Why do thousands of people join him, civilians take up arms for his cause, what is the fodder that incites this civil war?
All we get in 12 episodes is that the non-benders feel oppressed, but we never get a concrete example, but for after the fact when Tarrlok starts rounding up Equalist supporters.
The thing is that the oppression was shown but never pointed out. For example, pro-bending is a bender-only sport, working in the factory seems to require firebending, to be a cop you must be an earthbender, and there is no one to represent the non-benders in the council. The non-benders are underprivileged because they get less access to jobs and political positions, yet the show refused to point out any of these things because Korra was too stubborn to see things outside of her privileged position. It’s even worse that Korra gets handed everything and doesn’t once question why and how she is seen as special compared to everybody else, especially non-benders.
So the Equalists saw all this just… nobody was there to point that out to Korra or the audience. In the end, everything fell flat.
1. Pro-bending is not oppression. I am 5’2, I am not oppressed by professional basketball players.
2. There are non-benders on the police-force e.g. the cop in the park that chases Korra and Gommu
3. There are non-benders on the council: Sokka
4. Factory workers: Are you saying that Sato, one of the major employers in the city, does not hire non-benders? Same goes for cabbage corp.
5. Even though these are examples, we have no proof that Amon uses any of this to gain followers, which is my point.
1. Probending may not be a form of opression per say, but it does inform the public’s collective imagining of bending; bending is glorified and celebrated, implying that those who can bend are worth more than those who can’t. Also, pro-bending is a job that non-benders don’t have access to; Mako and Bolin might still be on the street if it weren’t for pro-bending.
2. There may be non-benders in lower ranks, but as far as we can tell the high-ranking officers (i.e. those who fight alongside Lin) are metalbenders. Non-benders have less access to better jobs.
3. There were non-benders on the Council. In Korra’s time, Tarrlock makes it clear the all of the Council-members are benders, so non-benders have no political representation whatsoever. So, not only are they at a socioeconomic disadvantage, but there is no one in the government trying to help fix the societal oppresion of non-benders.
4. Non-benders do have access to jobs that aren’t bender-specific, but so do benders. Therefore, non-benders are competing with benders for jobs in a society that seems to think that benders are inherently better. And benders have a huge advantage because their job market is much broader.
5. Then there are the Bending Triads. Non-benders are less able to defend themselves against these gangs. Furthermore, they act as a refuge for impoverished benders that is inaccessible to non-benders; again, Bolin and Mako might non have survived if they weren’t benders.
So yeah, there are some benders who are poor despite their privilege (Bolin, Mako, and the inhabitants of Gommu’s tent city) and some non-benders are rich despite their societal disadvantage (Hiroshi Sato and Cabbage Man Jr). Still, their societal structure is clearly oppressive to non-benders. However, the only oppression Korra recognizes is Tarrlock’s insane power-trip. Coming from an uber-priveleged, sheltered environment, she has no idea how complex the problem truly is. Therefore, she’ll probably be shocked to discover that the Equalist movement didn’t die with Amon, as will most benders. (Though I do hope that Book 2 will show that there were some benders who were Equalists as well.)
Granted, none of this was explicitly stated, because the show was almost exclusively composed of action sequences, dramatic revelations, romantic subplots, and punch lines. Still, to me, the Equalist movement made a lot of sense, and I certainly hope it ultimately leads to tangible reform.
^ This. But they should have done a lot more to make this more obvious and for Korra to realize this and actually bring harmony and equality as the Avatar.
Also, to your tags, I could analyze the heck out of all the implied systems set in place and draw parallels to currently existing institutions.
Also, a whole paper on why Mako is being a jerk.
The twisted part of all of this is that at the very end, non-benders as a group were just pawns used to further the ambitions of just another bender. They lose out the most from this Avatar vs. Amon fight. Now, when non-benders voice legitimate grievances about social institutions that reflect inequalities in society, they can be dismissed or even persecuted simply if benders conflate them with the discredited Equalist movement.
We never saw Korra reflecting on why Amon was able to successfully use the inequities faced by non-benders as an effective strategy to build a base of followers, or to consider that there might be legitimate reasons why people would speak out about their experiences as non-benders.