Saturday, January 28, 2012


Norway, Sweden and… the USA? Can the 99% win here?

by Larry Geller

When famed peace researcher Johan Galtung was visiting professor at the University of Hawaii he was also a frequent guest on Poka Laenui’s weekly Hawaii Public Radio program (this was before current HPR management came in). I was taking classes at UH taught by each of them.

Of course, Prof. Galtung abhorred the ongoing wars and held that there were non-violent methods of settling differences. Ok, we all know about Gandhi. But what other examples are there in history where non-violence has succeeded? Can any of us cite them? In grade school I was made to memorize the dates of each of America’s wars. It was as though our history was just a string of battles, with nothing else in between but the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation (we were little kids, that was probably the extent of our capacity to remember).

So I challenged Prof. Galtung to come up with a radio program that would set the record straight. Just what has non-violence achieved? Shouldn’t students memorize the dates when we didn’t need to go to war?

The result was not one but a series of five programs. Prof. Galtung had no trouble with the question.

So the idea that killing each other is unnecessary, inhuman if you will, and a crazy way to settle disputes is an old thing with me. Yes, I did challenge my fourth-grade teacher with a question something like “why do we have to memorize the dates of all these wars? Is that all there is to history?”  Or something like that. I don’t recall her answer, and we still had to pass the test by regurgitating that list of dates.

So I was happy to see How Swedes and Norwegians Broke the Power of the 1% (Nation of Change, 1/28/2012) by Prof. George Lakey.

We are engaged in a kind of war in this country—call it a class war if there is no better description—which is costing lives. The losses are very one-sided. The rich suffer no casualties, but many who become homeless die in the cold on New York City subway grates. Uncounted thousands who are diagnosed with cancer can’t get the necessary treatment because they have no health insurance, or because they had, but when they got sick it was taken away. The casualties are among the children who do not have enough food to eat.

On the other side are the 1%, the fat cats, those who can’t decide, when it snows, which vacation home they’ll escape to.

Both [Sweden and Norway] had a history of horrendous poverty. When the 1 percent was in charge, hundreds of thousands of people emigrated to avoid starvation. Under the leadership of the working class, however, both countries built robust and successful economies that nearly eliminated poverty, expanded free university education, abolished slums, provided excellent health care available to all as a matter of right and created a system of full employment. Unlike the Norwegians, the Swedes didn’t find oil, but that didn’t stop them from building what the latest CIA World Factbook calls “an enviable standard of living.”

So it can be done. The Occupy movement is on the right track.

Maybe we could use a series on Public Radio (after that is reclaimed) explaining how to do it. There’s precedent.

Read the article. It doesn’t claim the path to success was easy.

In both countries, the troops were called out to defend the 1 percent; people died. Award-winning Swedish filmmaker Bo Widerberg told the Swedish story vividly in Ådalen 31, which depicts the strikers killed in 1931 and the sparking of a nationwide general strike.

In the USA, workers were killed both on the job and while demonstrating for better working conditions. Check out the Wikipedia article Timeline of labor issues and events and search, if you like, on the word “killed.” Workers were shot by police, who then and now are not necessarily working towards “law enforcement” but instead were called in to maintain the status quo for industrialists. On the job, the article notes in an entry for 1914 that 35,000 workers were killed and 700,000 injured, though the space of time is ambiguous. 1914 was also the year of the Ludlow Massacre:

an attack by the Colorado National Guard on a tent colony of 1200 striking coal miners and their families at Ludlow, Colorado on April 20, 1914.

So whether we look at Norway, Sweden or our own country, it’s clear that fighting for a better life is not only resisted by that 1%, but by the government as well, and as it turns out, by the newspapers of the time. The deaths are not only those of the workers on the line or those shot by authorities, but also of the families living in crushing poverty.

It’s not that history is repeated because we’ve forgotten. Children who are not taught anything but the dates of wars may grow up ignorant of the history of struggle, both violent and non-violent, that brought us what civil and workers’ rights we have today. They certainly are not aware of the success of peaceful movements around the globe and throughout time. History is not forgotten, it is suppressed.

Check out the story on Norway and Sweden. It mentions mortgage troubles. The backdrop of their struggle resembles conditions in this country. It also suggests that perhaps we can win our economy and government back from the clutches of the 1% who seem so very much in control right now.


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