Today, so-called Independence Day, the “gaudy mumbo jumbo of [politicos]” (a great line by Robert Hayden I dared improve) hollowly sounding, the “sky afire with ersatz firebolt and thunderclap, screaming the indivisible fusion of power and gunpowder, every explosion an exclamation point end-stopping empire’s death sentence” (lines from one of my as-yet unpublished novels), I’m thinking about how the United States—representing only about five percent of the world’s population—confines over twenty percent of the world’s prisoners; about how the United States operates the world’s largest immigration detention system; about this infernal country’s school-to-prison pipeline; about how the prison-industrial complex has long been big business for the United States; about how terrible conditions in jails and “detention centers” (a euphemism, of course) didn’t begin or end with the Trump administration.
That is, I’m thinking about all the people who should be freed: whistleblowers and nonviolent political prisoners; and lower-level offenders, etc., those better served by treatment, community service, and/or probation.
Liberty? Freedom? Democracy? What a laugh. What about the fundamentally undemocratic Electoral College? What about partisan gerrymandering? What about other forms of voter suppression? What about the fundamentally undemocratic Supreme Court? What about the over six million Americans who aren’t allowed to vote because of previous criminal convictions? What about the longstanding and continuing bipartisan disenfranchisement of the over three million residents of Puerto Rico, who, despite being American citizens, being taxed, etc., aren’t allowed to vote for the president, etc., and are oppressed in many other ways?
And that’s just for starters.
Which is to say, I’m also thinking about other iterations of this country’s fascism. About the legislative assault on sovereignty, rights, law, autonomy, agency, etc., with regard to the body; about the state’s surveilling, policing, incarcerating, executing, etc., of the body.
I’m thinking about the undemocratic and disproportionate power of the Supreme Court; about the farce of “rule of law,” the farce of “checks and balances” (which doesn’t curb illegitimate use and expansion, etc., of power, but serve to self-legitimize it).
I’m thinking about the full-spectrum dominance of the society of the spectacle defined by Guy Debord as the “autocratic reign of the market economy,” as well as what I, following and fusing Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, call the society of surveillance, discipline, and control, which now occurs on what Marco Briziarelli and Emiliana Armano call the “ontological plane of the social being.”
That is, to celebrate independence in such a country is not only deeply ironic, not only a joke, but a joke on all of us, with devastating consequences.
That is, as Emma Lazarus said, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
That is, as Nelson Mandela said, “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
That is, as fellow anti-statist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist Emma Goldman said, “People have only as much liberty as they have the intelligence to want and the courage to take.” The same Emma Goldman who stood for “the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion; liberation of the human body from the coercion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government.”
That is, as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari said, “This is how it should be done. Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continua of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight, causing conjugated flows to pass and escape and bringing forth continuous intensities for a body without organs.”
Speaking of how it should be done, or, better, about the many ways it can be done, I’m once again thinking about revolution, not about making revolution but about being revolution, as beloved fellow anti-statist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist Ursula K. Le Guin might say, which is to say, I’m arguing against and complicating Lenin’s “What Is to Be Done?,” complicating Tiquun’s “How Is It to Be Done?,” and Idris Robinson’s “How It Might Should Be Done,” which is to say, I’m organizing the first session of a study group on revolution, which looks like might have only one member: me!
Bob Kaufman offers another way it can be done:
Believe in this. Young apple seeds,
In blue skies, radiating young breast,
Not in blue-suited insects,
Infesting society’s garments.
Believe in the swinging sounds of jazz,
Tearing the night into intricate shreds,
Putting it back together again,
In cool logical patterns,
Not in the sick controllers,
Who created only the Bomb.
Let the voices of dead poets
Ring louder in your ears
Than the screechings mouthed
In mildewed editorials.
Listen to the music of centuries,
Rising above the mushroom time.
Yes, I’m thinking about insurrection, uprising, and riot. I’m thinking about revolution.
Remember, as Chris Hedges said:
There will be rebels. They will live in the shadows. They will be the renegade painters, sculptors, poets, writers, journalists, musicians, actors, dancers, organizers, activists, mystics, intellectuals and other outcasts who are willing to accept personal sacrifice. They will not surrender their integrity, creativity, independence and finally their souls. They will speak the truth. The state will have little tolerance of them. They will be poor. The wider society will be conditioned by mass propaganda to write them off as parasites or traitors. They will keep alive what is left of dignity and freedom. Perhaps one day they will rise up and triumph. But one does not live in poverty and on the margins of society because of the certainty of success. One lives like that because to collaborate with radical evil is to betray all that is good and beautiful. It is to become a captive. It is to give up the moral autonomy that makes us human. The rebels will be our hope.
That is, that raised fist you see, that cri de cœur you hear, that you feel reverberating in your body, that is us, and millions more like us.
John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.