BY BRYAN PERKINS
Occupy Baton Rouge
“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equally, that they are endowed… with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” So it says in our Declaration of Independence. Today, most readers of these lines would be convinced that by “men” it is meant “humans”, but even the novice student of history should know that when these words were written that was not their intention.
No, looking back through the lens of historical experience, it would be more accurate to the intended meaning if those words were changed to “all propertied, white males are created equally.” Throughout the history of class struggle, we the people have fought tooth and nail to clarify the meaning behind this declaration, and the same words used in our other founding documents, but we are still far from a reality in which all human beings are seen as equals.
Let us begin, then, with the major strides that have been made towards perfecting our democracy thus far. In the earliest years of this country, there were human beings that, because of the color of their skin, were not actually human beings under the law. Instead, they were property.
After far too much time under such oppressive property relations, a war was fought between those Americans who thought humans could be property and those Americans who thought humans were humans. Sure, there were other factors leading up to this war, and many people still today—especially in the south—try to diminish slavery’s role as the major cause, but for the sake of this essay let us at least agree that slavery was a cause and move on.
With many lives lost in the process, it finally came to be that no human, regardless of their skin color, could be owned like property. This was a giant leap forward in our collective social consciousness, but there were still many imperfections remaining in our democratic process.
Though our dark-skinned siblings were finally recognized as humans, they—along with women who we will come to shortly—were still denied an equal voice in the government that ruled over them. So came the massive class struggle wherein the disenfranchised black population, allied with the equally disenfranchised women, battled for their voice. Fifteen years after all slaves were freed, the black population won the vote. Not unconditionally in the beginning, then it was only for propertied, literate black males, but the struggle continued.
With their hard fought civil rights finally in place, many of those warriors for democracy abandoned the plight of women who still lacked a voice. Thus, the bourgeois state, by giving some small concession to one segment of the working class, divided the proletariat based on a new arbitrary category: sex. And so, mostly alone, those first brave feminists battled public scorn and ridicule—and in some cases torture—to finally extend a voice to all human adults despite the sex they were born into. This victory took 50 long years after blacks won the right to vote.
Some would like to think that then our democracy was perfected. Finally, there was no distinction based on race or sex in the eyes of the government. What this vision of perfection ignores is the hard fought concessions that have been won since women achieved suffrage, and those battles that still remain to be fought.
For almost another 50 years after women won their voice, states were allowed to impose taxes at the polls on anyone that wanted to vote, thus barring the poorest segment of the working class from having an influence on their own government. In 1964 this practice was ended with the ratification of the 24th amendment to the US constitution. But, for seven years after, the voting age was set as high as 21 in some states, barring young Americans from having any say in the government that would invariably send them off to fight and die for that government’s gain. And so, in 1971, the last major victory for democracy in America was won in lowering the voting age to 18—although this limit still gives the youth no time to affect the government before they can be sent off to die for it.
Which brings us to the democracy we have today: Today, the working class faces new challenges. We have finally come to the point where we can see that we are all equal in the eyes of the state and in the eyes of the capitalists, despite our race or sex. Now, we can band together as one class, united against our common enemy, in order to get beyond those prejudices that the same enemy fosters and exploits for their own gain. We can see that, while we as workers are equals, there are some people who are more equal than others.
Blasphemy! you say. America is a democracy. Well, a democratic republic, you know, a representative democracy.
And I reply, so it may appear, but we must look beyond the vulgar mask that is bourgeois political ideology to reveal the true nature of our “democracy”.
The first amendment of the US constitution ensures every citizen the right to free speech.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
In a monstrosity of judicial activism, hidden behind the pop-guise of “corporate personhood”, it was somehow decided that this right to express yourself without fear of government persecution also means that you have the right to spend your vast hoards of money in amplifying your voice above the poorer voices around you.
This is a vulgar interpretation of the first amendment that serves no other purpose than to make the oppression of the working class that much easier for our rich overlords. It is an interpretation pushed by the capitalist class and their government lackeys from both sides of the aisle. It is an interpretation that we as the working class must strive to eliminate if we are to take one of many steps toward reclaiming our democracy.
Now is the time. We must all come together as one class—regardless of sex, sexuality, race, religion, party, wealth, etc.—conscious of our political repression by the moneyed elites and say: Enough is enough. We deserve to be heard just as much as you do, no matter the amount of our wealth. We deserve to be heard before you send us off to war. We demand a government of the people and for the people. We demand democracy now!
Note, the People’s [Censored] and Occupy Baton Rouge are in no way affiliated with or endorsed by the news organization Democracy Now! But, you should still go check out their news anyway. It’s much better than the mainstream media.