When the Revolution Comes

     Many moons ago – 400 moons, give or take a moon – I played bass clarinet in an opera tour of Europe. It was just before the Solidarity movement upset, and then overthrew, the Soviet Union in Poland.
     One of the old troupers in the cast told me about a tour he did behind the Iron Curtain in Poland. The show was canceled on the day the Kremlin tripled the tax on vodka, because people rioted in the streets.
     As the show moved on, the tenor told me, they found out that people had rioted all over Poland that day. But because the government controlled all the TV stations and all the radio and newspapers, none of the riots were reported.
     People in every town thought they were all alone. So the riots were a one-day affair, then things went back to business as usual.
     One hundred moons later – give or take a moon – I set out one summer to interview people in the Sanctuary movement all across the United States. The Reagan administration had just begun prosecuting church workers, claiming they had formed a massive conspiracy to bring communist refugees into the United States, for God knows what nefarious ends.
     I was a schoolteacher. I had the summer off in 1984.
     It was just a coincidence that the government started its witch hunt then. But as I traveled around the Lower 48 I found that none of the church workers in one city knew what any of the church workers were doing anywhere else.
     The Reagan administration claimed it was a giant communist conspiracy.
     There was no conspiracy.
     No one knew what anyone else was doing.
     It was just a bunch of guys and girls trying to do the right thing – all over the United States.
     I know, because they asked me about it.
     After that summer, I went to work as a paralegal in U.S. immigration prisons, to help rescue refugees from the vile and murderous policies of the United States. I wrote a book about it.
     All of those things would have happened differently today, because of the Internet and email and cell phones, and all the other gadgets that didn’t exist way back then – a few moons ago.
     I learned a lot inside the United States’ prisons.
     I learned that terror works.
     Mass murder works: It gets the government what it wants. For a while.
     And the change that happens, when it happens, if it happens – the good change, the move toward freedom – does not happen, usually, during the periods of fiercest repression.
     It happens when a government gives its people just a tiny bit of breathing room.
     Technology – the directed movement of electrons – has created that breathing room for oppressed people all over the world.
     There is no way to shut off that electronic oxygen.
     Hosni Mubarak, and the fascists in Myanmar, China, Russia, North Korea and elsewhere can try to choke the life out of electrons – they do try to do that – but they can’t.
     The revolution in Egypt is one of the greatest things I have seen in my lifetime – not least because the Egyptian Army, like the Russian Army in 1991, did the right thing and defended its own people, instead of ravaging them, as armies have done throughout history.
     Nothing is guaranteed. Mubarak is a military dictator. Now he is sending goons into the streets to foment violence and beat his own people and international reporters. He may do worse.
     China choked off its revolution in 1989 through mass murder.
     It worked – for the Chinese Communist Party – for a while.
     Mubarak may try to do it.
     But it won’t work. There’s too much oxygen out there.
     The U.S. government is worried about what is happening in Egypt, and it is right to be worried. The de facto leader of the opposition, Mohammed ElBaradei, knows very well the sort of despicable behavior of which the United States is capable. He had to deal with George W. Bush. He saw the president of the United States tell brazen lies to justify war.
     Why should ElBaradei trust us?
     Why should Egypt trust us?
     President Obama, conservative as usual, is blowing another chance here. He could win for the United States the love and gratitude of all Egypt, minus a few hundred “dead enders,” as Don Rumsfeld would say, by telling Mubarak to go – now.
     Obama could melt away the just resentment that 80 million Egyptians feel for 30 years of stupid, repressive and brutal U.S. policies with a single, short, declarative sentence.
     But Obama has to be conservative because of his job. He doesn’t have the freedom to say what he really thinks – like you and I do.

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