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The Grapes of Wrath Today

      The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck in 1940 and set in The Great Depression, was & is a great indictment against the rich who de facto rule our world. By the way, did you know that the Great Depression was originally called The Republican Depression? Guess they didn’t like the bad press or public relations image? Well, I don’t care how many times President Obama or his cronies tell us that it’s just a recession and things are getting better, I say we’re in another world-wide depression. Steinbeck’s novel centered around the Joad family, who were sharecroppers from Oklahoma. The Joads, like all people from Oklahoma, were derisively called “Okies.” I had a step-dad who was born in Oklahoma and he would get passionately upset if anyone dared called him an Okie. And in today’s “Compassionate Conservative” America, the new Okies are the poor “illegal immigrants” mostly from Mexico who are treated as little better than dogs.


     In Steinbeck’s novel, it was the Okies who worked in the fields & were exploited by the wealthy, agricultural corporations and today, it is those poor souls fleeing brutal dictators from Central America & seeking a means to survive, who are exploited by the even larger, corporate agricultural conglomerates. And as in Steinbeck’s novel, due to drought, economic hardship, changes in financial & agricultural industries, we, the 99% of the world’s population who were not born with silver spoons in our mouths, are all Okies, wetbacks, illegal immigrants, or whatever derogatory term you wish to apply. Thanks to President Clinton‘s signing of NAFTA and his repealing of the Glass-Steagall Act, we are fast becoming the modern day equivalent of serfs & peasants during the Dark Ages. What’sworse is that we are not only trapped economically but we are also trapped due to laws written by the corporate cockroaches which allow them to move their billions of dollars in matters of split seconds around the globe in search of ever greater profits but forbid us from moving abroad in search of a better life.

cast of the movie "The Grapes of Wrath"


     I submit that like the Dust Bowl that drove the poor sharecroppers of Oklahoma off their land, we are now experiencing a Dust Bowl of sorts but it is on a global scale and it is climate change caused by corporate greed & their complete indifference to the pollution they release into our atmosphere. We, in America, are only now, slowly beginning to wake up from our sleepwalking state to the reality of our subjugation & oppression by the corporate or power elite. The Occupy Wall St. movement and the world-wide protests give me a glimmer of hope but we have a mighty long way to go if we hope to turn back this tide of greed & destruction threatening our very survival.


     Like the Joad family in Steinbeck’s novel who packed-up all their worldly possessions in an old car and headed for California, the land of milk & honey, in search of jobs, dignity, & a future, I too, packed up my old, Ford Econoline van a few years back and headed for California. I can relate to the feelings of despair, shame, & humiliation that the Joad family experienced. I was forced to work at temporary agencies like Labor Ready where they treat you like shit, pay you minimum wage, & often have you perform back-breaking work. When I wasn’t working or looking for work, I was hiding out from cops so-to-speak. Everywhere I parked was illegal or I got suspicious looks from people because I sat in my van for hours trying to pass the time by listening to music, writing, or reading. I was tempted to hang a banner across the front of my van declaring I’m not a terrorist, a thief, or a pervert. Every day was  a struggle to find a way to bathe, find a place to cook at least one hot meal on my hibachi, and find a place relatively safe & free from police harassment where I could park and sleep for the night. This experience and many of my other life experiences have definitely contributed to my sympathy for the poor & downtrodden among us.


     Continuing on, Tom Joad, the protagonist of Steinbeck’s novel, was released from prison for having committed homicide in self-defense. This made me think of the mass murders committed by the corporate behemoths as a result of their callous indifference to the consequences of their closing of factories, pollution of our environment, wars they instigate so their business interests are protected & allowed to expand and exploit ever greater numbers of people, etc. And what happens to them? Usually nothing or a mere slap on the wrist, a small fine, & they don’t even have to admit wrongdoing in a court of law.


     Moreover, in today’s America, the locking up of Tom Joads is a very lucrative business. It is referred to as the prison-industrial complex & corporations are profiting from cheap to free labor by prisoners which effectively wipes-out small companies who simply can’t compete with the huge corporations exploiting their captive labor force. If you’d care to learn more about this travesty of justice, check out what’s known as A.L.E.C. (American Legislative Exchange Council). In brief, this is a fairly secretive organization made up of prominent corporate CEOs and many, if not most, of our so-called political representatives. They meet and draft legislation which protects and expands corporate power, control, & profits and ignores the public’s welfare completely. To my mind, this is an extremely anti-democratic and yes, quasi-fascist organization which shouldn’t be allowed to exist in America.


     Returning to the insights offered by Steinbeck’s classic novel, the Joad family were forced off their land by the banks because they could no longer pay their mortgage due to the Dust Bowl and its devastating destruction of their crops. In today’s world, due to corrupt politicians, craven corporate CEOs, hedge fund managers, credit rating agencies, super banks “Too Big to Fail” and assorted other criminal conspirators, millions of Americans & countless billions of poor people around the globe are being forced from their homes. Unfortunately, I fear that like the Joad family, who were seduced by the handbills distributed by the wealthy to fool the desperate into moving to California in search of the dream, the mythic American Dream, today propagated by the corporate-owned media, far too many Americans still believe the lies & propaganda.


     In similar fashion to the phony handbills the Joad family & the other, countless thousands of the desperate poor fell for, we were sold on the glories of globalization which we were told would lift the poor around the globe, out of poverty. Ralph Nader tried to warn us, but as usual when it comes to people who dare to speak the truth, he was mocked and ridiculed and ignored. As a result, we are experiencing a world-wide race to the bottom for the overwhelming majority of humanity. Feudalism is born anew and for most of us we now have one of two options i.e. join the military or live a life of servitude. Noam Chomsky, my intellectual hero, puts it quite succinctly when he says we’ve become wage slaves. By the way, I heard some rap artist said that “minimum wage is just an employer’s way of saying they’d pay you even less if they could but the law makes them pay you at least the legal, minimum wage.” And like the poor farmers kicked-off their land in Steinbeck’s novel and forced to beg for any kind of work at all, we are now witnessing the world-wide phenomenon of an oversupply of labor” and little, to no rights whatsoever when it comes to working in the “dark, satanic mills” as William Blake dubbed the factories at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Northern England. By the way, I visited one of those mills, a textile mill where they wove on giant looms operated by small children in the Manchester area and I felt a haunting, evil spirit as we walked through the place. I was told that many children died or were maimed for life due to the dangerous conditions of the work they performed.


     Undeniably, workers have always been oppressed & abused by those with more power i.e. the owners, the lords & barons, the kings, etc. but we have been duped into believing that all that has changed and in today’s world, we have rights and a voice. And to some small extent, that is true. But if you have been paying attention to the news, and I don’t mean the corporate mass media but the alternative news, the corporate Robber Barons have basically now taken off the gloves and declared open season on workers in America and around the world. The evidence is overwhelming and best illustrated by the recent war on unions in Wisconsin and copied by Republican governors around the nation. The status quo know that unions are the last, best hope for the working class as well as the middle class and they have launched an all-out offensive on public employee unions because they have already effectively neutered private employee unions. Let’s get real, just how much more blatant to they have to be before we wake up and smell the coffee? Do you recall the infamous “prank call” made to the governor of Wisconsin where the caller posed as one of the Koch brothers and the governor made amazingly clear his sinister intentions to wipe-out public employees unions?


     Obviously, those of us around the world who make a fairly decent wage are fast becoming superfluous and our rights as workers, as well as citizens of so-called democracies, are evaporating at an alarming rate. Admittedly, I too, fell for Obama’s rhetoric and promise of change but I won’t fall for his propaganda or ploys again, no matter what the pseudo liberals or progressives argue. In Steinbeck’s novel, there was also a glimmer of hope for a better world, he called it “Weedpatch Camp.” This was obviously a reference to the many New Deal agencies created by the F.D.R.  administration which was & is still hated & villified by the greedy rich. As a matter of fact, the corporate crocodiles have been very upfront about their plan to totally dismantle every last vestige of F.D.R.’s New Deal. And by the way, it’s important to note that the New Deal wasn’t just a munificent act by a kindly president, no, F.D.R. was pressured by a mad as hell public who had been suffering the ravages of a Great Depression caused by the greed and avarice of the wealthy elite just as we are experiencing today.


Bob Dylan

  Summing up, it’s of absolutely no significance whatsoever that President Obama is black. It wouldn’t matter if he were brown, white, or green, he’s simply a person who has let himself get sucked into the corporate/government power structure and has sold his soul just as Faust did in Goethe’s classic play did. And this is the wisdom of the Occupy Wall St. movement here in America or as Bob Dylan said “Don’t Followwatch?v=g7aVuo4b1NY&feature=related Leaders.” It is up to each and everyone of us to make this a more fair, equitable, & just world. If we follow or have leaders, that just makes it that much more easy for the corporate cockroaches to decapitate our movement for justice. Our power lies in our unity and in our annonymity or invisibility. Of course, the powers that be are going to infiltrate our ranks and inititate violence because they know that when we respond in self-defense that gives them the pretext to come in with the jackboots and strike terror into our ranks. But what they will never be able to understand is that we are the more powerful force because we are LOVE. The power elite seek to divide & conquer us but they will fail. It’s only a matter of time before enough of us wake-up & unite and the simple reality of our numbers i.e. billions of oppressed around the planet, and our simple desire to live as free men and women with dignity & respect, can’t help but prevail.


     Tom Joad was forced into becoming a fugitive, a fugitive from justice. But I say that our so-called justice system is a sham, a pretense, a facade for legalized corruption & greed. All that is necessary to realize this is a cursory review of the laws as they now exist on the books. You or I write a bad check and we’re thrown in jail. The corporate scum commit fraud on a daily basis and suffer no, or little consequences. Those of us who are actively engaged in this battle for survival are forced underground but in fact, it is not we, but they, who are the true underground conspirators. We are just waiting for our day in the sun, our day of liberation from the shackles binding us. They are the true criminals and don’t you ever forget it! We are the warriors for truth and justice. Though I don’t claim to be a religious person, I do proudly call myself a spiritual person. I mention this because I feel the sources that Steinbeck said were the inspiration for the title of his novel are a very fitting place to end this essay.


     Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:

     He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

     He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:

     His truth is marching on.


     These lyrics are from the famous Battle Hymn of the Republic and refer to the biblical passage Revelation 14: 19-20, an apocalyptic appeal to divine justice & deliverance from oppression in the final judgment. (Wikipedia “The Grapes of Wrath.”)


     In conclusion, I hope and pray that the preachers & pundits of hate, fear, & intolerance e.g. Pat Robertson, Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly, Coulter, etc., will eventually be shown for who they truly are i.e. whores for the corporate elite. My political education began with listening to KPFK, a member of the Pacifica Radio Network broadcast from L.A., and a daily program hosted by Charles Morgan always ended with his word, Persevere! And I believe we shall. And if you’re as mad as Hell as I am, let me know what you think. Let’s exchange ideas & it doesn’t matter whether you agree with me on every point I’ve brought up, no, what’s important is that we discuss all ideas and hopefully find some solutions together? United we stand, divided we fall!

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