I’m currently rewatching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and in the third season, which contains a two-part time travel episode called “Past Tense”, in which three of the crew members transport down to Starfleet headquarters in San Francisco from the USS Defiant, the starship attached to the station, only to be diverted from the 24th century to 21st century San Francisco, in the year 2024, a date not far off.
At that time in the Star Trek Universe, cities in the United States interned unemployed and homeless people, and their families and children if they had any, in concentration zones called Sanctuary Districts. When the residents take over the district’s administration building and hold hostages to get the outside to listen to their testimony about the horrid conditions, one of the Starfleet characters, Julian Bashir, discusses with one of the social workers how things got so bad. After she expresses remorse, Bashir tells her, “It’s not your fault things are the way they are.” She replies, “Everyone tells themselves that, and nothing ever changes.” That, in essence, sums up the point of the whole episode.
The episode “Past Tense” was first broadcast in 1995, when Bill Clinton’s destruction of the New Deal was beginning to reach cruising speed, two years after NAFTA and one year after passage of the malicious and vindictive omnibus anti-crime bill written by Clinton ally and former Veep the then Sen. Joe Biden. It was also during the drafting of the omnibus welfare destruction bill that would be passed the next year. So, it was not for nothing that Alan Greenspan remarked that Bill Clinton was the “best Republican we’ve ever had”. And his wife, Hillary the Goldwater Girl, was with him every step of the way.
With the religion of neoliberalism dominating most of the world’s governments and all of the global economy, such a thing as the Sanctuary Districts in a dystopian world dominated by psychopathically avaricious corporations as depicted in that episode may soon become a reality in many countries around the world.
A couple of weeks ago I downloaded from Facebook a meme whose bulk is a paraphrase of a passage from an article written by Northampton, Massachusetts, author Noami Shulman, just after the November 2016 election, with the thoughts of the meme’s creator added at the end.
“Nice people make the best Nazis. My mother spent her childhood in Nazi Germany surrounded by nice people who refused to make waves. When things got ugly, the people my mother lived alongside looked the other way and focused on happier things than ‘politics’. They were lovely, kind people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.”
Today, the people of Iran are not being “nice”. They are resisting. The current protests broke out over a 50% rise in the price of eggs. Ironically, the two men who organized the first demonstration in the holy city of Mashhad were right-wing religious oppositionists to the Rouhani government, hoping to embarrass Iran’s president. But like the protests that began in the summer of 2009 and stretched into the spring of 2011, the catalizing event that kicked things off was just that and only that; a catalyst. In 2009, it was a stolen election; at the end of 2017, it was more expensive eggs, now $6.30 for a 30-count crate. Just as in 2009, the people’s true feelings and very real, very justified grievances quickly surfaced.
Just as many of the slogans from those earlier protests have been revived—“Esteghlal, Azadi, Jomhuri-e Irani” or “Independence, Freedom, Iranian Republic” (as opposed to Islamic Republic)” and “Marg bar Diktador” or “Death to the Dictator”—most of the real underlying grievances are the same: widespread corruption, a weak mismanaged economy, rampant inflation, a static, moribund political system, a cruel, authoritarian regime in which there is little chance to air grievances and nothing but mocking laughter or complete indifference when there is. Unlike 2009, however, the added burdens of fighting a war to prop up another authoritarian regime, one much more vicious and bloodthirsty, have taken their toll.
In Iran right now, the people cry out for the needs of the many to come before the greed and ambition of the few. As Maz Jobrani put it in 2009, the people of Iran are “going Iranian”.
From another scifi/fantasy TV show, this time the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff Angel, comes this line, spoken to the protagonist well after he and his companions had become the senior executives of their former archenemy, the evil law firm Wolfram & Hart, with the thought they could change the system from the inside. “Every day you sit behind your desk and you learn a little more how to accept the world for the way it is. Well, here’s the rub: heroes don’t do that. Heroes don’t accept the world the way it is. They fight it.”
The world needs heroes. The world needs objectors and resisters. Not as saviors, but to carry the torch of anger against injustice in one hand and the torch of hope for a better world in the other. Not to lead or take control, like the slaves who dream not of freedom but of becoming masters, but rather to pass them on when the people stand up and “go Iranian” on their oppressors, demanding those things which they need for their safety and happiness, for their survival, for their dignity, for their welfare, for their freedom, for their independence.
Rooz-e ma khahad amad, omidvaram. Our day will come, inshallah. Keep the faith. Peace out.