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A Tale of Two Marches
by michael horan
Email: michaelhoran (nospam) comcast.net
09 May 2008
Boston, Mass.--One of the obvious reasons for the historical success of the Walk for Hunger (and biggest differences between it and the May Day event) is its wholly non-ideological nature. But hunger doesn’t occur in a vacuum, ideological or otherwise. It isn’t natural, and it isn’t desirable, but there it is, and it’s growing. Hunger is rooted at a nexus of political, economic, scientific, technological, and spiritual ideologies, making that one hell of a busy rotary indeed.
[Essay on the May Day march in Boston and & Walk for Hunger on the following Saturday. Full text with images, live links and edited video montage of May Day event appears on nosuppertonight.com.]
Walk for Hunger sign on Commonwealth Ave.
Two-part (rally/march) finished video montage of last Thursday’s May Day gathering on Boston Common and march to Copley at conclusion. Video montage, livelinks, and photos at nosuppertonight.com. Thanks to all who made the May Day event possible!
A Tale of Two Marches
Last Thursday was May Day. I went to the rally (pro labor, pro immigrant, antiwar) on Boston Common, then marched with a few hundred anarchists to Copley Square, raising all kinds of noisy hell.
Saturday was occasion of the 40th Annual Walk for Hunger. I went for a twenty-mile jaunt through some of Boston’s most attractive neighborhoods with 40,000 others, raising in the neighborhood of 3.5 million dollars.
The anarchist event involved a lot of sound and fury signifying plenty but accomplishing, seemingly, nothing. The Walk puts millions of dollars of food into regional food pantries, and at the same time draws together an extraordinarily diverse crowd.
The Kumbaya Factor
This was the first time I’ve done this or any other “walk,” and I only did it because I was genuinely disturbed by what I’m reading and seeing about the incredible rise in food prices globally and locally. While the good people of Massachusetts have not set upon the local groceries at night with pitchforks and flaming torches, rioting, and murderous riot-suppression, goes on elsewhere, and daily, and so it seems meet to do what little we can with what little we have.
One of the obvious reasons for the historical success of the walk (and biggest differences between it and the May Day event) is its wholly non-ideological nature. There is no speechifying. There is no philosophizing. No arguing. In short, there is no alienating anyone (of course, this being Boston, there are doubtless a few misanthropes who stand firmly, on one principle or another, in Favor of Hunger). You can’t help but feel welcome. And ProjectBread keeps it simple. All the many complex issues swirling around global hunger are reduced to one essential fact: there are hungry people in your neighborhood. All the vast and weighty plans to eliminate hunger are reduced to a second essential fact: you can help feed those neighbors. The idea couldn’t be simpler, hence, the appeal couldn’t be more universal; it’s an idea to which pretty much everyone can subscribe, and activity to which most people will contribute at least something.
The beauty of the Walk, then, is in its very lack of ideological content. Make any demands beyond the simple “brother, can ya spare a dime?,” and you begin alienating potential supporters; keep the premise as simple as that, and you maintain the numbers and diversity. Again, it’s very hard to find fault with that.
The Connection Between Hungry Bostonians and Murdered French Revolutionaries Revealed
And yet. There is something unnerving about the content-free atmosphere around the event. Hunger isn’t like Lupus or some other physical ailment requiring that we subsidize pharma’s efforts to “discover” (and patent) a “cure” for some ancient malady. Hunger isn’t something that occurs because, say, “of adulterers hath the land been full, For because of these hath the land mourned, Dried up hath been the pleasant places of the wilderness,” or because the Lord hath sent a plague of locusts, frogs, flies, or any of the other marvelously inventive engines of famine He devised in order to tweak the beards of the Pharaohs. Nor does anyone, aside from Dick Cheney and various neo-stalinist dictators, want people perpetually hungry: they don’t tend to be avid early adopters of new techno gizmos, they’re a nuisance when you’re trying to make your train, and, when there’s a critical mass of them, they tend to become downright unruly and blame whatever political or economic regime has them in thrall at the moment, and you know how that goes, one pleasant summer night you’re enjoying a glass of wine al fresco on Newbury Street and the next thing you know it’s Marie Antoinette all over again, Robespierre demanding more blood and Marat stabbed in the bath. No one wants that sort of thing.
But hunger doesn’t occur in a vacuum, ideological or otherwise. It isn’t natural, and it isn’t desirable, but there it is, and it’s growing. Hunger is rooted at a nexus of political, economic, scientific, technological, and spiritual ideologies, making that one hell of a busy rotary indeed.
Uh-Oh, Here Comes Engels!
And the overriding ideological factors in the current wave of spiking prices, food shortages, and death are two-fold: capitalism (the flawed belief that there is something inherently democratic in “free markets, ” when unregulated markets make food inaccessible to so many while so few have so much) and technopolistic thinking (to borrow a term from Neil Postman; the flawed belief that technology is the “solution” to nearly all of our problems, including hunger). The inherent, and inherently evil, flaw at the heart of capitalism is the greed that drives speculators to drive up prices; the folly of ill-considered technocratic solutions is becoming increasingly manifest in the biofuel/food dichotomy.
Here’s a headline from yesterday’s Independent: Multinationals make billions in profit out of growing food crisis. The ensuing story notes that "...speculation is helping to drive the prices of basic foodstuffs out of the reach of the hungry. The prices of wheat, corn and rice have soared over the past year driving the world’s poor - who already spend about 80 per cent of their income on food - into hunger and destitution... The World Bank says that 100 million more people are facing severe hunger. Yet some of the world’s richest food companies are making record profits. Monsanto last month reported that its net income for the three months up to the end of February this year had more than doubled over the same period in 2007, from $543m (£275m) to $1.12bn. Its profits increased from $1.44bn to $2.22bn."
And another: The Great Biofuel Famine. "Biofuels are a dead end technology that can only lead to more human misery, hunger, and environmental destruction no matter what biofuel crops we grow. Two years ago the price of corn was only $2 bushel, but expanding ethanol production has pushed corn prices up to over $6 a bushel today, which raises the price of chicken, eggs, beef, and diary products, as corn is our main animal feed. In the year 2007, the USA alone turned enough corn, soybeans, and rapeseed into biofuels to satisfy the yearly caloric needs of over 250 million people..."
In Which the Wisdom of our Candidates is Questioned
Which leads me back to May Day, and a young black Iraqi vet explaining from Boston Common’s gazebo that "Everybody out here know that this election’s coming up. Right? Yeah. What do you think John McCain’s going to do for you? What do you think Hilary Clnton’s going to do for you [woman’s cry from crowd: `Not a damn thing!'] What do you think Barack Obama, the savior, is going to do for you? He’s not going to solve your problems. It’s not going to happen. So we got to work together..."
Damn straight. As far as curtailing the ills of capitalism late capitalism, simply consider the pedigree of Obama’s chief economic strategist, and consider too Clinton’s halfwitted solution to our deepening economic woes (create an "emergency group" consisting of folks like Richard Rubin and Alan Greenspan — you know, the Wall Street lizards who created the damn mess in the first place).
Then consider, too, the candidate’s thinking on biofuels:
From Obama’s Web site: "Twenty years from now our nation’s transportation fuels sector will be powered primarily by domestically produced biofuels, if we have the vision and the will to make that happen..."
From Clinton’s Web site: "Aggressive action to transition our economy toward renewable energy sources, with renewables generating 25 percent of electricity by 2025 and with 60 billion gallons of home-grown biofuels available for cars and trucks by 2030."
Now listen carefully to Lester Brown (president of the Earth Policy Institute think tank in Washington and "who has has been tracking agricultural commodity trends for more than half a century"):
Corn prices, however, were still relatively cheap at around $2 a bushel. Suddenly, the market price of ethanol was about double the cost of producing it.. That’s a juicy profit margin - and billions of dollars began to flow into biofuels. About 18 percent of the U.S. grain harvest now goes to make ethanol. Brown forecasts that by the end of the year the figure could be more like 28 percent. "What has happened is that we have basically developed a very substantial capacity for converting grain into oil - or ethanol," he said.
"What this means is that the price of grain is now tied to the price of oil because if the food value of the commodity is less than the fuel value, then the market will move that commodity into the energy economy.
We used to have a food economy and an energy economy and they were more or less separate. Now they’re beginning to fuse, and in this new world where the price of grain is tied to the price of oil, if the price of oil goes up, so grain goes up.
And that is a threat to political stability and security in the world that I don’t think we’ve come close to grasping yet... What we now have is a situation where the 860 million people who own cars are competing with the 2 billion poorest people in the world for the same grain supply. This is a new not only political and economic issue but also a moral issue."
Here you have it: political, economic, military, technological, and moral ideologies, a series of ill-matched gears all grinding against one another.
Hence, on the Walk,the lack of any kind of clear perspective is, truly, brilliant in its absence.
Consider that the Walk for Hunger raises about 3.5 million dollars. There are, by ProjectBread’s own estimates, some 450,000 hungry people in the state of Massachusetts. A cynic might say, splendid — you’ve bought them each the dollar equivalent of a lunch at MacDonalds. Or, if you prefer, a small sack of rice. I’m not that cynical — I know how cash-strapped food pantry volunters must feel when ProjectBread hands them a check for $45,000. That’s a wonder-full thing. And I have to believe in something pretty deeply in order to show up on Boston Common at 8 in the damn morning on a chill, damp day, believe me. But ProjectBread, and all of the other truly helpful philanthropic organizations like it, are supplying band-aids to a world that is bursting major blood vessels left and right.
Greater Love Than This Hath No Pig
One scene drove home. There was food stop at about the 7 mile mark, at Cleveland Circle, and a sausage stand, next to a sign pronouncing it the "official food stop on The Walk for Hunger." There was a long line. There was nothing to indicate that producing one pork requires six pounds of grain. Which is, I suppose, a damn sight better than the 16 pounds required to create your pound o’ beef, but it leaves you scratching your head: stripped of any significance beyond it’s annual re-enactment, and thereby promoting, albeit unconsciously, precisely the type of consumption that contributes directly to the problem we’re trying to alleviate, the Walk can’t inspire the kind of personal and political changes necessary to have any real and lasting impact. Either those changes occur, and soon, or–if the Walk results in, on a per capita basis, about $8 per hungry person – we’ll basically all have to solicit the same dollar amounts we did for May fifth... every single day of the year. And if the price of food staples continues to rise, we might have to double that amount. Ready walk forty miles every day for hunger? Every day?
Viva Chavez! Hasta la Victoria Siempre! Send Lawyers, Guns, & Money!
I began by saying that the – that we – May Day marchers accomplish "seemingly nothing." I should have said: nothing material, nothing so quantifiable as tonnes of foodstuffs purchased, nothing comparable to the very pragmatic success achieved by the Walk. But I don’t think it’s any less essential, in that speakers at these events, the marchers themselves, hell, even (especially) the bands, have a genuine understanding of the systemic nature of issues like hunger, and grasp the underlying relationships between the military industrial racket, the ownership of politicians by transnational agribusiness who also own the patents on indigenous seeds (horrible but true), the fact that it’s invariably brown people who are going hungriest no matter what continent you’re talking about, the faux embrace of "green lifestyles" by a population determined to perform feats of real magic in having it all and yet leaving no "carbon footprint," which is psychopathological to say the least, the saber-ratting in the faces of people like Fidel and Hugo Chavez, both of whom decried the relationship between biofuel development and food shortages, the ongoing prosecution of energy wars, and the persecution of so-called "illegal" immigrants who straggle into those golden doors into which Liberty once beckoned "the poor, the wretched refuse of the world" and which today are guarded by wannabe heroes who determine the quality of a man’s patriotism by the lengths to which he will go to rid the nation of "illegals" (a small sample of the same showed up to counter-demonstrate against the May Day gathering, which focused on the rights of immigrants legal or not.
You see, socialists and anarchists believe that there are rights that transcend whatever the hell is on the lawbooks of one state or another, and that boundaries, as one performer sang, "are an illusion"; and they tend to think that there are rights that are even more fundamental than the right to forever-turn-a-profit-and-consequences-be-damned. (Like the right to eat enough every day.)
That’s a mouthful, but it was all there on May Day: in the lyrics, in the signage, in the speeches (kept mercifully short at this event—and surprisingly good), in the shouting. And in the discussions going on everywhere. This is necessary stuff. This is the corollary to the Walk
I’ll do the Walk against next year. It is, in itself, a genuinely good thing.
And so, in memory of the swine who gave up their lives that those who walk might eat, here’s an edited montage from the May Day goings-on:
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