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Kategorien/Categories:    ›Transatlantic‹  ›EN‹   –  05.11.2010

What’s going on?

Guest blogger and political junkie Clayton Macdonald looks for a glimmer of hope amid the recent the mid-term elections in the USA.

What hope can we take from the recent mid-term elections in the USA? In their anger – so the common wisdom explains - about the state of the economy, the voters have delivered a serious blow to the current administration's ability to improve the very economy the voters are angry about. Yet beyond feelings of anger, I suspect US voters feel broader anxieties than ones about the economy. There seems also to be a growing sense of betrayal and portending collapse. Even the well enfranchised feel disenfranchised and feel unsure that tomorrow will still be morning in America. There is a growing sense of both ennui and anomie, a growing sense that there are fundamental imbalances and that things are out of control. Even the dream of everlasting economic growth seems less instantly convincing. Doubt is creeping into more and more minds.

In 1971, Marvin Gaye vocalized this sense of uncertainty with the song, “What's Going On”. In 2002, Mutabaruka picked up the theme and set his own words to the same music:

So now we have to check
What must be saved and what we wreck
To see the good in things
we have to see ourselves in things
No peace no peace
Until there is equal rights
equal rights and justice

(What a Gwan)

Many have heard this before
Many still fight for what they are not sure
No peace no peace we shout
Liberty and freedom that's what it is all about
So we turn to the leaders of the state
All we find is more and more hate
No solution for our problems at hand
Everyone must take a stand

(What a Gwan)

From Mutabaruka's dub-poem, “The Confusion Today (Wha a Gwan)”


This is the disquiet that is moving voters in the US and, yes, worldwide. This confused question, “what's going on?” or, in dialect from Jamaica, “Wha a gwan”. Simply, there is a growing sense that we must find a way to control a system that is unjust and lacking in decent leadership. Not just in the US, but worldwide, there is a sense that the politicians are disconnected from the people and that something is wrong. This last US election has just been another surge of desire to “throw da bums out”, even the ones that weren't really bums at all.

Yet even in the despair and uncertainty expressed by Gaye and Mutabaruka, they hinted of hope that things can be better if we can find our way out of the present wilderness. Interestingly, from a language point of view, the slang term “gwan”, which Mutabaruka capitalized, is similar in sound, and even in print, to “Kwan Yin”, which is an East Asian Buddhist name for the bodhisattva of compassion. Let us hope as voters go to the polls around the world, that compassion will color their choices more than fear and uncertainty.