Guest Commentary

The mantra, 'Don't talk politics at work!' shows that apathy and ignorance are spreading

I like talking politics. And I'm not talking about the human excrement of Democrat and Republican politics. I'm a radical. So I talk about socially progressive ideas, about creating an actual democracy, and how our American way of life comes at the expense of the environment and millions of marginalized people at home and abroad. Sure, I also like to talk about movies and sports and hot chicks, too. But that's all "acceptable" talk.

If I just stuck to that kind of talk, I'd probably have more friends.

You see, I'm a waiter at the Olive Garden, the home of terribly unhealthy, highly processed, fake Italian food, run by the mega-corporation Darden that also brings us Red Lobster, the home of terribly unhealthy, highly processed seafood. And in the culturally sterile, intellectually dead, faux-ethnic environment of Olive Garden, talking about sports and chicks is acceptable, while politics is not.

Even the other servers mindlessly repeat that inane mantra, "Don't talk politics at work!" which has always puzzled me, since politics is the very means through which we can attempt to improve our lives and stem the onslaught of quasi-fascist corporate domination over everything from how toxic our food is to how we pick our noses.

I'm actually a university instructor. But thanks to nationwide budget cuts and the re-direction of funds from things like hiring more teachers to killing innocent civilians abroad, I find myself serving grossly overweight and grossly ignorant people a lot of gross food. But as a teacher and an activist, I still try to educate my co-workers.

Most don't want to know. When I bring in articles for them to read, they say, "It's probably biased." That's the typical defense mechanism of Americans. What they fail to realize is that everything is biased, and everything is political. With me, it's obvious, because I'm vocal, critical and radical. But doing nothing and saying nothing is just as political. It means you accept and approve of the status quo, and everything you say is biased in favor of that status quo.

Instead of signing my name on the meaningless, daily check-in/check-out forms, I took to writing "Out of Iraq." The general manager came to me and told me to "stop with the political crap." Then there's a chalkboard where servers write silly things. I wrote "eat organic," and the next day, a manager again told me to stop with the "politics." The humor was lost on them. Or maybe they felt threatened.

We each wear a pin with our name, which we're allowed to "individualize" with things like pictures of pop icons and art. I wrote "PEACE" on mine. The manager told me to take it off--it was "political."

Years ago, when I worked at a Barnes and Noble, I got in trouble for wearing a pin that said, "Free Leonard Peltier."

But is it just at work? I'm starting to think that this corporate drive for mass idiocy has become part of our culture. I've had more than one friend tell me to shut up because they'd "rather not know." When I try to enlighten my Jewish relatives over the brutal reality of the Israeli occupation, I'm not only told to shut up; I'm also accused of being crazy.

Ignorance and denial go hand in hand. We're a nation of ignorant fools who'd rather convince ourselves that "it's not so bad" instead of assuming the frightening responsibilities required of actual freedom and actual democracy. That's why we find nothing wrong in saying, "No politics at work."

One of my co-workers, an ardent Bush supporter--and a girl who earns a wage of $2.13 an hour--actually argued with me that the minimum wage should not be raised, that it would be bad for the economy. That bummed me. When you get a girl living at the poverty level and whose labor is daily exploited by a corporate entity that cares not one iota for her miserable condition to believe that such a state of affairs is for the best, it signifies a victory for the American propaganda machine and an intimation of a much greater darkness ahead.

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