Capitalism, War, and KFC: Report back on the first four and a half minutes
I left the march early today. Truth be told, I wasn't really in the mood for a march. I haven't been for at least two years now, when I finally realized all those marches weren't making any difference. I go anyway, usually, for the same reason everyone else does: I can't figure out what else to do. But I did not stay today.
I left when the donation buckets came out. It was just so damn disheartening. No, this isn't a rant about "damn liberals," I'm not gunning for anyone. I saw the same well-meaning people there that I always see at these things, carrying the same signs and flags and dwindling hope that they are always carrying. I'm in no position to be looking down on any of them. At least they're still trying. I saw the same shiny faces surrounded by the same threatening mob of the same bored riot cops, and the same utter lack of concern about the ineffectiveness of it all. I saw the guy who announced into the loudspeaker last time that "the police are not our enemies," and the same contingent of street performers who try to rally the crowds.
Ah yes, and yet I had to leave. I left because a child pointed out the donation buckets, a particular peeve of mine, and I saw that they were KFC buckets with peace signs and solicitations taped over their corporate logos. He noticed it before I did, and was as outraged as one should be at such a discovery. I couldn't even be angry. I just felt the despair I had been pushing away since I had first arrived. It crept in and would not leave, and so I did. I waited long enough to hear the heartfelt plea for people to give give give for peace. Write out those checks and feel good. And I realized just how absolutely inescapable are the ruts we are wearing into the pavement, as we so literally and metaphorically continue to walk in circles.
As I reflected on this, a small cadre of black bloc folk stood along a concrete retaining wall and heckled. "Don't give it, BURN it," called one person as the speaker asked for cash. Others hissed at the KFC buckets which many of us were beginning to notice now. I saw a few shiny smiles turn down, a few dark glances cast at the offending voices. I'm sure they will convince themselves that those voices were just the ill-mannered ravings of some malcontents, the ne'er-do-wells who often try to spoil "otherwise peaceful" events like these. But most of the gentle folk were too polite to notice the bad behavior, and just ignored the bloc. Alas.
Every time I have the indelicacy to mention the irony I see in soliciting donations at an anti-war protest, it raises voices of irritated admonition. People remind me that it takes money to organize a protest, that no one is personally profiting from this, and that the money is all going toward "a good cause." In truth, I have no doubt about the sincerity and good intentions of the people who pass the buckets around. I do not accuse anyone of dipping into the proceeds. And yes, many things do cost money. It costs money to pay the protection money to our oppressors, so that they can afford to surround and intimidate the crowds of trusting marchers who show up. It costs money to buy advertising space in corporate rags like the Willamette Week and the Mercury. It costs money to print out flyers on non-recycled paper that used to be trees.
I know, maybe I'm rambling now. But this gets to the crux of what I keep trying to say. The reason we have been walking in circles is not that we don't mean well. It's that we have failed to recognize, or care enough about, the connections between our actions and everything that's happening in the world. We have given too much energy to one cause at a time, and not enough thought toward the delicate threads that bind all of the causes we care about.
And so we ignore the connection between capitalism and war, though we say we're marching to end war. We ignore the connection between mindless consumption and war, between objectification of living beings and war, between each little concrete action we take on this stage and all that noise on the battle fields. But our ignorance of these things does not make them go away.
Parade permits and advertising is not a "good cause." Money given to pay for these things is just adding to the problem and co-opting the spirit of those who give, by convincing them they did their good deed for the day even if they did not. And to ask that money to end a war (through middlemen, of course) be dropped into a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket only boldly underlines a lack of understanding of what it's really going to take.
For those who do not know, KFC is a multinational corporate giant that swallows the lives of billions of chickens every year, and thousands of poorly paid, ripped-off workers every day. It is one of a growing corps of voracious chain stores turning the world into the monotonous wasteland so well-described by Eric Schlosser in his book, Fast Food Nation. KFC poisons the people who eat there with monstrously high levels of saturated fat gooped into regurgitated chicken parts mixed with tallow, and then deceptively markets its crap as "healthy," because you know, chicken, it must be healthy. Recently, a cancerous substance was found in KFC sauce being slathered over their food. Despite the fact that Sudan I, a cheap red dye used in solvents, was banned, KFC had been using it in their FOOD. And they would still be doing it if they had not been caught. Anything for a buck.
And the buck does not stop there. The predatory labor practices of KFC and its parent company, YUM inc., are infamous. Those who read this site will remember the struggles of the Immokolee farm workers who were being grossly exploited by Taco Bell. Taco Bell, like KFC, is owned by YUM inc. Fast food workers are some of the lowest paid, most exploited workers in the world. Few have health insurance, none can afford to live on the meagre wages they are paid. Even as the corporate giant fattens to corpulance off their labors, KFC workers cannot feed their families on the income they earn.
Ah, but the very worst offense committed by KFC must surely be the grisly murders of billions of chickens. Perhaps if you've never met a chicken, you can think of it as just a piece of meat. But I live with three chickens, who are part of my family. Like all birds, they're intelligent, communicative, and have complex social organization. They have their own lives, their own desires, their own hopes and fears. They're not so different from you and I. And KFC's cruel treatment of beings like these has become legendary. Whole videos line shelves at places like PeTA and IDA exposing the crimes of KFC in this regard. It's almost more than one can bear to watch these things. People have been caught on film throwing living chickens by their feet into wooden crates, smashing them against the wood; beating them against the ground; stepping on them; swinging them by their necks. Piles of dead chickens lay on the floors of hatcheries, smothered by the overcrowded conditions. Baby chicks have their beaks cut off, older chickens suffer stresses and diseases that often kill them before they even reach the slaughter houses. (But that doesn't stop KFC from cooking up their carcasses and serving them to customers.) And these are the least shocking of the gory mounds of evidence. I will not even describe the horrific scenes of terror within the walls of the slaughterhouses. You get the picture. And the dead Colonel smiles on.
This ability to objectify other living beings, to ignore the pain and suffering of others, and to put our own insatiable consumption of things we do not really need above the lives and well-being of others; these are, after all, at the very heart of the evil that is war.
And so watching people who mean well holding out a bucket someone got from KFC, and asking me to drop money in it to end a war, was just too much. It was evidence too overwhelming to ignore that nothing will ever change until we change ourselves.
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