For those of us who think Bush’s pending war against
So what to do other than nurturing bile and resentment? Or writing angry emails and letters to those who’ve once again shown no moral courage? Or thanking the 23 Senators and 133 Representatives who found the strength to resist all the lies and threats?
We might start by recognizing that we’ve made some progress. A few weeks ago, the press reported that a mere 19 House Democrats would vote against the resolution. Only two Senators opposed the
Now, in a time when Bush audaciously claims that “
One case in point happened in 1969, when Henry Kissinger told the North Vietnamese that Nixon was threatening to escalate the Vietnam war massively, including potential nuclear strikes, unless they capitulated and forced the National Liberation Front in the South to do the same. Nixon was serious. He’d had military advisers prepare detailed plans, including mission folders with photographs of potential nuclear targets. But two weeks before the president’s November 1st deadline, there was a nationwide day of protest, the Moratorium, during which millions of people took part in local demonstrations, vigils, church services, petition drives and other forms of protest. The next month came a major march in
This example of our actions having more power than we know came to mind as I marched with ten thousand others on an October Seattle Sunday, the weekend before the Congressional vote. Marchers paraded huge puppets of black-clad mothers holding children and George Bush as a global sheriff with pistols marked Exxon and Mobil. Others carried a giant inflatable earth and a 50-foot Trident missile. A community anti-smoking project brought their 20-foot cloth eagle, adorned with a large black peace sign. Signs
proclaimed: “Drop Bush Not Bombs,” “Iraq Didn’t Attack Us Sept 11,” “Another Vet For Peace,” “How Much Blood For George?” “The
Families marched with their children. Onlookers waved in support. A lawyer for the
A cluster of African drummers propelled marchers forward with their beat. Their friend had posted a notice on their drumming website. Further back in the parade that stretched for blocks, two saxophonists and a trumpeter played a mournful St Louis blues, which merged into a high-stepping cakewalk, and then a long plaintive version of “America the Beautiful.” The drummer’s tie displayed an American flag and a picture of the
People marched for different reasons, but all feared that attacking
Since Bush took office, I’ve seen plenty of personal dissent: conversations with friends, endless emails, bitter comments. But visible public outcries have been strangely absent. They were barely present as Bush cut every conceivable social program, worked to gut core environmental protections, and enacted a tax cut transferring $1.2 trillion to the wealthiest one in a hundred Americans. Dissent dropped off even more in the wake of Sept 11, though many of us felt uneasy with Bush’s simplistic framing of a war of good versus evil. Yes, many of us have endlessly called, emailed, and faxed our elected representatives, pleading for them to show more courage and spine. We’ve signed petitions and statements, written letters to local papers, and emailed article after article to friends. What we might call virtual politics can matter immensely. We pass on critical contexts and perspectives through the electronic equivalent of the Soviet underground Samizdats.
This virtual politics can matter. Coordinated phone calls, emails, and faxes have blocked destructive policies, like Bush’s proposal to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and some of his regressive court nominees. Our recent efforts gave strength to Senators and Representatives who’ve opposed Bush’s war. But when we forward political emails or contact our representatives, these actions remain invisible to our fellow citizens. It’s hard to build engaged community in the process of taking them (though groups like MoveOn.org and the Working Assets network have done their best to bring people together through virtual networks). Our actions don’t publicly express our outrage in ways that other citizens can see.
To march with others, in contrast, feels richer, more human, more empowering-and more of a visible challenge. Publicized largely through the ubiquitous emails and through fliers at related events, this particular march was the fruit of a small group of mostly younger activists who’d begun meeting six months earlier. They linked themselves with a national campaign, Not in Our Name www.notinourname.net, that’s been circulating a pledge of resistance and running newspaper ads challenging Bush’s right to wage war without limit. Our group of 10,000 complemented rallies, marches, and vigils in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Houston, Austin, Buffalo, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Tulsa, Brattleboro, Boston, Anchorage, Kansas City, and several hundred other cities and towns, including 2,000 in conservative Cincinnati, the night Bush made his war pitch. Had we equaled the huge recent European anti-war rallies-400,000 people in
Public courage can be contagious, much like public cowardice.
We need to do more than march, of course. We need discussion and debate, teach-ins and vigils. We need to reach out in our local churches and temples, PTAs, city council meetings, Rotary Clubs, colleges, high schools and with coworkers, neighbors, and friends. We’ve already seen strong peace statements from major Catholic leaders and the heads of major Protestant denominations like the Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalian, Lutherans, American Baptists, United Church of Christ, and even the Mormons. The challenge now is to extend the discussion into the pews, and into our communities. Lobbied by members, the
For we march not only to stop Bush’s war on Iraq, but the wars that will follow from his defining America as sole global policeman, sole arbiter of freedom, sole nation with the right to unleash preemptive attacks on whoever we decide to take down. Whatever policies Bush undertakes, we need to keep raising the real questions. We don’t want to recruit another generation for future Bin Ladens. We don’t want more innocents to die. However our actions play out, we’re far better voicing our beliefs than staying silent.
Paul Loeb is the author of Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time www.soulofacitizen.org and three other books on citizen activism