Set aside all the wonderful feelings and meanings of the Greek vote for Greece and Greeks. Set aside the soul searching, policy changing implications for European elites. Set aside the inspirational benefits for Italians, Spaniards, Irish, and really all European non elite citizens. Set aside even the incredible statement of the efficacy of real participation in policy determinations – the revelation of the value of referenda – and the possible spread of referenda into other domains of concern.
Well wait, don't literally set all that and more aside. Celebrate it. Enlarge it. Accelerate and enrich it. However, off to the side just a bit, we should also note of another dimension of the Greek gift to itself and to the rest of the world. I have in mind not the obvious characteristics we need to all celebrate, enlarge, accelerate, and enrich, but a more subtle lesson, that may ultimately be even more liberating: Fear can fail.
The Greek vote showed fear failing. No doubt about it, European leaders, their venues of saturation communication of all kinds, their pundits and their pretenders – the whole kit and caboodle brought to bear all their tools of persuasion and manipulation to scare a population into voting against itself – and the population said, not this time you don't.
And this matters precisely because fear is, after all, how virtually every significant dispute where one side has justice and the other side has power is won by the latter. Power scares and coerces. Power calls the choice faster disaster versus slower disaster. Power declares its opponents will being on decay, disaster, even Armageddon and that is way worse than continued quiet suffocation. And this slight of hand, however transparent in quiet contemplation, in the throes of national debate and in myriad forms, almost always works. Fear of the unknown, fear of struggle, fear of winning, almost always unravels opposition to continued subservience and submission. Fear trumps hope. But not this time.
What prevented the hugely ramped up efforts of reaction, and they were certainly as aggressive as they could possible be, from convincing a majority that they should shelve their desires and quietly succumb? From a distance we can only guess. And even dancing the streets of Athens I am not sure one would be able to do more than guess. But guess we should, because the issue really is paramount. And I guess that the antidote to the fear factor, fears kryptonite, was the dignity factor.
I guess that the over 60 percent who voted to resist did not vote based on some careful assessment of policy differences between Syriza and the IMF. In fact, I doubt that for most it was even a superficial assessment of detailed differences. I think, instead, that Europe beat on the Greek people so much and so long with such devastating deprivation resulting that Greeks began to realize and to deeply feel what is usually repressed – that is, that the choice was what it always is – but is rarely seen to be. The choice was submission or dignity. It was surrender or a chance for real change. It was bowing down or standing tall to fight on. It was barely surviving or seeking to win.
And lo and behold – whether it was pursuit of dignity, pursuit of fighting on, pursuit of seeking to win, or whatever it was, fear failed.
And does it not follow that perhaps the major lesson, the major inspiration, the major orientation to take from the Greek vote is that we can all be dignified, fight on, seek to win, and, if we do, fear will fail?
And lest it seem like this is a small realization, consider the following very broad implication.
When it is necessary to make a choice – and that is what marks and will mark every step forward, making choices – what can win for elites is fear and certainly not a truthful assessment of their program. But what can win for opposition, for dissent, and for resistance and rebellion – even for them, is not the details of proximate program, even though those certainly matter. No, it is the desire for dignity, the desire to fight on, the desire to win, that can win. And so that is what must be unleashed by organizing, by activism, and by any worthy electoral campaign, as well.
And so we must ask, and answer – what other than total deprivation can spur such desires, escalate them, nurture and preserve them? Because in that answer lies clarity about what those who want real change need to do.
Thank you, Greece.