"We" Will Not Overcome but "You" Might Have a Chance
I've seen Henry Rollins in concert probably a dozen times. Both musically (Rollins Band — never saw Black Flag live) and spoken word. I had the pleasure of interviewing him twice. The experience is like being regaled by the smartest weirdo at the party who simply cannot stop talking and never even bothers to stop to take a drink.
And every time I see him in concert, he says something that is something I've been thinking around but haven't quite found a way of saying it.
The paraphrase of the nugget of truth that Rollins dropped on me was that he no longer believes in a united "we" when it comes to humans, and specifically when it comes to Americans. That "we" have had numerous opportunities to create equality among our citizens and that "we" just aren't that into it. The Emancipation Proclamation. The League of Nations. The Civil Rights Act. Plenty of opportunities to push through an agenda of peace and equality but we just don't seem to ever get it right. "We" are just a series of little countries, stitched together regardless of wildly varying cultural traditions and ideologies and it is "you" individually making choices that will or will not foment change.
It's not a revolutionary idea. But the way he put it crystallized my thoughts about protest, patriotism, the concept of what makes a community, let alone a country.
Now, in that privilege-checking way (because apparently, no opinion offered from a position of privilege is valid unless you acknowledge that you're just luckier than shit and those less lucky should feel validated), I am, and have always been, in the majority. White, Male, College Educated, No Anxiety Issues, No Major Health Issues, Employed, Straight. If you hadn't figured that out from, say, multiple pictures of me or my fucking pretentious male-centric, machismo tattoos (Bukowski, DFW, Dr. Who) then let's just agree that I am overwhelmingly of privilege and move the fuck on, yeah?
The concept of "we" is used in various ways — "we" as in Americans United Under a Common Flag, "we" as residents of a specific place (Chicago, Portland, Dallas, Miami), "we" as the minority of any political system. White people don't generally talk in terms of "we–white people" because white people are the majority and so white people have the position of "I." Only in political terms, in ways to try and leverage power dynamics, do groups of people who either look like each other or have the same deviance from the white, straight thing use the term "we" in spite of the fact that that act really only proliferates existing stereotypes.
The problem with "we" in this current political climate is that to have a "we" you gotta have a "them" and there are so many fucking "thems" that the unified enemy concept is completely lost.
- White People
- Black People
- The South
- The Midwest
- The One Percent
- The 99%
- International Terrorists
- Domestic Terrorists
- The Middle East
- and on and on and on...
"Them" is so fractured and multifaceted that for any sort of "we" to exist, enough of "us" need to fucking agree upon an enemy, and everyone is so focused on their specific needs that there cannot be any sense of unification. Which is why most protesting that goes on today counts hundreds in number rather than hundreds of thousands and are ultimately about as effective as an online petition signed by people on Facebook.
Like Henry, I'm done with "we." I don't really see the state of Florida as existing within the allegiance of the country I live in (Illinois). Kansas is slowly becoming a third world country as Voodoo Economics is forced down the throats of the poor and the uneducated. Arizona? Seriously? As Rollins points out, even stupid people aren't stupid all the time, and every single person who rallies for Trump is doing so with a clear conscience and a thought out rationale, and I don't feel any kind of "we" with them.
When I hear someone intone the sacred moniker of "we," I will immediately dismiss this as bullshit. There is only "I" and "you," and what each individual decides to do with his, her or their time. The politick of today is populated with individuals all fighting for their individual cause and I'm cool with that. Makes it easier than joining some cause that I find out later is so self-serving that it excludes so many in need in order to gain power and attention.