The Peugot Proletariat, Left Conservatives, and White Trash: Old Cliques or New Tribes

November 10, 2014 Ed Democracy BLOGGeneral

As Submitted for Publication:

Portland Press Herald, Thursday, December 2, 1999

COMMUNITY VOICES

The Peugot Proletariat, Left Conservatives, and White Trash: Old Cliques or New Tribes

By ED DEMOCRACY

If we continue to use terms and behavior which divide us we will conquer ourselves. However, we define new terms which unite us, then we cannot be conquered. After 16 years of community organizing, I have seen it all. Left, right, rich, poor, black, white, men, women and everything in between: we, the people, are divided. We need to learn some communication skills or we, the people, will continue to be conquered. However, with basic communication and conflict resolution skills there is absolutely nothing we, the people, cannot do.

The term “Peugot Proletariat” could be used to describe the “Suburban Politics” discussed in a recent Maine Sunday Telegram editorial (11-28-99). The issue is that a “lack of diversity tilts environmental focus,” while “inclusion might result in a different set of priorities.” It is not a problem solely for environmental groups it is a fundamental flaw in American culture. We do not have a culture of democracy. We do not have a culture of the people, by the people, and for the people: ALL THE PEOPLE.

Left Conservatism and White Trash are concepts discussed by a self-professed “red-neck”, Matt Wray, who is a Ph.D. candidate in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley ( http://www.healthandsocietyscholars.org/1822/16821/3205 ). Left Conservatism is an elitist, exclusive, clique of “true” leftists. In “White Trash: Construction of an American Scapegoat” ( http://xroads.virginia.edu/~MA97/price/open.htm ) the history of poor white people is examined. Wray also co-authored, with Annalee Newitz, a controversial but honest book entitled, “White Trash: Race and Class in America.” Wray discovered a treasure of unknown history documenting centuries of cooperation and community between blacks and whites in the South. He realized that the experiences of poor white people and poor black people are identical in terms of class and economics.

We can think of plenty of other divisive terms including the recent proposal to ban a certain Native American term from use in place names here in Maine. Some years ago a similar round of changes of place names was accomplished. Words and concepts are socially constructed. Therefore, they can also be anti-socially constructed. Communication skills can help us to untangle some of the (anti)social knots in which we seem to find ourselves.

Communication is a very diverse field covering a range of contexts: intrapersonal, interpersonal, small groups, organizational dynamics, mass communication, culture, and politics. In essence, communication is about community and information. A human social system is like a living computer. Concepts are defined such as race, class, and ethnicity. Conceptual systems are then constructed and people are “sorted” by the categories into which they fall.

In “Bridging the Class Divide”, ( http://www.beacon.org/Search.aspx?k=linda%20stout ) Linda Stout discusses the issue of class as relates to grassroots organizing. She is the Founder of the Piedmont Peace Project in North Carolina. She is an American and speaks only English, but she felt like she was from another America speaking another language unrecognizable to most of the organizers and activists she encountered. Stout relates her “bi-lingual/bi-cultural” experiences resulting from growing up poor and making the transition to an effective organizer in a world of sophisticated middle and upper class professionals. She realized how differently she was treated when she spoke in her normal “street” lingo which she thought she had to give up to survive. She then realized there were invisible walls preventing others from following in her footsteps. Ultimately, Stout transcended the invisible walls by leaving behind the old models and building new ones without any walls.

Daniel Quinn’s “Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure,” draws similar parallels. ( http://www.ishmael.org/Origins/Beyond_Civilization/ ) He begins by calling for, “A Fable to Start With,” in which, “the vast majority lived at the bottom of the hierarchy and didn’t like it at all. They worked and they lived like pack animals, struggling just to stay alive, without any hope for themselves or their children. ‘This isn’t working,’ the masses said. ‘The tribal way was better. We should return to that.’ But the ruler of the hierarchy told them,’We’ve put that primitive life behind us forever. We can’t go back to it.’ ‘If we can’t go back, the masses said, ‘then let’s go forward – on to something different.'”

There is nothing we cannot resolve if we sit down and listen to each other and work together to find common solutions to common problems. Common people have a common history thousands of years long … a history of elites dividing and conquering and exploiting and abusing and murdering and raping the masses. Let’s build a common dream of a common future thousands of years long … a future of the people, by the people, and for the people.

BIO
Lifelong Mainer, civil rights activist, US Navy veteran, political organizer, recently completed B.A. in Philosophy at University of Southern Maine, and working on second B.A. in Communication. Interested in applying knowledge of organizational dynamics to creation of sustainable organizations of the people, by the people, and for the people.

[ Links updated 091714 ]

As Published:

Portland Press Herald, Thursday, December 2, 1999

COMMUNITY VOICES

Perhaps changing our words can help us find ways to live in peace

Many people are studying the problems of how we relate to one another with language

By ED DEMOCRACY

If we continue to use terms and behavior which divide us, we will conquer ourselves. However, if we define new terms which unite us, then we cannot be conquered.

After 16 years of community organizing, I have seen it all. Left, right, rich, poor, black, white, men, women and everything in between: We, the people, are divided. We need to learn some communication skills or we, the people, will continue to be conquered. However, with basic communication and conflict resolution skills there is absolutely nothing we, the people, cannot do.

The term “Peugot Proletariat” could be used to describe the “Suburban Politics” discussed in a recent Maine Sunday Telegram editorial (Nov. 28). The issue is that a “lack of diversity tilts environmental focus,” while “inclusion might result in a different set of priorities.”

It is not a problem solely for environmental groups: it is a fundamental flaw in American culture. We do not have a culture of democracy. We do not have a culture of the people, by the people, and for the people: all the people.

“Left Conservatism” and “White Trash” are concepts discussed by a self-professed “redneck,” Matt Wray, who is a Ph.D. candidate in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. Left Conservatism is an elitist, exclusive clique of “true” leftists. In “White Trash: Construction of an American Scapegoat,” the history of poor white people is examined. Wray also co-authored, with Annalee Newitz, a controversial but honest book entitled, “White Trash: Race and Class in America.” Wray discovered a treasure of unknown history documenting centuries of cooperation and community between blacks and whites in the South. He realized that the experiences of poor white people and poor black people are identical in terms of class and economics.

We can think of plenty of other divisive terms, including the recent proposal to ban a certain Native American term from use in place names here in Maine. Some years ago a similar round of changes of place names was accomplished.

Words and concepts are socially constructed. Therefore, they can also be anti-socially constructed. Communication skills can help us to untangle some of the (anti)social knots in which we seem to find ourselves.

Communication is a very diverse field covering a range of contexts: intrapersonal, interpersonal, small groups, organizational dynamics, mass communication, culture, and politics. In essence, communication is about community and information. A human social system is like a living computer. Concepts are defined such as race, class, and ethnicity. Conceptual systems are then constructed and people are “sorted” by the categories into which they fall.

In “Bridging the Class Divide,” Linda Stout discusses the issue of class as relates to grassroots organizing. She is the founder of the Piedmont Peace Project in North Carolina. She is an American and speaks only English, but she felt like she was from another America speaking another language unrecognizable to most of the organizers and activists she encountered.

Stout relates her “bi-lingual/bi-cultural” experiences resulting from growing up poor and making the transition to an effective organizer in a world of sophisticated middle- and upper-class professionals. She realized how differently she was treated when she spoke in her normal “street” lingo which she thought she had to give up to survive.

She then realized there were invisible walls preventing others from following in her footsteps. Ultimately, Stout transcended the invisible walls by leaving behind the old models and building new ones without any walls.

There is nothing we cannot resolve if we sit down and listen to each other and work together to find common solutions to common problems. Common people have a common history thousands of years long — a history of elites dividing and conquering and exploiting and abusing and murdering and raping the masses.

Let’s build a common dream of a common future thousands of years long — a future of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Special to the Press Herald
Ed Democracy is a lifelong Mainer, civil rights activist, Navy veteran and political organizer who recently completed a B.A. in philosophy at the University of Southern Maine, and is working on second B.A. in communication.

As Referenced (above):

Maine Sunday Telegram, Sunday, November 28, 1999

Lack of diversity tilts environmental focus

Inclusion might result in a different set of priorities

Amos Eno, the Freeport resident who until recently headed the powerful National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, will personally shoulder the blame for his insensitive and derogatory remark last month referring to former Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. as a “damned chili eater.”

His forced resignation, however, should not mask a more systemic problem mainstream environmental and conservation groups ought to come to grips with: a lack of ethnic, racial and cultural diversity.

This is not simply a matter of political correctness. As long as the leaders of these national, agenda-setting environmental groups fail to reflect the many faces of America accurately, their policy agendas will inevitably be skewed toward the concerns of middle- class white suburbanites. Thus, their efforts — and millions of dollars in funding — will likely remain tightly focused on conserving and protecting immense tracts of remote land, while ignoring the many environmental problems of inner cities and rural towns with minority populations.

Just as Eno defended himself by claiming he didn’t mean to be derogatory, so too might environmental groups argue that their lack of diversity reflects only a failure to reach out to minorities, rather than a purposeful exclusion.

That’s not good enough, however. There’s too much at stake for the environmental movement to remain the preserve of predominately middle- class, white America. Opening up positions of leadership to people of different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds should help environmental groups to take up the cause of city brown fields as readily as they do the green fields (and forests) of mostly rural states like Maine.


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