Many people who read my column last week felt that I was selectively picking the revolutions that fit my preconceived notion of the problems America faces today. Sure, they said, there was the French Revolution. But what about Cuba and China and Russia? Those revolutions led to communism. And what about South America and Africa where so many revolutions led to despotic rulers?
Well, folks, I'm here to tell you that you are all right. Because the point is not the revolution. The point is what caused the revolution. In each and every case you had a powerful and rich elite controlling the political and financial life of a country. And you had another group of people with nothing left to lose.
The fact that those revolutions didn't all turn out to be sugar and spice and everything nice is exactly why we need to pay attention now to the destruction of America's middle class, the group so responsible for the balance in our society that's allowed us to be a great nation. Lose that middle class and you lose all balance. That's when you end up with people so desperate for change they will follow a Mao or Lenin or Castro, sadly often trading one form of oppression for another.
When America was created, many wanted to crown George Washington king. Washington refused, and in doing so set this grand experiment in democracy on its thrilling ride through history. Because of Washington we have presidents with the honorific of Mister, not Your Majesty. And supposedly we have a government elected by the people and not a government of inherited nobility.
But more than a few of us are feeling that our "representative" government is starting to mostly represent a newly created class of people, corporations, and less and less the old standard form of people, actual human beings. So when some complain that the Occupy Wall Street crowd is just a bunch of freeloaders who want to suck off the government while being lazy good-for-nothings, I have to wonder why corporate welfare in the form of lowered taxes, creative tax breaks and corporate loopholes you can drive a semi through are not also considered people sucking off government welfare. I mean, corporations are people too, right?
Here's how I view this situation. Picture a seesaw. On one end are the poor. On the other end, the rich. In the middle, holding everything steady, is the middle class. Throughout the 20th century, this middle class grew and prospered and, as it did, it created one of the greatest countries this world has ever known.
But now something's changed. The rich and poor still occupy opposite ends of the seesaw but the balance has gone awry. The rich have become so rich, their end has soared into the air. The poor have become so poor that their end is solidly planted on the ground. And the middle class? Well, unfortunately, their place in the middle meant that when the tip occurred, they slid downward toward poverty. The balance they provided is being lost.
So yes, there have been many revolutions in history. Their outcomes didn't always create a better society. That's why America has stood out. We had a revolution and then the great good fortune of founding fathers with the wisdom and restraint to create a government that benefited all with equal opportunity to succeed and have a good life. They didn't guarantee you would. They just created the needed safeguards in government to give everyone -- eventually even women and African-Americans -- that chance.
Now we face a country in which the chance to succeed has been ripped out from under us as powerful corporations partner with government to protect their privileged existence while destroying our society.
I too want to take back my country. I want to take it back from corporate greed and politicians who have sold their souls for a chance at power. Corporations are not people. And all revolutions are not the same except for the roots most share -- the desire of the common man to wake up in the morning with some hope that today will be better than yesterday and tomorrow will be even better than today.
Take that away and people will have nothing left to lose.
Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Website, www.elisepatkotak.com.