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How the Reformists attempt to liquidate the anti-war movement (english)
by Ben Seattle
(No verified email address)
30 Mar 2003
Recent New York Times article outlines a well-organized,
massive and concerted effort by the reformist wing of
the antiwar movement to derail the antiwar movement and
turn activists into election fodder for the Democratic Party.
> The procession was so orderly, a large group of
> police officers having breakfast outside a nearby
> bagel shop did not even budge as it passed.
--New York Times, March 29
> I guarantee that a thousand people registering
> new anti-war voters would get far more attention
> and respect, with more lasting impact, than last
> week's protests.
--Well known Seattle activist Geov Parrish, March 27
This recent New York Times article (see appendix 1 below)
outlines a well-organized, massive and concerted effort by the
reformist wing of the antiwar movement to derail the antiwar
movement and turn activists into election fodder for the
This is the same Democratic Party (motto: "We are proudly owned
by the same corporations which own the Republican Party") that
has just given rubber-stamp approval and a blank check to Bush's
imperialist adventure in Iraq.
This attempt to liquidate the antiwar movement is not unexpected.
On the contrary, it is the nature of the society we live in that
a section of progressive-minded activists will work their hearts
out in order to undermine any protest movement that shows a spark
of life and independence.
The reformists will always act like this at critical moments.
"Politics stop when the shooting begins" goes the catch-phrase
currently being repeated endlessly.
Translation: "Hey, hey, ho, ho, the antiwar movement has got to
The current efforts by the reformists to lead the antiwar
movement in the direction of being election fodder for
liberal-labor politicians serve two aims:
(1) it serves the career ambitions of a strata of politicians
and institutions that are within (or in orbit around)
the left wing of the Democratic Party, and
(2) it serves the interests of the bourgeoisie in liquidating
the antiwar movement.
These two aims, of course, are not independent of one another but
are bound up together with the entire history of the development
of the reformist (ie: liberal and social-democratic) political
trends as _instruments_ by which the bourgeoisie undermines
opposition to its rule. In particular, these trends exist (and
have _influence_, and are powerful in society) by virtue of their
alliance (a highly subservient alliance) with the bourgeoisie.
There is a "quid pro quo" here: "Do your job in undermining
opposition to our rule and you will receive a share of the spoils
as compensation". These spoils are frequently dispersed in the
form of jobs at institutions (labor, church, charity, journalism,
etc) with an agenda that is progressive--but subservient.
Of course, the progressive-minded activists who advocate the
liquidation of the antiwar movement do not see matters in such
stark terms. On the contrary they believe that they are simply
being "realistic". An excellent example of such "realism" is the
liquidation manifesto recently written by Seattle activist Geov
Parrish (see appendix 2 below).
Parrish compares the antiwar movement to a dog that cannot learn
and says he will "guarantee" that activists who register
voters--and work to elect a Democratic president in 2004 will
receive "far more attention and respect with more lasting impact"
than the recent week of protests in downtown Seattle (in which
Seattle police adopted the recent New York tactic of surrounding
hundreds of peaceful protesters and refusing to let them either
march or leave).
Translation: We should get down on our knees and beg for peace
from the gods of war.
This liquidation of the antiwar movement is, above all, aimed at
reducing the extent to which the antiwar movement is
_independent_ of bourgeois interests. The militancy of the
antiwar movement is a reflection of this independent character.
There is no escaping or resolving this fundamental conflict of
interest within the antiwar movement: The features of the
antiwar movement which the reformists most want to
liquidate are precisely those features of it which _threaten_
This is why the reformists don't want our protests to be angry.
Their opposition to anger is a reflection of the bourgeois fear
that anger is contagious and will lead to the awakening of a
class that has, it must be said, a good deal to be angry about.
Hence when we read phrases about angry protests that "alienate
the American public" we should always translate this highly
political phrase into its real meaning:
. piss-off the bribed strata of liberal-labor politicians
. trade union bureaucrats, church officials,
. poverty pimps, media personalities and
. progressive 501(c)(3) organizations
. who are given the task (by the bourgeoisie)
. of keeping all protest movements "under control"
. (ie: small, passive, demoralized and disoriented)
One well-known antiwar activist, Chuck0, summed it up well:
> If we conducted our activism in a way that pleased
> the most vociferous anti-activism people, we would
> be reduced to writing letters to politicians and voting.
That is really the whole idea. The social-democrats want us to
confine our tactics and activity to those actions which are
"respectible". And what is "respectible" always turns out to
be--whatever is _ineffective_.
So what do we do?
I have never been particularly enthusiastic about civil
disobediance. I have never been--and may never be--arrested.
But if I ever am arrested it is not my intention that it be while
I am sitting down.
Nor do I make a fetish out of blocking traffic. I have helped to
organize unpermitted marches in the street--but that is not
necessarily the same thing as focusing on disrupting people who
are driving to work.
There is a large universe of tactics and actions that are
possible. A certain amount of experimentation will be necessary
to make clear to serious activists what kinds of actions are most
But aside from individual actions we also must give thought to
longer term matters. Sooner or later a section of serious
activists will recognize that there are only two fundamental
(1) becoming election fodder for the Democratic Party
(or pseudo-independent parties, like Nader, the
Greens, or the "Labor Party") and
(2) creating a revolutionary mass movement that is
directed at eliminating the system of bourgeois rule
The 2nd path is difficult for many reasons. It is difficult even
to talk about or to think about. The low level of political
experience of many activists and the current existing _crisis of
theory_ makes it difficult for the most serious and militant
activists to even imagine what a revolutionary mass movement
would look like--much less how society will function when it is
no longer ruled by the bourgeoisie.
But we have many factors in our favor--not least of which is the
revolution in communications--still in its infancy and full of
immense potential to help activists link up with one another and
create revolutionary channels to and for and by the masses.
I support the call made by Chuck0 for an antiwar organization
that isn't interested in cutting deals with the liberals. But I
hope that if such an organization comes into existence--it will
be focused on more than blocking traffic or on actions aimed at
attention from the bourgeois press.
We must do more than create actions and provide examples of
militancy. We must participate in the coming period of
"information war" (defined not as stupid hacking tricks--but as
an organized struggle for ideas on a mass scale). The masses in
this country are being bombarded by the corporate media with
waves of stupid jingo nonsense and will have an interest
(particularly as Bush's excellent little war turns sour) in an
explanation of events that makes sense.
We must build our own press, both on the streets (in the forms of
leaflets which give ordinary people an understanding in _depth_
of what is going on in the world--and here at home) and on the
internet (in the form of news sites with articles, comments and
questions that are rated and filtered by readers).
We must create an organization that is politically transparent
(ie: political differences within the organization must be
public) democratic and accountable for its actions. If such an
organization makes efforts to be deserving of the respect of
serious militant activists--it could help to bring into existence
a mass movement that is independent of bourgeois influence. Such
a movement, here in the US, could and would cause more nightmares
for the bourgeoisie than the armies of Saddam Hussein.
Sincerely and with revolutionary regards,
http://struggle.net/Ben (my elists / theory / infrastructure)
Share your ideas, criticisms and questions
in the public forum at: http://struggle.net/antiwar
"Which way forward for the development
of a powerful antiwar movement?"
Calm, thoughtful and sober discussion is needed.
(Appendices are long--you may want to print this out)
-- Appendix 1 --
New York Times encourages liquidation of antiwar movement
March 29, 2003
Antiwar Effort Emphasizes Civility Over Confrontation
By Kate Zernike and Dean E. Murphy
With the war against Iraq in its second week, the most
influential antiwar coalitions have shifted away from large-scale
disruptive tactics and stepped up efforts to appeal to mainstream
One of the largest groups, Win Without War, is encouraging the
two million people on its e-mail list to send supportive letters
to soldiers. Other groups have redoubled their fund-raising for
billboards that declare "Peace is Patriotic" and include the
giant image of an unfurling American flag.
The changed tone comes after a week of street protests marking
the start of the war that reduced San Francisco to anarchy,
turned Chicago's Lakeshore Drive into a parking lot and paralyzed
major roads in Atlanta, Boston and other cities.
This week, the nation's largest antiwar coalitions said they were
abandoning their plan to disrupt everyday life. Instead, they
said, they would direct protests at federal institutions,
corporations and media conglomerates that "profit from war" in an
effort to attract attention but not offend most Americans.
The shift reflects a tension that has existed within the nation's
antiwar movement for months.
Radical groups like those weaned on the antiglobalization
protests that disrupted Seattle four years ago sought more civil
disobedience. More mainstream groups like the National Council of
Churches were afraid that confrontational tactics would only
alienate the American public.
At least for now, the more mainstream groups have gained the
upper hand. They have sought to cast their movement as the loyal
opposition, embracing the troops but condemning the war. Within
the movement, which includes everything from small groups in
small towns to a large alliance of more than 200 organizations,
radical elements still exist. But the larger and more influential
groups have sought over time to sideline them, deliberately
excluding certain speakers, dismissing certain tactics,
marginalizing certain protests, in a determined effort to avoid
being dismissed as career malcontents.
The week before the war began, another major coalition, United
for Peace and Justice, declined to join in sponsoring a rally put
on by International Answer, a group whose names stands for Act
Now to Stop War and End Racism, saying its message was too
left-wing and alienating.
And even the umbrella organization that helped shut down San
Francisco's financial district last week began its more mundane
protests this week with an announcement that demonstrators
interested in thuggery should keep their distance.
"If we're going to be a force that needs to be listened to by our
elected officials, by the media, by power, our movement needs to
reflect the population," said Leslie Cagan, co-chairwoman of
United for Peace and Justice, and a career political organizer.
"It needs to be diverse," Ms. Cagan went on, "it needs to be
large, it needs to include the people who could be described as
mainstream — but that doesn't exclude the people who are
sometimes thought of as the fringes."
Even the more mainstream groups are full of people who have spent
large stretches of their lives on the front lines of protest
movements, from the civil rights struggles to antiglobalization
campaigns. But they say they have learned from their own
mistakes. So while attacking corporate America for driving this
war, antiwar groups have co-opted corporate strategies, rolling
out media campaigns as if opposition to war were a new kind of
For weeks, public relations firms have sent news organizations
daily suggestions for interviews and "great visuals" that feature
protesters. Groups practicing civil disobedience make sure their
designated publicity person avoids arrest, to remain available to
television cameras. One organization even "embedded" reporters
among protesters the way the Pentagon did with its troops.
"The great lesson from Madison Avenue is repetition," Ms. Cagan
said. "If you get the same message out in different ways, you
begin to break into people's consciousness."
The New Era
Rallying Round the E-Mail Lists
The last time a vast antiwar movement took American streets was
during the Vietnam War, so comparisons between this movement and
that one are inevitable.
The new antiwar groups take pride in the size of the crowds they
have been able to mobilize. They have grown a protest movement
the size of which it took Vietnam-era organizers four years to
build — this time, without a draft and even before the first body
bags might shock people into the streets.
United for Peace and Justice, for example, says it took only six
weeks to get 350,000 people to a rally in New York in February,
and Win Without War says it took four days to set up 6,800
candlelight vigils the week the war began.
"I am rather pleased with the way things have gone," said Michael
N. Nagler, the founder and former chairman of the Peace and
Conflict Studies Department at the University of California at
Berkeley. "I have been monitoring the peace movement for almost
four decades, and often wringing my hands in despair for its lack
of savvy and lack of organization."
Still, it is a different era now.
Protest has become routine, no longer seen as an assault on the
country's values and culture the way it was when demonstrators
descended on Washington in the 1960's.
The Internet makes it far easier to organize swiftly and draw out
In fact, some might say this movement — which unlike the one
during Vietnam began before the start of the Iraq conflict —
failed in its most important goal: to stop the war before it
commenced. Certainly the protesters say they have learned that
they need a long-term strategy.
"It's tremendously saddening," said Eli Pariser, international
campaigns director of MoveOn.org, a member of the Win Without War
coalition, said of the start of the war.
"At the same time, there still is optimism that in terms of our
larger goal, which is to end this foreign policy that is so
dangerous, there's still hope, and quite a lot of it."
In Diversity There Is Strength
The antiwar movement is a set of diverse groups that often
overlap, swapping staff, money, and office space, acting in
concert and alone.
Some are offshoots of well-known national groups with
multimillion-dollar budgets, large paid staffs and other agendas:
The Sierra Club and the National Council of Churches, the
National Organization for Women and the N.A.A.C.P.
Others are more obscure or formed explicitly in the context of
the war: Code Pink, September 11 Families For Peaceful Tomorrows,
People for a Gasoline-Free Day. And many cities have their own
organizations with their own distinct local flavor.
Direct Action to Stop the War, with no paid staff, no offices and
no formal fund-raising efforts, dominates the protest scene in
One of its leaders, Patrick Reinsborough, had led an effort to
pressure Home Depot to discontinue the sale of products made with
old-growth trees. Another, Mary Bull, is the coordinator of the
Save the Redwoods/Boycott the Gap Campaign. She was once
arrested, dressed as a tree, outside the World Bank and
International Monetary Fund in Washington.
The coalitions against the war have drawn on the budgets and
staffs of the larger national groups that have joined in.
Many of the newer organizations are too fresh to have reported
finances to government regulators. But they say they have also
gotten money from various other sources, including the Barbra
Streisand Foundation; Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry's; and Paulette
Cole of ABC Carpet and Home in New York City.
They say they have also raised significant amounts of money in
smaller increments online. Win Without War says it raised
$400,000 online in 48 hours, with an average donation of $35.
The Mainstream Shift
Opposing the War, but Still Patriotic
When the antiwar protests began to gather steam in the fall, the
large-scale rallies were being run by International Answer.
Answer brought together an amalgam of demonstrators, including
antiglobalization protesters and longtime Socialists. Some of its
chief organizers were members of the Workers World Party, a
radical Socialist group that has defended Slobodan Milosevic and
the North Korean and Iraqi governments.
In the protest community, the group was especially known for good
organization: in some cities, Answer would go early in the year
and snap up protest permits for the largest public places on the
best dates. Last fall, many smaller groups opposed to the war
were planning to attend the rally Answer had organized for Oct.
26 in Washington.
But the afternoon before the event, representatives of about 50
groups gathered at the Washington office of People for the
American Way, a liberal group that is known for causes like
opposition to conservative judges.
It was a diverse set, including Black Voices for Peace; the
Institute for Policy Studies, which is a left-leaning research
center; and the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker
group. Many in attendance knew each other from past protests.
For nearly a month in private conversations, they say they had
been sharing their concerns that Answer's oratory was too
anti-Israel, too angry. They worried that its rallies were not
focused enough on the war: banners in the crowd were as much
about "Free Palestine" and "Free Mumia" — a reference to Mumia
Abu-Jamal, imprisoned for killing a Philadelphia police officer —
as they were "No Blood For Oil."
"Answer is a radical left group and not very mainstream in terms
of its image," said David Cortright, a veteran of the Vietnam War
and the protests against it, who attended the meeting as head of
the Fourth Freedom Forum, a research center promoting peaceful
resolution of international conflicts. "It was not the kind of
movement I thought would be able to attract the kind of
mainstream support I thought was out there."
They decided that afternoon to form a new coalition that would
operate apart from Answer. They named it United for Peace and
Justice. It immediately began planning small actions for December
and January in various cities, and a large rally in New York City
on Feb. 15, where speakers would be told that their remarks had
to be about the war and nothing else.
Later that same October day, eight people from the meeting went
out for dinner, worried, some of them say, that even their new
alternative to Answer would not get the support of important mass
constituency groups like labor, veterans and churches.
Over Chinese food, those eight agreed to create another group,
calling this one Win Without War. To join, said Mr. Pariser of
MoveOn, one of those attending, organizations had to explicitly
sign on to the notion of being patriotic and taking a
"reasonable" stance toward a conflict with Iraq, which at that
time meant the continuation of weapons inspections.
"Right from the beginning we tried to frame it as a message that
would go down well in broader communities than just the antiwar
crowd," said Mr. Cortright, another of the eight. "The average
labor guy out there wants to be seen in that mainstream,
Win Without War announced itself in December with a news
conference and a Web site identifying itself as the "mainstream"
voice against the war. Doing so allowed it to win members like
the N.A.A.C.P., the National Organization for Women, the Sierra
Club and the National Council of Churches and gain access to
their mailing lists and memberships.
"Affiliating with other organizations that don't normally get
involved in peace movements gave us a way to appeal to middle
America," said Bob Edgar, general secretary of the council of
Answer itself continued to organize rallies. Mara
Verheyden-Hilliard, a steering committee member, said her group
took the "most progressive stand." She said the other coalitions
included elements "far more to the right."
And other smaller groups would spawn, local groups in various
cities and towns, national groups like Code Pink, which appealed
to women, and the Iraq Pledge of Resistance, which signed people
up in advance to commit nonviolent civil disobedience the day the
But most of those groups affiliated in some way with one of the
two large national groups — if only to list their events on the
national Web site.
As time went on, United for Peace and Justice took on the job of
organizing rallies. Win Without War's task focused on the news
media. It took as its national director a former Democratic
congressman from Maine, Tom Andrews, who had been working with a
public relations firm hired by the coalition.
The Internet would prove crucial to both organizing and media.
United for Peace and Justice said 40,000 people signed up for
e-mail bulletins about actions against the war. Win Without War
says its e-mail list includes more than two million addresses.
Earlier this month, Win Without War created a worldwide
candlelight vigil online, allowing people to enter their ZIP
codes to find the nearest one.
A crucial player in Win Without War's campaigns has been MoveOn,
an organization originally started by two Silicon Valley
entrepreneurs to provide a way for voters to go online to express
their opposition to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.
In January, Mr. Pariser sent out an e-mail message saying that
the organization wanted to buy a newspaper advertisement, and
could raise $27,000 privately if it could raise the same amount
Civil Disobedience Is Toned Down
Within two days, Mr. Pariser said, online donors pledged
$400,000, and the group bought several newspaper advertisements,
a radio commercial, and ultimately, several television spots.
One, in which a scene of a small girl plucking daisy petals
morphs into military images and a mushroom cloud, borrowed
heavily from the "daisy" commercial that Lyndon B. Johnson's
campaign used against Barry Goldwater in 1964 to stir fears about
When the war started last week, United for Peace and Justice and
Win Without War were split over civil disobedience, the tool that
many in the antiwar movement had been saving for the start of
United for Peace said it supported nonviolent civil disobedience,
while Win Without War said it did not. But as the general shift
in strategy swept the peace movement over last weekend, United
for Peace and Justice scaled back its advocacy of civil
disobedience. Its Web site now encourages those against the war
to light a candle for peace, to wear a black armband, to display
a yellow ribbon. Smaller regional groups seemed to take the cue,
trading sit-ins for bike rides for peace.
In New York, antiwar groups called for mass civil disobedience on
Thursday. There were more than 200 arrests but most protesters
remained orderly. They specifically fixed on Rockefeller Center,
because it is the home of General Electric, its NBC subsidiary
and The Associated Press.
Organizers say news media companies and companies like G.E. will
profit from the war, whether from high ratings, newspaper sales,
military contracts or payments to rebuild Iraq after the war. The
most notable example of the new tone came in San Francisco, which
had emerged early on as a hotbed of the antiwar movement.
Last week, the goal of the San Francisco umbrella organization,
Direct Action to Stop the War, had been to disrupt the city's
everyday life. Twenty intersections and thoroughfares were picked
as places to stop traffic, with demonstrators sitting on the
asphalt and refusing to budge.
More than 2,300 people were arrested in three days, the largest
number of arrests in such a short time period in decades, the
The civil disobedience achieved its main goal of attracting
attention around the world.
But it also annoyed a good number of San Franciscans, most
notably Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr., a Democrat who is sympathetic
to the antiwar cause. At one point he urged the demonstrators to
leave San Francisco and converge on Crawford, Tex., where
President Bush has a ranch.
So at a meeting Sunday night at San Francisco's St. Boniface
Church, some of Direct Action's most active supporters, joined by
members from many other groups, including United For Peace and
Justice, decided to accommodate the mood of a city — and
country — at war.
"We agreed to a change in tactics," said Renee Sharp, who when
not protesting the war works as an analyst for an environmental
advocacy group in Oakland.
"We no longer need to disrupt business as usual; we've made that
point. Our goal isn't to make life difficult for everybody living
The shift was swift.
At a training session for protesters early Monday morning near
the San Francisco waterfront, a young woman in a knit cap took
the microphone. As had been the routine at other gatherings, she
led the crowd of 300 or so in a recitation. "Repeat after me,"
she said. "I do not want to answer questions. I want to talk with
But the script then deviated markedly from that of the weeks
before. After people pored over a poster board map and got their
assignments — most were told to block entrances to the
Transamerica Pyramid building — they were sent marching in a
fairly obedient form of disobedience.
They headed down the sidewalk alongside the streets that last
week they had mobbed. This time they were in neat double file led
by a Franciscan priest holding two church candles. The procession
was so orderly, a large group of police officers having breakfast
outside a nearby bagel shop did not even budge as it passed.
Appendix 2 -- Geov Parrish's Liquidation Manifesto
> I guarantee that a thousand people registering
> new anti-war voters would get far more attention
> and respect, with more lasting impact, than last
> week's protests.
--Well known Seattle activist Geov Parrish, March 27, 2003
Post D-Day depression
Antiwar movement marginalized by its own over
the top rhetoric; activists need to speak with
audience, not each other
This week is when it really hits.
After the initial wave of 24/7 news coverage and
demonstrations in the streets, the reality
remains. The Bush Administration defied logic,
international law, and the wishes of virtually
all humanity, and launched an unprovoked and
unnecessary military invasion of a country
halfway around the world. The shock, horror,
grief, rage, sputtering impotence all finally
echo away into silence. And still the pundits
chatter and the bombs fall.
What to do?
For me, in many ways, the U.S. street
demonstrations of the last week have been nearly
as depressing as the invasion itself. They have
been primal screams, by definition
unsustainable, when what is desperately needed
is sustainable responses. They have been
expressions of what protesters have felt they
need to say, rather that what protesters felt
other Americans needed to see or hear. They have
been reactions to what has been done, rather
than demands for what should be done now. They
have used the shopworn tactics, iconography, and
slogans of 40 years of left street protest,
which by definition are going to seem knee-jerk
and irrelevant when what is being undertaken is
in many ways so new and so dangerous we don't
have words to do that danger justice.
And, by this conduct, they have turned their
backs on the far broader segment of Americans
who have in recent months also been alarmed by
this government's direction, but who have over a
matter of decades expressed quite clearly that
they find the activist left's tactics,
iconography, and slogans to be profoundly
This past week's protests were nowhere near a
scale needed to have an impact through (to use
the more extreme rhetoric) "shutting down the
country." Any remotely thoughtful organizer knew
this, yet still, the tactic persists. My dog
does the same thing; she'll leave my home office
ahead of me, and then look over her shoulder to
make sure I'm coming where she wants me to
(i.e., to take her for a walk). She does it
every time, even though, when working, I never
follow her. She never learns.
This is what powerlessness does. Primal screams
(or canine begging) happen when there is nothing
else left, when citizens feel not only that they
have not been heard, but that by definition they
will never be heard. It's barely removed from
simply giving up and tuning out -- which is what
more people in America than in any other Western
democracy choose to do, and what many current
activists, in this war as in past ones, will
also choose to do.
The thing is, I don't want to be heard. I want
the policies to change, the killing to stop, the
living to start. If going mute would do that,
I'd happily go mute. Policy change isn't simply
a function of decibel level or of number of
heads counted at a march; it's also a function
of having clear policy alternatives, and putting
into power people willing to enact those
alternatives. Chanting "no justice, no peace!
(Until we go home in an hour)" is easy; building
long-term change is much harder. And "The
People" know it.
Until two weeks ago, there was a clear
alternative to war: the inspection process,
which at minimum bought time, at best was a path
out of an artificially induced, but nonetheless
real, crisis. When that was lost, so too were
many members of the new anti-war movement,
because there was no "next step," no contingency
plans in the peace movement's demands beyond
lame and hypocritical calls to "support the
troops." Possibilities abound, from a movement
to have the U.N., rather than United States,
take part or all of the post-invasion
administration of Iraq, to a concerted push to
unseat Bush in 2004. Yet at the moment more
protesters are trying to impeach Bush (which is
not, repeat not, repeat NOT going to happen)
than to elect a Democratic president in less
than 20 months.
This isn't simply a matter of pragmatism; it's
also earning, in the public's eyes, the
legitimacy to make moral as well as pragmatic
demands. In modern American politics, the
messenger is as important as the message, and
one does not gain moral legitimacy simply by
having one's policy preferences ignored. I
guarantee, for example, that a thousand people
registering new anti-war voters would get far
more attention and respect, with more lasting
impact, than last week's protests -- from the
public, from decision-makers, and from those
numbers opposed to the war and to freeway
You're an anarchist and hate electoral politics?
Fine. Don't just sit down in front of cars
because we're waging a war to feed our SUVs and
everyone should abandon theirs, and then wonder
why people who could be on your side but need to
get to work are angry at you and vote for Bush
next year. Teach tax resistance (and
redirection); start some alternative community
institutions that meet a need other than your
own. The socialist and anarchist movements of a
century ago had some traction because they
started with the community's needs, not their
own ideas. Take some risks that mean something
to other people, not just to you and your
friends. For goodness sakes, even take some time
to study something about political science,
military science, communication, mass
psychology, something, anything more
goal-oriented than what most of the protest left
has over the past 30 years ossified as.
Long-term or even short-term organizing is not
as much fun as marching on a freeway, but then,
the people on the front lines waging this war
probably aren't having much fun, either. A lot
of them probably don't want to be there; some
probably don't even like the orders they're
getting. But they signed on to do what was
necessary, up to and possibly including death,
for a larger cause. That's a major reason why
virtually every segment of American society
gives them respect. Religious figures, until
proven otherwise, command the same respect for
much the same reason.
In the public's eyes, the average demonstrator,
and the theoretically moral movement he or she
represents, has done nothing within light-years
of that level of moral legitimacy. Protesters
may disagree, but if you want to change policy
in this country, whose opinion is more important
-- that of the advocate, or the advocate's
The United States, at the moment, is careening
away wildly from all but one country -- Israel
-- in terms of how its public views the world.
Israel is for many reasons a special case; born
of the Holocaust, surrounded by countries that
for decades were intent on its destruction, it's
easy to see (though not to condone) how the
Israeli public could embrace its current
fortress mentality, and its attendant abuses.
America has no such claim; 9/11 was not the
Holocaust, and this country, far from being
threatened, has lived an existence of remarkable
isolation and ease. Before the Cold War, it
hadn't faced any meaningful external threat in
over a century; even after a planet's worth of
abuses inflicted in the name of that Cold War,
it took another half-century before anyone
caused harm on U.S. soil, and even then, it was
a single act (so far) by an illegal private
organization, not the army of a nation-state. To
many around George Bush (and probably Bush
himself), America's charmed history is a sign of
America's unique partnership with Providence.
That sort of talk, and the power abuses now
accompanying it, scare and enrage even
traditional U.S. allies, who see it as evidence
not of the moral authority of democracy and
freedom, but the "might makes right" attitude of
a bully. Among allies and around the world,
people wonder why so few Americans seem willing
to challenge this mindset from within, using a
different type of moral claim.
For those of us who do want to challenge it,
there's much we can't control. Barriers to such
changes in U.S. public perception are
formidable. The military complex in this country
has enormous money behind it, enough to employ
millions of people earning (except for the
soldiers) a comfortable living building pieces
of a repugnantly deployed whole. Mass media is
currently dominated by a range of political
opinion that makes Genghis Khan a centrist, and
that acknowledges dissent usually only in the
course of ridiculing it. Both major political
parties are corrupted by corporate money almost
But what we can control is what we say (and
hear), how we act, who we appeal to and work
with, and to what ends. Much of the political
rhetoric in this country -- with or without a
war in progress -- is so over the top and
intolerant as to be anathema to a secular
democracy, and many Americans know that, too.
What is lacking is a coherent, appealing
alternative. Times of crisis and maximum dissent
are precisely when those alternatives should be
on display -- not when they should be abandoned
for the protest equivalent of comfort food.
Many of us who have opposed this war feel
frustrated and powerless; it is an emotionally
charged time. Remember this sensation. Remember
how unpleasant it is. Then resolve to do what
you can to ensure that neither you nor future
generations of people who care about their world
will be put in this place again. And start
working to do something about it.
Geov Parrish is a Seattle-based columnist and
reporter for Seattle Weekly, In These Times and
Eat the State! He writes the daily Straight Shot
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