COLUMN: The reason Americans don't care to riot
As you probably have learned somewhere, our country is supposed to function as a participatory democratic republic. Yet it seems that, with a few exceptions, we do not participate in many governing activities, other than the occasional vote for someone who nominally supports our collective, real interests.
This raises some questions; just a few of them follow. What does it take for the amorphous “people” to actively participate in their government? What is the structure of our allegedly democratic systems of governance where a hundred thousand people in Madison, Wis. can sleep in their capitol building on cold, dirty marble floors, march yelling and chanting around the capitol city in the frigid weather and still be ignored by their governor, who receives a financial contribution (bribe) to dismiss them?
Some suggest group apathy is the reason mass demonstrations protesting government actions have been rare for almost a century. It is not apathy keeping citizens at home when a bill comes through their house of representative limiting the right of unions to bargain for higher wages and benefits.
It is a mix of jealousy, benefits, the comfort of a full stomach and a warm place to sleep. We are paid well enough to secure food and creature comforts to ignore those issues being abstracted, those issues we cannot see immediately affecting our lives.
Occasionally, one of the politicians we have farcically elected to represent our interests, and only our interests, violates them so profoundly that we realize we must speak. This is what has been happening in Madison, Wis.
Why doesn’t it happen here, in Oklahoma, in Norman, on our campus? Why don’t we do that? We think we are divided politically over ideological concerns. But there is one primary difference of position that determines our opposition to, or our support of, the decisions based on those we passively elect to argue for us.
The difference is how well we are paid. How much food is in the kitchen? How much gas is in the car? How much money is in your wallet?
The reason that we, the amorphous people, do not rise up against blatant disregard for our interests is that we have just enough to get by without struggling, and are emotionally attached to those psychologically appealing fallacies that condemn those who do not have enough to get by without struggling.
Take a look at your own life. Do you like unions and the right of employees to band together to collectively bargain for improved wages and benefits? Do you think that they should get jobs, or they should sacrifice for the “greater good”? They already have jobs, and if sleeping on the floor of you capitol building, voiceless from expressing your dissent isn’t a sacrifice for the greater good, what is?
What about the sacrifices of the rich, yet to be made for this “greater good”? Perhaps you think you deserve what you work to receive. How much of a head start in life did you have? Your birth in this country, your culture-derived faith in hard work, and perhaps your gender, race, or parent’s class all helped you get ahead in our society.
Consider how much of the disgust with those living in poverty is the result of a deep fear that in fact, the poor really do not deserve to be poor, as the richest people in the world spend millions to convince us otherwise. Consider who benefits from the set up of our economy and political system; those with the most cash.
Realize your support or opposition to our political system is directly related to the amount of money in your pocket. Realize how destructively simplistic a system in which possession of capital above all other concerns is to your life, and the lives of everyone you’ve ever met. Realize, and do something about it.
— Sarah Garrett, anthropology sophomore