Grant Wood's most famous painting features an iconic farmer, his prim daughter and a pitchfork. His most satiric painting was Daughters of Revolution. Three white-haired ladies pose with raised teacup before a recreation of George Washington Crossing The Delaware. With their hatchet mouths and squinty, almost feral, eyes, they seem to gloat over the mere fact of their birth.
Wood completed the painting in 1932 when the country was deep in depression, thousands out of work, homeless. Breadlines were common. Wood makes the point—still relevant today—that the robber barons surely had nothing to fear from the polite, pampered ladies of the Daughters of the American Revolution, who are about as far from real revolution as one could get.
I often wonder how a country so enamored of its revolutionary origins could produce so many obedient apostles of the status quo, which always aligns itself with wealth and power against those who have neither.
For example: all those who sided with the insurance industry against universal health care, including the so-called “Tea Party” Republicans, who have been known to dress up in the costumes of their revolutionary idols.
As I understand it, the kinds of revolutionaries celebrated by the DAR and the Tea Party don't usually side with the well-fed and complacent at the top, but arise from below, when the have-nots begin to suspect the political and economic cards are stacked against them.
This seems to be where we are now: record numbers of people in poverty, who, in spite of their best efforts, even working full time, still struggle to get ahead. Among them are many former middle class people—nice, decent folk who woke up one morning to find they couldn't send their kids to college. Now many of them can't even adequately feed their families or keep a roof over their heads.
In Detroit, where the price of tap water has soared above the average and many are jobless, the city has cut the water off for thousands of people, mostly black, who can't pay their bills—a move condemned by the United Nations as an international human rights violation.
Hard to believe this is the U.S.A.! In fact, it's what happens when you have a small cadre of multimillionaires deciding the fate of the rest of us—which campaign to back, which legislators to buy, whether or not we'll have health care or keep Social Security, and where the next war will be. Literally life and death decisions, rarely motivated by decency or ethics, but strictly driven by profit.
The result is a wholesale attack on the Commons—to wipe out pension funds, destroy unions, slash public education, and turn everything, even the right to clean water, over to corporations.
And rest assured, if it succeeds in Detroit, it can happen anywhere.
A stellar example of this mentality is Texas' own Greg Abbott, candidate for Governor, and enthusiast for privatizing just about everything, including education. In 2011, Abbott supported cuts to Texas schools by $5.4-billion, resulting in job losses for 12,000 teachers across the state.
As Attorney-General, Abbott ruled to keep confidential the locations of dangerous chemicals, like ammonium nitrate, the stuff that blew up the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, obliterating dozens of homes, a middle school and a fifty-unit apartment complex.
Abbott's campaign receives funding from the billionaire Koch family, which has interests in the chemical-fertilizer industry.
Clearly, the playing field is out of plumb. And it's not apt to change for the better so long as those in power remain virtually indistinguishable from the robber barons they serve.
Nor can we expect much support from the likes of the “Daughters of Revolution” or the Tea Party, those stalwart celebrants of our first war for freedom, who, had they actually been there, likely would not have been throwing tea in Boston Harbor, but would have sided with the Tories, just as they side with those in power today.
Indeed, there's nothing particularly honorable or noble in polite conformity. It would be hard to name a single positive change in our world achieved by that crowd. Conformists did not cross the color line to occupy lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960, nor did they risk their lives registering blacks to vote in Philadelphia, Mississippi in '64. Conformists did not end child labor laws or bring women the right to vote. They had no hand in creating Medicare or Social Security. And just as they were absent in the marches to end the Vietnam War, they're now missing in the struggle to end our current wars, including the latest senseless provocations toward Russia.
If somehow we manage to get workers unionized, if we succeed in raising pay to a living wage, if we start making corporations pay their fair share, and make college available to all, you can bet it will be the conformists—the power-brokers and their apostles—who will stand in the way, as they always do.
As most revolutions start from below by people without wealth or power, so this one will, too. The Occupy Movement was the beginning. Let the conformists stay home.
First published in Fort Worth Weekly.