We accuse others as if it’s a bad thing, as if we are not so ourselves, but it is among the most human of attributes. I manifested mine recently on Black Friday—outwardly critical of the consumerist phenomenon, yet taking part; shopping at a major retail chain I got well over $200 worth of clothing for less than $70. The next day was Small Business Saturday—an idea I support in spirit—but I can’t afford small business prices, at least not while the big businesses are offering the same at a third of the cost. My hypocrisy—I constantly struggle with it—the product of my humanity.
Recently, accusations of hypocrisy have been aimed at ows protesters: it’s been said that you can’t oppose corporate America while you’re using a cell phone. This misses the point entirely. It’s not corporations that the movement is protesting; it’s corporate personhood. It’s not the exorbitant salaries of the average CEO; it’s the disproportionate salary of the average worker, who makes less than the cost of living. This disproportionateness is not a natural occurrence; it is a carefully constructed social system engineered by the wealthy in order to hoard wealth at the expense of working people.
Hypocrisy is ubiquitous—we all share in it, even as we reverse-hoard it in accusations of the other.
In A Small Place Jamaica Kincaid writes about the condition of her country of origin, Antigua, and does not hold back on placing the blame on you (it’s written in 2nd person), a white tourist from “North America (or, worse, Europe)”; when discussing this book with my students, the class was always divided: some hated her, decrying her for writing a book—which they viewed as a capitalist venture (She did it for the money!)—and for not being an activist (Has she given any money? Has she returned?); others came to her defense, proclaiming the act of writing her contribution (She brings attention to the situation.) We would then discuss the value of knowledge and whether simply knowing is enough. Does one have to be active in order to be an activist? I admitted my quandary: I watch the news and say, What the hell is going on in the world? Something’s gotta be done! Then I crack a beer and change the channel—American Idol is on (I’m rooting for the Asian chick, but I know she won’t win).
“It takes a certain kind of person to be an activist,” one of my students said during a class discussion of Kincaid, and I remembered when I was a student and had written a paper on America’s foremost political prisoner Leonard Peltier; discussing my paper with one of my classmates, he started talking at length about Peter Matthiessen’s In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, and at some point my expression must have revealed my drifting thoughts because he stopped and said, “. . . and you don’t care.” “Of course I care,” I protested. “I wrote a whole paper about it. What was done to this man was wrong beyond belief; it’s a travesty, and a demonstration of our so-called ‘justice’ system at it’s worst!” He came back at me, “Then why aren’t you down at the jailhouse with a sign—” “Oh, I don’t want to get involved. . .”
This is my struggle, and I do not run from it. But lately I have been moved to become more active. Those who know me know that shit’s gotta be pretty goddamn fucked up for me to get active about anything. And it is. I live in a city where the mayor—one of the richest men in the country—makes no effort at hiding his hypocrisy; everything he’s done in office has been to the benefit of the 1%. But that’s politics, and it’s to be expected. I do not fault him or any other politician for what is simply a manifestation of their humanness. As the Occupy movement struggles to forge a better future for our country and our world, my struggle continues to be with myself. I am in full support of the Revolution and will do what I can to further the cause—but what it is I can do is yet to be determined. Right now, I am writing about it. For now, perhaps knowing is enough—knowing is an action of a sort; it’s fruit is awareness, which produces motive, which leads to activity, the occupation of the activist. I think I’m on my way, but as I write the last sentence of this piece I struggle with what I will do next: I’ve lost interest in what’s on and I’m thirsty and my ass is uncomfortable, but I’ve got a nice couch and beer in the fridge and there’s always something else on—the biggest determining factor of my next action could be whether I can find the remote.
HOW HAS THE GREAT RECESSION AFFECTED YOUR POETRY?
How now affects my writing? I never know—not until ages have passed. Not until the wages of the moment have been spent, and the cold vision across the chasm of memory crystallizes. I am still waiting to discover how the world around me affected the writing of my first poem, written in class in Red Hill Elementary School, Honolulu Hawaii circa 1980/81—something about happiness and friendship, 5th grade stuff, sunrises or sunsets, the naive pre-dawn/adolescent nonwakening waiting to fall back in on itself . . . a reminder of what I once had, and will again. . . .
PLEASE SHARE A POEM(S) ADDRESSING YOUR GREAT RECESSION EXPERIENCE
bellatrix lestrange arranged to have us boiled in oil
but we found ways to find ourselves stuck in bed instead
a dream came wooden beams we toiled & hoped someday
would someday be someday as paper gave way to plastic
& plastic back to paper & money in the plastic
as rats we are to plastered & night comes & we wick our
candle dripping back of careful squandered brick foundations
templed as the trailer on cinderblocked foundation
too hot the one too cold the win to wasted too move deathward
& someday came someday when someday turned to sunday
apricots tupperwared visions in our cupboards
fucked till raw meat burned & called it bend of broker
& pretended not to hear us screaming con los pobres
de la tierra cast my luck none knowing where is where
or how or when when what it is or even whying whofor
shakin bakin like mom used to do
stove top stead of potatoes
leftovers foilwrapped at lunch
brought aahhhs that couldnt be traded
(my father being from some “3rd world” we never
threw away after a meal
[i learned that in the lunch room]) one time
i puked cuz that little fag toby
was blithering his idiocy all over his apple & sister
margaret mary cursed me for spewing
but he got away with his drooling
i got the cake with the ruler [the principle
force of the matter] & they get the cake & the file to break
to a bailout & we with our
at a party my friends brought whiskey & wine
while some brought brie & tequila
some brought fruit trays
& some brought mushrooms
I brought pop tarts & boones
ABOUT THE POET:
Ed Go is a former school bus driver, exterminator, garbage man, phonebook deliverer and lead singer in a punk-folk band. His poetry and fiction has appeared in various online and print journals including Underground Voices, Bastards and Whores, Boston Poet Journal: Bad-Ass edition, Breadcrumbs Scabs, the bad futurist, In Between Altered States, and others. He currently writes and lives in New York, where he teaches and co-edits the Other Rooms Online Poetry Journal for Other Rooms Press, which he co-founded in 2007.