I hate apocalyptic politics.
I was radicalized by the civil rights movement and Vietnam. People shouted all kinds of furor about the environment imploding, about fascism rising, and about imminent Armageddon.
The hollering had provocation. We witnessed jackbooted thugs from the FBI murdering Panther activists in their beds. We saw mile-high bombardiers massacre children and all living creatures. Two million Indochinese and more died by U.S. violence. Toxic poisons flowed freely destroying forests and fields. Would the rivers die too, children asked parents.
All this gave millions of my generation amply more than sufficient reason to rebel against war, against poverty, against sexism, and against all the rest of the mountain of violations innocent people suffer.
It led to massive opposition. And there was massive repression of opposition, as well.
Still, I never got alarmed in an alarmist manner. As bad as elite behavior was, as promising as our activism was, and therefore as dangerous as the times were, I never feared an overarching catastrophic realignment of the world.
Despite the magnitude of the indignities and deaths, it always seemed certain that the crimes of the men in grey flannel suits were just intensified business as usual. All the grim and grievous circumstances of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s never seemed to me poised to transcend existing social relations. There was no new more ugly regime threatening the world.
But I have to say that today it does seem that plans now being pursued in the suites, in the Congress, and in the White House, are not merely an intensification of business as usual.
The anti-corporate globalization movement, promising a new but much more humane world “regime”, has (with good reason) seriously scared the masters of the universe. But 9/11 has given them confidence and hubris.
Capitalism, patriarchy, racism, and corporate globalization are vile enough, but every so often — and of course the mid century Nazis were a prime example — something even worse tries to emerge out of still deeper layers of hell, and occasionally it does. And such a scourge of evil seems perhaps to be seeking entry into our world now, all the way from the seventh circle, or further.
The assault now planned for Iraq will, if we don’t stop it, have grotesque consequences for Iraqis and for the Mideast as a whole, of course. If the attack occurs, there will be a week or two of tumultuous terroristic explosions in Baghdad. Then the battle, which will never really be joined since there is only one serious combatant, will be effectively ended. Airborne punishment may rain down for a few weeks more as the boys with toys play out their hand to the last Iraqi groan. Every new device will be tested, with its effectiveness evaluated by its pile of charred remains. Every polished mechanism of delivery and intensification will be utilized, with its effectiveness evaluated by the souls massively shattered.
Will Rumsfeld videotape the victory dances in the Pentagon for reality TV? Will the techies in front of their computer monitors plugged into smart missiles spiraling into their targets play the William Tell Overture as inspiring accompaniment to their wizardry, like they did during the first Gulf War?
Disgusting as all this will be, if the campaign called “Awe and Shock” occurs, its grotesque violence against humanity will just be capitalism, racism, sexism, and authoritarianism as they exist in every day life, escalated by violent opportunity. Business as usual.
And because business as usual is so bad, we need to rally and rage against it. And because we need to not only be morally right, but also strategic, we need to manifest our rage intelligently.
We must raise public opposition so high that Bush feels our social threat. He must decide that to fully pursue his ends would harm his elite constituencies more than to give in to our opposition would harm them. Or, if you prefer, he must feel that to wage carnage would benefit elites less than our growing opposition will harm them. We will need to marshal a lot of opposition to raise such high social costs.
But beyond even these observations, if we look just a little ahead and think about the desperate terroristic reply an attack on Iraq will elicit from some corner of Saudi Arabia or Jordan or Egypt — to be delivered here in the U.S. — and if we envision the infinitely hyperbolic terroristic rejoinder our government will unleash back – the already astronomical stakes rise even higher.
Bush and Co. know that if we again devastate Iraq some kind of attack on the U.S. will follow. They know war will elicit it. A second assault on U.S. citizens will help facilitate the full flourishing of Bush’s agenda, and Bush and Co know it, and perhaps even seek it.
If the U.S. bombs Iraq, and in turn someone attacks the U.S., Bush and Ashcroft will seek to further strip legislated liberties via a greatly intensified Patriot Act that will become a freedom from freedom act.
Bush and owners throughout the land will seek to further redistribute wealth and power upward while working hard to exterminate every last vestige of public concern for anything but Wall Street’s radiance. It will be a paroxysm of racist nationalism.
Even Korean nuke-rattling — and nukes definitely make loud rattles — seems to be welcome music to Bush’s ears. His authoritarian cabal wants the U.S. population traumatized by fear and loathing, and for this to occur Bush and Co. need visible and verbally aggressive targets that people can ignorantly fear and loathe.
Bush is therefore happy to convince the world that only two options exist for each country in the world community. Lay supine and beg for charity from the U.S. while obeying Washington’s every instruction. Or, grab firmly onto as many massively destructive weapons as you can purchase from arms merchants in hopes that having such devices can ward off U.S. assaults.
Some nations will collapse and beg. Other nations will follow the weapons-seeking course. The latter will become fodder for the U.S. media’s hate campaigns and Bush’s war machine.
If Bush has his way, an assault on Iraq will not be a war, of course, but a massacre presented as the mother of all snuff films – displaying countless defenseless victims blown to bones. The film will be shown to the world in Technicolor and Widescreen, popcorn optional. Bush’s point will be to display for all to cower before the future prospects of whomsoever the U.S. labels its enemy, or even just its adversary, or even just an annoying irritant. Boom. Goodbye.
Are there internal limits on U.S. policy nowadays other than the constraints that elite fear of dissent imposes? Perhaps, but it is hard to see any as yet. There is a clue to what might come if our annointed egocentric thugs get their way when the U.S. lumps Germany with Libya and Cuba as the opponents of our will due to each saying they would oppose war even if war gets Security Council support.
To demonstrate against injustice, inequity, and indignity is virtually always right. We should do it as naturally as we eat or love, to express our humanity. Even more important, however, we should also do it to build a continually enlarging opposition able to stem the tide of business as usual. And we should demonstrate, as well, to change the logic of our world’s transactions and interactions entirely, to finally eliminate business as now know it. Organize. Goodbye — to capitalism.
But, truth be told, there are times when demonstrating becomes especially urgent. Such increased urgency can be due to an incredibly dire unfolding situation. It can be due to horrible prospects that might follow in the absence of dissent. It can be due to very real prospects that major demonstrations could imminently turn the tide. It can be due to a growing dissident potential which needs nurturing and commitment to reach its enormous possibilities. Or it can be due to all these reasons and more.
February 2003 is such a time.
To further their imperial power Bush and Co. are at least planning to subject the innocent citizens of Iraq to a rain of missiles that will awe and shock, which in realspeak means missiles that will mutilate and subjugate.
At the most, however, Bush and Co. are embarked on a three-channel process.
Channel one: Turn back the clock a hundred and fifty years to a time of international relations that was based solely on brute force so that the U.S. can then exploit our ability to win any violent battle anywhere, anytime.
Channel two: Redistribute upwards, even more than in the past, wealth and power within the U.S. Destroy long-standing social programs that ameliorate some of the pain endemic to capitalism. Aggravate racial and gender differences and antagonisms. Enhance options at the top, narrow them for everyone else.
Channel three: Curtail the only serious impediment to pursuing channels one and two, public and powerful dissent, by enlarging media manipulation and escalating repression around the world and especially here in the U.S.
Antiwar opposition in the U.S. and around the world is already at unprecedented levels – even before a war. Now our movements have to grab the remote and turn to channel four wherein widespread growing peace and justice activism roots itself deeply in the moral and social fabric of society and then grows gigantic all around the world.
Doing this, we may stop the war. Even now, project awe and shock is not a foregone conclusion.
And if we don’t stop the war, we can certainly reduce the horrors it unleashes.
And beyond this war, we must develop a movement that is politically conscious enough, morally committed enough, and creatively organized enough, to prevent the next war.
And beyond just preventing wars, we need to build a movement that can literally reverse reactionary agendas and go on to win liberating alternatives for global relations, ecology, economic life, women and families, and cultural communities, as soon as it is humanly and socially possible.
I still hate apocalyptic organizing.
It is not because we are never in an apocalyptic situation. Truth be told, there is a sense in which we will always are facing apocalyptic outcomes until a new world is won.
It is because the radical point, even in the most apocalyptic situations, needs to always be to create ever more powerful and aware movements and not simply to create reactions to proximate policies with limited comprehension and time-bound commitment.
Come out to demonstrate February 15-16.
But show up with every intention to come out again and again, each time more informed about all manner of injustice, more committed to seek all manner of liberation, more organized to wield our strength on behalf of our visions, and more positive and hopeful in order to sustain and inspire ourselves and others.
All that, and not just responding in the apocalyptic moment, is our path to justice and liberation.
We have to oppose apocalypse now. We have to remove the causes of recurring apocalypse. We have to win peace and justice and a new world that will sustain both.