Equally What?

From my brilliant colleague George Price who was on the NightWolf radio program with me recently:
During the American Colonial era, the vast majority of Europeans who immigrated to North America were indentured servants from the landless, tenant farmer, or “peasant” class and their ancestors had been in that social class for centuries. They were subject people, with little or no human rights, subject to the whims and dictates of the monarchs and their titled peers, the two to five percent of the population who claimed ownership to all of the vast tracts of land in Europe, and all resources and species who dwelt upon those lands, including their human tenants. Those immigrants to America signed their indentured labor contracts and took passages on ships bound for a world that was new to them, suppressing their fear of the unknown, in hope of attaining something that their ancestors never could: land ownership, freedom, human rights and upward social mobility. Indentured servitude was what I call, “slavery: for a limited time only.” They were unfree laborers, bound to contracts for an average of seven or eight years, and many were promised that at the end of their servitude they would receive land grants in the colonies of 40 or 50 acres. The great irony is that many of those newly-minted colonial landowners (and land-stealers) went on to become landlords and masters of other indentured servants and eventually holders of permanent slaves, exacting cruel and oppressive treatment upon their fellow humans, equal to or greater than all of the horrors that they and their own ancestors had experienced themselves. Would you call such a person a “success story” or an exemplary “role model?” How about if we change the person’s skin color and slightly alter the context to that of an African American former slave in early 19th-century Louisiana who was freed by his French master/father and granted some land and slaves of his own, which he gladly accepted? Or we could take our time machine into the future and imagine a Native American officer in the U.S. Space Force ordering her troops, regarding the “alien life forms” on some resource-rich planet in another galaxy, to “round `em all up and march them over to the reservation,” so that the industrialists can plunder the rest of their homelands. Would you call that “progress” or “quite an accomplishment?”

Learning Earthways

(revised 4-11-14) (The following essay was built out of a segment of a speech that I gave at the Idle No More rally in Helena, Montana, on February 18, 2013.)

“If we do not save the environment, then whatever we do in civil rights…will be of no meaning, because then we will have the equality of extinction.” –James Farmer, Jr.

During the 1960s, while the focus of many activists for social change was on equality and racial justice, some of us asked a very important two-word question: “Equally what?” Equally materialistic and consumptive? Equally ruthless, dishonest and unethical in business? Equally corrupt in government and disregardful of the people whom we are elected to serve? Equally destructive to the environment (the word we used then—now I say the planet, the biosphere, or life itself)? For many Americans of color, both then and now, the major victories and small social reforms…

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