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Home » Officer Columns » Waddaya mean, “It’s just the way things are!?”

Waddaya mean, “It’s just the way things are!?”

  -  AFM International Secretary-Treasurer

I recently watched the documentary, Power, which describes the evolution of policing on our continent. Being American-centric in nature, it maps out policing in the US over the decades and centuries—from its original purpose of re-capturing escaped enslaved people, to Reconstruction where police violently enforced laws suppressing social and economic advancement of the formerly enslaved, through the industrialization era where public and private police forces violently crushed strikes, on to the 1960s and 70s where the police and national guard were called out to subdue marches for civil rights and against the Vietnam war, often with deadly force, and finally to the present day’s violent suppression of demonstrations for First Nations treaty rights, and protests following the murders of George Floyd and Michael Brown at the hands of the police.

In each instance, this kind of policing was wrapped in the cloak of “public safety,” but by and large—by my observation, anyway—it was actually the public whose safety was threatened at the hands of law enforcement. Indeed, today’s American police forces are draped with surplus military killing equipment, left over from the US’s various ill-considered forays into world policing. It’s not just the US, virtually every country’s modern police agency is now sufficiently equipped to kill its citizens many times over. It doesn’t make sense, and yet, as a society, we seem to accept those circumstances as normal. It’s part of the frog-in-the-slowly-heating-pot syndrome. 

What’s behind it all? Possession of property and retention of power. The more the people demand their rights to a decent life—whether it be economic, social, environmental or cultural—the more the aggregators of property and power will work to ensure that they don’t get it (usually under the cover of “new laws”), because each demand constitutes a direct threat to the aggregators’ accumulation of property and power. Even tree huggers are considered felons these days! The rights embedded in our national constitutions—such as they are—are as fragile as the next session of Congress or Parliament. Yet our collective awareness of that fragility seems very dim, indeed. Sufficiently numbed and isolated by the pernicious algorithms of the internet worming their way into our brains, we often look away with a somewhat resigned that “It’s just the way things are” attitude. 

That sounds a bit like how we view our work in the music industry. In the symphonic world, a musician can win a hard-fought audition, and yet the union contract says they can be dismissed at any time during their probationary period, essentially without recourse. Is that right? “Waddaya mean? It’s just the way things are.” A band is lined up to play a gig in a venue, but only if the band has liability insurance to protect the club from patrons’ lawsuits. Is that right? “Waddaya mean? It’s just the way things are.” Or that same venue “agrees” to “let” the band play there, but the band has to sell its own tickets—no risk to the venue. Is that right? “Waddaya mean? It’s just the way things are.” A musician making a living playing a bunch of gigs here and there and on the road has no access to employer-paid health care or a guaranteed retirement income. “Waddaya mean? It’s just the way things are.”

Nothing is “just the way things are” without our tacit agreement to let it be so. “It’s just the way things are” are code words to convince us that this power imbalance between us and the aggregators of property and power is good for us. I, for one, can’t accept that status quo. “I, for one” doesn’t count for much, however. But “we, for all” counts for a whole lot!

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