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Inauguration 2001: A Citizens’ Oath of Office


Robert Jensen

On

Inauguration Day 2001, standing on the steps of the State Capitol just a

 few blocks from the governor’s mansion that George W. Bush recently had

 vacated, about 1,000 Austin residents raised their hands as I administered

 a Citizens’ Oath of Office:

"I

do solemnly pledge that I will faithfully execute the office of citizen  of

the United States, and that I will, to the best of my ability, resist

 corporate control of the world, resist militarism, resist the roll-back of

 civil rights, and resist illegitimate authority in all its forms."

Bush’s

inauguration in Washington earlier that day made it clear to all of  us

that whatever radical and progressive political organizing we had done

 during the eight noxious years of the "New Democrat"

administration of  Clinton must be intensified during the toxic four years

to come under a  Bush administration.

The

possibilities for that organizing were plainly visible from looking at  the

range of people in the spirited, noisy and passionate crowd — from

 Democrats to the Radical Anarchist Marching Band. On the platform,

 representatives of the NAACP and Green Party, the American Civil Liberties

 Union and University of Texas Radical Action Network, the National

 Organization for Women and International Socialist Organization, all spoke

 to a common theme: the need to build a popular movement to challenge power

 and keep alive radical and progressive politics.

While

many in the crowd voted for Al Gore, there was a consensus that a

 Democratic Party which has moved so clearly and consistently to the right

 — embracing reactionary domestic policies, such as Clinton’s so-called

 welfare "reform" law, and pursuing brutal and inhumane foreign

policy, such  as the ongoing bombing/sanctions policy toward Iraq — is not

going to be  at the forefront of a progressive movement.

In

Austin we chanted, "He’s not my president." But I also said that if

Gore  had been elected, for me the chant would have been the same. The

 politicians of both major parties who have surrendered the promise of real

 democracy to corporate interests will never be leaders of the people.

If

Bush is not our president, and Gore wouldn’t have been either, the

 question is clear: Who can be our leader?

At

that moment, I asked the people in the crowd to turn to the person next  to

them, then turn to the other side, and then to look at themselves. If  our

movements are to be truly popular movements, leadership will come from  us.

It will be diffuse. We will all, at some point and in some fashion,  have

to step forward to claim both the right and the obligation to lead.

Popular

movements don’t search for leaders, they produce leaders. Such  movements

— to abolish slavery, win labor organizing rights, end wars —  have won

real gains for human freedom and justice, not because of leaders  but

because of the moral vision and courage of all the people who did not  turn

away from the struggle.

The

last phrase of the citizens’ oath we took in Austin echoes the "Call to

 Resist Illegitimate Authority" issued in 1967 by Americans struggling

to  end their government’s barbaric attack on the people of Vietnam. Those

were  grim times, certainly no less scary and threatening than the

situation we  face today. But people struggled, fought, resisted — against

the grain and  against the odds.

The

powerful have added new weapons to their arsenals — structural  adjustment

programs and World Trade Organization rules whose effects are as  lethal as

a B-52 bombing run. Just as their strategies for domination and  control

have "matured," so have our analyses and strategies for fighting back.

But

the essence of the struggle is unchanged, and our pledge should  conclude

with the same words as the 1967 pledge: "Now is the time to resist."

Robert

Jensen is a professor in the Department of Journalism at the  University

of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at  [email protected]

 

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