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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mass Protests Needed

I just read "What Is to Be Done? Assessing the Antiwar Movement" by Matthew Smucker over at commondreams.org. The article worries about the future direction of the war movement, and reviews some of the underlying concerns about the efficacy of mass protest.

The last major protest I know of was over 9 months ago in Washington, D.C., where over 40,000 people (the organizers said 100,000) made their feelings known.

While MSM coverage was scant, I personally don't qualify the success or failure of a protest action based on its receptivity by the corporate press. For one thing, the press understated participation, and secondly, they minimized coverage. Rather than wait for results in the MSM, my response would be more to expand the size and frequency of the protests. Many antiwar groups have turned to other forms of protest.

Here was my original comment at commmondreams.org, which for some reason didn't load:

The people have spoken! It's only a question of if their representatives will listen. If you're tired of waiting and talking, I suggest mobilizing a protest march.

Apparently the upcoming elections will make little difference. As I listen to the collective groans about Obama's swing to the right, and the 60-90,000 troops that will be in Iraq in 2012 if Obama is elected, I realize the need for change.

Some protest groups have abandoned mass protest, believing it less effective than targetting politicians and key decision-makers. I don't know if that approach will work or not.

The last main protest was on 9-15-07 in DC, sponsored by ANSWER. There were about 40-50,000. I was there. Here are a few pictures that I believe catch the moment:

Leading edge
Code Pink is in action here
I like this one (too bad Pelosi took it off the table.)
Go Terps

I took heart from the leadership of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, a remarkable organization committed to ending the war. Their leaders were in the front of the march, wearing their fatigues. They took it all the way to the steps of the capital, where lines of DC police waited. There some 100 were arrested. Trials would later exonerate virtually everyone.

I have a few amateur videos about the protest available, but they aren't working at the moment thanks to Monoposoft "optimization."

This said I do think the mass protest is very effective. I'm surprised the ANSWER people don't want a repeat--it's been almost a year.

Like I'm saying, the President and his cronies will get away with as much as they can. They must be stopped--neither the Congress nor the Courts really seem able or willing. This leaves it up to the average person on the street through mass mobilization.

It's time for a new march. Then another. And another. 'Til they get the point.
~end comment~

In the comments beneath Smucker's article, as well as in several articles, mass protest is rejected as being ineffective. I think progressives tend to feed off the low expectations which seem to be based on the lack of any immediate positive outcome. This maybe partly the doing of the current administration, which seems to shower well-intentioned people with a constant stream of unrestricted corporate cronyism, war profiteering, human rights abuses, environmental destruction, and outright abuses of power that could get anyone down.

Protest hinges on belief, or to use another term, faith. As long as people don't believe they can make a difference, they won't.

Introspection doesn't have much value to the antiwar movement. Just get out there and get'r'done. Of course everyone is entitled their opinion--it just seems that the kind of people who attend protests might respect individualism too much. The crowds which tend to gather for most demonstrations tend to be anti-authoritarian, and therefore more tolerant--too much so--of differences in opinion.

Rebellious types who typically make up the vanguard of a mass protest may also lack organizational talent, although the ability of ANSWER to mobilize so many thousands in D.C. last September amazes me to this day. A little authoritarianism might be needed, at least enough to keep the march on schedule.

It seems as if people in the movement feel the "movement" is no movement at all. I'm afraid the inexperience of many participants in the antiwar movement leads them to conclude they've had no effect if their effect isn't felt immediately, and broadcast in the media. It's as if the many participants in the antiwar movement need to be assured that their opinions do matter, and that their actions do have an effect, before they'll take the slightest action.

Beware the perils of driving forward--especially at a high rate of speed--while looking through the rear view mirror! If the antiwar movement is so introspective, and looking for self-appreciation in how the broader society sees it, it will be limited in effectiveness. Perhaps it's the self-conscious media age which we find ourselves is partly responsible.

Mass protest is the only proven method to get attention when all else fails. The past demonstrations have been devoid of any hardcore protest actions. Fights tend to be between counter-demonstrators and antiwar demonstrators, not the demonstrators and police. I tried to intervene with one cameraman who jammed his camera between one of the Golden Eagle counter-demonstrators and an antiwar one, inciting them to a tussle. He kept on filming despite my pleas for him to stop.

Fight for your right

Without real confrontation, mainstream media attention will be limited--if it bleeds, it leads. It's a sad legacy of 9/11, that performing for the cameras, and delivering shock and awe, have become the modern forms of spectacle, the modern gladiator wars to appease the masses.

Maybe the 80's and 90's raised an apathetic generation who've come to take their freedoms for granted. We're always told that freedom isn't free. Yet when it comes to do something important, far too many prefer to sit at their computer screens and blog about it, or simply do nothing.

Now if there's a draft, the motivation to end the war will certainly rise, and encourage young people to protect themselves from conscription. As draftees come back in body bags, lukewarm resistance to the war will become hardened. Antiwar protesters will take bigger chances trying to get noticed. All of a sudden the consequences of war resistance won't be as drastic as getting sent into the fray as a young draftee.

Resistance to the war might lead legions of young people might reject totally the societal norms, like they did during Vietnam. Communal living, drug exploration, and anti-materialism might lead to serious consequences for our broader society. Not many societies can sustain indefinite periods of cultural upheaval; in this regard, the passage of time becomes a considerable liability as the status quo shifts negative.

Publicly opposing the government's positions forces it to rationalize and justify them, as well as whatever countervailing force it brings to bear in its effort to suppress dissent. This repression can further diminish the credibility of the regime, and bolster the cause for more democratic reforms.


In the aftermath of social upheaval, the population might well grown cynical and distrustful in their government, as the many in the US did after Vietnam.. This anti-establishmentarianism constrained military efforts, covert surveillance, and police interventions which helped defend the war economy and the police state.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was one of the legal manifestations of this blowback, passed by Congress in 1978 after a thorough investigation of CIA activities. During the war on terror, neocons and defenders of the "Unitary Executive" saw laws like FISA as impediments in wielding unrestricted warfare against enemies of the state--in this case people labelled terrorists. In the opinion of people like John Woo and David Addington--who recently testified--the power of the federal government was sufficient to defeat any threat--foreign or domestic--anywhere, if Congress and the Courts would just leave them alone.

Naturally, politics play in role in free the Executive from the presumptive burdens of following the law. The arrival of Bush in 2000 offered the neocons an opportunity to right what they saw as the wrongs of the seventies, when Congress had done so much to reign in the Presidency and military after Vietnam and Watergate.

How long were Americans willing to tolerate Vietnam? Endless war for endless peace has been a guiding mantra in this country since World War Two ended and the hungry military-industrial complex began to look for new wars to fuel economic expansion and feed itself. The Seventies may have just been a pause in the inevitable march forward of the growth of the state and elimination of individual rights and privileges under the Constitution. Under Bush, laws have been nullified de facto, simply through the absence of any efforts at enforcement. Standards of conduct have dropped precipitously as a result, creating an atmosphere where illegality is not only tolerated but encouraged. Complicit, Congress has just gone along, content to abandon their oversight responsibilities and shower endless billions more on Bush and his wars.

Hippie comeback

Looking back at Vietnam, the massive protest movement was about "dropping out" and "tuning out" what "the Man" was saying. Life was all about following a course of one's making, with the way sculpted with hallucinogenic drugs, led by a free-wheeling spirit of rock'n'roll and nurtured along with a good dose hippie love. Resistance was more than a movement, it was a way of life.

I was lucky enough to have experience much of this world through my days as a fan of the Grateful Dead. The concerts were surrounded by a mix of happy campers, flower children and their children, alongside mushroom-munching, rasta-haired, VW bus-driving, tiedye-wearing peace lovers. Inevitably, I discovered a counterculture with the Grateful Dead that began to look very much like a culture, one that just happened to reflect a set of values radically different from the ordinary. Being on the fringe, and not hippie enough to become intimately immersed, I nevertheless found myself cautious of Deadheads who were more about the drug scene, and the free-living lifestyle, than they were about the music, or the more transcendent virtues of peace and love central to the hippie movement. To some of the newer rebel fans, the peace, love and music were often just secondary benefits, tangential to the real reason they went to a Dead show: to get high, to drop acid, and escape.

The anti-drug movement which spiked in the mid-Eighties provided a catalyst for contrarian-minded people to reject mainstream America's values. In the same way a generation before millions had rejected 1950's era conformity for a more creatively-inspired future, in a world limited not by convention or function, but by the endlessness of the imagination. A whole new generation of Americans has matured since "Just Say No" attempted to correct the popularity that drugs like cocaine and marijuana had enjoyed during the Vietnam and the Disco Period.

The Vietnam War offered the perfect justification to drop out of mainstream society. The draft encouraged young people to reject societal values, and even explore alternate political theories like Marxism and Maoism. While these political orientations gained little traction in the mainstream, their rising popularity did scare the Establishment, who saw their control over America's war machine and two-party political system threatened by destabilization. While we weren't likely to abandon our system of government, Vietnam-era protest did lead many average Americans to question its authority, and the "Big Lie" that was Vietnam.

FISA ignored

The FISA Act in 1978 is now being phased out in a series of reforms claiming to aid the effectiveness of the government's War on Terror. Liability protections for telecoms which violated FISA are being offered through Congress yet again, with Bush threatening to veto any legislation that lacks the retroactive immunity.

Glenn Greenwald spells out Obama's role in acquiescing on telecom immunity in the new bill. He blasts Keith Olbermann for excusing Obama for accepting a Bush-friendly compromise on FISA, one which would "restore the Constitution", according to Jonathan Alder. See the article here.

Providing telecoms with legal cover would "retroactively immunize corporate criminals," according to Olbermann in a January, 2008, diatribe against Bush. The FISA cave-in represents the opposite of how Americans felt about their privacies after the Vietnam War and struggle for Civil Rights.

Managing perception

Since Vietnam, the Right-wing has become highly savvy about the media and its impact. Supporters on the right have achieved much, and managed to consolidate control over giant media conglomerates, which have benefitted from the liberalization of ownership rules by the FCC. Jack Welch of GE/NBC worked to purge rebellious media figures like Phil Donahue who had the audacity to tell Americans that invading Iraq wasn't such a good idea. Politics have crept into the boardroom, and from there into the bedroom, through the TV broadcasts.

It's not that the MSM actively inserts propaganda. Instead the antiwar view was and is neglected, ugly contradictions ignored, in a form of propaganda-by-omission. Without an active press, the actions of government become secret, unaccountable, and most likely illegal.

At the end of Vietnam, Americans had grown tired of seeing the war play out night after night on their TVs. Fed up, they'd had enough by the early 70s. Thirty years later, neoconservatives who've brought you our most recent wars have committed to controlling public perception. Convinced of America's military superiority, the neocons felt then as they do now that if they could suppress negative coverage, then popular support for the war would not die, and the unwinnable could be won.

With their close Zionist media mogul allies, neocons have succeeded in keep Americans in the dark on Iraq, and continue to feed disinformation to the public through the mainstream media. The media was responsible for not asking too many questions--or challenging assumptions presented about WMD in Iraq, for example. Unlike Vietnam, there would be no more live reporting from the front, no more headlines given to some moral outrage caused by the hostilities we initiated. Even now, caskets of dead US soldiers are kept from view; during Vietnam, showing flag-draped caskets was routine.

Even with criticism by the media, support for continuing the occupation of Vietnam was over 50% in 1973, when withdrawal began. This high level of support means that Vietnam could have gone on, theoretically, and even been won, if American society had just been willing to pay the price. The media had clearly undermined support for Vietnam, so neoconservatives thought out ways the media could help build support for their future wars, ones which we would win, unlike Vietnam, where we'd lost because media coverage had turned Americans against the war (or so they said, ignoring the fact that there were Vietnamese willing to fight for as long as we were there.) 9/11 offered the perfect "Peal Harbor-like event" the neocons sought, and gave a instant shock and awe effect delivered by the media which would buoy popular support for wars against their enemies.

Still, as Goebbels said, propaganda must contain some truth to be effective. Neocons like Michael Barone say we are winning in Iraq, yet suspiciously there is no coverage of our "success." We have to take it on his word--and those of others who've cheerlead the rush to war from the beginning. To be winning, our troops need to be coming home, not continuing to die. The truth is that counterinsurgencies really can't be won in the classic military sense; rather the confrontation must be resolved through political means. If the surge is indeed working, additional troops would not be needed and could come home, which they aren't, which violates the premise that substantial progress has been made.

As with protest movements in the past, the young tend to dominate. For one thing, they to have the most to lose--this was certainly true of Vietnam. With Iraq, however, there is no draft, yet. We get a draft and things will really fall apart. Then those who are responsible for continuing the war will have to choose between the narrow benefits that the war grants key constituents versus the damage it does to the nation, and the Constitution they swore to protect.

If enough rich mens' daughters run off to the commune, or if enough soccer moms go to jail, a critical mass will be achieved that cannot be negated by the influence of money and corporations alone. While a terrorist attack would give McCain an advantage, according to aide Charlie Black, another 9/11 won't overcome resistance to the Iraq war. It's possible the failure to stop the attack could show how ineffective our military interventions have been in stopping terror.

Problems with the system

If the war simply wages on now matter who's in charge, it's the system that's to blame. Working from within the system becomes no avenue for change, but rather helps to sustain and legitimatize the existing political system. This is why so many progressives are tempted to abandon politics entirely and/or choose a protest candidate. Often this means the better of the two viable candidates will lose votes they need to win.

To me, the disconnect comes from people who marginalize themselves politically because they no longer can believe that a choice of candidates makes any difference. I believe that position is composed in ignorance, and that people must learn to compromise, and accept the lesser of two evils. If it makes no difference who is chosen, then why don't we elect McCain instead of Obama, or toss away votes on Nader instead of Kerry or Gore. Just where has Bush taken us as a result?

I can see the concept of not voting because it won't change anything, but I don't see any method other than voting at the present which can help improve things at the national level other than by choosing the better of a Democrat or Republican. Does this mean I think anything will change, or that my progressive values will be reflected in the choices and positions of my elected representative? Probably not. Still, here in a Red state, I see the consequences of one party--Republican--rule and I'm convinced things could get better under another party's leadership. Besides, not voting simply grants other people the right to choose who will represent you. Will it be someone like Bush, or someone like Gore, Kerry, or Obama?

There's a natural reason to oppose incumbents, as a means of challenging the status quo. Also, voting anti-incumbent forces both parties to try to accommodate you. New incumbents elected on anti-incumbent platform know they have to perform at a different level, or face those same forces in the next Election cycle.

Can big money alone save incumbency? If the system were based purely on money, through campaign contributions, the granting of political favors and benefits to corporate contributors would give incumbents a major advantage against an outsider. Corporations don't vote, though they are working on it. In the meantime, it still takes the pull of a lever or push of a button for a politician to get re-elected. At least before the age of Diebold and black box voting, each vote required one voter.

Is Obama Shifting to the Right?

So far I've been leery of Obama's prostrations before AIPAC and cave-in on FISA, though he still opposes immunity for telecoms. Charles Sullivan, writing in Information Clearing House, offers a good article on the what may be Obama's tilt to the right.

The idea is that progressives tend to move towards the "middle" to grab voters there. Wherever the proverbial middle of American politics exists, no one can rightfully say.

By moving to the right--though never all the way there--progressives can alienate their "base"--the people who are most likely to do the most to get the candidate elected. Also, the act of framing politics into a left/right/middle trichotomy is silly. Even so, political consultants make their money by the millions postulating and triangulating to find a sweet spot between conservative and liberal that may not even exist. While these kind of categorizations are great for 30-second sound bytes, they do little to explain why a candidate appeals to the majority. Obama supporters come from all kinds of different groups. While some groups are more likely to like him for some things, this doesn't mean that Obama can win more votes overall if he changes what he does, or his positions, especially if he does so for no other purpose than to make himself attractive to groups which typically aren't expected to gravitate towards him. Trying to be all things to all people is like being nothing to no one.

Obama faces some major risks if he continues to triangulate, and tries to appeal to the greatest number through a quantitative approach. As one example, Americans have dumbed-down, so a consultant might suggest dumbing down the message in order to appeal to the greatest number of potential supporters. But only 50% vote, and the vast majority of the dumbed-down may not vote at all, so a dumbed-down message might do more to alienate the base and potential voters than it could to spread political appeal.

The more vacillations that a candidate makes, the more vulnerable they become to accusations of flip-flopping. That term emerged in the 2004 election, I believe, and stuck to Kerry in regard to his position on funding the war on Iraq. While those making the accusations were well in the Republicans' corner, they did succeed in attacking Kerry's character and made him look weaker, and less decisive, and thus by inference less capable of leading, especially in a time of war.

The more conservative Kerry tried to appear, the less liberal he seemed, and thus the less true to who he really was Kerry seemed. Obama seems a little better prepared than Kerry was to deal with the threats posed by "moderation," especially if the whole political scheme has shifted to the Right.

What the Right-wing calls moderate may in fact be quite far to the Right, especially considering how far the Republican party has fallen to the Right. Obama probably has the most to fear from trying to appease groups of potential voters which will likely not vote for him, no matter how he tries to appeal to them, even if he does gravitate towards the theoretical "middle" in an effort to woo them.

Enough said of 2004. I would have liked to not bring Kerry up at all, but I do worry that Obama will be similarly treated. As the Wright controversy showed, Obama does have the ability to defend his positions using clear, unemotional logic. Yet the dangers of tilting Right are there on issues like Iran and FISA. The day after locking up the nomination, we saw the first in the supplication before AIPAC. Cave-ins on Iraq troop withdrawals or an attack on Iran could really damage support for him, not directly but through painting him as a flip-flopper. Antiwar sentiments appeal to the majority of Americans--it's perhaps by seeking compromises on Iraq that Obama could risk losing the most support.

Sept. 15th March Resources

My brief article on onlinejournal.com here.

Several more posts are at this archived page of my blog. Apologize for the failure of the videos, they were working until Microsoft "upgraded" the Windows Media players.

See this post on a emotionally charged conversation I had in Maryland with a man I called D, a retired cop and Vietnam veteran pissed off about the war.


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  • At 9:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thank you for your well thought out writing. While I agree that mass protest is needed by us to keep us going on a day to day basis, I also think that we need to realize that today (6-29) that many people that are "ordinary" people who are not into bumper stickers or facing down a police line are now on our side. I have been standing on a corner weekly since 2001(I am a refuse and resit pacifist )and have seen a huge change in public attitude. When we first started (the invasion of Afghanistan) it was brutal as well as the lead up to the war. Now we get honks, peace signs and an occasional raised fist from passer bys. I would like to see an organized effort somewhat similar to the do not buy day after Thanksgiving movement (but more successful) aimed at changing our politicians mind. This is a simple anonymous tactic that people united in solidarity can engage in. As far as answer is concerned, I have my reservations and while i am mudding the waters by expressing an opinion about them, I never feel comfortable with their very hierarchical organizational style. Answer wants to control the event not allowing for the creative instinct that makes this very pro human movement viable to all. Answer always seems to forget that it is people who use their own resources to come to DC because they are engaged by a quest for peace and justice. I always feel an attempt by Answer to "use" me for their own agenda. While I agree with many of their positions, I do not consider myself a part of the Answer movement. My impression is that Answer considers itself to be the vanguard.

  • At 4:59 PM, Blogger jbpeebles said…

    Thanks for paying the price of your convictions by making a public stand and actually doing something. Buy-nothing days perhaps have more appeal than general strikes. Easier still would be to find enough people willing to go to jail. This from my June 2nd, 2007 post:
    "In her April article '10,000 Mother of a March' Sheehan quotes Jeanette Rankin, a Vietnam War protest movement leader who said 'If we had 10,000 mothers willing to go to prison, we could end the war.'"

    This said, I have some more comments connected to this post, which I put on smirkingchimp:

    Chimpy's idea of an army of peace locked arm-in-arm is great. Reminds me of the end of the movie V is for Vendetta. Mass protest, and perhaps only mass protest gets the needed impact. E-mails, phone calls can easily be cast off. BlueTigress is right--I think the kind of protesting matters. When I went to DC I ran into this ex-cop who talked about how Abbie Hoffman had protested by burning old junkers in traffic circles, totally screwing up traffic. Eclipsed's idea of economic boycott might get the corporate boys to lay off--money is the only thing they care about.

    Now the Obama story is also opening up. Maybe his shift to right proves all the more while we must protest. The corporate money in the election system pushes him right. I consider it my purpose to help keep him honest. Under Greenwald's follow-up article on commondreams, I posted this comment:

    Fantastic summation by Greenwald, who's led this issue to the forefront where it belongs. I love the correction that's been made: Obama isn't moving to the center, he's moving to the right, where the political framework benefits the Republicans.
    Kerry did do the same things, as I wrote in my blog entry on Saturday.

    Why Democrats remain committed to making the same mistakes they have in the past is a mystery to me.
    I liked the comments above as well. Obama might be scared of offending the Zionist/coporate media if he looks too soft on terror, which has come to mean "soft on Israel's enemies, especially those with oil they want to sell in Euros."
    bnerin is right on track with the role of money and corporations in the electoral process. We need to get busy educate the American people about what has been done to them, and above all get them to vote. Yes, Obama is an imperfect choice, but we have to do what we have to do.

    This doesn't mean we can allow his advisers to formulate his platform based on a corporate, interventionist, and anti-Constitutional foundation.
    ~end comment~

    I also found this two-part article on alternet by Jason Rosenbaum and Sam Stein of HuffPo, titled "Progressives and Netroots Feeling Abandoned as Obama Tacks Rightward."

    A great deal of mainstream attention is focused on the netroots reaction to Obama's shift. I of course take some credit for my contributions. The point is not to sabotage Obama, but simply to keep him and his advisers honest and on message.

    As I say in my blog, the Wright controversy did show Obama can defend his positions quite cleverly, at first, before he rejects totally and outright any relationship with his former reverend. As a political expediency, Obama may be choosing to unburden himself entirely of any defense of his positions, and dumb down his message in an effort to cast off potential criticism. Probably won't work--besides that wasn't what got him where he is, which required staying true to his character and confronting the need for change whatever Washington's consensus might be. Let's keep him honest and as uncorrupted as possible.


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