Sunday, September 30, 2007

Voices and Silence: Ruminations on the Peace Movement

This weekend, we went to a peace demonstration in D.C. We talked with a lot of people and had a good time, but also left with a lot of concerns about the direction of the anti-war movement and renewed confidence in some of our earlier misgivings.
We want the war to stop and we think the Democrats have proven, yet again for the really slow at home, that they have no intention on stopping it. At the last Democratic Presidential debate, all three of the front runners refused to promise that troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of their first term in 2013. This is insane. With the exception of one very nice Kucinich supporter I met at the rally, no one really thinks any of the other candidates have a decent shot and the republicans are all just as insane. Like always, no surprises here, the people of the country will have to stop the war.
Stephen Duncombe, author of Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, recently said in an interview in the Indypendent:
"Think about normal protests, which are a spectacle. The march on Washington: how does it work? We all get on a bus, we all go down to Washington, we get off the bus, we go on a route that has already been worked out with the police, we march literally around in a circle, then we listen to our leaders speak to us on bad sound systems, and then we march over to a designated civil disobedience area, sit down, and have the police arrest us. Now this is a spectacle of impotence. The police have essentially engineered everything for us and what the police haven't engineered the protesters have done. In fact, that's what the protester's job is: to make it a safe environment worked out in advance with the police. Now I worked on some of those, so I'm critiquing myself here.
The globalization protests worked completely differently. They were chaos. They were carnivals. They were street theater. They were planned, but they were planned by the participants, not with the police. And they were also highly effective. The shutting down of Seattle, what happened in Prague, what happened in London, and other cities around the world, were highly effective at getting attention drawn towards the World Trade Organization, GATT, NAFTA, and so on. 9/11 sort of put the kibosh on that and you saw the return of the repressed march-chant protest where we literally become spectators toward our own activity." (from original transcript)

And that sad spectacle was what we saw on Saturday. Souvenir guys sold peace protests t-shirts dated to remind us that we actually went to the peace protest like it was disney world or a serious basketball game. There have been upwards of twenty "major" demonstrations in DC and countless other ones around the world, literally involving millions of people. What have we produced? A million dead in Iraq, years of war, and a very real concern that the U.S. will attack Iran (tangential side note: we don't think the U.S. will attack Iran, but it still boils our blood). In Michael Moore's documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, there is a popular scene of Bush mis-speaking:
George W. Bush: There's an old saying in Tennessee. I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee, that says: "Fool me once...” [pause] "... shame on...”. [pause] "Shame on you...” [pause] "If fooled, you can't get fooled again."
Everyone loves this and loves to call Bush a moron for not learning from his mistakes, but the sad truth is that we've had about half a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq and the peace movement hasn't stopped any of it. Lefties love to point out that Liberals are nuts for believing that any of their knights of hope will stop the war and that the definition of insanity is "is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." But the Left is just an insane: we have no real vision for how to stop the war and it shows. Speakers on a stage and marching in circles is not working and hasn't been for some time. It is difficult to live in this time and place, but we have to get past these self-therapeutic rituals of illusory resistance. We say "No justice, No Peace," and nobody asks what that really means. We have had no justice; does "no peace" really mean shouting loudly on empty saturday streets?

There's a real battle over words like "normal" amongst the left and academia. Who is to say that transgendered isn't normal and that white middle-class guy is? While we accept the basic premise of this, the bus we went down on was populated by some of the most abnormal people one could find. One bore looked and sounded like the Comic Book guy from The Simpsons who kept droning on and on about Humphrey in '76, another guy wearing a permanent helmet and an air traffic controller headset seemed like he belonged in a group home, and a guy with a serious facial rash seemed enthusiastic about, I'm not joking, a possible Sam Nunn presidential bid. The same trot guy we always see, young, but getting a little older now, still hawking his papers and arguing his correct line. Of course, we also met a swell couple and talked to them for several hours and had a grand old time with a number of people we met. This isn't intended to be mean, but we bring up these examples because we think there is something important about this.
When the big anti-war demos began, we really thought that the best thing that could happen is if they stopped. We had just gotten off the explosion of the corporate globalization movement in the late nineties and it felt weak to return to the march, chant, argue with Trot paper sellers, and get back on bus routine. We thought that the groups organizing the marches, no matter how well intentioned, had to sign expensive insurance waivers to get permission to hold their marches and wouldn't jeopardize anything past pre-arranged Civil Disobedience and heated rhetoric from the stage. In the absence of this dog-and-pony shows, we imagined the anarchists and other independent lefties swooping in to create a carnival of resistance. There haven't been a lot of these big demos in the last few years, but no one has risen to take the place of the March-Chant-Protest spectacle. The baton has been passed to...
On the bus, we listened to a nice, well-intentioned bus captain talk to us about a new kind of movement. But the major groups (UFPJ, NION, WCW, ANSWER, TON, etc ad infinitum ad boredom) are bickering and fighting and can't even get their act together. She talked about a new kind of movement, but passed out the same weathered copy of some paper we put down after a only a few sentences of another tired old re-tread article. She talked about a new kind of movement, and we were told how important the day was, but the speakers had repeated the same old things and we called out the same old chants and got back the same old responses. And we looked around our tired bus coming back and something crystalized.
They say that Bush has 30% of the country who still like him, but he can't go much lower. Because these people will like him no matter what: because he's white, because they're afraid, because their minds are so traumatized into that bad space where you think bombing Iran will somehow keep everything holding on for that much longer, because just because. And these people will never stray; after so much wicked and stupid things Bush has done, their loyalty is branded into their very eyes and censors what they can possibly hear. They're the ones at the pre-screened rallies, thanking him for all he's doing. They're politically like Terri Schiavo: there, but not. The fools who don't know when to stop, take measure, and re-align back to a better path.
I'm a lefty and will be until I die. I think we can have a world of justice and freedom and that capitalism and its various sicknesses, man-made that it is, can be unwrought and a better society can be formed. I don't think there is a liberal solution possible: we couldn't reform our way out of the concentration camps and we can't lobby our way past the death squads. But looking around the bus, I felt too much of a connection between Bush's thirty percent, following blindly, and this antiwar moment, performing our anger, but resisting nothing. We owe it to ourselves to create the new strategy. Because this isn't working.

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Anonymous jason said...

If I had a nickel for every time I read a post like this after an anti-war cattle drive . . .

I mean, I pretty much share your sentiments, and appreciate your honesty, but I'm not sure what good these kinds of posts do, other than to confirm that, yes, most of us are very, very frustrated (and, admittedly, I haven't done nearly enough myself to help end this war).

How about offering at least one concrete alternative course of action? I'll try to share some somewhat incoherent ramblings:

Personally, I favor the direct action approach, such as the week-long action shutting down the Times Square recruiting station earlier this month, or attempts to block military deployments, or organized war tax resistance.

However, I'm not sure if any of these actions bring us any closer to ending the Iraq War either; I don't think any of us do.

Maybe we need to seriously consider the possibility that, as of our current place in history right now, it's simply not possible for anti-war activist organizations to end this war. This government is too powerful, and we are too weak. The war will probably only end when the U.S. government, irrespective of whether it is led by a Republican or a Democrat, decides that it is no longer in the best interest of U.S. foreign policy to continue -- not whether or not the war is popular with voters.

This doesn't mean that we should stop trying, but that we need to reconsider why we keep failing, and adopt a more long term strategy that considers the systemic problems of U.S.-style democracy (so that in the future we will have gained more power for ourselves, and not allocated so much of it to Washington). That is, why is it still so easy for U.S. politicians to get away with lying to the American public in order to justify war? And why, even after the public discovers such lies and then comes around to amass a majority of opinion in opposition to the war, does the war still continue?

Of course, I think the anarchist-inspired anti-globalization crew have the best answers to these questions, but for some reason there is a huge disconnect between this "movement of movements" and the peace movement. The largely centralized, national peace movement (as exemplified by these big D.C. marches) can't decide if it's a lobbyist organization, or a buck-the-system group of agitators (which is barely even feigned, really). If they think the system works, then why don't they play dirty politics like everyone else and try to win? But if they think that the political system is really the enabler of war after war, then why don't they come up with a serious tactical plan to attack it, instead of marching in circles within the confines of police barriers?

Maybe this is also the fault of the "movement of movements", and maybe their focus on anti-capitalism is too limited. Indeed, as you have hinted at, why haven't these large number of anarcho-anti-capitalists emerged to lead a vital anti-war movement?

Maybe the new, revitalized SDS is on the right track. They give me some hope. While their emergence was primarily in reaction to the current war, they have proven to be heavily influenced by the politics and organizing strategies of the rhizomatic, horizontal-structure-loving "new" anarchists. What we need is a mass movement that combines these strategies with the peace movement's critique of war, the greens/ELF/earth-first!ers critique of environmental destruction (and impending ecological disaster), and the global justice movement's critique of capitalism and neo-liberalism. How do we get there? How do we combine these efforts?

9:12 AM  
Blogger Adam Ford said...

Unfortunately, I'm of the opinion that it is impossible at this point in history to stop these wars.

The 'war on terror' will go on for ever, until either:

a) the ruling class decide to consolidate for a while


b) a conscious working class stops them, by simply not playing the capitalist game any longer

I know it's unfashionable in anti-war or even general 'activist' circles, but that's exactly the problem. The people at the head of the anti-war 'movement' don't want class war, and most of the footsoldiers don't know how to have one. Economic circumstances will eventually change that, but it's so frustrating waiting.

PS. I do think they're going to try Iran.

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Random thoughts

Marches had their time and place. That time and place is gone.

I once saw footage of an imprisoned revolutionary who shall remain nameless. He was being interrogated. He noted how the people participated in elections and how that didn't work. How they participated in street protests and how that didn't work. How they participated in strikes and that didn't work. He ended by saying that they had no other choice but to rise up in arms.

I'm not necessarily saying that we're at that juncture but we're definitely passed the point of marches.

But there will continue to be marches. I think the next big march in this country should be on April 9, 2008.


For the people of Iraq, that is the day they march on Baghdad to protest the occupation. It's the day Baghdad fell. Apparently, this date resonates more with them than the day the invasion begun.

We really should be showing solidarity with the Iraqi people. You know, the ones who are actually suffering from this war.

The 30% Bush supporters represent approximately 100,000,000 people. Let's subtract the elderly among them and those who are otherwise harmless. There still remains tens of millions who will probably fight to the death.

These percentages give context to the repeated claims of commies killing millions upon achieving power. It doesn’t seem like such a bad thing after all.

6:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am reading this article second time today, you have to be more careful with content leakers. If I will fount it again I will send you a link

10:18 AM  

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