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Starbucks Drama Proves (Again) the Reactionaries Will Be Televised

Protesters outside a Starbucks in Philadelphia where two black men were arrested April 13 after employees of the coffee shop accused them of trespassing. (Ron Todt / AP)

We are here again. The latest outrage serves as another occasion to gnash our teeth and seethe in collective indignation. This time, it’s the arrest of two “black” men in Philadelphia that is capturing the exasperation of the public. Let me say from the outset that I’m not writing this to, in any way, dismiss the scourge of racism or diminish the distress of being arrested for no reason other than the pigmentation of one’s skin.

I understand intimately the resentment that is stirred when the rights and liberties of people are trespassed against. However, these protests have become an end unto themselves. One second, we are up in arms demanding justice, only to forget the next minute. In the rush to condemn iniquities, we keep forgetting the root of our tribulation. We are missing the bigger picture as we rush to react. Injustice hunting has become the new favorite pastime of Americans.

People in Flint are poisoned, and we take to social media to bleed our spleens only for anger to be followed up with inertia. The water sources of Native Americans in the Dakotas—and in countless communities throughout America—get polluted and we jump to demonstrate only for passions to abate as soon as the news leads with another indignity. Yet another nation in this never ending war of terror gets shelled into the stone ages, and we appeal on behalf of humanity only to retreat once the images of death and carnage are no longer splashed on our iPhones.

Henry David Thoreau once said, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” He was referring to the way too many are quick to address symptoms of injustice while few tend to the disease. We have become a society of branch hackers. We are so easily driven into emotion that few take the time to logically figure a way forward.

The root of almost every issue we keep getting riled up about can be traced to consolidated greed and concentrated power. The pipes in Flint were not replaced by a utility company because politicians and bureaucrats alike chose to err on the side of profits even if that meant poisoning people. The Dakota Access pipelines were built to enhance the revenues of oil corporations. Wars never end because each bomb that explodes overseas fills the coffers of the military-financial complex and the boars who feed at the trough of injustice.

Do you see the common factor here? In each instance, corporatism is the source of human suffering. The public good is being subverted by private interests. Jeff Bezos is worth over $119 billion by last count. Meanwhile, the average worker at Amazon is making $28,446 annually. This is no longer a boss-to-worker relationship. Owner versus slave is a more apt analogy given the discrepancy of realities between the haves and the have nots.

Bezos is not an outlier but the rule when it comes to the fortunes of the 1 percent and the misfortunes foisted upon the rest of us. It was not always like this. During the 1950s, the top marginal tax rate was as high as 91 percent. This was done to ensure a fair distribution of wealth and assure income opportunity for most Americans.

What a change a half century brings. We now live in the age of robber barons and capital vultures. It is now a social norm for billionaires to pay 15 percent or less in taxes while the average worker at Starbucks pays twice as much in terms of tax rate.

In order to distract us from this truth, corporate-owned pundits, politicians and personalities are continually engaging in identity politics and pushing separable grievances. Notice how few people talk about economic injustices for every thousand who hack at the branches of social justice? That is by design. Demagogues incite us and stoke our emotions to prevent us from figuring out a way to end this corporate morass that is choking our planet. A plan of action with only tactics sans strategy delivers zero solutions. People who know only how to react become pawns of those who have a vision.

The gentry’s vision should be pretty evident by now. We have become assets on the balance sheets of corporations. As they automate more and more jobs and replace human hands with artificial intelligence, the working and middle class will soon enough be viewed as liabilities on those same balance sheets. Corporations are a noose around our collective necks. This clear and present threat to humanity cuts across the endless constructs that have been erected to Balkanize people into the ghettos of identities. Now you know why I put quote marks around the word black at the beginning of this article.

Instead of protesting against corporations and outsourcing our freedoms to be arbitrated by the neo-aristocracy, how about we divest from the plutocracy altogether? A thousand marches against Starbucks produce nothing except giving them free advertising as they announce another corporate get-well plan. How about we use our feet not to protest but to reinvest in our communities by walking into a locally owned coffee shop instead of buying overpriced cappuccinos at Starbucks?

Locally owned companies and businesses are a lot less likely to poison their own community since they would be poisoning themselves in the process. Moreover, empowering small and community-based businesses like a locally owned coffee shop is a way of retaining communal wealth and building equity for ourselves and our children.

The same is true of our politics. Instead of voting for yet another duplicitous politician promising change only to deliver broken promises, let us expend that energy to build our communities block by city block. The way to make America great again is not through slogans but through the hard work and sacrifice needed to mend our broken communities.

Or we can continue to protest and rally—and get nothing for our troubles. Memes like “too little, too latte” sound cute, and they capture the attention of social media onlookers, but these hashtag protests lend no value in the ongoing quest to alleviate suffering. We are at once putting shackles at our feet only to demand that the oligarchy free us.

The keys to our liberation reside in our hands. I’m not advocating some “off the grid” existence, either. Incremental changes in our shopping and consumption habits can one day loosen the grip corporations have around our necks.

As long as we continue to empower the same corporations who are nullifying hope globally, we are spinning our wheels. And what’s more, we are contributing to our pillaging—we are rendering ourselves irrelevant by the day.

We can keep acting tactically, or we can finally come up with a strategy. Divest from corporations and invest in our communities. We do not need yet another social media campaign. I’m talking about decisions we make daily with our wallets and our hearts. The choice is simple. The decision we make going forward is crucial.

Teodrose Fikre
Teodrose Fikre is a journalist and the founder and editor of The Ghion Journal. Once a defense consultant, he was profoundly changed by a two-year journey of hardship and struggle. Going from a life of…
Teodrose Fikre

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