Here we see the aftermath of an eviction, one of the innumerable ways governments in the United States serve the nation's increasingly merciless capitalist masters, in this instance by the forcible ouster of a formerly middle-class woman too old to be exploitable for maximum profit – that is, too elderly to be allowed another job in the capitalist economy, but probably a decade too young for the meager refuge provided by Social Security. After government goons forced the woman out of her apartment, they piled all her possessions in the building's side yard. The date of the eviction, 22 November 2013, was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who had sought to make the U.S. a land in which poverty and its consequences were afflictions of the past. Top: scavengers, themselves desperately poor, began gathering within hours. Bottom: as it looked the next morning, after people swarmed all night to snatch away anything of value. Fujicolor 800, Pentax MX, Tokina 70mm-210mm f/4, exposures not recorded. Photographs by Loren Bliss copyright 2013.
AS IF TO CELEBRATE the coup of 22 November 1963 – President John Fitzgerald Kennedy gunned down in Dallas, the United States set on the road to becoming the most omnipotently powerful and wantonly murderous empire in recorded history – the enforcers of capitalist governance in the seaport city of Tacoma chose the assassination's 50th anniversary to evict an elderly woman from a ramshackle apartment building. The irony is almost too perfect: the ruination of a human life on the date the man who increased Social Security stipends by 20 percent and fought to end economic atrocities was slain by those One Percent aristocrats who would ruin us all – exactly as their sons and grandsons are doing today.
In this context it is not inappropriate to describe the personal horror inflicted by eviction, a toxic muddle of terror, shame, fury and woe, as an emotional microcosm of the horror inflicted on an entire nation by the assassination itself. Either is impossible to know unless you have experienced it firsthand. Both are terminal in the sense that whether you realize it or not, life as you knew it has ended forever.
In an eviction, whatever material or psychological assets remained in your life are ripped away as if by volcano or earthquake or tornado or bombing. It is, as I know too well, the same when you are victimized by fire. Everything you thought defined you as you, everything that sustained your identity, is destroyed without mercy, exactly as suggested by the above photographs. The devastation is total. Though post-traumatic recovery is possible, the worst-in-the-industrial-world economic viciousness of today's USian Empire guarantees your healing will painfully slow – if indeed it is allowed at all.
I do not know the evicted woman's name. I saw her only once. She was scurrying back and forth around her piled possessions as if she could protect them from the inevitable scavengers and thieves. She was alone, a slender and bespectacled woman in a long black wool winter coat that was trimmed with fur. It was a fine coat, something a self-assured professional might have worn to work. But now its wearer moved with the same bewilderment and terror I had once seen displayed by a little gray vole who darted in and out of my rural Washington cabin after I had discarded and burned an old armchair and unknowingly destroyed her nest and killed her brood of tiny young, an error for which after 18 years I yet grieve, an example of the harm we humans do even without ill intentions.
Journalistic instinct, powerfully alive despite decades of involuntary retirement, demanded I speak with the woman and photograph her with her belongings. Human instinct, equally powerful, restrained me from intruding on her wretchedness. But my day was already allotted to private errands via public transport, and the arrival of a city bus rescued me from the angst of indecision. Now, because I never talked with her, I know her only by the many books she was forced to abandon, one of which was a publication of the Princeton Science Library, The Miner's Canary: Understanding the Mysteries of Extinction, written by Niles Eldredge. Yet who, I wondered, would understand the mysteries of this woman's hopes and dreams? Who would unriddle the destruction inflicted on her by capitalism? Who would care enough to chronicle her fate?
The victimization inflicted by assassins is usually as immediate as the victimization inflicted by an eviction. Whenever the assassins' purpose is the death of liberty and the imposition of tyranny, we the people are the ultimate victims. In Chile, for example, Augusto Pinochet's USian-trained and funded agents began torturing and murdering terrified mothers, fathers and children literally minutes after the death of the nation's democratically elected president, Salvador Allende.
But here in the USian homeland, where the capitalist masters of the world have proven themselves the most diabolically cunning tyrants in human history, they use a more gradual approach.
After they murdered President Kennedy, they liquidated all the other influential men for whom democracy was more than a convenient Big Lie. They killed Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy. Then the killers stole our freedom gradually and by stealth, taking it piece-by-piece in the duplicitous and tragically accurate belief we were too stupid to notice and too cowardly to resist. The result is the malevolence that oppresses us today, a perfect example of which is the eviction that was imposed on the old woman in Tacoma.
This is not, of course, what the government tells us. But any 99 Percenter who still doubts it is essentially the true story of what has been done to us needs only read JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, a genuinely pivotal work by James W. Douglass (Maryknoll: 2008). The antithesis of conspiranoid dreck, its text is an epic of historical analysis. It details the long slow death of democratic process that culminated in the most destructive Big Lie ever fed the now hopelessly dumbed-down U.S. electorate: “change we can believe in” – as if, after 22 November 1963 and the events it facilitated, there might ever again be a new American Dream.
And now we are learning the dream is dead beyond resurrection. Now we are awakening to the fact that under capitalism there will never be an end to joblessness and inescapable debt-slavery and foreclosure and eviction and homelessness and death by untreated sickness and murder by government-inflicted starvation and everywhere the ruins of hope such as were left in the wake of this morning's ironically celebratory eviction.
Because ammunition is expensive and shooting-related paperwork is a pain in the ass, the official goons who carry out evictions typically bang on your door before first light. They know there is much less likelihood you will fight when you are rousted from slumber and assaulted immediately thereafter. The goons flash their badges and force you out of your home, sometimes at gunpoint, often still in your pajamas or nightgown. Then they pile your cherished belongings helter-skelter in the yard, and if they are feeling especially sadistic, which frequently they are, they make sure your furniture grinds your best clothes into the dirt and food spills onto your books and papers.
Next they warn you that if you try to re-enter the premises, you will be jailed for criminal trespass, which used to be mostly a misdemeanor but now in these times of ever-worsening poverty is vindictively re-criminalized as a felony to help guarantee the masters of for-profit prisons an endless supply of slaves. Sometimes you're given eight or 12 or 24 hours to clear your property off the landlord's yard, after which everything you couldn't move is his. Finally you are alone and in bottomless shock.
The unthinkable is now real. You are homeless. Your entire consciousness is fear. And now in addition to the emotional horror, there is also the physical horror of life in the jungle of the streets – the total negation of everything you ever achieved or were. Now your only reality is the absolute certainty you will be victimized by everyone stronger than you are, that you will be raped if you are a woman however plain or man of less than obviously formidable strength and violence. You are no longer considered a person. Unless you have a damn good lawyer – and what homeless person can afford that – you are no longer allowed any of the rights and privileges of personhood whether individual or corporate. Now you are merely one of The Homeless, which means that under the Ayn Rand credo that now rules the USian Empire, the very best you can expect from your fellow humans is derision, rejection, contempt and hatred if you are very lucky, and savage beatings – especially by the teenage children of the rich – if you are not.
As it is done unto the least of us, so it is done unto us all – equally true whether said by Jesus or Marx, no matter in terms biblical or dialectic. But capitalism by its elevation of infinite greed to maximum virtue consciously rejects every moral and ethical precept our species ever dared assert. And because the capitalists are ever more in need of protection from their victims, soon they bribe the politicians into capitalist governance, which is absolute power and unlimited profit for the One Percent, total subjugation for all the rest of us. Such is our lot 50 years after the murder of President Kennedy, the assassination that killed both a man and a nation, hexed it and vexed it into the realm that hurls an old woman out into the merciless cold and the deadly damp of the zero-tolerance late November Pacific Northwest coastal streets.
LB/24 November 2013