling in the US it is one that I felt was hollow. The reality is, that for a great many people the system there works very, very well indeed. If this system is to be challenged by mobilising people to change it, this fact must be recognised. Certainly it is possible to point to a massive numerical difference in wealth between that 1% and the rest, but in reality there is far more to connect them to the American middle class than there is the rest against them. One in seven Americans have no medical insurance and 48,000 people died last year from preventable illness but inadequate medical provision. The reality is though, that the six of seven people who do have insurance are much closer as a group than the inequality amongst them suggest. This is just one example, but across the country it is clear that the US system is working very well for a great many of its citizens and opulently so.

 

(As a quick aside, those 48,000 dead last year – Michael Moore’s number that I have taken and trusted – they died after three years of a president whose great achievement is healthcare reform. Obama’s reforms will not take effect until 2014, so that even if he is reelected, by the time the first results can be shown he will be in the final, lame duck, year of his presidency. Still, despite not having done anything yet and being a very dubious set of reforms that would seem to benefit the insurance industry most, he and his supporters trumpet this emotive issue as a great success. It is an emotive issue on the left, but Obama still provided a bill far to the right of the majorities wishes, refusing to even fight for the overwhelmingly popular single payer system the majority desired. This is the sort of hollow electioneering that will be lapped up by partisans, but amounts to nothing, a slogan of ‘my great success is what I wish for the future’ whilst underming the very sentiment in practice.)

 

For those Americans who are employed, with health insurance, paying their mortgage, and whose children can afford an education it is difficult to propose radical change. It is folly to lump them together with those people so brutally cut off the bottom in the world’s most callous industrial system. When visiting Occupy sites in the US they were clearly in a phase when the initial momentum of the moment that created them was failing. They needed to find concrete proposals that could be put forward as a platform and ultimately show some success for the movement to provide sustenance to its supporters. By trading on slogans that failed to really grasp the true division of classes that they sought to challenge, they in effect made themselves obsolete. By entering the playing field of conventional politics on compromised ground they assumed a position of weakness; the strength of a radical critique of systemic injustice lies in its truth.

 

I believe that this tactical error is compounded by the fact that there does exist in true class solidarity a great possibility for success. After eight years of terribly divisive politics and with an unusually charismatic campaign that exploited the great desire for a transformation in the spirit of politics – even if it was the most callous sort of ploy – voter turnout just touched 60%. The historic trend is nearer 50% and will surely move towards that this fall, if the positive economic news is not entirely from cooked books. When 26% of the electorate is a landslide a true effort to unite the underclass has in it the potential to radically alter the political scene. Sure, there will still exist the barriers to political influence for the poor that currently exclude them, but these need not be insurmountable, especially long-term. Imagine, if all those underemployed people in the US, about 20% of the workforce, voted for the green party. At the very least, there would suddenly be a new dynamic to the two party system, if not its overnight evaporation. The Democratic party would be compelled to court these voters again in a serious way that adds actions to phrases and plays for rather than on colour.

 

Occupy though seems to be more intent in sculpting a class narrative that separates 1% from the rest, when the reality is far less stark. Families who won a home but not a yacht are closer to the elite than they are to the gutter. A class war is being waged, it is clearly being won by the very narrow elite that is called the 1%, but to then assume that the 99% are a solid group is to confuse the situation. Suggestions of future wealth and a propaganda that glorifies a new form of aristocracy have clearly been powerful motivators for upwardly aspirant, secure, and, relative to the poorest, affluent sectors of society for some time. Turning them against their own ideals will be hard. For property owning families whose retirement savings are being gambled with on Wall Street it is very possibly against their interests. Many people are better off for the bank bailouts and they know it. Of course, there were far better alternatives aside from the flaccid scare stories peddled of social meltdown, but nonetheless action was needed and what worked for people they feel attached to, especially when they don’t care to understand the situation they were apparently saved from.

 

It feels like a real shame that what I saw of Occupy was so starkly a white movement. Inequality in the US is so heavily biased against blacks and other ethnic minorities that these should be the first group to be involved in fashioning a radical solution. That said, given the starkly racist reality, or racially biased to be less controversial, it must be hard to convince these groups with a clarion call that lumps them together with 99% of other Americans. It just isn’t true. A tactical engagement that seeks concrete political ends could do worse, in my opinion, than speak plainly about this fact and seek out support from these communities. It would also benefit from the greater degree of community organisation that exists in here. At some stage someone will have to speak for the Occupy movement, however much that sort of personification is rejected by the members, and it will have to talk to people. If that involves telling the truth about the system where a great many lives like kings, far more than 1%, it will certainly alienate a large section of society, but this does not matter the slightest. The strength of the movement rather is in radically mobilising a minority. American democracy exists on just these groups. Speak plainly and speak truthfully, the ugly reality will then speak for itself.

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