Sunday, September 2, 2012

Riots In The Magic Kingdom

...If as a culture we can't imagine a history – any history – if history isn't a dimension of our quotidian daily lives, if history casts no shadow across our imagination, it is almost impossible to imagine consequences.

Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are with him on the way; lest perhaps the prosecutor deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. Most certainly I tell you, you shall by no means get out of there, until you have paid the last penny.

I was down in Southern California last week, visiting family. At one point, I was driving my mom around. She likes making conversation while I tend to be much quieter (unless you get me on a subject I'm interested in ;) ). I was a bit sleep-deprived (on account of driving all the way from Portland to So. Cal. the day before), which made me even quieter. My mom likes talking a lot about what she sees on television – a subject which does not interest me at all usually. “Did you hear about the riots in Anaheim?” she asked. I thought, “What riots? Did someone get in a fight over a pair of Nike shoes?” Aloud, I was all, “Nope.” “Wasn't it on the news in Portland?” she asked. “Mom, Portland is a thousand miles away from here,” I said. “Well, down here we hear about what goes on in Portland,” she rejoined. I rubbed a fatigue headache away from my temples and kept driving.

I have to admit that I was a bit of a grump during that conversation. But later that night, after a meal and a chance to chill a bit, I said to myself, “Riots? What's this about riots?” So I busted out my laptop and Googled, “Riots in Anaheim.” I came up with things like this.

It seems that the Anaheim police department has shot a number of Latinos this year. At least one of these people was unarmed. It seems also that while Latinos make up over fifty percent of the population, they comprise only 33 percent of the electorate. And it seems that there are some unhealthy divisions in the city of Anaheim. The most densely populated parts of the city lie to the west of the 57 freeway. This region is mainly inhabited by the working-class and the working poor. Between the 57 and 55 freeways there is a mixture of working-class housing and light industry., East of the 55, one finds oneself in Anaheim Hills – the suburban/exurban haunt of sons and daughters of privilege. The majority of people living in the working-class sections are people of color. The majority of the people living in the Hills are white.

In the heart of the working-class “flatlands” are some of the crown jewels of Anaheim: Disneyland, Angel Stadium, the Arrowhead Pond, and a row of very big hotels (including the Disneyland Resort) along Harbor Boulevard south of Ball Road. Most of the menial jobs that keep these crown jewels shiny are held by immigrants and people of color. I can guarantee you that these people don't get paid much for their labors.

Neither do the inhabitants of the working-class “flatlands” get to enjoy much of the benefits bestowed by City Hall. For while most of the population (83 percent) lives in the working-class flatlands, the nicest parks, schools and libraries are to be found in the Hills. And there is a disproportionate number of these amenities to be found among the sons and daughters of privilege, who have the finances required to get candidates elected to City Hall. Candidates are chosen in city-wide elections rather than district elections, so one has to campaign throughout the entire city in order to be elected.

Anaheim sparkles like a jewel in the American imagination, in much the same way New Orleans must have sparkled right up until Hurricane Katrina. And as in the case of New Orleans, Americans are shocked to discover the ugly fault lines of inequity that run through such a jewel. But Anaheim and New Orleans are merely part of an American pattern of a privileged minority capturing a disproportionate share of resources for itself while waging war against those less privileged (or, in some cases, trying to sweep the less-privileged under the rug). (You may not realize this, but the same pattern can be seen in Portland, Oregon. A disproportionate share of urban renewal money has gone to benefit wealthy business owners and residents of the affluent West Side, whereas most of the lower-income households are on the east side of the river – especially North and East Portland.)

The course now being pursued by American sons and daughters of privilege cannot last forever, however much the sons and daughters might wish for it to last. The resource base required for extravagant, privileged life (namely, material resources and people willing to endure being exploited) is failing – both here and abroad. And the mechanisms of oppression no longer work as well as they used to. America is finding this out now in international affairs. The privileged among Americans are also likely to find this out on their own home turf. Maybe it's time to make peace with one's adversaries. (Maybe it's time to stop making enemies in the first place.) “Can't we all just get along?”

P.S. The Anaheim riots happened over a month ago, yet I first heard about them last week – and not via the mainstream news media. It seems that KPOJ and the Oregonian and Fox News didn't think it was important to let people in this part of the country know about something happening in Anaheim – or if they did, I guess I must have been sound asleep. I know the riots were not given prominent coverage. This seems to be part of a disturbing pattern in mainstream media coverage of our country lately. Those who want an accurate picture of what's going on in our country might want to build and maintain networks of long-distance friendships.

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