Yesterday, I spent the day giving talks to college students at Borough of Manhattan Community College. I spoke about my life growing up in a military family, joining the military and going to war, and becoming an anti-war activist, organizer, and filmmaker. Through telling my life’s story I tried to educate them on the true costs of war.
The main theme of my presentation boils down to three areas:
A. America is the current empire (and in decline)
B. Empires are expensive and Americans are poor (National Priorities)
C. Raising Class Consciousness (Realizing Our Source of Power)
America is the current empire
I presented the following facts, statistics, graphs, and images to give the students a sense of where America stands in the world today.
America spends over a trillion dollars a year on “defense” related spending, maintains 800 military bases around the globe, and no other military in the world can even be put on the same scale as the US of A. Since most Americans are struggling to make ends meet and our youth are growing up with an uncertain future, its hard to notice we live in an empire. Our empire is full of working class people searching for jobs, believing that the last ounce of the American Dream may fall on them. I’m just presenting a reflection of our reality to ourselves.
Many Americans don’t realize we live in an empire. Mainstream media presents a twisted worldview that many Americans seem to accept, as if other countries in the world can match our might. This show of force around the globe is similar to the patterns of the Roman Empire, who divided the world up into regional commands for their military. Divide and conquer, bread and circus, its all the same tactics and strategies from people in power controlling the bewildered herd.
Empires are expensive and Americans are poor
Half of working Americans make less than $30,000 a year. Last winter, public schools in Baltimore couldn’t turn the heat on for the students.
Our priorities as a nation are completely backwards, at least for the people. The institutions of power in this country are literally taking all of the people’s produce and turning it into bombs. Most of these bombs don’t even work properly. The students at BMCC are a diverse crowd from communities of color. They understand the concept the government always having money for war and violence but never having enough money for basic human rights like food, housing, education, and healthcare.
Raising Class Consciousness
Through showing examples like the Bonus Army, the Occupy Movement, Black Lives Matter, and Standing Rock I wanted to show the students their source of power: the people. I used the great example of the Occupy Movement, who gave us the famous slogan: 1% and 99%. This slogan is universally understood in the 21st century all around the globe. The people in power are stealing all the benefits while the rest of us are struggling to make ends meet. I think the students understood that inequality is at a really disgusting level right now but they just didn’t realize how bad things really were. That’s what happens when you hear myths about the American Dream your whole life, you hold onto that belief hoping you’ll strike gold and live that dream. I didn’t want to crush dreams, I wanted to build a vision based on historical evidence. Uniting the masses towards a single goal can and has happened. We can end the wars. We can redistribute wealth. We can take back our power. It is all possible but only if properly done.
One way of uniting the people is through a class lens. The 1% and 99% shows that we have an army of people with the same interests, an army of people getting screwed by the same system that is making the rich richer. But we have to get over our individual feuds in our communities, like racism.
I acknowledged that racism, and ultimately violence, is institutionalized but looking at society through a class lens gives us unity. I tried to explain that Black Liberation is my liberation, Palestinian Liberation is my liberation. Like Eugene Debs said, “…while there is a soul in prison, I am not free”. I saw many heads nodding in agreement. I’m hopeful many of them realize that when we overcome our smaller feuds between individuals or even communities, we can look at our struggles through a wider lens, a class lens, and see that our struggles align. Once we realize we all have common interests and we can unite with one single voice, there isn’t a military in the world that can stop us.
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