Athens: A Greek Tragedy or Perhaps Not and the Killing by Police of a Young Oakland Father By: Phillip Reynes
We have seen the pictures. The fire and the rain of Molotov cocktails in the night (see the pictures at the end of the article). Police and protesters battle each other on the streets of Athens while the Greek national Christmas tree burns like a beckon of discontent at the peoples anger at capitalism and the state. Now some three months later what do we know and what have these events taught us? After all, the unrest of the citizens of Athens is not unlike the unrest here in American and Colorado. Republican trickle down economics and unregulated capitalism has hurt the economy, widened the gap between rich and poor and turned incarceration into a business. Special interest lobbies have poisoned our public debate with their money and made all social issues from prison policy to the social safety net an item for sale to the highest bidder. All these things in Colorado and America have one thing in common; rampant unchecked capitalism which reduces us all to a commodity.
Fire, such an apt symbol for the anger so many of us feel at the state of the world, is such a fitting symbol for the Athens riots. Is perhaps the lesson of Athens for us, in America, a wake up call? A call to stoke the fires of our own discontent at a bankrupt system that is kept alive, and sustained, by the collective lies of a citizenry clinging to a misconception; namely, that authority is truth instead of truth being the real authority. How can we wake our brothers and sisters from this narcotic like slumber and what does Athens tell us about the root causes and cures for this self dilution? I want to stoke a fire here in America, in Colorado, and in the world!
In America the pictures of Athens have started to fade. Yes there where act of solidarity in America and Colorado. Here at home, in Colorado; banners hung from I-25 reading “Greece Burns for us All,” and a brick was thrown through a bank window in direct action against capitalism. More actions took place around the country; all small and all receiving little in the way of mainstream press. What was the match that ignited Athens? The killing of a teen by police was the spark that ignited Athens. The killing of a young man, in Oakland a father just 22 years old by police, when it happened hear the public seems not to care! You doubt this? Then please see the video attached (it is graphic and not for the faint hearted) it shows the recent murder in cold blood of a young 22 year old—and a father—executed while laying down his hands outstretched in submission in Oakland this past January. Where there riots over this? Yes. Did it create a national debate? No. In Colorado police are found not guilty of beating a teen because of the blue wall of silence, despite one brave officer speaking out. Colorado police—Denver in particular—seem to feel that any resistance is an excuse for the use of lethal force.
In Greece the protests over the teens death moved well beyond the resistance of a “violent fringe”—as they are called here by an ineffectual mainstream media—of young people to something more. Not just the youth but labors, immigrants and everyday working people took up the call to action. The scope of the Athens riots commanded the whole worlds attention in contrast to the blatant murder by police in Oakland in January.
Athens, unlike Oakland, was more then just a few scrimmages between police, anarchist and demonstrators. It stands out as significant because unlike Oakland in grew. It started as street battles between youthful anarchist and the police. It moved into secondary schools and the universities. It expanded to union halls and laborers. It moved to the TV and Radio stations which where occupied and whose broadcasts where co-opted. It even expanded to the tourist centers when the Parthenon was occupied on December 18th to serve as a banner covered action, publicizing to the world, peoples resistance to the power of the state and the evil of capitalism.
By the end of the first week counterattacks against the police had grown and a sort of populist insurrection had started. The anarchist minority had found support in the populace, from the everyday man. Like the small Oakland riot over the execution of 22 year old Oscar Grant the demonstrators in Athens where portrayed at first as criminals but as things unfolded this lie could not be sustained in the corporate press. Unlike the Oakland riot the media did not have to exaggerate the damage, as Athens was indeed in flames. What started in Athens as an action by Greece's anarchist community grew to be more then just the anarchist and this was OK by them. They did not need to own it, and where happy to share the uprising with all who felt oppressed by an inequitable capitalist system and its state lackey. The Anarchist never said they owned this revolt. Thus, what was only a few weeks before considered extreme in the political dialog of Greece had now entered the mainstream. Public discourse on government and capitalism was and has changed in Greece.
Athens showed deep unrest in many sectors of Greek society. Minorities and immigrants banded together and found common cause with workers and tradespeople. Union halls, at least thats what we would call them here, where occupied. Youth faced with diminished opportunities fought alongside emigrants and middle class people against being treated like a commodity for a capitalist machine. They where of course apposed by the government, conservative political parties, and the state corporate media. Not unlike what we face here in America with its corporate media and business lobbies strangling our political system and buying politicians like stocks on the open market in a capitalist system thats has only one master—money!
The protesters slogans like, “No Control” reminded me of the old punk rockers saying “No Future.” The loss of job opportunities, as jobs are outsourced in a global economy, the shrinking of the middle class, the war on trade unions and authoritarian government are all found in Greece and America and all diminish the options of the poor and middle class. As Athens burned I was reminded of the Spanish Anarchist in years past fighting against fascism and yelling aloud, Los Uncontrolados—The uncontrollable ones—as they fought.
As to the actual protests during the Athens action they where significant in there execution and display of inventive thinking. The protests and street actions where extremely fluid and I would describe them as protean in nature. What took place in these days of fire was part protest, part occupation and part insurrection. We have talked about the occupation of trade union halls, and TV and Radio stations, seen the fires in the night and watched the national Christmas tree burn as we read the words of protesters. They attacked banks and police stations as symbols of both state power and capitalism showing to all that these two are but faces of the same coin. The coin of the hierarchy of power and of the inevitable elites that this makes in all societies. In Athens large numbers of people not only wanted change but made a conscious decision to fight for it.
Would this strategy work here in America, in Colorado? It is a pleasant thought when one thinks of the brutality of the Denver PD. Would I like to see citizens rise up and burn the Denver Police headquarters to the ground? It would send a powerful message. It won't happen though, or at least probably not the way it happened in Athens, is the short answer, as there is not a sufficient base of people who are so distressed that they will give up the lies so many take as truth. As I said earlier Americans seem to take authority as truth rather the truth as authority. Don't get me wrong there is unrest here but the situation on the ground is very different then in Greece, and Europe in general for that matter.
The fires of Athens where fueled by the same combustibles that are found in America and Colorado. Diminished opportunity, worsening social conditions and the propensity for capitalist systems to reduce people and groups to profit centers. But certain conditions are very different in Colorado and America.
Police in America and Denver shoot at the slightest resistance to authority. Look again at the January killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland California. Look at the recent police shootings in Denver, such as the man killed for revving his car. Look at the beating and subsequent acquittal of the officer who savagely beat a Denver teen. If just one Molotov cocktail was through here the police would have a shoot first and asked questions latter response. Why? In Europe governments are scared of the people, while in America we are scared or at least distrustful of government. We don't trust our government and we don't watch it or hold it accountable. We as Americans have been tricked into thinking we can't do anything and so as a result millions of Americans act against there own self interests.
There where safe havens in Athens for the protesters to retreat to and regroup. The police would not invade the university campuses. Why? In Europe while they may be socialist they are much more countries governed by rule of law then is America. Free speech has meaning in Europe as do the countries constitutions and institutions. It is for this reason that no laws like the Patriot act could pass in Europe and give a president the power to detain you forever without trial as happened here. Universities are respected as places of free speech and open discourse. If we had riots in Denver and then peaceful assemblies took place at DU the DU police, the State Patrol, and the National Guard would be all over it, and the results would be applauded by the sheep in our citizenry as needed. This is because Colleges in America serve industry and capitalism first and education and free exchange of ideas only secondarily.
Americans and Coloradoans are ethnocentric. Most people in Europe speak more then one language. We don't. Most people in Europe have traveled to several countries and seen several cultures, we don't. Most people in Europe take an active part in government—in France for example what would be a school board meeting here would have a huge turnout while here you will have as many vendors selling to the school as parents at most board meetings—while here we live in a culture of apathy. The result is that we lag far behind the developed world in education for our youth. Most Americans have no clue if health care or schools work better in Europe and just take someones word for it that they do or don't. We are a culture of capitalism that can see no way but our way to view the world or people. The Greeks as a people, like all people in Europe, have less a tendency to engage in ethnocentric ways of viewing the world and themselves and so it was easier for the masses to really look at what the students and the anarchist had to say.
Americans lack a world view. We did not have the destruction of two world wars to teach us that government needs to be watched. Most know so little about other countries that they are capable of having no opinion other then one given to them by someone about another place. Our education system is politicized—intelligent design, abstinence only education, DARE are examples of failure—with only a myopic debate centering around left and right political polar opposites (extremes) with no meaningful look at what works everywhere else. Without a developed world view Americans have a much harder time looking at things that are different, or new, making introspection and comparative thought very hard. This is not as true in Europe.
We live in a culture that is mean! Yes I said it mean, as in vengeful and cruel. As a result we have the highest incarceration rate in the world with 25%+ of all the prisoners on the planet being here in a country with only 4.9% of the worlds population. Ridiculous sentencing laws and a lack of a real health care system as well as a poor social safety net are marks of a society that values what you make and the money you have over people. These are the roots of crime as harsh penalties have time and time again been shown to lack a deterrence effect. Dissidents are not just punished here they are removed to maximum security prisons and kept in isolation.
All of the above are the result of capitalism as an end and not a tool. Americans want money and wealth and re vier those with it while marginalizing those without it. Our media once called the fourth estate cares more for ratings then for truth or objectivity. Why spend money on fixing the cause of crime when you can make an industry, and then profit from the poor by imprisoning them? Why mention that crime has never been lower when you can lead with the latest most horrible murder and get more viewers. This is what we have done and no lie can hide it from the rest of the world; even while we lie to ourselves about it. Greece and the rest of Europe have a much more vibrant and truthful media which presents a much greater spectrum of opinions and thoughts.
Most significant is the effect of rampant greed and unchecked capitalism on our politics! I think many people who fallow politics in America would agree that politicians and politics in general, revolve around four things; as it is practiced in the America today. These four things are; 1) Politics manly revolves around the self interest of the politician; 2) Politicians must acquire wealth, power, and status regardless of weather there goals and aims are altruistic; 3) The issues and ideals that are espoused by politicians are more often then not political weapons and not, in themselves, valued by politicians; and 4) All of the above principles apply equally to bureaucracies. Our founding fathers, people like Jefferson, Washington, and Samuel Adams would look at this state of affairs with repugnance but the truth is the only people who doubt that politics has come down to these four principles (or something very similar) in contemporary America are also the same people who believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Clause. Thus our institutions of government and our politicians serve one master and that is capitalism not the people.
Athens burning in the night this December was a blow against authoritarian power and unregulated capitalism. A blow struck by the a average man against the dehumanizing effects of power, greed and hierarchy. It shows that people can decide to stand up for themselves and fight back. Athens was ripe as is Europe for this fight. Here in Colorado and America some of what made Greece ready to confront the social issues brought up by Athens exists but there are significant deferences as we have seen. This is why to police killings separated by thousands of miles, one in Oakland California and one in Greece have had such different responses despite such striking similarities in root cause and circumstance.
|Molitov in the sky.jpg||15.49 KB|
|National Xmass Tree Burns.gif||14.64 KB|
|Protester throughing a Molitov Cocktail.jpg||66.82 KB|
|Footage of Oakland Man Murdered By Cop.flv||2.75 MB|