More on re-locating our politics
In a previous entry about the January 27 Washington march and rally against the Iraq war, I wrote of my sense that our politics are badly out of balance, with our efforts too focused on distant decision-makers and our resources largely channeled into top-down, conventional pressure group campaign tactics (see No Short Cuts: From this March to the Next). Darwin BondGraham, an organizer and student at University of California, Santa Barbara, writes in a similar vein in his report on the February 15 student strike there. That event, and Darwin’s comments on it, provide another illustration of small steps towards an alternative approach to organizing, stressing the way that the big issues–war and peace, the structure of the economy–are manifested in our communities and our everyday lives:
“In truth the creative spontaneity of our strike was the outcome of a dissatisfaction many of us have had with the typical antiwar rally. Usually people are urged to gather so that they can then listen to a number of big name speakers tell them at length about the issues. Speakers typically dwell on abstract problems and political issues that are not concretely connected to the everyday lives of those listening. Sometimes the speakers dwell entirely on the problem, offering few solutions other than signing a postcard or giving money to the organization that put the rally together. People come and leave, and they are not left with a sense of participation that amounts to much more than having been a body in a crowd that will invariably be undercounted by the corporate media, if it is reported on at all….
In terms of measuring the impact of our strike I would estimate that the legitimacy lost to those who rule over our university and country was tiny, and that the actual impact our road occupation had on UCSB’s material/intellectual contribution to the war was very, very small. But it was a very, very small step in the right direction toward collective action that channels our anger and opposition in ways that chip away at the highly complex social division of labor, a chain of work, consumption and obedience that is the war effort. Its smallness was by no means an indication of its futility, but rather its powerful truth because the truth is that we can only contribute what we can based upon our social position. We can only oppose the war through our position’s specific links and what is needed of us to keep the war going. For students this means keep going to class, be a good consumer, don’t ask questions, let the UC take in military research contracts, ignore the nuclear weapons labs, let the armed forces recruit on our campus, and don’t forget to smile. There is no national or global position we can leap into by disembodying ourselves. Believing that there is has led many to waste considerable time and resources on traveling to Washington D.C. or some capitol city on a weekend to take part in a rally that beyond its symbolic significance is pretty ineffective. If latched onto by localities across the nation the strike model could result in the sort of localized movement necessary to stop the war through mobilizations that withdraw real support and challenge authority. Localizing the effort also builds long-term capacity to keep moving forward and changing society for the better….”
You can find Darwin’s piece in full at his blog, Sung a lot of Songs, here.
No Shortcuts: From This March to the Next
On January 27, what was by any estimation an enormous number of people gathered at the U.S. Capitol to protest the continuing U.S. war and occupation in Iraq. Despite the diverse geographic origins and political persuasions represented in the huge crowd, the demand for a speedy end to the war and withdrawal of U.S. forces was clear. If nothing else, this enormous, unambiguous outpouring of anti-war opinion highlighted the distance between an increasingly angry and concerned populace and a professional political class largely in business-as-usual mode, with most still maneuvering to extract every possible advantage from the vicious bloodletting taking place on the other side of the world.
As I have written previously, I believe that too great a share of resources go into large, mediagenic events and to conventional efforts to pressure centers of government directly, at the expense of the sustained local and regional organizing and institution building essential to the kind of social change we will need to reign in the U.S. empire and the runaway global corporate capitalism that it sustains and dominates (see, e.g. Scale, Locale, and Demonstrations. Further reflections on this point and others regarding the state of the anti-war/peace movement follow in the latter part of this piece). But there are times when it is essential to muster as much “people power” as possible to just say NO, and this was one. It was such a moment not only because of the ongoing horror in Iraq, but because of the threat that the American juggernaut may roll on to Iran, unleashing consequences that only those utterly ignorant of history could claim to predict.
As the coming months unfold, we will see whether the Congressional opposition to the Iraq war amounts to anything more than the careful positioning of otherwise status quo politicians for gains in the next elections. We will also see whether there is real opposition among political elites to another war of aggression against Iran — or whether the “centrist” elements of the narrow U.S. official political spectrum are simply waiting to see whether the administration can generate a propaganda campaign sufficient to provide political cover for another Congressional mandate for war. In all of this, we will learn something about who truly rules this country. The idea that over half a decade of war-making, repression and torture on a global scale could happen by mistake or be sustained by a small “cabal” of ideologues is a myth. And if we attack Iran, it will not be because ideology somehow has run wild, with broad-based, complex social currents pushing the politicians unwillingly to the brink. The U.S. population today is largely an amalgam of quiescence and frustrated discontent, with only a distinct minority still blindly willing to follow the martial banner. In a nation where concentrated wealth translates quite directly into political power, we will attack Iran only if a dominant fraction of the most powerful interests desire it. (more…)
The Ground Zero Three
Direct actionists are sometimes faulted for not doing, or not doing well, all the other things needed besides sitting on the road. The Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action is a model for doing everything well, as I experienced last week in the Seattle area in connection with a trial of the “Ground Zero Three.”
From January 22 to January 26, 2007, three individuals with the Ground Zero Center - Brian Watson, CarolAnn Barrows, and Shirley Morrison - were on trial in a local court in Port Orchard, Washington, for their anti-Trident direct actions in May and August of 2006. They were charged with the misdemeanor of obstructing traffic into the Trident nuclear submarine base at Bangor, Washington, “without lawful authority.” Unusually, the judge allowed David Hall, former national president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, and me to offer expert testimony on January 24. The defendants also testified at length about the reasons for their actions. The jury, while sympathetic as revealed by post-trial comments, failed to seize the opportunity and instead convicted, as the Kitsap Sun reported.
Another Kitsap Sun story described my testimony. It is somewhat garbled, but does convey the gist. I certainly did not say that international law allows use of nuclear weapons defensively! Nor did I indicate that citizens who fail to write letters in theory could be convicted of complicity! I did not get to all of it, and simplified quite a lot, but if you’re interested here’s the written outline of my testimony.
Beyond the trial, the Ground Zero Center is doing a magnificent job of organizing, and participation and interest is on the rise. On January 15, 2007, Martin Luther King Day, 12 people were arrested at the submarine base, with over 200 there in total. In connection with the trial, they organized several events. I did a talk on “From Auschwitz to Trident” on January 20 at the Seattle Town Hall, with about 200 in attendance. You can see it on YouTube; the slides for the talk are here. I also was on Seattle’s National Public Radio affiliate KUOW on Jan 24, with a Center for Defense Information expert, Philip Coyle - here’s the audio.
It was sobering for me personally, for all the time I spend on these issues, to think about the eight or nine Trident submarines based at Bangor. Based on Natural Resources Defense Council estimates in the Nuclear Notebook, November/December 2006 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, each carries 144 warheads, six per each of the 24 Trident II missiles on a submarine. The warheads mostly are 100 kiloton, about seven times the yield of the bomb with which the U.S. destroyed Hiroshima; some are around 450 kilotons, 30 times the Hiroshima bomb. About one-half of the subs are thought to be on patrol at a given time. The buildup of the more capable Trident II missiles in the Pacific clearly is aimed at exerting additional leverage on China, with the posture of readiness to actually wage nuclear war by striking enemy nuclear forces familiar from the Cold War era. For more on this, see the January-February 2007 Nuclear Notebook by Robert Norris and Hans Kristensen.