Oppression is Reality
by Nic Olson
There’s this man that sits in the front left seat at the movie theatre and he’s always there. He has with him a copy of the free newspaper or a novel and is only ever there by himself. When something he deems comical happens in the film, he lets out a laugh like you’d hear in a country western movie, a croak of a chuckle. He sits through the credits and probably doesn’t drive home because he wears a scarf to keep him warm when he walks. I leave the theatre and I expect to see him there again when I return, waiting in the front left seat.
My stomach flipped and my feet went numb and I couldn’t stop myself from desperately screaming “Shut up!” at the MC on stage. He wore a pretend cowboy hat and hoodie with an anarchist circle-A on the front. I’m not usually the heckler.
“Did anyone watch the news the last two days?” he asked the audience earlier, just before I shouted him off-stage. “I hear they’ve got a new president down there. It may seem bad, but I guarantee you, because of it, we are going to have four years of the best punk music that you’ve ever heard in your lives!” he said excitedly. Punk music is an industry, apparently, like the weapons industry, agri-business, pharmaceuticals, private prisons–it profits off the misery of others. So I booed him. I fucking booed him and he got off stage to let the band play. Protest works. The opening band got on stage and sang ten songs exclusively about baseball, a man dancing around in a jockstrap, his exposed ass jiggling on-stage.
I gave up. Halfway through the baseball band’s set, I walked to the coat rack next to the arcade game to hang up my jacket. The man from the movies sat at the bar of the music venue reading a book, sipping on a non-alcoholic beverage. He lifted his head once or twice during a song to see what was going on onstage. I don’t see him leave and I don’t see him stay.
He isn’t real. I’m convinced. He appears and disappears like a phantom or a projection or a conscience or a prophecy. A wake-up call that I haven’t yet woke up. Maybe the man on stage wasn’t real either. His hat was far too ridiculous and his hoodie far too ironic and his speech far too annoying to be a real person. Maybe he was a construct of my disillusionment in the so-called progressive, socially-minded left, a culmination of that and the realization that aggressive music rooted in anti-establishment values is long dead. I feel as though I’m dreaming all of the time.
The farm had five kittens. They wrestled, kneaded the dog’s fur, climbed trees, licked hands, did somersaults. Any spare chance between chores or before coming in for lunch, I played with them. I picked one up and held it and pet it until it purred or until it jumped out of my hands onto the gravel driveway. The cats registered in me no joy. I expected to have this feeling where my chest flitted and my body felt light, but that never came, even when they gently chewed on my finger or mewed on my shoulder. Like they were an emotionless dream, a non-reality.
After the week on the farm when I end up in the same, unchanged, cell-like apartment after playing with kittens at sunset on a cattle-ranch in the hills, after travelling the world with a successful musical act, after camping alone in the woods for a week–when I end up lonely with a sore throat in my empty apartment, I can’t help but wonder how those things could possibly have actually happened.
I want to ask friends if we actually went camping in the woods, if we actually kissed, if those kittens were actually purring, but their responses would be unimportant. If you ask someone in a dream if you’re dreaming, they have no existential obligation to say yes.
I woke up in the basement of the farmhouse, maplebugs crawling on the sheets, American flags attached to a latch-hook rug of a First Nations man in a headdress on the wall. This can’t be real either, I figured. I didn’t know what happened the night before. I didn’t know because I went to sleep before Trump’s acceptance speech. That it happened when I was dreaming dystopian post-election dreams didn’t help me when I woke up wondering if it was reality that a man endorsed by the KKK was the ruler of the ‘free world’. It’s not that I couldn’t believe that there were enough people in one country that held his same values, I’ve met enough people in my life to know that it is more than possible. I went upstairs and Fox News confirmed what had happened. I’m still asleep, I figured.
Intellectuals such as Chomsky and Hedges and Nader predicted it five and ten years ago. They saw a population of working class whites abandoned by liberal governments selling their privacy, their healthcare, their jobs to corporations, leaving a political climate ripe for fascist rulers. Prophesy doesn’t help ground me in reality, it simply makes it more dream-like.
As I struggle in my own crisis of absolute reality, women, the LGBTQ community, First Nations, Muslims, Blacks, Hispanics shout to me to affirm that it is indeed reality. Dakota Access Pipeline water protectors shout at the world for support. It is their reality. Reality hits; just because it doesn’t affect a person of privilege doesn’t make it not real. The ‘it doesn’t really affect me’ mentality is rooted in privilege and denies humanity to those who it does affect. If this election doesn’t affect you, if this pipeline doesn’t affect you, meet someone that racism does affect in your own community, and then instantly, it does.
The ‘unaffected’ non-American struggling with the facts of our new-found political situation, struggling with the idea of a race war between our next-door-neighbours, need to show support in ways more than just internet solidarity. In ways more than writing blogs, stories, songs, tweets. We can learn if our bank supports and funds oil pipelines and change to a new bank. We can boo Trudeau, the neo-liberal asshole in the ridiculous hat, off the fucking stage. If we sit and let him talk, he’ll be up there for hours, masturbating to the sound of his own voice, until we all realize that we are subject to more than just an unfortunate exchange rate when we want to holiday south, but to the inconceivable reality of facist rule.
The man in the movie theatre isn’t real. He is a delusion caused by stress and anxiety and depression and terrifying elections and the feeling of being completely helpless. Or he is real and he is now sitting at home with purring cats watching the latest election news. I won’t know either way until I go up to him and ask him what he thought of the movie. The MC on the stage isn’t real until he beats the shit out of me for heckling him. The kittens aren’t real until one of them lives in my apartment and scratches my leg. The only way these things become reality is if we allow them into our lives. Oppression isn’t our reality until someone we love has been oppressed. When this happens we can begin to relate with people we have never met who are calling for help to be saved from the hands of those in power.
This becomes our reality when we share in the oppression of our neighbour, and when it becomes our reality, when someone we love is oppressed, we will have no option but to act.