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Commentary :: Organizing
Direct Action.
25 Mar 2006
Commentary on US justice movements.
Direct Action.

Craig Rosebraugh
March 25, 2006

The notion of direct action, while overly broad in definitions and interpretations, can be simplified to summarize one idea – effectiveness. An action is direct if it is the most effective step taken to stop an act of injustice or oppression. At times direct action may include collecting signatures on petitions, setting up an information table, talking to friends and neighbors, and voting. And at other times, direct action may mean engaging in civil disobedience, sabotage, violence and other illegal activities. Which activity and tactic chosen at a particular time and place should directly relate to that which is going to be the most effective, period. Why this incredibly simplistic idea is overlooked and rarely acted upon today in US social and political movements is not so much a mystery as it is a disgrace.

Here it is, late March of 2006. Inside the United States we have over 37 million people living under the federally established mockery of a poverty line. Millions more beyond that still cannot acquire the necessary finances to have basic needs met. Since the 1960s, we have allowed 90% of our old growth forests to be destroyed, and our water and air to be increasingly contaminated. Today, over 45 million people live without health care in the United States, including over 8.5 million children. And we continue to sit back and watch – as though it were another episode of the 5:00 news or our favorite sit-com – our pseudo-democratic political machine become further dysfunctional and unjust.

For a country that prides itself on being the super-power of freedom, democracy and opportunity, the statistics above are embarrassing. Yet, even more inexcusable is the fact that we, the American public, allow these atrocities to continue. By and large, we continue to live our daily lives in a business as usual state, numb to the reality that our own laziness, our own privileges, our own refusal to confront the political structure of this country are allowing increasing levels of injustice and violence to exist.

The minimal and overwhelmingly futile resistance that is offered against injustice and oppression in this country has little, if any chance, to ever be successful. By continually engaging in state sanctioned tactics, that have been proven ineffective in past historical applications, these “resistance” movements perpetuate the endless cycle of failure. But when privileges allow a continued failure to exist, it becomes apparent that engaging in a different course of action and strategy may threaten the very security that those within these movements dearly possess.

Similar to the pharmaceutical industry that would rather profit off treating symptoms of problems than stand to lose financial security by producing cures, the large, mainstream social justice organizations in the US find it quite safer to only promote and engage in those tactics and strategies that are deemed non-threatening by the governmental infrastructure. When millions of dollars are at stake within these organizations, and, more importantly, the livelihoods and security of involved individuals, it becomes a conscious and, often times, even unconscious decision to forgo effective tactics and strategies for those which don’t threaten the very way of life that most of those involved with resistance movements cherish. Of course to ever admit this publicly, we would first have to come to terms with it personally.

Three years ago, on the very date President Bush told the nation that the bombing of Iraq would officially begin, I wrote and published an essay on the anti-war struggle. It was summarized in a question at the end of the first paragraph, “How far is the anti-war movement in the United States willing to go to stop the US government and its unceasing atrocities?” It provided a brief, yet sound analysis of the anti-war movement in the US and what direction that movement might take to actually become successful.

At the time of the essay’s release, the US government was already responsible for the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children through sanctions imposed throughout the 1990s. Now, on the three-year anniversary of the US invasion, when Iraqi casualty rates number as high as an additional 100,000 people, the question I posed evidently has been answered. Once again we, as a nation, have failed to come to terms with the necessity of effective action and have placed a higher priority on our own privileges rather than on stopping injustice caused by the US government.

I have personally learned through a very difficult path that my strongest opposition is not any one of the evil corporations and their CEOs, it is not the US government or its institutions or those that subscribe to right-wing philosophies. My most difficult enemy, that which applies the most brutal force preventing political and social change in this country, are the very privileged individuals within the so-called “justice” movements in the United States. Instead of concentrating on effectiveness in terms of truly creating justice, these factions will engage in nearly any strategy to preserve their own security and way of life. Backstabbing, rumor-spreading, event hijacking, message control, and other subversive activities are commonplace within social justice movements, only the targets are not the perpetrators of injustice, but typically those who are attempting to do whatever it takes to actually stop an injustice caused by our government.

The reason given, almost unanimously, by those engaging in such horrific activities, is that they disapproved of the strategies or people in question because they could hurt the movement. In reality, if a movement is not using direct action and interested in optimum effectiveness in stopping an injustice, than that so-called movement is nothing more than another problem preventing change from occurring. Again, the real fear is whether the security of the privileged “activists” will be threatened, not whether the movement will be compromised.

There comes a time in life when each individual must look deep inside their own heart and question their values, beliefs, and their role in society and whether they are a part of the problem or part of the solution. If when doing so you are not prepared to take part in, or at least support, direct action as defined above, you are a part of the problem.

We have the ability to change the way our government treats its own people and those internationally. We have the ability in doing so to gain international respect and admiration for stopping unprecedented injustice. We have the ability and responsibility to use whatever means are necessary to remove this government and create a better and just country and society. But in order to do that we must stop working against one another and fighting each other because we are too afraid of losing our security. We must begin to listen to our own hearts and hear our own voices and follow our own paths, not those only dictated by the mainstream justice organizations and their leaders. We must make it a priority to learn from history, what worked, what didn’t and what will be more effective today and in the future. We must be willing to devote our lives to justice. We must begin to truly care. We must begin to truly act.

Below is the 2003 essay reposted for reference.

On the Anti-War Struggle
Craig Rosebraugh
Originally published on March 17, 2003

As the U.S. led military campaign gets fully under way in the very near future, the question remains… how far is the anti-war movement in the United States willing to go to stop the U.S. government and its unceasing atrocities? How far are you willing to go, what are you willing to do to stop the massive bloodshed once again caused by the U.S. government?

As the Commander in Chief of the United States gears up at 8:00 pm (EST) to tell the nation and the world that war is inevitable, that the window of opportunity for Saddam to disarm and destroy his “weapons of mass destruction” has expired, serious questions need to be posed to the privileged anti-war movement in the United States. With massive U.S. led bombing of Iraq perhaps just hours away, the question remains, how far is the anti-war movement in the United States willing to go to stop the U.S. government and its unceasing atrocities?

So far the peace or anti-war movement in this country has mirrored the same strategies and tactics of past historical anti-war causes. By far the most important example to reference is that of the Vietnam anti-war movement in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. Well over a million people participated in this effort, engaging in a variety of tactics and strategies in an attempt to stop the war, or even to prevent its further escalation. From public education to picketing, boycotts to lobbying, marches to massive civil disobedience, to even outright suicide in the numerous cases of individuals lighting themselves on fire in protest, the Movement was extremely diverse. There was even a decent contingency of property destruction that occurred, no doubt condemned by the mainstream corporate peace organizations.

With all this activity, with the incredible amount of participation, one would assume this would have been more than enough to stop the war, to pressure the federal government to pull out of Southeast Asia. Furthermore, when soldiers such as Ron Kovic, returned from the war angry and disillusioned and formed organizations such as the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, even more intense pressure was placed on the U.S. government. But it was not enough. None of the strategies and tactics applied during the Vietnam anti-war movement in the United States were enough, either individually or combined, to stop the U.S. government’s military horrors. At the height of the Movement, Nixon’s response was not to stop the war but to initiate his policy of Vietnamization. This ingenious plan allowed the U.S. government to weaken the anti-war movement while continuing on with the war for another five years. When the peace accords were finally signed in Paris in 1973, they were more a result of the incredible success of the Viet Cong than any realistic effectiveness of the anti-war cause.

Each of the anti-war movements that have surfaced in the United States since then have attempted to mirror, to an absolutist extent, the strategies and tactics that failed during the Vietnam anti-war struggle. In fact these same strategies and tactics have been used in nearly all U.S. anti-war movements throughout history and the fact remains, never in U.S. history has any anti-war or peace movement actually prevented or ceased a U.S. military operation or war. And yet continuously, anti-war movements in the United States fall into the same mold of ineffective activism that stands absolutely no chance of threatening or challenging the power structure of the U.S. government.

In the current day, protests in select locations such as Washington, DC, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, and more are considered successful due only to the numbers of people in attendance. The common argument is stated in defense of these activities that the message is getting out into the media and thus people in this country and around the world are learning that not everyone supports Bush’s war. Yet, from a strategical standpoint there is absolutely no realistic foundation to the belief that this form of public education can and will have any effect on the government’s decision to use military force in Iraq. Again, glancing back to the Vietnam period when the protests were even larger, when more people gathered and the tactics were even broader than those utilized today, Nixon refused to listen to the public and continued on with the war.

During the past few weeks cries have emerged from the “progressive” sectors of U.S. society concerning Bush’s statement that the anti-war movement is a mere focus group and would not effect his ultimate decision. This should provide at least some indication that the large parties – which some might call protests or rallies – are not capable of generating the needed pressure which could actually force the government to stop. If it hasn’t ever occurred throughout U.S. history and, arguably, the U.S. government is more powerful now than ever, there is no precedent on which to base this faulty behavior and activity. Yet, the large mainstream peace groups continue to give caring U.S. people false hope, that if they get involved in the movement there is actually a chance they can help stop the war.

If we are going to become serious about stopping this war, and even the U.S. led atrocities of tomorrow, we must be realistic about our strategies and tactics and actually begin to utilize those methodologies which can and will challenge the power structure of the country. Yes, I am speaking of direct action, but not the generalized version spouted freely today and used to describe primarily conscience serving endeavors. An action is direct if it actually gets in the way, prevents, or stops an injustice from occurring. Unfortunately, the government sanctioned peace parades do not fit into this description. Even though public education is an inherent necessity of any movement, the time for public education by relying upon corporate media’s interpretation of your events has long since passed – if it was ever valuable.

The only possibility of stopping this current military action is to engage in strategies and tactics which severely disrupt the war machine, the U.S. economy, and the overall functioning of U.S. society particularly how it relates to consumerism and the economy. Marches, picketing, rallies, parties, benefits, civil disobedience and even property destruction are pointless, and perhaps even counterproductive, unless they serve to severely disrupt the functioning of the political system and its economy. An atmosphere of severe unrest, if manufactured properly, will force the U.S. government to place military resources in the streets of the United States, will threaten the economy (the chief motive behind this military excursion) of the United States, and ultimately create a political atmosphere unfavorable for Bush to continue on with the war.

So how is an atmosphere of severe unrest and disruption generated? First and foremost, it must begin with our ability to look beyond the business as usual strategies and tactics that have failed miserably in the past. It must begin with our allegiance to come to terms with the realization that any and all tactics and strategies must be considered at least available for use. Next we must be willing to decipher exactly how the power of the political structure can be effectively challenged. Once this matter has been examined there is only one question remaining, will each of us become involved and use whatever tactics and strategies are necessary, or will we refuse and continue to engage solely in conduct which serves little other purpose than making people feel better about themselves.

Here are some suggestions for the necessary creation of an atmosphere of unrest and disruption in the United States.

1) Attack the financial centers of the country. Using covert or black block techniques, depending on the situation, physically shut down financial centers which regulate and assist the functioning of U.S. economy. This can be done in a variety of ways from massive property destruction, to online sabotage, to physical occupation of buildings. However the latter I would shy away from, especially the open civil disobedience type of activities which purposely involve arrests. This movement needs all the assistance it can get and absolutely NO good will come from going to jail. Allowing yourself to be purposely arrested demonstrates that an individual has at least some faith in the U.S. legal system. This is completely foolish. One primary objective is to engage in serious unrest and disruption and NOT to get caught. Not getting caught means you are able to continue the struggle the next day.

2) Large scale urban rioting. With massive unrest and even state of emergencies declared in major cities across the country, the U.S. government will be forced to send U.S. troops into the domestic arena thereby taking resources and political focus away from the war. Unstable conditions in much of the country also serve as a political embarrassment for the Administration and could assist in forcing them to stop the war to deal with domestic concerns. Rioting should be focused on governmental agencies and corporations – especially those that are profiting from the war or destruction of life.

3) Attack the media centers of the country. It is the corporate media who has and continues to influence and control the minds of the mass body of people in the United States. These new media outlets cannot be utilized by the movement as they are owned by the very corporations one should be opposing. Using any means necessary, shut down the national networks of NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, etc. Not just occupations but actually engage in strategies and tactics which knock the networks off the air.

4) Spread the battle to the individuals responsible for the war and destruction of life – the very heads of government and U.S. corporations. No longer should these people be able to hide behind their occupations, living their lives in peace while they simultaneously slaughter countless people. Hit them in their personal lives, visit their homes, and make them feel personally responsible for committing massive atrocities.

5) Make it known publicly that this movement DOES NOT support U.S. troops as long as they are serving an unjust and horrifying political regime. Create an atmosphere lacking of support to assist U.S. troops at home and abroad in losing their morale and will to fight. If you are supporting the troops you are supporting this war and the very U.S. government that is the primary terrorist regime in the international arena.

6) Actively target U.S. military establishments within the United States. Again, following the above stated goal of NOT getting caught, use any means necessary to slow down the functioning of the murdering body.

7) When engaging in the above six activities, strike hard and fast and retreat in anonymity. Select another location, strike again hard and fast and quickly retreat in anonymity. Engage only in actions where you will be victorious. Do not be concerned with alienating the mainstream sectors of the movement – that mainstream has NEVER stopped a U.S. military activity or war. Do not get caught. DO NOT GET CAUGHT. Do not get sent to jail. Stay alert, keep active, and keep fighting. Remember, an action is only good (especially at this juncture in U.S. society) if it will serve to severely disrupt the political system of the country, its economy, and the corporate interests that drive this society.

These suggestions are not radical. They are merely recommendations for those that desire to actually have a chance at stopping this current military siege. As the peace or anti-war corporate organizations vocally oppose this message and its enclosed suggestions, continue to ask what realistic chance do their strategies and tactics have to actually stop this war? What historical precedent do their business as usual politics and policies have? As no peace or anti-war movement has ever stopped U.S. governmental military policies or activities using the state sanctioned and societal approved methods, what right do they have to give the caring public false hope?

Well over 500,000 Iraqi children have died since the Gulf War as a result of U.S. bombing and sanctions – not to mention thousands of innocent men and women. With the planned massive bombing campaign planned by the U.S. military, the death toll of the innocent will severely increase. And for what? The U.S. rhetorical line of “liberating the Iraqi people from dictator Saddam” is as much bullshit as our historical line of helping to spread freedom and democracy around the world. Surely Saddam is guilty of massive atrocities, but so are many other world leaders. Sure Saddam may have had or continue to have weapons of mass destruction, but so do many evil leaders of nations around the world. Just why is it we have not targeted Israel and Sharon in the same manner as Saddam? Why is it leaders of the United States have not targeted the U.S. government for its weapons of mass destruction and incredible history of terrorist and murderous atrocities? Similar to Bush Senior’s Gulf War, this is another war for U.S. corporations and for the protection and, more importantly, expansion of the U.S. economy. With the incredible oil reserves in the region and the potential for U.S. corporations to have a hand in building and ruling a future Iraq nation, the motives are quite obvious. Of course, it wouldn’t be just if the U.S. did not claim that it was taking action against a horrible dictator for humanitarian purposes.

As the U.S. led military campaign gets fully under way in the very near future, the question remains… how far is the anti-war movement in the United States willing to go to stop the U.S. government and its unceasing atrocities? How far are you willing to go, what are you willing to do to stop the massive bloodshed once again caused by the U.S. government?
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