“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever…”
That quote is from the famous book 1984. It is a dystopian novel published in 1949 by English author George Orwell. Set in a place called Airstrip One (formerly Great Britain), it exists in a world of constant war, suppressive government surveillance, and public manipulation, dictated by a political system under the control of a privileged elite, that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as “thoughtcrime.”
It is, in a word, perhaps our future. Perhaps it is even part of our present.
Do you think I’m being melodramatic? Perhaps all the craziness of 2016 has officially made this Black woman lose her damn mind?
I’m looking at the current circumstances, and the inner geek in me feels the path our society is heading towards feels too reminiscent of dystopian comic books I’ve come to love, (such as Judge Dredd, V for Vendetta, and Civil War), but never imagined I’d be living in.
Election Day 2016 showed the world, just as Election Day in Germany 1934 showed (the day Hitler was ELECTED into power), what could happen when far too many people choose what they believe will lead to possible comfort and security at the sacrifice of justice and rights for all. What we learned, as my previous quote displays, is that love didn’t “Trump” hate on those two days- fear won out, and we are now all faced with living in the aftermath.
What heroes will emerge? What side of history will you be on? What can we learn from the prolific 1984 when it comes to the human condition and survival?
I had already been thinking of 1984 when Trump became the president elect, but it wasn’t until today that I knew I needed to revisit the piece. Today, December 5, 2016, was the day Walter Scott’s murderer, a quick to draw fire cop, was not brought up on charges due to a mistrial- despite the fact that the shooting had been caught on video. Yet another instance when a plain as day murder of a human being is up for “debate” because the victim in question happens to be Black.
Then, to add insult to injury, I was made privy to the fact that this past Friday, December 2, 2016, the Supreme Court granted a review of the Ninth Circuit’s held rule that if cops provoke a violent confrontation, and then deal with you violently, they can be held liable. What this means is that the Supreme Court has decided there is grounds to review whether or not it is really the cops’ fault if they provoke violence or disobedience, and then harm you. As one article put it aptly: Supreme Court To Decide If Cops Can Troll You, Then Shoot You.
How are these incidences connected? Well, when Trump takes office, by the time the Supreme Court takes up this review, he will have appointed the next Supreme Court Justice… and we all know his pick won’t be anywhere as progressive as Obama’s was. This Justice will most likely lead the Supreme Court into a ruling that says that even if the police provoke violence and then harm/shoot/kill you- they are NOT accountable.
This will be another blow to the protection under the law for the countless people- disproportionately African-American- who already find themselves on the wrong end of police brutality.
This is yet another example of what the ramifications of Election 2016 will do to the marginalized and oppressed. And so comes the second lesson from 1984:
“Sometimes they threaten you with something – something you can’t stand up to, can’t even think about. And then you say, “Don’t do it to me, do it to somebody else, do it to So-and-so.” And perhaps you might pretend, afterwards, that it was only a trick and that you just said it to make them stop and didn’t mean it. But that isn’t true. At the time when it happens you do mean it. You think there’s no other way of saving yourself, and you’re quite ready to save yourself that way. You WANT it to happen to the other person. You don’t give a damn what they suffer. All you care for is yourself.”
And so it came and went.
A large portion of the population (although not the majority, since Clinton did after all win the popular vote) voted for a bigoted politician who flamed the fire of hate, sexism, and xenophobia, but promised economic stability for some. Those who deemed themselves part of the “some” chose the prosperity of themselves over what would most likely result in the destruction and further oppression of many.
How did we get here? There’s been plenty of debate around it, but I think the next lesson of 1984 becomes clear:
“Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.”
Did the Democratic party ignore the working class (read: white working class), did one too many so called progressives think a protest vote was more important than actually ensuring a bigot didn’t win the highest office in the U.S. government, was the white racist backlash against the Obama presidency just too much to overcome, did the media help normalize a white supremacist viewpoint and Donald Trump? I’m of the mind that all of these, and perhaps a few more, factors played a hand in the current state of affairs we find ourselves in.
History was erased, and those that should have didn’t take into account the very real past of a time when another person in power flamed much of the same rhetoric, and used much of the same tactics- and thousands upon thousands of people lost their lives and safety as a result of “some” wanting to ensure their own prosperity.
The question now is, what do we do?
There have been many calls to “wait and see” what will become of this presidency. There has been those who say that we should “wait and see” if Trump- and the white supremacists (read: none of that alt-right nonsense here), and the sellouts (read: Ben Carson), and other problematic figures being appointed to important decision making positions- will overall work out…
From that comes another lesson from 1984:
“The aim of the High is to remain where they are. The aim of the Middle is to change places with the High. The aim of the Low, when they have an aim—for it is an abiding characteristic of the Low that they are too much crushed by drudgery to be more than intermittently conscious of anything outside their daily lives—is to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men shall be equal.”
We don’t have the luxury to “wait and see” what will happen to the immigrants and their families as talk of mass deportations is going on. We don’t have the luxury to “wait and see” as continued voter suppression tactics persist, further suppressing the voice of the Black community. We don’t have the luxury of “wait and see” as the medical coverage that many people won may be taken from them in a few short years. We don’t have the luxury of “wait and see” as there is talk of a MUSLIM REGISTRY in the United States of America in the year 2016.
You get the picture. Or rather, understand the words:
“All rulers in all ages have tried to impose a false view of the world upon their followers.”
That current false view is that there is something inherently wrong with standing up against this injustice and bigotry. That we have some sort of obligation to respect whoever takes on the office of president even if they do not respect us, and those around us, as full human beings who have rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of true happiness. Happiness that does not come at the destruction of one’s marginalized neighbor.
Therein lies the biggest lesson from 1984:
“Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”
Let us find our voices in our resistance to bigotry and hate. Let us find our power in the struggle against oppression. Let us educate ourselves of a history that the oppressive forces in power want us to constantly to forget. And so, I revisited 1984 because one of my favorite books once again said to me what I needed to hear:
“The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.”
We already know what we must do. The question is- will we step up and do it?
Big Brother is watching, but so is history.