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 At the last Democratic Presidential debate, all three of the front runners refused to promise that troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of their first term in 2013.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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Friday, September 28, 2007

Review: Banished and the Elusive Promise of Reparations

Last night, some of us went and saw Banished, the new documentary by Marco Williams. It's about the racial violence in the early twentieth century of racist white communities lynching and expelling blacks from their land. The subtitle of the film, How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town in America, doesn't do it justice. While it makes the slam-dunk case that this forced exodus was truly a matter of racial cleansing, Banished is really a look at the issues surrounding reparations today.
Too often people say "really good" when they mean "great," and Banished is not a great film. It is, however, really good, and Williams's approach is solid, patient, and interesting to the end. He does a really good job of examining the interplay between white supremacy and identity. With a sure hand, and an almost understated sense of humor, Williams's piece is probably the best piece I've seen on reparations yet.
I'm not sure if he was actively complicit or simply an observer, but he manages to crack the shallow recital of apology and reveal it for the trite performance it really is. (I don't want to explain how he structures his argument, because people should go see the movie.) It's not a great film: it doesn't innovate a visual style or fully utilize all of the possibilities inherent in the medium. But what it lacks in visual ambition, it makes up for in a smart and solid examination of what reparations could mean. You should see it.

Recently, we also saw Manda Bala/ Send a Bullet. It's the kind of documentary that crackles the nerve endings and makes you sit up in your seat. Minutes in, we turned to each other and said "Oh, they have our attention." The first-time director, Jason Kohn, manages to blend Errol Morris with (I can't believe I'm typing this in a positive way) Howard Stern for an intense study of the various forces of corruption, crime, and their intersections in modern day Brazil. It fizzes out in its third act, failing to tie it together as neat as it wants to, but if every film failed this well, I don't think many of us would mind. In hindsight, with the sheer force of its eye, ear, and direction, we shouldn't be surprised that Kohn can't maintain it to fruition, but this is the most promising debut we've seen in a while. If Williams makes a journeyman contribution, Kohn's Send a Bullet comes off like like the top draft pick's debut loss. So what? He's still the one to watch.

To read at work? Chapter One of Oshinsky's Worse Than Slavery


Sunday, September 23, 2007


If only all propaganda could look like this. It's almost catchy.
And today's internal link to read while you're at work is African History in the Service of the Black Liberation by Walter Rodney. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Critique of a Critique of the meta-Critique: Why No News is The News

I don't always agree with Krugman, but his criticism of the meta-analysis is right on. He says, in part:
"One of my pet peeves about political reporting is the fact that some of my journalistic colleagues seem to want to be in another business – namely, theater criticism. Instead of telling us what candidates are actually saying – and whether it’s true or false, sensible or silly – they tell us how it went over, and how they think it affects the horse race. During the 2004 campaign I went through two months’ worth of TV news from the major broadcast and cable networks to see what voters had been told about the Bush and Kerry health care plans; what I found, and wrote about, were several stories on how the plans were playing, but not one story about what was actually in the plans.

There are two big problems with this kind of reporting. The important problem is that it fails to inform the public about what matters. In 2004, very few people had any idea about the very real differences between the candidates on domestic policy."

But how much of it has to do with the fact the there is essentially a consensus between the two major parties? They both strive to be business-friendly (supporting things like NAFTA and the WTO over the working and middle class), hawkish on foreign policy (no debate about bombing a country for what non-state actors have done), and neck-and-neck on domestic issues (with the Democrats making a big celebration out of the most minor deviations, like Don't Ask, Don't Tell, while continuing the mass incarceration craze). The only two issue they seem to disagree on is guns, and there by very little despite what the NRA keeps promoting, and abortion, where they seem to have a gentleman's agreement that one party has to be the choice party and the other party is the anti-choice party. As a frustrated Michael Moore pointed out, in the second Gore-Bush debate. for over thirty issues, the two candidates simply agreed.

There is a problem with the corporate media's obsession with politician personality and surface performance over their substantial policy proposals (and, god forbid, alternatives to the proposals), but when, for the last several years, the Republicans argue for more war and the democrats counter (!) that the war needs to be fought better, doesn't responding with theater criticism make sense?

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Like Powell at the U.N., Bush trots out another general puppet

Petraeus is Bush. Say it again and again, if you have to. The puppet might as well have Bush's hand sticking in his back for all the independence he has. Bush's credibility is shot on the war and Petraeus is his proxy, a new untarnished voice, to repeat Bush's script. And every journalist and politician who, in turn, repeats Petraeus's findings is either a moron or someone in on the take. Petraeus is just another prop at the photo-op over the wreckage.
This can happen because the corporate media, for all it's self-deprecatory apologies for cheerleading us into this war (though always in past tense), continues to fight for the war. This is the liberals' grossest moment, from the New York Times and Jon Stewart on down, their champions tinker with rhetoric and pander to argument, but only push responsibility and tell us to believe it means more war. It all indicts the left, a left that doesn't even exist, because we're not smashing this whole machine apart.

This moment is truly depressing in so many ways. We have the republicans panting blood from eating children wholesale and the internal hemorrhaging of a party run by career criminals and simplest minds. Democratic politicians, the naked army they have always been (Obama, the great hope™, threatening more war on the rest of the world, Clinton the Corporate Lawyer shamelessly pandering knowing full well she will leap right if she gets the primary, etc), trying their best to play "republicaner."
And still no left.
Let's take stock. The liberals, represented by Kos and his ilk, who write a good game, but who are the indentured servants of the democratic party - no more independent than junkies - and smart enough to know that the Party is a collosal failure, yet still hooked to the gills. Then you have the institutional left, old C.P. fronts, who are still yoked to the throat with party line, infighting, and the verse-chorus-verse of New York Times Ad-March on Washington-Paper Sales. I actually love and care for this last group quite a bit, but the same old song and dance gets tired after awhile and it's frustrating that instead of fifteen little groups, we can't have one or two bigger groups getting to work.
Then there are the anarchists, who seem to be permanently arguing a propaganda of the deed that says "Anarchism isn't going to work." Like a list serv flame war that meets in person, it is the politics of a mob who happened to attend Sarah Lawrence. Some promise all the fun of hardcore Maoist cadres with none of the actual discipline and others who're just seeking riot porn to star in or videotape. But reacting against the anti-practice of the university marxists means an anti-theory of spontaneity navigated by the radicaler-than-thou only after it has been authorized by the purer-than-thou and vetted by the colorfully dressed unimaginative ones. A generation of kids who wore the clothes of the seventies growing up in the nineties reduced to reenacting the sixties and afraid of the future.
Every once in awhile, I catch a glimpse of the promise and the excitement rekindles, but I didn't today. These are depressing times and we need to get our act together.

Petraeus is bush and there is no left, repeat if you have to. We need to ignite a left and get rid of the the whole system that bush rides.

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