Living Up To Our Words


In the weeks leading up to the recent elections, those of us who have been working to build an anti-war movement in the U.S. have been repeating the same formula, like a mantra: “Whoever wins the election, we will still have a president who supports the continuing occupation of Iraq.” Those of us who also work in the Palestine solidarity movement have had, of necessity, an even bleaker view of the possibility of making fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy towards Israel/Palestine through electoral politics. It is impossible, in the current political context, to imagine a viable presidential candidate who would take a stand against the occupation of Palestine, the massive and illegal Apartheid Wall, or the continuing system of Israeli apartheid laws and practices (the courageous stand of Ralph Nader notwithstanding). Not only that, it is virtually impossible to find politicians from either party, at any level, who are willing to speak about justice in Palestine, or to question the U.S. government’s unconditional economic, military, and political support for the Israeli occupation.

So those of us who work every day on these crucial issues regarding U.S. foreign policy and its devastating effects on the people of the Middle East have been saying for some time: whoever wins this election, it does not, in some very particular and fundamental senses, matter. Our work will remain the same: to build a movement that has the power to call for the end of the occupation of Iraq, Palestine, and Afghanistan; for justice throughout the world; and for an end to U.S. empire. Now is the time to prove that we mean what we say.

I do not want to be misunderstood. In no way am I wishing to make a facile argument that Bush and Kerry are simply “the same.” This is nonsense. Like the majority of the world, I woke on November 3 hoping that somehow the nightmare of this regime had been brought to an end. In spite of all the thuggish and devious efforts to frustrate the electoral process, many of us hoped that perhaps the sheer rage that people felt against this administration would be able to make itself known. Like the entire rest of the world, and the majority of people in this country (it should be remembered that Bush received less than 60 million votes, in a country whose population is approximately 295 million), I shudder to think of what four more years of this regime will bring in terms of sheer human suffering over the face of the planet, including embattled communities here in the U.S.

The deepest shame and terror lies in the fact of being the citizen of a country inhabited by 60 million people willing to vote to George W. Bush even after the horrors unleashed upon the world by his government. We should not be concerned, right at this moment, with the question of how to persuade or affect this group. Our task, for the moment, is to figure out how to most effectively block them and wrench power from their hands. In doing so, we need to find a way to connect with the billions of people across the globe who stand with us in this struggle. The paradox needs to be grasped: popular movements in the U.S. represent the force with the single best chance to actually stop the U.S. government, but these movements can only do so by making themselves more international, by drawing on the accumulated strength of anti-war and anti-occupation movements across the world, and by supporting in every way possible the struggle of Iraqis to resist the occupation and establish true self-determination.

The world needs those of us living and working in the U.S. to do more to stop this government; so far, we have failed shamefully. So for those of us who continue to struggle against U.S. empire, both at home and around the world, the time for crying must come later; perhaps, if our struggle is righteous enough, it will not have to come at all. For we have a responsibility right now, which is to live up to our words. This responsibility is the same as it has always been: to build a popular movement against the perpetrators of the war against Iraq, of the occupation of Palestine, and of all the other massive war crimes carried out and enabled by this regime, here in the U.S. and in every corner of the world. The fundamental task also remains the same; it is to demand that the perpetrators of these crimes be held accountable, and to find the power to carry out this demand. Here in the U.S., this responsibility demands that the members of the anti-war and anti-occupation movements mobilize immediately to provid e a model for those who are groping, all too slowly and ineffectively, towards a realization of their responsibility to stop the U.S. government, and towards a nascent desire for justice. Over the past few weeks, literally thousands of people have come forward to help register voters. People who would not ordinarily engage in “political” actions have volunteered to defend the right to vote against increasingly violent efforts to disenfranchise masses of people, particularly people of color. Tens of thousands of people have displayed an emotion that had seemingly disappeared from the political culture of this country: massive, gut-wrenching outrage.

It is to our collective shame that this emotion has been absent until now, given the fact that the U.S. government has been carrying on a war that has claimed the lives of 100,000 Iraqis since March 2003. It is our collective failing that we have not yet been able to channel this outrage, now that it has begun to appear, into eff ective action against this government. Many—though by no means all—of the people involved in actions to register and defend voters truly believed that by helping to elect John Kerry president, they would have the chance to effect a fundamental change in this country. One of the things that we are now freed from is the need to argue against this position. Simply put, it no longer matters. What does matter are the issues that brought people out to take these actions in the first place. A deep, inarticulate, uninformed, but ultimately hopeful revulsion against the slaughter being carried out by U.S. forces in Iraq is, perhaps, one of the most prominent of these issues.

So this is the moment for those of us who have been working in the anti-war and anti-occupation movement to step up and speak to these masses of people, who are currently suffering the bleak sense of depression and sadness that comes from losing a hard-fought battle. Whether the battle could ever have been wo n in the first place, given the essential inequality built into the process, does not negate the truth of these feelings of loss, nor the feelings of shock and horror that we all feel when faced by the claim of a “mandate” by this regime. We, who have been saying all along that the results of the election would not fundamentally change the nature of the work that we needed to do as people standing against war and occupation, must not fall prey to this same despair. This is the moment to provide an example of what a sustained struggle can look like. This is the moment to reach out to those who don’t want to get out of bed the day after the election. We need to offer a simple message: the fight is not over; it has only begun; tomorrow we start again.

Anthony Alessandrini is a member of New York University Students for Justice in Palestine (see www.nyudivest.org) and an organizer of the World Tribunal on Iraq (see www.worldtribunal.org).

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