Pakistan and Kenya are burning. The war in Colombia continues to simmer. Political violence is simply another tactic in some systems around the world.
Here in the USofA we don’t have that problem, at least right now. We have had our spasms of violence from time to time, but they have generally been confined locally. I had a chance to see the McDuffie Riot of 1980 in operation, an event that was sparked by the police killing of a man who made two mistakes: sassing back to the cops and being black.
That riot was successful in bringing about change because it was very well targeted at the people who needed the message. The image of Miami as a tourist destination was at stake, and seeing it burn on the nooze wasn’t what the tourism board wanted to be known for. More importantly, however, the local leadership seized the moment and made it clear to the power establishment that things had better change if you want the burning to stop. Things changed.
The leadership is what makes the USofA different from many other places, or at least the tradition of leadership. We have had good people that understood what Freedom really is and how to make things work effectively for everyone. It hasn’t always gone perfectly, of course, but it has generally worked better for us than nearly any other place. The one exception that stands out is the basic concept of race.
Race was what the McDuffie Riot was all about, and it is frankly what the USofA is all about. The lack of a common culture and the lack of strong, tangible barriers to our personal success caused us to create artificial ones and assign them a tremendous amount of meaning. White privilege is nothing more than a way of saying that pale people get the benefit of the doubt, while the rest are going to have to fight a little harder if they want a piece of what the rest claim as theirs. Naturally, this becomes a riot once in a while. A riot is not a rational act, but instead a reaction to a world around you that might as well all burn down for all the hatred it contains. Why not?
Anyone who has seen this process up close will tell you that very little good comes from the loss and the pain of a riot. Innocent people are the ones who suffer, usually the people who are most closely identified with the rioters and live in their own neighborhood. The great power structure hears the message only as thick black smoke that stings their eyes and clogs their nose. It’s only personal to the people caught up in it, the people who have just a little bit to lose and often do.
There is a convention coming into my town, beautiful Saint Paul on the Mississippi. A few children, for lack of a better word, have used the internet to tell us all that this is a perfect time for political violence. They are considering destruction in my neighborhood to make a point to the Republican power establishment of some kind. This is obviously ridiculous, as there is no reason that the people in power have any reason to care about a riot on West Seventh Street in Saint Paul, but the great wealth of this nation has always allowed the luxury of sloppy political thinking. These kids have no interest in picking the right target or following through with the right leadership – they wanna have a riot.
What is most sad about these people is that they make me long for people who are skilled in the art of political violence, and know how to use it to their advantage. As Bilawal Zardari, son of Benazir Bhutto tells us, “My mother always said that Democracy is the best revenge.” This is a man who, at age 19, already knows that power comes from putting out the fires of Karachi simply by raising his arms and his voice. That is what he will do.
Anyone who has seen this process up front can tell you that the power of the fire is only felt when it is properly contained. When it is unleashed on the streets, people only want to see it put out and ordered restored. In the USofA, the last time we saw a wave of political violence across the land was in 1968. Things looked so bleak that we gave power to a known crook like Nixon. Those that want to see fires of rage in the streets need to remember that the power comes in the reaction to the fire, and they need to know which side of that reaction they are on. Zardari has it nailed perfectly. There’s hope for Pakistan after all. What about us?