Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The Gunpowder Treason and plot;
I know of no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Bonfires. . . fireworks. . . November the Fifth, in Great Britain, commemorates the failure of the Gunpowder Plot, an attempt in 1605 to blow up Parliament (and the king). Guy Fawkes was the plotter who was caught guarding the explosives under the Parliament building.
About five years ago, the day and what it commemorates were thrust into the consciousness of Americans with the movie V for Vendetta.
And I can’t help but think of the parallels between the original Gundpowder Plot, the movie, and events that are driving increasing numbers of Americans to expatriate today.
I try not to get political here — that’s not my purpose. But whether you lean left, right or center, it’s obvious there are big problems in the US and in much of Europe right now.
And with the Occupy Wall Street group and all its offshoot “Occupy” organizations blanketing US and European cities like a carpet of seasonal dead leaves, it seems appropriate to talk about it for a few minutes.
A Brief History of Guy Fawkes Day
The Gunpowder Plot was the embodiment of the religious rancor and division of the day, which pitted Catholics against Protestants in England.
Begining with King Henry VIII, who separated the English, or Anglican, church from Mother Rome in 1534, the Catholic and Protestant factions within the Church of England battled it out. The consequences of disagreement were often fatal and bloody.
By 1605, when Guy Fawkes and his friends set their plot in motion, the fight between Catholics and Protestants was bitter and well entrenched.
Through the years, November 5th celebrations, known as “Gunpowder Treason Day,” “Bonfire Night” and “Guy Fawkes Day” were often violent as the less privileged begged (or sometimes extorted) funds from the upper ranks for their shenanigans.
Following World War II, the celebrations became quieter. Children started creating their “Guys” and displaying them to their neighbors in exchange for donations (similar to our trick or treat), then throwing the Guys onto the bonfire at the end of the night. Villages competed to see which could build the biggest bonfire for the occasion.
The historical significance of Guy Fawkes day, and the religious disagreements it represents, have largely disappeared from today’s celebrations.
More and more, American-style Halloween has replaced Guy Fawkes day in British public life.
Guy Fawkes Day in V for Vendetta
If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it.
It takes place in a future England which is ruled by the dictator Chancellor Suttler. The public is under surveillance all the time, the TV news is dictated by the government, and the secret police drag people off in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.
Into this fear-filled situation steps V, a man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. In a 24-hour period he blows up one of London’s iconic landmarks and takes over the airwaves to blast his message onto every TV screen in the country.
“People should not be afraid of their governments,” he announces. “Governments should be afraid of their people.”
He promises that one year from that day, he will blow up Parliament, something the original Guy Fawkes failed to do.
His actions give the people hope, and a year later there is massive change.
(I won’t tell you any more than that — in case you haven’t seen the movie, I don’t want to spoil it for you.)
Relevance to Current Events
The United States is a mess. Corporate interests are running the government, and there’s never been a bigger disparity between rich and poor, not even during the Gilded Age.
Here are a few points:
- Three years ago, an unregulated Wall St. (thanks, Congress!) brought this country to its financial knees with their machinations and manipulations. As a result, millions are out of work, millions have lost their homes, those who still own homes have seen their values plummet, and the middle class is rapidly disappearing.
- The Occupy Wall Street movement is a response to that debacle. Because since then, banks have accepted huge taxpayer bailouts, then turned right around and continued doing what created the problem in the first place.
- Billionaires pay taxes at lower rates than average, hard-working Americans. Surprisingly, many of them, including Warren Buffett, think that’s wrong and want it to change!
- Corporations — profitable corporations that are earning more than ever before — are not only paying no taxes, but we are paying them, in the form of rebates!
Various pundits have accused the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations of class warfare. Matt Taibi has a different take on it, one that I tend to agree with. Wall Street Isn’t Winning — It’s Cheating is the title of the article (worth a read). “These people aren’t protesting money. They’re not protesting banking. They’re protesting corruption on Wall Street,” is Matt’s opinion.
Sadly, the corruption isn’t limited to the Street. It’s rife in our government.
Our Founding Fathers never anticipated a government that would be managed by professional, career politians. Politics was something a man did, for a space of time, as his public service to his country. Then he went back to his “real” life.
But now that we have a class of career politicians, they’re less concerned with government than with preserving their place in it and milking their cash cow for all it’s worth. And that means going to bed with the corporate interests whose aims and goals are not to improve the lives of US citizens, but to bilk them of every penny they can.
If you’re not angry, you haven’t been paying attention.
In the US, we don’t have a V character to lead the charge against abusive government, but we do have Occupy Wall Street. And, frankly, I hope our government is afraid, because it’s time for American people — not pretend “people” that are really corporations — to be back in charge.
What Does This Have to Do with Expats?
A lot of the people who have been paying attention have decided to vote with their feet, and they’re leaving the US in record numbers.
While nobody knows the number of US expats abroad — that’s one number the government doesn’t track — experts agree it’s growing exponentially. It’s at least six million now, and I’ve seen predictions that the number will rise to 25 million by 2020.
In my own small universe, I look at the number of expat conferences every year (organizations like Live and Invest Overseas and International Living have added more conferences to their schedules, and attendance is higher). The number of overseas developers actively marketing their projects to US buyers is growing rapidly. Mainstream media coverage of this “phenomenon” is steadily increasing.
Not everyone who leaves their home country does so for political reasons, but more and more I’m hearing from US expats and future expats that their decision to move was motivated, at least in part, by political, governmental problems.
I’ve talked to expats on both sides of the political spectrum, and while they might disagree on the solutions to specific issues, they all agree our government is out of control.
Blowing up government buildings is not the solution, any more than it was for the original Guy Fawkes and his friends. But making our government accountable to “we the people” instead of “we the corporations” — that’s a movement I can get behind.
Next week, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming. . .