The single biggest reason that the peace movement is not larger and more aggressive is that people with one foot in it are focused on trying to be respectable in the eyes of the corporate media, for their own sake and â€“ in their misguided view â€“ for the sake of the movement.
As an example, take the meeting I went to in Washington, D.C., this evening. About 40 people, mostly in their thirties, mostly doing all right financially, about 37 of them white, gathered at a restaurant to vote on whether their little organization would endorse the September 24th march against the war.
They ran a very well disciplined meeting and made very articulate arguments on both sides. Those in favor argued that people are dying and that it needs to be stopped, that movements must be large and inclusive to succeed, that you can’t build an opposition political party without wholeheartedly opposing the illegal and immoral war with which the party in power is identified, etc.
Of those opposed, only one person spoke against ending the war. The others spoke against the war, and all or almost all of them in support of participating in the march, but against endorsing it as an organization. In fact, more than one rose to take time to speak against endorsement using the argument that the endorsement debate was taking time away from actually participating in the march (although the meeting to hold the endorsement debate had turned out a much larger than typical crowd for this organization). Mostly, though, they argued that the media would call them leftists if they participated in an event that included some of the groups already participating.
Seriously, it was a room full of amateur PR agents. They wanted to maintain “political credibility” for their little organization. They wanted to focus on lobbying and electing officials (this in the colony of DC, which has no voting representation in Congress and no US senators!). They wanted to be “credible,” they kept saying. One woman was afraid she’d not receive government clearance for a job she was applying for if she marched in an event that “communists” would be marching in. Another man said he would prefer a silent march without signs or speeches. Another preferred the candlelight vigils held around the country recently for Cindy Sheehan. Another had read an article by Todd Gitlin and actually taken it seriously. It was a bizarre room. But it was representative, I suspect, of a lot of people.
It’s interesting, though, that they mostly wanted to march as individuals. They simply wanted to protect their organization from the stain of officially endorsing the march. (Kind of makes it hard to organize more people if your movement has to advance without organizations!)
Many of the speakers referred to their fear of mistreatment by the media. But most of these viewed the media as what the media has told them it is. They imagine that the media gives better coverage to respectable moderates, whereas in reality the media always gives better coverage to those who are most confrontational and often gives the worst coverage to those who are inconsistent.
One of those who spoke in support of endorsing said that she didn’t want to be part of the Kerry wing of the Democratic party (“I was for it before I was against it”), and instead chose to be part of the Dean wing. (Of course, Dean is a good example of the media’s attraction to combativeness â€“ as are those candlelight vigils, which could not have happened had a woman not gone to Bush’s ranch and tried to get herself arrested â€“ but Dean is supporting the war.) Still, one of those who spoke against endorsing argued against being dismissed as a bunch of crazy leftist Dean supporters. (It simply does not matter that Dean himself is afraid of the same thing and is supporting the war, because the media has not told people that.) This same speaker argued for “being progressive, but being careful about it, in order to maintain political credibility in the media.”
One woman supporting endorsement pointed out that the Washington Post had today attacked MoveOn.org as a bunch of communist wackos. But, I suspect that many in the room missed the irony. MoveOn is, of course, a very careful and conservative group, but if you consume too much news media, you’ll believe otherwise, and trying to argue with you will be entirely pointless, it will be impossible to persuade you that MoveOn is not a bunch of radicals or that Howard Dean does not favor bringing the troops home. Disagreeing with these “facts” will be seen as some sort of logical fallacy.
Guilt by association attacks are part of the territory in progressive politics, no matter how NASCAR-Dad you go. You can’t avoid them, and you may be more likely to find them if you try to avoid them. This is because the media likes to talk about the more moderate groups as being radical, as a means of shutting actually radical opinions out of the public debate entirely â€“ even majority opinions like this one: “End the war!” If even the “radical leftist” groups can be quoted as saying that the war’s not all that bad and we shouldn’t rush recklessly into peace, the limits of the debate are narrowed substantially. Groups that stand more strongly for peace are more likely to receive no coverage than to receive critical coverage, but they will receive coverage if they are large enough and stand strongly together.
If we can start to see around the media, it becomes clear that no organization can be “politically credible” if it refuses to fully and consistently oppose this war.
If we want the groups we dislike to have a proportionately larger presence at the march, then we should stay home. If we want our polite and well-spelled signs, and our suits and ties to be seen, then we have to put them on and get out there in the streets.
The meeting tonight voted 21 to 20 in favor of endorsing. But endorsement required a two-thirds majority; the rules said so. So, members of this organization will march, and they’ve even started organizing in a haphazard way how to march together. But they won’t put serious organized effort behind it, and if some reporter does interview one of them on the street, the first words out of their mouths will be “I’m not here with those other crazies, butâ€¦.”
Crazies? Cindy Sheehan’s camp was attacked by a newspaper article today as a “Theater of the Absurd,” at which people smoked pot because Joan Baez was there. Well, Joan was there, but nobody that I saw smoked pot. Even (legal) alcohol was banned. But who the hell cares? The public doesnâ€™t take this stuff seriously. Look at the polls. They’re not done very well, but they still tell a powerful tale of MAINSTREAM war opposition.
Various polls have found that a majority of Americans believe the war was a “mistake.” (Of course, these polls have not provided people the option of calling the war a “fraud” or a “crime.” The worst choice has been “mistake.”)
Other polls have found that a majority say the war “was not worth it.” (People have not been given the option of answering “Illegal aggression can never be ‘worth it.’”)
Polls have asked if U.S. troops should be withdrawn, but have made that one of four choices at the extreme end of a spectrum including the options of 1.send more troops, 2. keep same as now, 3.withdraw some, 4. withdraw all. Still, a majority answers either 3 or 4. (CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll. Aug. 5-7).
Better is a poll that was done by Newsweek in early August in which people were given time options. A total of 50 percent of respondents chose either “Bring them home now,” or “Less than one more year,” and another 13 percent chose “One to two years.” The poll revealed a stark divide between these 63 percent of Americans and another 26 percent who chose “As long as it takes.” The option of “three to five years” received only 5 percent, “six to 10 years” only 1 percent, and “more than 10 years” zero percent.
There have also been polls on “how things are going in Iraq,” and whether we “approve of how Bush is handling Iraq,” and so on. Opposition to the war wins in these polls too, but the polls frame the subsequent stories within the context of an identifiable mission and measurable progress. The worst of these, is the question “Will the U.S. win the war?” (CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll. July 22-24.) People were not asked “Do you have the slightest clue what it would mean to ‘win’ this war?” And the “No” answer to the question of whether the U.S. would win was split in half. The possible answers were: “Will win,” “Can win, but won’t,” and “Can’t win.” (Can win but won’t??) A total of 53 percent chose one of the last two answers. Another 4 percent were, “Unsure.”
Admirably, some pollsters have been asking whether the war has made the U.S. safer or less safe. A majority consistently says less safe.
But almost none of the polling organizations are asking whether the war was unjustified, illegal, fraudulent, based on lies, or misrepresented to Congress and the American people. One exception was a June 23-26, 2005, ABC/Washington Post poll, which found 52 percent of Americans believed the Bush administration “deliberately misled the public before the war,” a nine-point increase in three months. And 57 percent said the Bush administration “intentionally exaggerated its evidence that pre-war Iraq possessed nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.”
Every polling organization should be asking this type of question. They should also be asking whether people have read the Downing Street Memo, and correlating that answer with people’s answers to the question of whether Bush lied about the reasons for war.
Often the media’s news coverage slants to the right, even when public opinion in the media’s own polls leans left. We see that in news stories about the war. However, the media has now begun covering opposition to the war, including activists’ accusations that Bush lied, while meanwhile the polling arms of the same companies are not surveying the public. Numerous articles tell us that Bush claims Cindy Sheehan’s views are those of a minority. Cindy’s most frequently expressed view is that she cannot identify any noble cause for which this war was fought. Why doesn’t the media ask the public whether we think the war was fought for a noble cause?
At least one pollster (Rasmussen) has done a poll on whether people “view Cindy Sheehan favorably.” The absurdity of asking this question, rather than “Did the President lie about the reasons for war?” highlights the weakness of much of the media’s news coverage.
Many of the demonstrations that are now being covered by the media have been calling for the impeachment of Bush. Yet only one pollster during the entire Bush presidency has done one single poll on impeachment. The results were so dramatic, that you’d think every polling company would have wanted to verify them.
A June 27-29, 2005, Zogby poll found 42 percent of Americans say that “if it is found that President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should hold him accountable through impeachment.” According to Zogby, in Eastern and Western states supporters of impeachment outnumber opponents. The 42 percent above is significantly higher than the 27 percent of Americans who favored impeachment of President Clinton before impeachment proceedings began in 1998.
Now, THAT is a news story. Instead we get the “theater of the absurd” nonsense. But we are also getting acknowledgment of the movement for peace and some of its arguments. And that’s progress. And that’s what’s driving the media’s own poll results away from the picture it gives through its news reporting.
This week, perhaps more than most, that news reporting has crystallized into a spectacle of the absurd, with Bush as the leading actor. Today he flew over the disaster of New Orleans and remarked from the comfort of his jet “It’s devastating, it’s got to be doubly devastating on the ground.”
This president had sent the National Guard to the Middle East to fight for more oil (or so he said this week, there used to be other reasons for the war), he’d also promoted burning more oil, which promotes more storms and natural disasters, and the disasters then create a need for the Guard, which is absent because it’s fighting for the oil. This is absurd if anything is, and burning jet fuel in order to make the wise remark about it quoted above is beyond absurd. It’s at the level of driving your truck over crosses to prove your Christianity.
I’m compelled to quote the prophetic words of Ani DiFranco:
chief justice is for sale
yucca mountain goddesses
their tears they form a trail
trouble in Israel
the ice caps melt
and New Orleans bides her time
New Orleans bides her time