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why america





            today i am content to let my voice be a rambling rambler. younger people  may not know  a rambler used to be a popular automobile. i grew up in a beautiful town in ohio that i was desperate to escape.  i believe i am an ordinary person, so i expect most people think or feel the way i do about life in the twentieth century.  the past  30 years i have lived in one of the most civilized and dynamic cities on the planet. when i first saw toronto, it was a city of almost 3 million people. after the provincial government forced all the municipalities in ontario to amalgamate, (during the 90’s), it exploded to a population of almost 5 million,  many of whom are only one generation in north america. 

            i am visiting my home town. my mom and dad bought this house in 1966.  this week i have been wondering why citizens of my generation were so desperate to escape home town america. much of the contemporary literature and poetry the past 30 years has been about that phenomenon. i wonder about the old beginnings of these mid-west towns.  i see old patches of stone sidewalk still. i remember  during my childhood here the stone sidewalks were already old. i found personal value in such things when i walked to school in the 60’s.

            in toronto now, the life expectancy of a sidewalk is 5 years.  not only because cement is not as durable as stone.  rather because the services below the sidewalk must increase their capacity so often.  behind the house where i live, ( built in the 1920’s), is a lane with houses also, there i found a century old storm sewer cover. ten years ago i read an interesting newspaper article about the oldest storm sewer cover found in toronto. it was dated from the 1860’s, was on the u of t campus, and may still be there. the next oldest one the author was able to find was on college  in front of sneeky dees, (a popular college eatery at bathurst st.). it disappeared when the boulevard was moved  near the time the article was published.

            walking about my hometown i wonder why the house a classmate lived in is still yellow. i imagine someone from her family still lives there. my mom’s house is still red. some of the big changes in my hometown happened while i was at ohio university. the whole triangle of  berea was transformed then. the building berea’s pizza king was originally in, (where i got my very first job), fell victim to the urban renewal, which razed more than 50 old buildings, changed the street layout which existed from when the quarries and the b. w. college began during the 1860’s,  and built two new roads and two new bridges in the process.

            i was surprised to learn, reading a cleveland plain dealer article about veteran’s day to see that over seventy thousand vets from the vietnam war are in the cleveland area. more than twice as many living vets from any other war. i read a poem recently about a boy growing up, playing soldier as a 1st grader, hoping one day he would get to go fight in afghanistan. he did, and the poem ended, “maybe my son will too”. and he may. the prospect of a permanent war has been a subject of science fiction writers the past century. war is political industry.

            i know my lifestyle, and life choices have been the result of my position of privilege. privilege is a function of birthright. i am one of america’s prodigal sons. my white male status has kept me safe and free. i claimed my inheritance while a young man so i may explore the social america comfortably.  i have been concerned with the subject of justice my whole life. understanding it. defining it. dreaming it. i believe all people should know the privilege i know. i believe justice is a human right. sadly it never has been. It has been hard won where it exist. 

the mahatma, and M. L.  King Jr. inspire me to  believe universal justice is possible.

            i grew up in america’s industrial heartland. i know the abuse of industry. i loved marx when I was at the university. i knew that he should have used the word evolution, rather than revolution. then maybe people would not have feared social justice so much. i saw that the rise of industrial unions in europe and america staved off the revolution marx thought could not be stopped. i saw safety and stability created for industrial workers by unions. i am fiercely loyal to unionism. my grandfather smith helped organize the textile mill workers on the east coast and the mineworkers in appalachia and the autoworkers and millwrights and machinist on the great lakes. when i worked on the ore carriers, and in the auto factory i tried to imagine how dangerous those jobs must have been before unions existed. even with the protection and benefits we workers enjoyed, i felt oppressed by the companies. the rise of multinational corporations, exported production to far reaches of the planet where unprotected workers suffer now as european and american workers suffered over one hundred years ago.

           information technology leads the modern world into revolutions now as the abuse of power did those that proceeded my generation. the arabian spring of 2011 is the crucible of the future. if the worldwide justice i have always believed is possible, is to unfold, Marx will be right. It will be by violent upheaval against capitalist power.

           i dedicated much of my self-directed education to the study of spiritualism and religion. i have embraced non-violence my whole life. i believed worldwide justice would be achieved non-violently, just because it is such a good idea, and it is so obviously possible. now i am able to admit that justice will not just evolve because it can. capitalism must be destroyed, because the powerful people in the world don’t value justice. they only value power.

            i didn’t really want to write about revolution. i really wanted to write about myself. about how Kérouac  influenced my value for social adventurism. about how the use of mind altering substances has stimulated my imagination. about my long held belief,     (a strong wish), that imagination has been the driving force behind the advancement of human civilization. the trouble with revolutions is that they are struggles for power. revolutions only rest power from those who have it to create power for those who don’t.  i  waited most my adult life for imagination to lead humanity into a world of justice. now i am able to admit that justice is not a goal for most people. personal survival, then comfort are the primary concerns for most people. if i had not been born into a position of privilege i would never had considered that justice was ever a goal for anyone. i was dumbfounded recently when the citizens of minnesota were so willing to throw away the retirement benefits of their public service workers. i am equally  thrilled that the residents of ohio were able to protect their public service workers’ rights to collective bargaining.

            will capitalism evolve to stability leading to justice for all the planets 7 billion people? no! it will only change enough to accommodate the powerful who rise up against it’s abuses. capitalism will only change to the point when the majority of disenfranchised people are successfully suppressed again. 

            the absence of a specific is to imply the general. it is meant to include all possibilities. the sign “help wanted” implies that anyone may fit the position. experience informs me that has never been true. it may mean,  “white male between the age of 19 and 25 wanted”. or it may mean, “only girls under 125lbs. need apply”.  In north america after 1970 it has been illegal to discriminate, so the language continues to protect prejudice even if the law does not. in my art and poetry i will not use any upper case because i truly believe justice for all is found in equity.

i didn’t place punctuation in the title of this ramble because i mean all of the possibilities are included. i mean yes, it is “why? america” and “why america!” and all the other ways you may see it. i mean all the ways you may see it because i know it may be seen and understood 7 billion different ways. i know the world is only ever seen by two eyes at a time and some people may not have any eyes. i know that every thing in life is personal. there is not truly any social reality. society is part of the environment. the environment is our place, i am the only person in it. you are part of my environment.  the trees and mountains and other life forms are my environment. i am the only conscious i ever know.

            the experience each day that has most value to me is hearing a bird song, or the conversation I have with trees or dogs. i imagine everyone else in life values the things I do, but they do not. i am extraordinary. i admire trees the most. they are the oldest living organisms on this planet. i love to study their scars. i love to imagine their life spans. for me imagination is the entry point to the entire universe. i imagine that the creation is an expression of a compassionate creator. i imagine that time is an illusion of experience. i imagine that all i experience is everything that ever has been. i do not understand selfishness in others, yet i am completely selfish in every thought and action. i am offended by cruelty and violence and i am cruel, or violent toward someone every moment of my life.


            i believe justice is a good idea.

            i would rather just write poetry.


            for me poetry is an expression of hope. i am angry that my friend from college died.  maybe he never really knew as much about me as i believe he did. but i believe he was a person in the world who knew me. my belief is what is important. my belief is so far more important than any objective reality. and so is yours. what you believe is the only thing that ever has meaning for you. maybe you don’t care if the shoes you wear were made by a child. i would rather be a castaway on an island and be completely alone than struggle under the illusion that i am part of something in this world.

            i raised children. i hope they are able to live according to the voice of their own minds. i hope they don’t suffer tragedy from violence or illness. i wonder why i have been so privileged. i wonder why i have material comfort. i wonder what makes happiness. i am happy one moment and unhappy another moment. all that is ever different is my perception.

perception is so different from experience. perception we seem to have some choice over.  i envy wolves and whales and eagles. but why do I not envy worms or horses?  only because I perceive them differently. 

            i wish i had influence. if i had influence, i would end militarism worldwide. that alone would not end suffering but it would go a long way toward the enjoyment of life for all people.

i spent much of my professional life working against militarism and mining and forestry. i worked against those things because i perceived them as such destructive activities. and they are human activities, so i believed we had some choice about them.

             why was i so desperate to escape america’s industrial heartland in my youth. and what is it about this culture that drove so many of my generation to want to get as far away from home as quickly possible. we all wanted to get to the large coastal cities. were we just so restless, or was america after the big world wars just so boring? maybe it is something more genetic and natural. maybe it was the genes that caused the huns to invade the indian continent, and drove Columbus onto the unknown seas. or is it destiny?

              about 1990 i heard the hopi prophecy. it is a written story about all time of humanity on this planet. if the story is divine truth, then everything in life for all time is predestined. the story goes; all humanity was together in one place at the beginning of time.  then the people were sent to the four directions. each people was given one gift to keep with them. the people were separated by time and distance.  each in their isolation the human family was left to their own quarter. over time the people would discover their lost relatives, but there would be much conflict. also with contact would be the rejoining of the special gifts. one people held the gift of the knowledge fire, one the gift of the knowledge of air, one the gift of the knowledge of earth and one the gift of the knowledge of water. the knowledge of each gift was the intimate and complete understanding of the gift. as the  gifts were rejoined, one by one the power of humanity to reach understanding would be increased. at this modern time all four gifts would be brought together here in north america, “the meeting place”. when these gifts are brought together again humanity would have a great opportunity. they could embrace unity and have everlasting peace, or they could continue to fight over control of the gifts. if they fight over the gifts it could only end in the complete destruction of everything.

            the important feature of this prophesy is choice. we may choose now to share the gifts of our special knowledge, or not share.


i hope that humanity will choose to share.



martin smith , social justice activist, poet, artist,
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