Redefining Violence: Class-based definitions of violence strengthen oppression

This morning, after a few days off the grid, I returned to see a handful of news stories from over the weekend, including the results of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail servers, which concluded that she and her team did indeed delete tens of thousands of e-mails that should have been archived, and she often sent very sensitive data through insecure means against policy.  The FBI Director called her “extremely careless” and noted that her actions would likely result in repercussions under “normal circumstances” before recommending that no charges be filed.  He quickly exited the stage without taking questions.

Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning would surely like to have a word with Director Comey.  After all, they’ve been exiled/incarcerated for a combined 3000+ days for their own sharing of sensitive data in the form of whistleblowing that proved important to exposing corruption and dishonesty within our own government.  Clinton, on the other hand, acted in bad faith, and today we’re supposed to embrace her as the progressive presidential candidate while two heroes live without freedom.

Recently, a partially blind and deaf teenage cancer patient was thrown from her wheelchair by TSA agents, busting her head open as she was arrested at an airport security checkpoint.  The charges were later dropped, but no word on charges against the TSA agents who left her bloody and disoriented.

In another recent story, the mother of a murdered college graduate let the state of New Jersey know that her son had been killed, and therefore he would be unable to repay his student loans.  The state responded that his death does not meet the threshold for loan forgiveness and the payments were now her responsibility.  The state has been known to garnish and sue borrowers who fall behind due to medical bills or other hardships.

The statistics add up.  A 2009 Harvard study found that 45,000 people die in the United States each year due to lack of sufficient healthcare coverage.  Unskilled labor is outsourced, leaving people jobless, and skilled labor is out of reach for many because of the costs of higher education.  Wealth inequality is at Great Depression levels.  Are crippling poverty, rampant homelessness, and lack of access to basic medical care forms of violence?

If you consider each stroke of a politician’s pen to be the physical force behind these actions that harm or kill our citizens, the answer is clearly “yes.”

If you consider the response of the media, the government, and our society at large, the answer is clearly “no.”

Corporate America and the government which represents them can kick you out of your home, bankrupt you, deny you shelter and basic services, without a peep from the working class.  Meanwhile, when protesters block streets or shatter windows, the chorus swells with screams of “violence.”  Violence against what?  Windows?

We’ve come to associate property damage with “violence” through decades of class conditioning.  From Debs being labeled a dictator by the railroad bosses to “Hanoi Jane” to Occupiers needing to “get a job,” there’s always an eloquent narrative about why it’s wrong to oppose your rulers… and it’s written by the rulers.

And we consistently buy it.

Meanwhile, they can perpetrate a slow-burning upward transfer of wealth that leaves the working class starving and broken, plundering the cheap labor of some foreign nations and the abundant natural resources of others, putting on the charade of an election every four years to give lip service to the concepts of democracy while only allowing preordained candidates to reach the final round, and we’ve learned to simply accept this as the way things are.

The difference between those windows and these people is that windows don’t bleed.  They don’t have families.  They’re easily replaced.  The human lives and human dignity which can be so transparently under attack from decades of class-based definitions of violence are irreplaceable.  These are people, not property.

Class consciousness requires that we understand violence is being perpetrated against us daily and that it is our duty to educate one another, support one another, and fight together against a system that flaunts its power inequities.  When Director Comey says no charges should be filed against Clinton while Snowden and Manning remain oppressed, we are being insulted, and we should respond as such.  Anything less is allowing those in power to control the narrative, and it’s easy to see where that has gotten us.

Just make sure you don’t break any windows.