We Are People Here!

General Meeting: Democracy At The Crossroads Opening remarks of Craig Barnes

June 22, 2011

Welcome.  Welcome to you all.  Thank you for coming.

If the great corporate meat grinder has taken away your job, your home, your insurance or your vote, has ripped away from you your faith in democracy or drowned you with mind numbing aphorisms about the free market and insulted your intelligence, you are one of us.  We are all people here, and we are rising up to claim back our democratic story, our dignity, our right to work, our right to our homes, our ranches and our farms, our water and our air, and a government by the people.  These things are the birthright of every American, written indelibly on our foreheads, indivisible and inalienable.  Our right to jobs, homes and health are not for sale to China; they are not for sale to Saudi Arabia; they are not for sale to Canada, Burundi  or British Petroleum; they are a part of the American intellectual commons and belong to natural born, living persons and their grandchildren, for all time. 

We are people here.  Our children are not subsidiaries; our labor is not a statistic, our future is not for sale on the great corporate commodities market.

If you are a person too, welcome; you are one of us.

During the years 1985-87, I served as editor of research papers prepared by Soviet and American scientists evaluating the probabilities of a nuclear exchange.  These papers were published in the autumn of 1988 in a book entitled Breakthrough, Emerging New Thinking.  It was the first joint publication of Soviet and American scientists since the Russian Revolution of 1917.  One of those papers was offered by Soviet Academician Boris Raushenbakh who candidly reported that Soviet and American computer alarm systems were locked in a potentially fatal interactive embrace.  If, for example, a flock of geese flying past US radar in Alaska was treated as suspicious and possibly an incoming flight of missiles, the US would instantly step up its preparations at its missile launch sites.  The Soviets, said Raushenbakh, maintained their own watch systems designed to observe increased activity at US missile sites. So when the geese flew and US missile activity increased, Russian computers would —and here is the key—automatically order their defense command to escalate their level of alert and increase their activity, opening their silos, maybe starting their engines.  When US satellite computers, in turn, registered the increase in activity or even extra heat from Soviet silos the—again—automatic signal was sent to American commanders to start their countdown toward Armageddon.

In effect, observed Academician Raushenbakh in Moscow in 1986, the computers—interacting with other computers and without human intervention— would take over the escalation toward nuclear holocaust.  Machines without names or feelings, intuition, or judgment, at that time controlled the fate of the earth.

Fortunately for civilization, when General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met with Ronald Reagan at Reykjavik in Iceland in October of 1986 the two of them had a frank discussion.   Reagan had an emotional reaction that led him to come out of the meeting and propose the mutual elimination of all nuclear weapons. Reagan was, unfortunately, talked out of this giant step forward by his cold-war-indoctrinated, and military-industrial-complex-allegiant, advisors. 

While that monumental advance was therefore not made, the substitution of the judgment of two humans for that of the computers was significant.  Machines do not do as well as humans when it comes to saving civilization. 

I recently read a report that said that buy and sell orders on the US Stock Exchange are triggered by the thousands to occur within nano seconds of the receipt of new market information. Thus the market may shoot up or down within seconds because of computers reacting to one another without human control.  Now we have—not nuclear control systems collapse—but economic distortion or collapse once again at the mercy of machines that do not feel, intuit, wonder or doubt. This condition of the stock market is capitalism on algorithmic auto pilot, capable of crashing and burning without intercession of human values.  In one case last year, 27,000 futures contracts changed hands in 14 seconds. 

That is the state of the corporate-led economy tonight. It is led by numbers, algorithms, ratios and by the machines of profit that have no allegiance to, or concern for, human suffering, or the need for community, for education, for basic scientific research, for preservation of our forests, or for our waters or our air.  Corporations and the machines that tell them when to buy and sell are engaged in an automated competition that is the opposite of collective sharing or community responsibility, or ancient religious codes of morality. They perseverate on profit. That is their design.  If they do not perseverate on profit they are malfunctioning.

Perseverating on one sole thing, profit, is a single-minded focus which if found in a human being would be treated as mental illness.  This is therefore a form of institutionalized mental illness that the Supreme Court of the United States unleashed into our elections with Citizens United. Think of it as a flood of money from mentally unbalanced automatons.  Think of it—not as a charge that any humans are morally depraved—but rather that the engines of finance—and that is what a corporation is, an engine of finance—are defined by charter to operate in a morally depraved way.

This automated and institutionalized moral disregard led to 3.8 million real people losing their jobs during the Bush presidency.  It led to 8 million jobs shipped overseas during the Bush presidency.  It led to the fact that between 2000 and 2006 Congress passed three times as many bills to de-regulate the financial industry as it passed to regulate it.  

It is obvious from all this why, here in this city, during the course of the last month, we have chosen the name We Are People Here!   Goldman Sachs does not bleed.  JP Morgan Chase does not bleed.  The Koch Industries do not bleed. They do not sweat, they do not cry; they do not share the human experience. And yet they control our elections, our congress, our governors and therefore our lives.  It is that governance that is our problem.  It is that governance that is plutocracy.  It is that plutocracy that is our target. 

I mean to say that Goldman Sachs, the institution and not the people in it, are our target. I do not say that we mean violence to humans, either in our language or our deeds.  They are every bit as good people as we are.  They thought that by putting a saddle on the great engine of capitalism that they could ride it out and eventually rein it in.  Like those bucking machines in Texas saloons, they thought they could put in a coin, hop in the saddle, and get a machine driven thrill.  But the profit machine has no shut off, so they are riding eternally around and around, thinking that they are going forward. They are in the delusion of automated capitalism.

I do not say therefore that we should attack the corporate leaders by name; they surely must treat their children with the same respect as do we, and love their country as much as do we.  But I do say that governance on behalf of corporations that perseverate on profit is contrary to our history, undermines our economic prosperity and destroys our morals. We will therefore do all in our power to target plutocracy, to submit government to the will of the whole people, to reimagine economics on behalf of the general welfare, and reawaken our common indebtedness to each other, which is the very meaning of morality.

I have been repeatedly asked, “What is your vision, Craig?  What is your dream?”

My answer is this:  My life has intersected in important ways with the stories of the Greek poet Homer and the English playwright Shakespeare and I have come to realize that Homer championed heroes and death in battle, dominion and conquest, and created the great myths of Herakles, Achilles and Agamemnon which have guided the unfolding identity of Western civilization for 3,000 years.  But I also became aware that in the 16th century Shakespeare championed the civil in civilization and gave birth to a dream that was not cruel so much as compassionate, a power that was not monarchical so much as democratic. Look at Titus Andronicus the ultimate condemnation of feudal, clan warfare.  Or Richard II, crying out “I eat bread like you,” the poet proclaiming the fragility of kings. I have come gradually to realize that Shakespeare’s plays gave rise to changes in the western story in a way that undermined monarchy and immediately gave rise to the 17th century of upwelling people’s power.  After the great poet, two kings were deposed; and they all, all the rest, were chastised.

Finally, I have become aware that a false story has been sold to the American public over the course of the last 100 years that is a violation of nature, of morality, and of the requirements for human survival.

I therefore dream that we here, working together tonight and in the months to come, will reawaken the true American story, a story that has been more the foundation of our hope and our successes than any story of ruthless competition or triumph of greed.  I dream that we will rediscover the reality that we are programmed by nature to rise in the night to respond to the baby’s call, that we are programmed by nature to pass the sandbags to the levees when the flood waters are rising, that we are programmed by nature to weep for the fallen and share in the joy when we see a soldier on TV running across the tarmac into the arms of his family, that we are programmed by nature to care for unknown families in Indonesia and Haiti and Harlem and among the dirt poor, and we know that this is true more deeply than all the propaganda that has urged us to commit cruelties, war, genocide and pretend to take refuge in greed.  It is the fabricated myths and propaganda of plutocracy that justify the cruelties, not the reality of how we have actually survived this last 30,000 years. 

I dream of the day when we are proud to be people again and not just commodities or units of production to be measured into or harnessed on the backs of engines of self interest.  I dream of the day when our true story tells us that we are not fit targets for the propagandists of greed, when we all know that we are not engaged in the mindless pursuit of profit detached from morality.  I dream of the day when we will do the right thing because we are all people here and on that day we will all know the story of how the people have arisen from their apathy to their full strength, and then we will sing songs and carry banners that lend dignity to our suffering.  I do not dream of paradise, but I do dream of a band of story tellers who proclaim the possibility of human progress and I dream of so many story tellers criss crossing the land that no persecution, no propaganda, no Fox News and no possible internet cacophony can ever keep the story of our true selves from spreading.  I dream of the day when they say, “This was the generation that began the new story; these were the people who told it, and this is what they did in Santa Fe to get it going.”