Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Long overdue

Look. I've never been particularly optimistic that Congress would actually do something useful, such as end the genocidal wars against Iraqis and Afghans, abolish torture, abolish the practice of spying on our own citizens, reinstate habeas corpus, or go after those responsible for some of the most egregious war crimes in human history (a number of whom are still residing at the White House). In the aftermath of the 2006 election victories for Dems in Congress, if someone had asked me if any of the above would transpire of the Dem party leaders' own accord, I'd have retorted "fat chance." The seeds of that skepticism go back a ways, but one can certainly see some of that skepticism voiced even before the 110th Congressional Session started. From my standpoint, the Reid and Pelosi led Congress didn't disappoint, if only because I didn't expect them to actually accomplish anything useful. Angered me? Fuck yeah! But disappointed? Hell no! The various whys for the failure or refusal of the Dem leadership to tackle the sorts of issues that swept them into majorities in the House and Senate can be boiled down to the following: they didn't have a problem with torture, genocide, or a police state per se. A case could be made that their own hands were stained with the blood of so many Third World and Fourth World human beings to such a degree as to not only preclude objection but to also betray their own vigorous approval. Such folks are not likely to change their preferred course of action as long as they keep getting reelected and as long as their only objection comes in the form of the occasional meek letter or postcard.

Nor have I expected to be disappointed as January 2009 rears its ugly head. Indeed, the smoke signals on the horizon suggest that the war biz will be booming, and that the netroots can gnash its collective teeth all it wants, but there's an empire to be run and profits to be made and quite frankly, now that the election is over, the netroots is irrelevant until the next electoral cycle. Of course I've made no secret of enjoying the on-going implosion of the GOP, which increasingly appears doomed to be a regional party whose constituency consists of aging white Bible-thumpers. Good riddance. It's just that I don't trust the Dems any further than I can spit against a Chinook wind.

I've also been concerned about the state of the opposition - and by opposition I'm talking about something legitimately antiwar and ideally anticapitalist. Ron Jacobs reminds us that it has been almost a couple years since there was last a significant antiwar protest, and the consequences have been deadly:
The past two years have been a quiet time for that movement. There have been no major national demonstrations since March 15th, 2007 when 40,000 people marched on the Pentagon. Prior to that was a protest of over 150,000 in DC (with another 100,000 on the West Coast) on January 27th of that year. Both of these protests took place in the wake of the November 2006 congressional elections that saw the Democrats take over both houses of Congress in an election that was essentially a referendum against the war. It was a referendum that was to be baldly ignored by the very folks who were elected to carry it out. Instead of a withdrawal plan, we saw an escalation of the war via the "surge." This escalation brought about an increase in Iraqi and US deaths, while further dividing the country of Iraq into sectarian enclaves, displacing millions more Iraqis, and pushing the people of that country further into poverty. Now, almost two years later, there are more US troops in Iraq than there were before the 2006 elections and Washington is still trying to impose an agreement on the Green Zone government that pretends to promise a withdrawal by 2011, but in reality has more loopholes regarding that withdrawal than the current US tax laws do for the oil companies. In Afghanistan, the occupation grows more brutal daily, as US airstrikes kill and maim civilians and US Predator drones wreak their destruction and death in Afghanistan and, increasingly, in Pakistan as well.
It would seem that some real opposition is long overdue. The impression I get is that aside from ANSWER, which is calling for massive demonstrations around the 6th anniversary of the current phase of the Iraq War (the war itself dates back to early 1991), supposed antiwar groups are pretty lackadaisical. Back to Jacobs:
The time for a coordinated mass national action by all elements of the US antiwar movement is this coming spring. The US military presence in Iraq will be heading into its seventh year. It doesn't matter who is in the White House when it comes to this issue. Nor does it matter if Washington and the Iraqi Green Zone government have agreed that US forces will leave by 2011. As we have seen before, agreements like the Status of Forces Agreement mean very little when they don't serve Washington's needs. It is extremely rare in US history that a president or Congress ended a hostile overseas military action without massive public pressure. Besides the fact that Iraq is considered too important to Washington's plans, there are just too many pressures from those whose income and careers depend on continuing such adventures to end these things. If and only if the antiwar movement revitalizes itself and organizes the majority of Americans that oppose the war/occupation in Iraq will it be ended.

The same applies to the situation in Afghanistan. That mission has failed. The resistance against Washington's occupation continues to grow. More and more Afghan civilians die every week from US bombs and missiles while the Karzai government grows weaker and weaker. This government, put into place to help the US project its power into Central Asia in order to control the Caspian Sea natural gas and oil, has less internal support than the al-Maliki regime in Baghdad. It is time for the occupying forces to end their murderous support of whichever warlord is willing to take Washington's money. That nation's people will only begin to have a chance to live without war or reactionary Islamist rule after US and NATO forces begin to leave the country. Not only should the various wings of the national antiwar movement organize a single demonstration in the spring of 2009, they should include a call for an immediate US/NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan in their demands.
Not only that, but there needs to be an actual united leftist front. From Lenin's Tomb a couple years ago:
There really needs to be a new radical coalition formed, based on the interests of the American working class, but specifically including attempts to embrace Arab Americans who are especially vulnerable to racist discrimination and who have experienced a massive loss of pay in recent years. It would have to be radical without being characterised by the language of schisms, including marxists but not marxist, including Greens but not Green, including unions but not an outgrowth of union bureaucracy - a broad, radical, left-wing movement representing the unrepresented working class on every front, articulating their interests on the war, Katrina, wages, employment conditions, the economy and so on.
Or as I put it back in the early fall of 2005:
The question that I can never leave far behind is this: "is less bad good enough?" When lives and quality of life are at stake, the answer is no. As of late I have given the words of the late Malcom X a fresh read, and I have a couple observations. One is that in many respects, when we're talking about civil rights and human rights in America things really haven't changed much since Malcom's day. The images from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina of the dire poverty that has consigned so many of our fellow Americans to a lifetime of marginal existence (what the Marxists would call the lumpenproletariat) and neglect by the very government that is supposed to serve them, will haunt me for as long as I can still draw a breath. Those images should haunt all of us. The specter of racism and classism continues to plague our political and social landscape, just as it has all of my life. The second observation: politicians from one party or another haved talked a good game when it comes to promoting progressive ideas and policies - but with few exceptions they don't walk the talk. That was a problem that Malcom confronted with the issues that were salient to him, and is a problem that we on the left continue to confront. The Dems have assumed for so long that they have the leftists, the women, the ethnic minorities in their back pockets because presumably we have "nowhere else to go." The result is, as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, a not-so-benign neglect of our issues and values from the powers that be. And as long as we keep registering Democrat and periodically show up to vote when expected, nothing changes, except maybe for the worse. We have a party where its members say the right things more often than not, but then by and large approve laws like The Patriot Act, the bankruptcy bill that will end up burying working families who've encountered exhorbitant medical expenses; they've been silent when the White House nominated an architect of the current pro-torture policy to the office of AG; when it comes to the illegal war being fought against the Iraqis, many of the Dems want to send more troops and kill off even more people; they've been largely silent on the issue of voting irregularities both in Ohio and Florida; and we know that privacy rights are also no longer sacred in Dem circles.

What to do? In Malcom's last year on this planet he offered up some simple advice that I think we can all use: be organized, and don't affiliate with either the Dems or the GOP. That's the general idea behind American Solidarity: organize physically, financially, intellectually. Many of us come from varying backgrounds and have varying pet causes, but let's face it - those of us who are living paycheck to paycheck, those of us who value liberty, who value equality, who value justice, who value privacy have a hell of a lot in common. Technological advances in the last decade or so make it easier for us to coordinate and to exchange ideas and information than ever before. It's way past time to start using those tools to our advantage. Blogs are one of our tools, playing the same role that zines played in the 1980s and pamphlets such as Paine's played during the Revolution some 230 years ago. Blogging is only part of that picture. Cernig fills in some of the details elsewhere. Clearly, unions, thinktanks, civil liberties organizations are going to be salient as well.
There's more of course. Other than being much more sour on the whole electoral scene (at least with regard to national political offices), I still stand by those words. There is strength in numbers. That's no truism; it's a basic fact. Major changes, from ending wars to changing regimes, have occurred because there was a whole bunch of folks actually speaking, writing, striking, protesting, and so on - and doing so in a coordinated manner.

Food for thought.

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