I rarely employ long quotes in these essays. I prefer my own words to express my own ideas. But this time I make an exception. The simple words at the end of Noam Chomsky’s 1992 book, “What Uncle Sam Really Wants” are even more relevant after our experience in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat of global warming, the government’s role in forcing the American people to reward Wall Street bankers for their crimes, and the more recent Arab Spring and the Occupy movements:
“In any country, there’s some group that has the real power. It’s not a big secret where power is in the United States. It basically lies in the hands of the people who determine investment decisions—what’s produced, what’s distributed. They staff the government, by and large, choose the planners, and set the general conditions for the doctrinal system.
“One of the things they want is a passive quiescent population. So one of the things that you can do to make life uncomfortable for them is NOT to be passive and quiescent. There are lots of ways of doing that. Even just asking questions can have an important effect….
“If you go to one demonstration and then go home, that’s something, but the people in power can live with that. What they can’t live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organizations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time.
“Any system of power, even a fascist dictatorship, is responsive to public dissidence. It’s certainly true in a country like this, where—fortunately—the state doesn’t have a lot of force to coerce people. During the Vietnam War, direct resistance to the war was quite significant, and it was a cost that the government had to pay.
“If elections are just something in which some portion of the population goes and pushes a button every couple of years, they don’t matter. But if the citizens organize to press a position, and pressure their representatives about it, elections can matter….
“The struggle for freedom is never over. The people of the Third World need our sympathetic understanding, and, much more than that, they need our help. We can provide them with a margin of survival by internal disruption in the United States. Whether they can succeed against that kind of brutality we impose on them depends in large part on what happens here.
“The courage they show is quite amazing. I’ve personally had the privilege—and it is a privilege—of catching a glimpse of that courage at first hand in Southeast Asia, in Central America and on the occupied West Bank….
“There’s a growing Third World at home. There are systems of illegitimate authority in every corner of the social, political, economic and cultural worlds. For the first time in human history, we have to face the problem of protecting an environment that can sustain a decent human existence. We don’t know that honest and dedicated effort will be enough to solve or even mitigate such problems as these. We are quite confident, however, that the lack of such efforts will spell disaster.”