Written by Rocky Neptun
Posted on Wednesday, 05 March 2008, on
Rocky Neptun is Director of the San Diego Renters’ Union.
I am now free to get out of my head. With my season in hell over; I am no longer a candidate. To run for a public office today, particularly in San Diego, is to crawl into a cesspool and wade around with the gunk. Egocentric minds, pampered bodies and the ethics of crap, politicians, for the most part, are bought off by corporate wealth. Squabbling creatures of self-interest, with calculative minds; always thinking of everything in terms of personal advantage, their stench and filth soiled my conscience.
I am now free to return to my heart. To retreat to my place in Baja, Mexico, overlooking the beach, wrapped in the arms of my non-Yankee, factory-working, lover, and finish that novel that struggles like a trapped bird to get out. With one foot out the door of this rotten system, an Empire built on corporate greed as well as militaristic fear and repression, I breathe fully the air of a country at peace.
I have done my part. I did not want to be mayor. I did not want to run for any public office. Intuitively, I knew that my journey of liberation, that began so many years ago as a homeless kid on the streets of New York City, would be impeded by a foray into politics. But I was asked to run by friends in the Renters Union. People are hurting in our community, whole families displaced, seniors falling through the cracks, young people facing hopelessness and despair. It was a plea to try and get a message out, a cry of help to all those who still value fairness and justice.
Spending my teenage years on the streets, I learned quickly, those distant days, that friendship was the most important connection in life. One’s very life often depended who was watching your back, whether you were sleeping or sick in an alley. I rarely turn down friends.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the progressive community in San Diego. Your inattentiveness to the needs of our local community, your inaction, your myopic isolation in issue of the week driven activism and the comforts of identity politics, has let me off the hook.
The San Diego Renters Union voted last week not to commit any of our meager resources to any political races in the 2008 election cycle, based on the lack of response to our San Diego Coalition for Clean and Fair Government. Originally, the Renters Union had hoped that Mayor Sanders running unopposed, with a lackluster campaign, and the typical suspects running for city council positions, that a bored media and a citizenry tired of the mendacity and crookedness of City Hall would pay attention to the class-cleansing of our city.
We had put together a platform that not only opposed the city’s present course of privatization; its power politics based on wealth, with corporate ownership of the public commons and community resources, but the needs of our children and their generation.
From the decentralization of city hall into participatory democracy through neighborhood government to a complete municipal global warming mitigation program, total energy and water self-sufficiency by 2021; the Renters Union had sought to unite the left in an effort to make government respond to our needs.
We live in a wealthy city, yet the controlling oligarchy tells us that there is no money to fund city services and enhance our quality of life. These wealthy blue-bloods and powerful CEO’s, rather than pay their fair share in taxes and fees, would have us wait until bond markets and financial speculators loan us funds, passing the debt for their fat asses and needs on to our children and their children.
The Renters Union tried to carry the chat, “What do we want – justice,” and “When do we want it – now” into a local political coalition. We tied this effort to concrete, fair, fundamental proposals; like rent stabilization, free public transportation, neighborhood government and a living wage for all who work in San Diego.
Just working-class folks, we, in the Renters Union, were, indeed, naïve to think that there was a viable, concerned, committed left in San Diego. From the peaceniks who are big on peace, short on justice, to the local Green Party, except for a dedicated few, mostly self-delusional wannabes, mouse warriors clicking out their treatises and tirades in their underwear, pissing and moaning at back-porch barbecues about irrelevancy, while the right-wing takes over our city.
With our Coalition calling for the public ownership of San Diego Gas and Electric, owned by the corrupt, exploitative, Sempra Corporation of Texas, we watched as the former head of the San Diego Labor Council was bought off with millions of dollars to become their shrill. We watched as Steve Francis, an egomaniac, who makes his wealth ripping off the health care system, shoving up the cost, moving affordability constantly beyond the range of our members, pledge to spend $1.5 million of his tainted money to become mayor. We watched as the crooked CEO’s and professional leeches; lawyers, accountants, lobbyists, feeding at the public trough downtown, line up behind their benefactor, Mayor Sanders. We watched as Todd Gloria, who represents wealthy developers, landlords and corporate rip-off agents, collect vast sums of money to defeat grass-roots community activists like Steve Whitburn and John Hartley, in the Third Council District. Or Phil Thalheimer in the First District, who spent over a million dollars unsuccessfully last time around, and will succeed in this election.
From San Diego, through Sacramento, to Washington, D.C. our democracy is broken. It has become a sad illusion. Representative democracy has been perverted and enslaved to wealth. Yet, the citizenry, particularly the left, sit in denial. They harbor a tint of hope that the bright, young Senator from Illinois might be different; that his empty slogans of change aren’t Bill Clinton’s reflux of deceptions and lies over universal health care for all and people above profits. They watch as venerable outsiders like Ralph Nader and Jim Bell, in San Diego, become obsessed puppies, chasing their tails, in election after election, unable or unwilling to give younger radicals a chance.
The members of the Renters Union had hoped that the “professionals” who run the Affordable Housing Coalition of San Diego County would pause in their concern for upper-middle class issues like mortgage defaults and inclusionary housing to tackle outrageous rent hikes that see 2,000 families evicted a month. Fifty of these are seniors, who become homeless each month. Or the Environmental Health Coalition, which has evolved into a lucrative source of income for its attorneys and organizers, as it becomes a narrowly focused, grant-consuming, mechanism.
All along the watchtower, progressive groups and organizations fear change and radical new ideas almost as much as the rabid, right-wing Copley Family. From the San Diego Spiritual Progressives, who are afraid to discuss politics because it might affect their 501© status to the Amnesty International folks. Activists, throughout the city, who drive to their meetings to discuss human rights abuses in far-off lands right past the homeless (who are routinely harassed, beaten, ticketed and arrested because they are poor).
We on the left have become as individualist, materialistic and image conscience as the American Empire we so often berate. Like having sex without a partner, we fantasize about our involvement, our shared actions, our notions of solidarity and mutual needs. We have built layers of simulacra around us; an illusion of opposition, the appearance of a movement. We mirror the dominant culture by our contrived commitment to change. We kid ourselves that any problem can be solved with the same consciousness that caused it.
At some point in our lives, all of us must let go. Whether it is life itself, through death, or our illusions; we must surrender to the truth. As lefties we are caught in the webs of mind-forged creatures, immobilized by the fear of being wrong and the despair of powerlessness that comes from that fear. We are afraid of risk, of commitment and, most terrifyingly, of faith – actions based on emotions and the heart.
We are not prepared to wager our money or, more importantly, our reputations on any course of action that fundamentally threatens those in power, their war economy or their armed police-state mentality. We would rather attend a film, a lecture, another summit of movement superficiality; always consuming, informational, rarely transformational. Mind over heart, knowledge over action, comforts over sacrifice, façade over confrontation; we are forever trapped as adolescents in our x-box revolution.
Have we reached the point that Dr. Martin Luther King warned about in his prophetic 1967 address to the congregation at Riverside Church, “when profit and property rights are considered more important than people?” Then, he suggested, “the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” Does our community reflect our nation? Have we lost Dr. King’s vision of wisdom, justice and love? In the last throes of “spiritual death?” Does my wounded heart, disenchanted vision, the bitter pill of domed friends, sour my commentary?
Or, like a bleeding dove, shot from the cool Minnesota sky, flapping in an icy lake; have we have already lost and are just struggling out of instinct?
In San Diego, we see one group of corporate-owned thugs (members of an oligarchy which has controlled this city for generations) fighting another, smaller, group of “new” money brigands (that have exploited the health care system, with bio-tech rip-offs and high medicine costs). Yet, the corporate media winks, the Labor Council turns a blind eye, the identity power groups lay low, the Democratic Party continues to sell-out and community groups struggle just to keep the libraries open, parks safe and roads passable.
In San Diego, the slogan “think globally, act locally” is a sad joke. Power liberals holding on to their little organizational ponds, youth (disgusted and appalled) turning away to PSP games and beer fests, more and more working-class families (and even middle-class) are being forced out by gentrification (their children locked up by the militarization of our streets) and the left fiddles on, out-of-tune, with broken strings.
The young, French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, who’s former apartment above the River Seine I once visited, wrote, over a century ago, about his experiences in Paris. His epic poem, “A Season in Hell,” told of his disillusionment with “all human hope,” before he disappeared into the darkness of the African jungle. “I am no longer a prisoner of my own reason,” he wrote, “I want freedom, within salvation; I keep my place at the top of the angelic ladder of good sense.” Today, old activists, sadly, don’t whither away, they seem to merely replace hope, promise and possibility with illusions, comfort zones and compromise.
Enjoy your San Diego government, fellow activists; it’s the best money can buy.
As for me, like Rimbaud: “Oh, the little fly! Drunk at the urinal of a country inn, in love with rotting weeds; a ray of light dissolves him.”
peace and love, rocky
Rocky Neptun, Director
San Diego Renters Union
Member, San Diego Coalition for Clean and Fair Government
4406 Park Blvd. Suite D
San Diego, Ca 92116