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No Act of Rebellion Is Wasted

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Posted on Dec 13, 2010
AP / Peter Dejong

Thousands of Czechs gather in Prague’s Wenceslas Square on Nov. 21, 1989, during the so-called Velvet Revolution that bought an end to decades of repressive Communist rule.

By Chris Hedges

I stood with hundreds of thousands of rebellious Czechoslovakians in 1989 on a cold winter night in Prague’s Wenceslas Square as the singer Marta Kubišová approached the balcony of the Melantrich building. Kubišová had been banished from the airwaves in 1968 after the Soviet invasion for her anthem of defiance, “Prayer for Marta.” Her entire catalog, including more than 200 singles, had been confiscated and destroyed by the state. She had disappeared from public view. Her voice that night suddenly flooded the square. Pressing around me were throngs of students, most of whom had not been born when she vanished. They began to sing the words of the anthem. There were tears running down their faces. It was then that I understood the power of rebellion. It was then that I knew that no act of rebellion, however futile it appears in the moment, is wasted. It was then that I knew that the Communist regime was finished.

“The people will once again decide their own fate,” the crowd sang in unison with Kubišová.

I had reported on the fall of East Germany before I arrived in Prague. I would leave Czechoslovakia to cover the bloody overthrow of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The collapse of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe was a lesson about the long, hard road of peaceful defiance that makes profound social change possible. The rebellion in Prague, as in East Germany, was not led by the mandarins in the political class but by marginalized artists, writers, clerics, activists and intellectuals such as Vaclav Havel, whom we met with most nights during the upheavals in Prague in the Magic Lantern Theater. These activists, no matter how bleak things appeared, had kept alive the possibility of justice and freedom. Their stances and protests, which took place over 40 years of Communist rule, turned them into figures of ridicule, or saw the state seek to erase them from national consciousness. They were dismissed by the pundits who controlled the airwaves as cranks, agents of foreign powers, fascists or misguided and irrelevant dreamers. 

I spent a day during the Velvet Revolution with several elderly professors who had been expelled from the Romance language department at Charles University for denouncing the Soviet invasion. Their careers, like the careers of thousands of professors, teachers, artists, social workers, government employees and journalists in our own universities during the Communist witch hunts, were destroyed.  After the Soviet invasion, the professors had been shipped to a remote part of Bohemia where they were forced to work on a road construction crew. They shoveled tar and graded roadbeds. And as they worked they dedicated each day to one of the languages in which they all were fluent—Latin, Greek, Italian, French, Spanish or German. They argued and fought over their interpretations of Homer, Virgil, Dante, Goethe, Proust and Cervantes. They remained intellectually and morally alive. Kubišova, who had been the most popular recording star in the country, was by then reduced to working for a factory that assembled toys. The playwright Havel was in and out of jail. 

The long, long road of sacrifice, tears and suffering that led to the collapse of these regimes stretched back decades. Those who made change possible were those who had discarded all notions of the practical. They did not try to reform the Communist Party. They did not attempt to work within the system. They did not even know what, if anything, their protests would accomplish. But through it all they held fast to moral imperatives. They did so because these values were right and just. They expected no reward for their virtue; indeed they got none. They were marginalized and persecuted. And yet these poets, playwrights, actors, singers and writers finally triumphed over state and military power. They drew the good to the good. They triumphed because, however cowed and broken the masses around them appeared, their message of defiance did not go unheard. It did not go unseen. The steady drumbeat of rebellion constantly exposed the dead hand of authority and the rot and corruption of the state.

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The walls of Prague were covered that chilly winter with posters depicting Jan Palach. Palach, a university student, set himself on fire in Wenceslas Square on Jan. 16, 1969, in the middle of the day to protest the crushing of the country’s democracy movement. He died of his burns three days later. The state swiftly attempted to erase his act from national memory. There was no mention of it on state media. A funeral march by university students was broken up by police. Palach’s gravesite, which became a shrine, saw the Communist authorities exhume his body, cremate his remains and ship them to his mother with the provision that his ashes could not be placed in a cemetery. But it did not work. His defiance remained a rallying cry. His sacrifice spurred the students in the winter of 1989 to act. Prague’s Red Army Square, shortly after I left for Bucharest, was renamed Palach Square. Ten thousand people went to the dedication.


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ThomasG's avatar

By ThomasG, December 13, 2010 at 11:42 am Link to this comment

test 2

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By Memory_Hole, December 13, 2010 at 11:41 am Link to this comment

Lafayette,

Please learn to write.  This sentence I read several times.  It is so convoluted I still don’t know what it means:

“Particularly when that concentration favoured profit-making at the expense of American consumers but the benefit of a rent-seeking corporate plutocracy that influenced elected officials (who turned a blind eye) to the willful destruction of market competitiveness.”

Also, if you have nothing but withering cynicism to add, kindly remain silent.

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By alturn, December 13, 2010 at 11:35 am Link to this comment

“When all is said and done, there is but one way to describe the present international situation: chaotic. Power-hungry warmongers, reluctant ‘agnostics’ and self-appointed heroes, eager to save the world, struggle to win the support of the people for their various points of view. The voice of the people struggles to be heard amid the tumult but, more and more, is a factor to be reckoned with.

In many countries, vast throngs demonstrate their opposition to a forced and unfair confrontation, and express their fears of a terrible aftermath.
Throughout history, similar situations have arisen again and again, but only very seldom has the will of the people, even when directly involved, been an important factor in the deliberations and decisions made. In recent centuries, only in the great transforming actions of revolution has the people’s voice been central to the action, and made its mark on the time.

Reckless
Today, once again, the moment has come for the people’s voice to be heard. Today, once more, it is essential that the needs of people everywhere for justice, freedom and peace are heard and recognized by the wielders of reckless power.

These dangerous men, caught up in the glamour of their power, must realize that the time for war is past, that humanity longs for peace and a security quickly vanishing. The little ‘Napoleons’ must be told that their days of power are over; that the times have robbed them of all relevance; and that the power now lies with those who serve the true needs of the people.

Hectic
When Maitreya enters the fray, He may at first go unheeded in the hectic events which daily drain men of serenity and calm. Soon, however, men will find that their thoughts and needs are being heard and given voice by a mind more thoughtful and persuasive than their own. In this way they will feel emboldened and join together the better to be heard.

Maitreya will address their most urgent needs, their deepest hopes and fears. He will speak for all men, for people everywhere, and will thus make known the quality of the new society which inwardly satisfies the dreams and expectations of all.

Challenge
Soon, indeed, will Maitreya enter, openly, the lives of men. He is well prepared and eager for the challenge which lies before Him, and His courage will strengthen those who can respond. From His great heart will flow the love which it is His nature to bestow, and when men are ready He will declare His name and office. Thus will the Great Lord manifest His close relation to men and women everywhere, and thus, too, will He fulfil the trust which men, for ever, have placed in Him.”
- The Rise of People Power by a Master of the Wisdom, March 2003 Share International magazine

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ThomasG's avatar

By ThomasG, December 13, 2010 at 11:23 am Link to this comment

test 1

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By NP, December 13, 2010 at 11:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Is it just me, or does Chris Hedges basically write the same column every week?

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thebeerdoctor's avatar

By thebeerdoctor, December 13, 2010 at 10:55 am Link to this comment

“Justice? You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.”
WILLIAM GADDIS

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By elisalouisa, December 13, 2010 at 10:53 am Link to this comment

“There is in our sorrow—for who cannot be profoundly sorrowful?—finally a balm
that leads to wisdom and, if not joy, then a strange, transcendent happiness. To
stand in a park on a cold December morning, to defy that which we must defy, to
do this with others, brings us solace, and perhaps even peace.”

The “sorrow” is there, for many reasons, among them the suffering now and in
years to come that the continual wars, give away of tax payer money to Wall Street, etc. have caused. What better reason to protest? What better place to protest than at the very doors of betrayal?

Such action can indeed be a soothing balm to the pain within.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, December 13, 2010 at 10:51 am Link to this comment

ALTERNATE UNIVERSES

RS: There is an alternate universe described in that statement that I will never understand.

Put your mind to it, because the statement was correct then and even more so know.

It is best expressed in two terms: (1) the Return-to-Labor versus (2) the Return-to-Capital. When the latter far, far exceeds that of the former, a plutocrat class gets the lion share of whatever wealth an economy generates - and the rest get the crumbs off the table.

Or in more exact terms, just 20% of the population garners 93% of the economic wealth generated. And 80% share the remaining 7%. (Don’t believe it? See a rigorous analysis here.)

Any cursory look at either the Gini-coefficient or the Piketty-Saez analysis of income data that goes back to the early part of the 20th century shows what even my uneducated mother knew well. That is, “The rich get richer and the poor can go to hell”.

Because that is the statistical evidence to date. Wrap your mind around that dismal truth. Yes, you can.

And the class-cleavage is getting worse not better. So, in that respect, you are quite right ... there are two alternate universes inhabiting the same American economy.

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David J. Cyr's avatar

By David J. Cyr, December 13, 2010 at 10:51 am Link to this comment

In No Act of Rebellion Is Wasted, Chris Hedges wrote:

“All energy directed toward reforming political and state structures is useless. All efforts to push through a “progressive” agenda within the corridors of power are naive. Trust in the reformation of our corporate state reflects a failure to recognize that those who govern, including Barack Obama, are as deaf to public demands and suffering as those in the old Communist regimes.”
____________

Every act of rebellion is wasted, as long as too many millions mindlessly counter-rebellious obediently support the corporate (R) & (D) party.

There are no rebels in Congress.

Bernie (s)anders avidly supports the Pentagon’s “Dream Act” resource war recruitment legislation.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, December 13, 2010 at 10:36 am Link to this comment

POETIC LICENSE

CH: It was then that I knew that no act of rebellion, however futile it appears in the moment, is wasted. It was then that I knew that the Communist regime was finished.

Very poetic, Chris ... but America today is not Czechoslovakia of 1989. And to make parallels between the Communist Regime of then and American Plutocracy today is ... uh, not justified. Even if those parallels might seem, at first glance, appropriate.

The fundamental difference remains that the Czechs today elect their government, as we do, which they did not in 1989. We elected the political class that, plied with the promise to share the booty, allowed our democracy to be plundered by private-enterprise pirates.

It all went on right under our noses and with our consent. Why?

That is the question to be asked/answered. There is no BigBrother dictatorship in America. There is, however, collusion between various democratic institutions (namely the Senate and the Supreme Court) to aid and abet the dominance of a well-heeled plutocracy.

The Roberts court needs is ridden with an overbearing rightist coterie of court judges who confuse freedoms. Any judge who would vote in favor of indiscriminate use of corporate funds (in support of a particular political agenda) under the misguided notion that such constitutes “freedom of speech” is unfit to be a member of that august body.

The constitution never intended to accord civil rights to anyone but American civilians. Corporations may seem to be physical entities, but they are non-physical paper-creations with the right to hold property—but no right to freedom of speech in an election campaign.

[Elected members of Congress have the duty to listen to corporate points-of-view towards the passage of legislation that is in the interest of all citizens, but to favor private enterprise over the interests of the general public is not justifiable in a functional democracy.]

Moreover, in terms of economic utility it can be well argued that far too much concentration of private enterprise leads to rent-seeking oligopolies. So, the “Bigger is better” argument behind the corporate buy-out fever in America has left our nation less competitive, thus resulting in far higher general costs of goods and services. How is that in the interest of the general public that people pay more for less?

Particularly when that concentration favoured profit-making at the expense of American consumers but the benefit of a rent-seeking corporate plutocracy that influenced elected officials (who turned a blind eye) to the willful destruction of market competitiveness.

Sorry Chris, getting Americans so hot under the collar that they would descend into the streets in protest—as the French do at any suitable occasion—just wont work.

Americans are too fat, too dumb and too happy for that to happen.  “We have met the enemy and he is us”

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rico, suave's avatar

By rico, suave, December 13, 2010 at 10:01 am Link to this comment

“We opened up our society to ordinary people not because we deified the wisdom of the Founding Fathers or the sanctity of the Constitution. We opened it up because of communist, socialist and anarchist leaders like Big Bill Haywood and his militant unionists in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).”

I’m sorry. That was very painful to read. There is an alternate universe described in that statement that I will never understand.

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By Tom Patteson, December 13, 2010 at 9:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

December 16th is a terrible time to hold this rally, terrible!  Plan another one. Give
us more warning. AND DO NOT PLAN IT AROUND CHRISTMAS!

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COinMS's avatar

By COinMS, December 13, 2010 at 9:20 am Link to this comment

I hope that there is a huge turnout. As Chris has noted before, the establishment, the ‘powers that be’ have been quite successful in not allowing any single personality to rise to the top amongst the Left in the U.S., thereby keeping the chances of organized resistance to the regime at a minimum. Maybe this is an awakening moment. Similar efforts in recent years have been a disappointment. Maybe, just maybe, the momentum is growing and will pick up steam.

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By aacme88, December 13, 2010 at 9:08 am Link to this comment

“To stand in a park on a cold December morning, to defy that which we must defy, to do this with others, brings us solace, and perhaps even peace.”

Reading these words I was transported back to San Francisco, 1985, and the massive Pledge of Resistance Demonstrations against the illegal wars in Central America.

I had been a drafted US soldier in the Vietnam War army. Not a combat soldier, I still had huge “issues” surrounding my participation in that war of horror. My life had not gone particularly well since then. I was 40 years old in 1985, and still floundering.

But the Central America wars angered me, and I decided to get involved. It was the best decision of my life. The decision to stand up for what I believed was right, shoulder to shoulder with people who eventually, soon, became dear friends, gave me back my self respect, which was what had been missing my entire adult life. I became one of the leaders in the security end of those huge demonstrations, working both with the police and the demonstrators to keep things non-violent, then being arrested by the same cops for civil disobedience. Jail, after scrupulously non-violent but serious actions, was a proud experience.

One policeman eventually told me he had started out supporting the wars, but after working with, and against, us for half a dozen demonstrations, he was reviewing his position on a lot of things.

My life started getting better with that experience, and turned out great. I can only say that self respect is the key. To stand up for what is right, win or lose, is redemption. It is one of the few things in life absolutely worth doing.

Our country faces the greatest threat in its history. I can only urge you to join in this, the most important thing you will ever do.

Report this

By aacme88, December 13, 2010 at 8:59 am Link to this comment

“To stand in a park on a cold December morning, to defy that which we must defy, to do this with others, brings us solace, and perhaps even peace.”

Reading these words I was transported back to San Francisco, 1985, and the massive Pledge of Resistance Demonstrations against the illegal wars in Central America.

I had been a drafted US soldier in the Vietnam War army. Not a combat soldier, I still had huge “issues” surrounding my participation in that war of horror. My life had not gone particularly well since then. I was 40 years old in 1985, and still floundering.

But the Central America wars angered me, and I decided to get involved. It was the best decision of my life. The decision to stand up for what I believed was right, shoulder to shoulder with people who eventually, soon, became dear friends, gave me back my self respect, which was what had been missing my entire adult life. I became one of the leaders in the security end of those huge demonstrations, working both with the police and the demonstrators to keep things non-violent, then being arrested by the same cops for civil disobedience. Jail, after scrupulously non-violent but serious actions, was a proud experience.

One policeman eventually told me he had started out supporting the wars, but after working with, and against, us for half a dozen demonstrations, he was reviewing his position on a lot of things.

My life started getting better with that experience, and turned out great. I can only say that self respect is the key. To stand up for what is right is redemption. It is one of the few things in life absolutely worth doing.

Our country faces the greatest threat in its history. I can only urge you to join in this, the most important thing you will ever do.

Report this

By glider, December 13, 2010 at 8:57 am Link to this comment

Thanks Chris!  Wish I could be there and I promise to make up for my absence elsewhere.  Keep the faith, we all need you to continue such selfless dedication to the common good.

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By ardee, December 13, 2010 at 8:53 am Link to this comment

Paul_GA, December 13 at 12:45 pm Link to this comment


Don;‘t forget Ron Paul, kerryrose. They may be poles apart politically, but Sanders and Dr. Paul are likely more alike than anyone might give them credit for.

Certainly I do not give them credit for being alike in all but a shallow and superficial way. Both may be sincere and dedicated legislators, dedicated to their own visions but to compare a small s socialist with a capital L Libertarian with ties to both Stormfront and white supremacists seems a stretch guarranteed to pull a major muscle.

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By tideout, December 13, 2010 at 8:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Best wishes and an ongoing thanks for your speeches and writing Chris. I live much of the time overseas now and can’t be there but my thoughts will be with you guys.

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By madisolation, December 13, 2010 at 7:56 am Link to this comment

“To stand in a park on a cold December morning, to defy that which we must defy, to do this with others, brings us solace, and perhaps even peace.”

I wish I could be there.

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Paul_GA's avatar

By Paul_GA, December 13, 2010 at 7:45 am Link to this comment

Don;‘t forget Ron Paul, kerryrose. They may be poles apart politically, but Sanders and Dr. Paul are likely more alike than anyone might give them credit for.

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By ardee, December 13, 2010 at 6:53 am Link to this comment

The article is a paean to the power of the people. This is the single most important message we need to absorb. If we continue to look for heroes to lead us we will remain where we are. Once we understand that the people lead and leaders follow we cannot help but succeed.

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kerryrose's avatar

By kerryrose, December 13, 2010 at 6:42 am Link to this comment

Bernie Sanders.  Bernie Sanders.  Bernie Sanders.
There are people in government who can change the status quo. He is a good person who stands virtually alone.

What if we work like hell to elect more of them? 

Along with acts of nonviolent disobedience?

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