hat a great country we live in—born of rebellion, and rebellious still! Yes, yes, I realize that many would think I must’ve gotten some loco weed in my Fruit Loops this morning to be expressing any positive thoughts about our country’s condition. Indeed, on the surface, these would seem to be hopelessly dark days for progressives, and there are plenty of people in despair now that the forces of arrogance and avarice (not to mention madness) are on the march.
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George W. is mounted on his little war pony proclaiming an Era of American Empire, as his autocratic, plutocratic regime attempts to lock down our country while also bestriding the globe, demanding worldwide obedience (even obsequiousness) to its agenda of perpetual war and corporate globalism.
The media barons relentlessly pound the drums of war—alternately fawning over Emperor Bush and lashing out at any who dare say that the Emperor is buck naked (intellectually and morally).
The Wobblycrats are again showing hearts of Jell-O, failing to stand up to George and to their own corporate funders, and failing profoundly to rally the people in this historic moment by standing forcefully for our nation’s founding values of justice and egalitarianism.
Judges, mayors, police chiefs, and other authoritarians are using their mighty pens to scratch out whole sections of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights, allowing surveillance of our political meetings, forcing war protesters into out-of-the-way “protest pens,” and generally attempting to shut down that most basic of America’s democratic rights: dissent.
Some days when I hear George, Rummy, Dick, Condi, and now even Colin barking at Saddam and the French like a nest of furious squirrels, I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or go in for a brain scan! Get your news from the television, or listen to the establishment-pandering pundits, and you’d think you’re all alone in America if you don’t go along with the B.S. of the Bushites.
But take heart: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. The reason I can come to you with such genuine, gleeful optimism for our nation’s future is . . . you—you, me and all the Lowdowners, and the millions of others in our land who’re not going in for brain scans, but instead are going into the streets, churches, union halls, campuses, living rooms, and anywhere else we can gather, rally, converse, organize, and say “Hell, no!” to Little Master Bush’s impetuous and imperialistic rush to war.
Given the frenzied, histrionic state of George W., he might well have jerked our young men and women into an Iraqi war by the time you get this issue—but that won’t make it right, and it will only intensify the peace movement.
As King George III learned, as LBJ and Nixon learned, and as W will learn if he pushes it, there’s not enough duct tape and plastic sheeting in the world for him to shut off the great American spirit of dissent and rebellion—even when rebellion requires facing armed authorities who are wrong.
George, meet the People
Bush is the product of CorporateWorld, a hierarchical and regimented structure where decisions are made in the penthouse suite and everyone below is expected to follow the given order. As governor and now president, his contacts with the people have been contrived, orchestrated, controlled encounters. He’s never been comfortable with confronting the reality of people’s dissent.
After September 11, he was riding unrealistically high. He and the rest of Bush Inc. got to inhaling their own fumes and asserting their we-can-do-no-wrong, our-way-or-the-highway personas. He didn’t enlist We the People, he instructed us: Go shopping, fly the flag, don’t question.
Don’t question? Holy Thomas Paine! That’s not America. We Americans don’t merely “Question Authority,” as the old bumper sticker advises, we “Question the Answers,” as the updated version puts it. And Bush’s answers on everything from his tax scams to his sudden Iraq attack simply don’t add up.
Don’t question? He should meet Miriam Ford. She’s a nurse in New York City, practicing in a clinic she runs in East Harlem. As soon as she heard about the September 11 crashbombings of the World Trade Center, she rushed to a hospital to volunteer. But it wasn’t long afterward that she began to question the blunderbuss belligerence of the Bushites, who seemed to think that if war wasn’t the answer, total war was.
But while Bush assumed that everyone except a couple of kooks were in lockstep behind him, Miriam told the New York Times how she started going her own way by reaching out to some friends. On a Sunday afternoon, about 20 of them came over to her house “to hang out, have snacks, and talk.” George doesn’t know it, but this is how it happens in America—rebellion doesn’t come from insidious, traitorous “cells,” but from Sunday snack-sessions and potlucks, from salons and saloons. We have a long, proud, and successful history of kitchen-table rebellions, and Miriam was part of making more history in this modest but powerful forum.
She and her initial group of friends expanded from her home to public forums, rallies, an e-mail list of hundreds, a film series, vigils, marches in Manhattan and Washington—and they were also part of the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who came out in below-freezing weather on February 15 to join well over a million all across the country and 12 million people worldwide to march for peace—the largest peace demonstration the world has ever seen.
Don’t question? Bush should meet Stephen Downs, 61, who was quietly strolling through the Crossgates Mall in an Albany suburb on March 3 when he was accosted by security guards. His crime? The eagle-eyed security patrol had spotted Downs wearing a T-shirt that said, “Give Peace a Chance.” You can see right away what a dangerous threat to society this guy must be!
“Take off the T-shirt or leave the mall,” ordered the rent-a-cops. “No,” said Stephen. The security guards went away, but soon came back with a real cop in tow, who also ordered Stephen to shuck the shirt or leave. Again he refused, this time saying, “Arrest me if you have to.” The cop did—handcuffing Downs and hauling him to jail! He was charged with trespassing and finally allowed to go home after he formally pleaded innocent.
The next day, the mall’s owners issued a statement asserting that the offending clothing was “disruptive” to other shoppers (even though Stephen, ironically, had just bought the shirt at this very mall). One day after management made this inane statement, about 150 anti-war demonstrators marched through Crossgates Mall, saying they would stop only when charges against Downs were dropped. Later that day, a mall manager with a brain called the police and asked that the complaint be withdrawn.
Way to go, Stephen! You, too, protesters!
Don’t question? The Bushites should meet Bill Summers and Jeremiah Lord. They’re but two of the thousands of Austinites who’ve regularly been in the streets of my hometown, trying to send George a message. As he waved a very large American flag at an early demonstration, Summers told a reporter: “I’m an American for peace, and that’s what our flag should stand for.” Today, yards throughout Austin (including mine) bear signs proclaiming, “American for Peace.”
The Powers That Be scorn protesters as being scruffy, rowdy, and loud. “Why are they out there in the streets, making such a noise and tying up traffic?” they ask with a dismissive wave of the hand. “It’s so messy.”
Yes, Bozo—but so was the Boston Tea Party, the suffragist marches, the abolitionist rallies, the labor protests, the civil-rights sit-ins. . . . When people are shut out by the elites in the suites, they go where they have a voice—the streets.
Bush & Co. comfort themselves—as do most of the media powers—with the belief that only the professional peaceniks and lefties are in opposition. George himself smirked that he pays no mind to us, saying he doesn’t govern by “focus group.”
First of all, that’s a lie. No White House in history, including Bill Clinton’s, has been so focused on focus groups, constantly testing words and phrases that put the best spin on their dastardly deeds.
Second, and most significant, more than a million folks in the streets—plus millions more pouring in letters, e-mails, calls, and petitions of opposition—make up a pretty big “focus group.”
Indeed, this peace movement has risen earlier, shown more strength and savvy, and grown faster and more broadly than any that I know about. It hasn’t come merely from the liberal pockets of Berkeley, Madison, and Greenwich Village, but from spontaneous, homegrown uprisings in such heartland places as Atlanta, Des Moines, Phoenix, Chicago, Gary, Baltimore, Detroit, Jersey City, Tulsa, Rochester, and Dayton.
It’s a rebellion that involves grandmothers who’ve never protested, middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, churches (including formal opposition from the Pope, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterians, the Evangelical Lutherans, the Church of Christ, the American Baptists, the Greek Orthodox Church—as well as Mennonites, Muslim groups, Quakers, and Buddhists), Vietnam and Gulf War vets, corporate executives, groups of color . . . even Republicans!
Especially powerful has been the presence of organized labor. On January 11, a group of 100 representatives of central labor councils and local unions met in Chicago and formed U.S. Labor Against War (USLAW). They began to form working coalitions with other groups, and they’ve planned an international Labor Day for Peace on March 12.
But the big breakthrough came on February 27, when the AFL-CIO executive council, the top leaders of the union movement, did something labor has never done: oppose the war policy of a U.S. president. Many union folks are vets, and many are firefighters, police officers, service employees, government workers, and others who had friends and colleagues die on September 11. In the past, the executive council has been an almost impenetrable bastion of hawks, supporting everything from the Vietnam War to Ronnie Reagan’s unnecessary invasion of Grenada. But the hawks have now balked.
While affirming that American unions “fully support the efforts to disarm the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein,” the council called for a measured, global effort “insuring that war, if it comes, will truly be as a last resort.”
Noting that America enjoyed a wealth of support after 9/11, the resolution said that in only a year and a half, the Bushites “have squandered much of that goodwill, managed to insult many of our strong allies and divided the world.” It concluded, “Our country and our families will be more secure if America is the respected leader of a broad coalition against terrorism, rather than isolated as a lone enforcer.”
This is not merely a movement of the left or of peaceniks, but of mainstream America, and one compelling question drives much of their opposition: Why?
Why are the young people in our families going to die on the battlefield, kill and wound thousands of Iraqis (civilians as well as soldiers—51% of the Iraqi people are under the age of 15), come home traumatized and with a new round of Gulf War Syndrome? Is removing Saddam worth that? And if it is, why aren’t the Bush twins, Jeb’s kids, or the service-age children of the military contractors and the rabid warmongers of right-wing radio going to Iraq? The political and corporate elites want war . . . as long as their own loved ones aren’t put at risk.
Bush is not the only one getting a rude awakening. His peppy war puppet in England, Tony Blair, is in such trouble at home that top members of his own party want to toss him out. Leaders in Italy, Spain, Australia, Pakistan, and other nations are now facing huge majorities opposed to their support for Bush’s war . . . and increasingly opposed to them. In England, only 10% of the public favors the Bush-Blair go-it-alone policy, and in Spain the support drops to 4%.
The rebellious spirit
What encourages me is that even with the somberness of the issue at hand, there’s an underdog spirit and joyfulness that comes from joining with so many others to battle the bastards and assert our human, democratic values.
Up against the leadership of both parties, up against flagrant media bias, up against the propaganda machine . . . still, the voice of ordinary people is growing. And here’s the beauty of it: The movement has no real leader. It’s a grassroots coalition of mostly tiny, upstart, catch-as-catch-can, organize-on-the-run, storefront or kitchen-table operations. Many are run by first-timers who decided, as one rally organizer in Austin told me that, “I’m not an organizer, but someone had to do something, so I’m the someone” (her February rally was a terrific success, too).
Handmade signs with real-world wisdom prevail: War begins with a ‘Dubya.’ Osama bin Forgotten. Stop mad cowboy disease. Draft dodgers shouldn’t start wars. How did our oil get under their sand?
On March 3, Lysistrata (the Greek anti-war comedy by Aristophanes in which wives stop the Peloponnesian War by agreeing to withhold sex from their husbands, who’re in charge of the war) was read aloud on stages in all 50 states and 59 countries, from professional performances in Los Angeles to the locals in tiny Questa, New Mexico, who read the play in the Paloma Blanca Coffee House—a converted trailer.
More than 133 cities and counties have passed resolutions opposing the Iraq invasion—an astonishing level of municipal involvement so early in a war. Opponents moan that this is not a proper issue for local officials, but the officials point out that local folks are the ones who’re being sent to Iraq and that Washington is financing the war by drastic cuts in domestic spending.
There have been “die-ins,” student walkouts from classes, “Books Not Bombs” rallies by high-school students, media boycotts (including a successful one against several Rush Limbaugh sponsors), and a series of “Naked Women for Peace” protests, in which women of all ages have stripped and used their bodies to spell out such phrases as “No War”—they call it “Baring Witness.”
Don’t let the politicians and the media get you down—there’s a dynamic grassroots movement building, wanting you to be part of it, if you’re not already. As Dorothy Day once said, “No one has a right to feel hopeless. There’s too much work to do.”