Bernie vs. The Oligarchs

Who is Bernie Sanders you ask?

For those unacquainted with American politics, he is a Vermont Senator that is challenging Hilary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 Presidential Election. The longest serving independent senator in the U.S. congress and he is a man I have admired for many years on account of his passionate stances on a range of issues - climate change, income inequality, financial reform and foreign policy being some key areas.  His near 9 hour filibuster of Obama's continuation of Bush-era tax cuts to the wealthy being but one example of his passion to support the working class.  Along with Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders has been one of the few consistent voices of reason within a political system that appears out of touch with the daily struggles of the lower and middle class, one utterly compromised by the greed of corporations and high net worth individuals like the Koch brothers. I have long felt that for better or worse (more of the latter), American politics has a huge bearing on the rest of the world. It is with this in mind that I am watching this presidential campaign with great interest and I daresay ...hope!

A self labelled "Democratic Socialist", Bernie is  calling for a "political revolution" and often looks towards Scandinavia for inspiration (e.g. taxation, education, healthcare). While "socialism" seems to be a dirty word in American politics, the Republican candidates thus far (all 12 of them) appear to be so entrenched in far-right politics (billionaire financiers, climate change denial and trickle down economics in tow) to have a serious chance of defeating a Democratic candidate next year. So while it is early days it does indeed appear to be a battle between Bernie and Hilary Clinton for the U.S. presidency. The Daily Dot has a great summary of some of the key policy differences between Sanders and Clinton. For progressives, it ought to be abundantly clear that it is Sanders who has the authentic track record. Be it his stance on big banks, electoral reform, same-sex marriage, climate change, Keystone XL, on the Trans-Pacific Partnership,  healthcare, mass surveillance or the 'war on terror', it is all remarkably clear and consistent. The same cannot be said about Hilary Clinton. Or the vast majority of politicians across the world for that matter. The regressive, wildly inconsistent Abbott Government here in Australia being a case in point.

But let's face it, there is a much greater battle playing out here...and this is what moves me the most.

It is a battle against a powerful, maniacal, greedy elite who have hijacked governments and hence the system of rules (or lack thereof) that determine how we function as a global society. An oligarchy.  Before you conjure images of me being a conspiracy theorist, I invite you to reflect on the extent to which big business and wealthy elites hold the reigns when it comes to political decision making. Whether it is media control,  flagrant campaign financing, lobby groups or intense business-government collusion in policy development. A paradigm that has unsurprisingly resulted  in inaction when it comes to climate change, growing income inequality  and of course the denigration of all social services to the majority while insisting on tax breaks, loopholes and subsidies for big business. Thus a context in which we talk about about 'democracy and freedom' without having clear insight into who the levers of power are controlled by. A reality that is by no means relegated to the U.S.

It is against this rather Orwellian backdrop that Bernie Sanders has launched his bid for the Presidency.

I'll tell you this, I get emotional watching Bernie speak. There is something about the optics of  a scruffy 73 year old man fearlessly voicing the  truth about the "crooks on Wall Street", undeterred by the overwhelming odds against him.  There is something about a man who is genuinely immersed in the substance of his message and not his appearance. There is something  about a man that oozes authenticity and cogently outlines a rational, humane vision for America and by extension, the world. There is no slick marketing  or tailored speeches driving this bid thus far. Bernie's words are measured, they are direct.  The foundation of his campaign in his own words is what he sarcastically calls "a radical concept, the truth". It is this directness, in stark contrast to the willful ambiguity that defines mainstream politics,  this clear identification of the roots of injustice and the concise path to address it... that is capturing hearts and minds. He certainly has my attention and above that, my respect.

In Bernie's speeches in packed  halls thus far, there is the distinct impression that he is a man who is determined to be a champion for the underdog. It has been his legacy for decades.  An authenticity that sees him swearing not to touch billionaire money and Super PACs (Political Action Committees).  Bernie is a fierce opponent of the Citizen's United decision that lead to the supreme court ruling in favour of "independent" political spending by corporations and unions. Instead, he is relying on donations from citizens. He has started raising millions through a grassroot  campaign which currently has over 200,000 supporters  with an average donation of USD $42. Still, an observer might call this chump change in light of the staggering $ 2.5 billion that the Clinton campaign aims to bring in through donations.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media is still largely cynical about Sanders' campaign and are largely framing it as a bid that at best, may shift Clinton's campaign further to the left. Ironically, as he points out, the fact that he is deemed to have a snowballs chance in hell  is largely because he is unwilling to cave in to corporate interests that allow such 'obscene' campaign funds like other candidates on both sides. On the ground, Bernie is filling venues and gaining momentum and as he keeps saying in each interview, he should not be underestimated. Even the previously non-aligned ,Occupy Wall Street movement is endorsing him.

It seems to me that at the very heart of his campaign is a desire to mobilise the grassroots, the working class,  to rally against a system controlled by corporations and the 'billionaire class'.  A call to action in the midst of a sense of futility and apathy among the struggling majority. A 'political revolution' to drive money out of politics in order to amplify the voice of the people and place quality of life and environmental sustainability at the center. It is very much an attempt to reclaim democracy in the United Sates. While the odds may seem stacked against him, while the road will be grueling and implementation of his ideas may be gridlocked in congress ...what better choice do the majority of American people have than Bernie Sanders? What if ...what if even a fraction of what he outlines is possible?

It would seem that Sanders is the only man with the gumption and integrity to lead a movement to redefine the values and political direction of the United States. Inherent in his vision is a re-imagining of American society that seems to resonate with a growing number of working class voters. Should he secure the Democratic nomination, it would seem that the likelihood of him winning the election would be very strong.  If he does succeed it  would be a David vs. Goliath tale for the ages. Above all, it would be an inspiring testament to the power of a people powered movement. We could have a world leader the world needs, one who is genuinely committed  to addressing systemic injustice and climate change.

You have a fan in me Bernie. If I were American, there would be no doubt that you would have my vote. I'm captivated and I am inspired by your leadership. I'll be watching this race very closely and willing you to win.

Forget

Late night collisions with apparitions,

like fevered winters precipitate,

the sweat and the heartache,

Everything I've wanted to forget.

My father's struggle in dreams I render,

A faceless man broken asunder,

in the depths of his bleak ocean,

Our arms stretched at the periphery,

devotion unheard our eyes dimmed.

The bonds we form seem destined to

bring us hope then tear it down,

For I let them in and let them win

those weary games we played,

Everyone I've wanted to forget.

First love a twin shadow silhouette,

A moon blessed escape from solitude,

After daybreak reveals the precipice,

I don't want to believe or be in love.

After yearsI've come to see,

My timid surrender to memory,

Painting with that palette so bleak,

a vision of life so full of strife.

For to forget,

is to feign indifference

to the lessons of experience,

To submit oblivious of irony,

to a life of mere remembrance.

To let go

is to see what was

as the whispering winds that

brought me to this shore.

 

The Road

As we drove through that ochre dust
Reverberations of an old life
Howled through the marrow
of my bones.

Those bare footed escapades
through the unforgiving savannah,
Tethered only to a yearning
to follow each honest impulse,
From heart to limb.

We lost no sleep
to the howls of beasts,
We were the eyes of the night
and knew that the roads were
trails of where we'd been,
Not paths for where we'd go.

Halcyon

An ancient drum beat heart,
tuned to mother's rhythm,
Our sound travels through
this sea's caress in waves,
Soft against new skin.

Ripples of wonder in dark sanctuary,
Of my lot in the world outside,
Between love and indifference,
till flesh and time collide.

A return to forgetfulness,
a new seed of the universe,
Yearning to be expressed,
felt, heard and caressed.

Mother... Father.... Oh the dreams I've searched for your hands.

Garissa Massacre in Kenya : Where is the outrage?

This absolutely horrific mass murder by Al Shabab at Garissa University in Kenya. 148 young lives were taken in the most brutal manner on the 2nd of April but the news coverage and outrage beyond Africa and those who hold it dear... has been minimal. In more recent times the media storm and outrage over the shooting at Charlie Hebdo in Paris and the Lindt Cafe Siege in Sydney would indicate that there is no shortage of interest and compassion for people who are victims to these heinous acts by fundamentalists. Yet the requisite for intense media attention and expressions of outrage and solidarity by world leaders, dare I say it, seems to be that the victims must be white and that said act should occur in a Western cocoon that is typically free of the scourge of violence. The authenticity of said compassion is a related but separate discussion.

I long to be free of distinctions in terms of colour, sexuality, nationality and religion but it is hard to do so in a context in which it is blatantly obvious that we are not all equal. Across my years in Sri Lanka both as a resident of Colombo and as an aid worker on the East Coast, acts of violence were a norm. Suicide bombs taking hundreds of lives was so common that we had peace doves as markers on the streets that attacks took place on, fading with each passing year. This violence was largely viewed as being an internal matter. That it was our fault. Until exposure taught me that it wasn't as simple as all this. I learnt that sympathy and intervention was firmly tied to colour and a colonial mentality of what could be extracted from the situation, or perhaps more explicitly as evident in recent times, from the ground. That the violence of the present is inextricably tied to others and to the legacy of the past.

We have so much to transcend and unlearn as a species. There is still a vile underbelly of ethnocentrism that permeates and often renders our bold ideal of equality, opaque. Rife with conditions. I have grown up with what seems like overwhelming evidence of the fact that white lives matter far more than that of men, women and children of colour. It is a paradigm that I will continue to rail against. In the midst of our claims to sophistication, we are so deeply estranged from all the threads, biological and spiritual, that bind us together

 

Note: The heartbreaking image featured in this post was taken from this article by the New York Post 

Here is an article (finally) that looks at the victims of the massacre.

 

 

Through the Lighthouse

Like the songs of shells in the ocean,
The past feels like an inconceivable dream,
Breathing beneath this lighthouse
as its eyes permeate the night.

Lost in the shadow of a family tree,
I was but a struggling amnesiac.
Till I felt the weight of my bones
and learnt the art of breathing,
through the length of arid days.
Till I learnt to be of service
and soothe the pain of vanity.

Now through these stone walls
and this sword of light,
Free of the borders of skin,
A stranger no more,
I am found upon those waves
that carry the lost home.

The Tipping Point

Our patience with lizard skinned schemers,
The humble turned decadent,
entitled, malevolent and arrogant,
Insidious architects drawing margins
to elevate their earnings.
Preaching equality from throne rooms.
Their words of peace birthed
inside the barrel of a gun.
Those extractive, exhausting reprobates,
Those green card patriots,
Those "virtuous" devils who hide
in the shadows of faith.
It wore thinner than a razor's edge
and we turned livid.
Furious with them, then ourselves
for having ever fostered their ilk.
We stared out our windows,
then walked out our doors,
peered above our fences
and cried"no more. No More!"

Dominance

It would seem that at the heart of the human struggle to evolve is a primal lust for control. The most pervasive being man's relationship with nature. We live in an insidious paradigm that seeks to subjugate and extract the essence of the ecosystems that support our very existence. Confident in our arrogance of no repercussions. The spirit of an aggressor captured in the words of Francis Bacon "For you have to but follow and as it were hound nature in her wanderings".

Read More

Brothers

Brother, my eyes swim in a retreating light,
between the shadows of our twin plight.
our hearts gripped by winter's collar,
furious and blind, bleeding summer.

I ache for a return to those times,
when as brothers we'd trace
those hills and rooftops,
unknowing of this end.

For were our lives not writ
with the ignorant ink of men?
wrapped in traps of intellect,
wearing muted masks to cast illusions
of strength that fool none.

Hostage to our tragedies,
only to find fleeting solace,
at the bottom of a bottle,
estranged from feeling.

Yet even as we raised
our walls and our voices,
we were loved.
By the casualties of our silences,
beyond our deepest afflictions.
May we be candles to our children...

Unpacking the Ego

An excerpt from  my  speech on “Enabling Self-Determination” at the National Student Leadership Forum  2013- Canberra. 

Why was I doing this? What were the roots of my intentions? For while I still maintained a deep desire to lead a life of contribution …over the years, it seemed that my approach was contradictory.

 

It became clear to me upon examination that it (working on social projects) was an escape – a drug of sorts. My intentions on the surface were good…but the internal drivers of this call to action were not entirely altruistic. Quite simply I was doing it because I felt ugly, unworthy, small, insignificant, incapable…..working on these projects took me away from this personal reality. My father succumbing to alcoholism….my own depression…were all tucked away …unprocessed …because I felt good about myself when I could help others. It was distanced from my own self-loathing. Of course I started to see the toxicity of this approach both to myself and to those I purported to help….it was a dependency on dependency.  One ultimately blind to the real needs of others.

 

This period of personal growth was instrumental as I started to see how my own beliefs about myself were a fundamental contradiction of the change I wanted to see in the world. For who was I to speak  to anyone,  let alone  the most disenfranchised,  about self-belief, capability and hope if I had no authentic belief in it for myself? So if I asked myself what it would look like if I were to serve authentically  and this ..in short involved a lot of conversations…arguments…reflection and meditation ….and as a result some deep insights for my own life. A love and appreciation of myself…scars and all.  A sense that while  I wanted to live a life of contribution ….I wasn’t what I did …it was who I was that mattered. Layered into this was the realisation that I have many roles and relationship  in life…with myself, as a son, a brother, a friend, a partner, a…as a human being.

 

As I draw my sharing to a close I have two thoughts I’d thoughts I’d like to share ….

I have no doubt that contribution has been a major thread in the conversations you have been having here in this forum. In all my conversations with people across faiths and cultures, it seems clear that this is the key to living a deeply fulfilling life, one with meaning and purpose. Yet in the passionate pursuit of ways to contribute we need to be vigilant…mindful of our intentions.  We need to slow down and be real with ourselves, look in that metaphorical mirror and  exercise compassion towards ourselves ….this is a process and it never ends but I feel it is the most liberating , necessary action.  I do not feel there can be true love for others unless one loves self… I do not simply mean this as an intellectual ideas but as deeper acceptance . Look at ways to practice gratitude towards yourself and the very fact that you draw breath. Articulate your values and beliefs, share them …with complete honesty….be open and vulnerable. This gives others permission to do the same. In my case I maintain a personal mission statement that captures this the essence of my values and the roles I play I life.

 

Then we can consider the second part ….when contribution is no longer the central feature of one’s escape or psychological identity….it is an expression of purpose that can take so many forms. To use the idea of a mirror once more, I see deep contribution as being a process through which you can  hold a mirror so that others can see their own greatness. Their own power and vulnerability. Then it is not about you as a leader, an individual seeking fulfilment or identity through your own creation or achievements. It is an authentic exchange of our humanity.  This does not need to be an organisation, a project or a career…but it can be all of those things…there are opportunities for such leadership in daily living….right here in this room.The choice has been …is and will always be yours to make. So I urge you all to be a light on to yourself and thereon to others. Lead …by being.

 

True

Love... Do I even stand a chance?

Beneath your glowing veneer,

Where I meld with old fires

and those vapors of doubt.

For here I have been...

Suspended in forest green,

Watching timid hopes wake,

deep in the sweetest ache.

 

Tell me true...

Is there a tender thought of me,

safe from those flames?

Or is this a dreamer's lot?

 

For with you,

I have no bonds of breath.

"Why do you do what you do?"

I find it strange when I am asked why I do what I do. 'why not? 'is my reflex response.'I endeavour to be the person I'd want on my side if I were not as blessed with the context I enjoy today'. I have long found it perplexing how we consider a false dichotomy, a norm. A context in which service to society and contribution is perceived as a sacrifice, an opposing force in the face of fiery individual endeavour.

Read More