Crimes of supremacy enter the lexicon of the 99 percent

A woman makes a sign and others listen to speeches Saturday in San José. Photos by Steve Harrington

First it was free trade going global, then the corporations went global, able to operate from any country in the world that offered the best location for profit, then the real estate financing bubble and credit spree went global followed by a global recession, and now the protests from those who call themselves the 99 percent, and OWS (Occupy Wall Street) have gone global.

Even in Costa Rica, people, in support of the OWS, and with their own dissatisfactions, met in the Plaza de la Cultura Saturday. At least 200 gathered to listen to others and hold up signs. While I was there, no one had a bull horn or microphone, so we circled six or seven deep to hear impromptu speakers. And just as on Wall Street, the crowd raised its arms and wiggled its fingers to silently applaud the speakers. Some people came with signs, others printed them there. Even the children got involved. It was so cordial and peaceful, at least while I was there, that the two policemen stationed nearby looked bored to tears.

Also last week, Hunter College in New York City, held a conference to honor the 20th anniversary of Anita Hill’s testimony at the congressional hearing to ratify the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was the first time that a woman nationally accused someone in a position of power of sexual harassment. She gave many women who, since then, have endured sexual harassment or rape the courage to speak out. They’ve lost their fear.

Gloria Steinem gave a brilliant overview of the history of sexual harassment and abuse over the years. Whether it has been domestic violence, rape, or sexual harassment in the employment place, she has called them “crimes of supremacy.” The term right now, of course, does not exist as a crime.

Historically, she said, these crimes, were committed mainly by certain white males who had been brought up to believe either through the advantage of birth, or the accumulation of wealth or because they were in positions of authority, that they were superior. (And as such, had a right of a master over others.) They controlled through fear. When a rebellious woman or uppity inferior got out of line, the ‘entitled’ punished them to put them in their place. This thinking has not disappeared.

While greed often possesses the powerful so that they lose
their sense of humanity, their victims are paralyzed by fear . . . not only of pain, but fear of losing all freedom, fear of not being able to make a living, fear of the loss of their own human dignity, even fear of dying.

Then there came the tipping point. And, as Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

Soon, in country after country in the Middle East, where unpunished crimes of supremacy, often committed by the leaders, are so prevalent, men and women, and even children were no longer afraid of the alternative.

And elsewhere, for the first time, corporations, like people, are having their crimes of supremacy, if not punished, at least revealed, as are those of the governments that have been in their thrall. Now hundreds of thousands of the little guys are protesting publicly and persistently, the injustice.

Much of what the people all over the world are saying was in a paragraph of a flyer handed to me in the Plaza de la Cultura. “In the new global reality, only a framework that considers the happiness and well being of everybody equally, will we have a sustainable and prosperous world. We need to build a new system and a new society together, founded on the principle of mutual help.” (My translation).

But we must be cautious. You need not be white or even male to be guilty of a crime of supremacy. Being born into wealth, privilege, or of a certain religion, race or sex, or even wearing a uniform, does not give anyone the right to abuse, sexually or otherwise, another being. So beware that you are not both part of the 99 percent and guilty of a crime over someone just because you feel superior to them.

This entry was posted in Friday Column. Bookmark the permalink.