On Going To Dc And On Going Home

The long weekend of April 19-22 in Washington, DC represents an historic opportunity for progressive social change movements. The anti-capitalist globalization movement, the newly forming anti-war movement, the growing mobilization against domestic spending cuts and the undermining of civil liberties, the Palestinian solidarity movement, and the long-standing efforts of Colombia and School of the Americas activists — are all coming together for a weekend of rallies, protests, teach-ins, and direct action.

For progressives, this convergence of protests gives us a chance to make connections between various struggles and to turn what will likely be a chaotic convergence of activists with a wide range of specific goals into a tighter coalition of organizations that have new grounds for solidarity. It is essential to the strength of our movements, that the third weekend of April:

• be a step towards integrating our agendas so that we can develop strategies for widening and deepening our movements

• remind people that the most important part of a protest trip to DC is going home again.

The “War on Terrorism” is a Mechanism for Consolidating U.S. Power at Home and Abroad.

On September 11, the terrorists handed the Bush Administration an unexpected gift — the opportunity to extend U.S. power, display military might, send a warning to any country that might contradict U.S. unilateralism, and stir the domestic population into a patriotic fervor designed to diminish dissent.

The U.S. is using this gift in predictable ways — bypassing international law by launching a punishing retaliatory bombing of Afghanistan, escalating its involvement in Colombia, sending troops to the Philippines, threatening additional wars in Iraq, Iran and North Korea, reviving the nuclear threat, enforcing cuts in domestic spending, detaining thousands on flimsy immigration charges, rolling back civil liberties with the U.S.A. Patriots Act, and greasing the wheels for free trade agreements.

Many Americans are direct victims of repressive U.S. institutions. They don’t lack an analysis of the problem, but rather see no way of doing anything to change it. People who care about social change need to work to create channels for people to interact, educate themselves, talk to each other, and build grassroots-based movements that are ever-widening and embracing of the whole spectrum of institutional oppressions that people face at home and abroad.

We must understand the connections between our many struggles. We must look around at our own communities to figure out how to build movements that incorporate these connections.

The “War on Terrorism” Promotes Terror.

As the current escalation of carnage in Israel and Palestine demonstrates, the “war on terrorism” reinforces the double-speak that allows the media to refer to rock-throwing, self-detonating Palestinians as terrorists while referring to Israel’s use of U.S.-made F-16, tanks, helicopters and armored bull-dozers as measured means of self-defense.

It is the U.S. that has given the green light to Israel’s systematic decimation of the Palestinians, and it’s the U.S. that could stop it. Ariel Sharon has plans to be in DC on April 22nd, and we should all be there to express our outrage at his invasion of the West Bank. But to truly pressure our government to stop endorsing Israeli terrorism, we need to return home to our communities, churches, synagogues, and mosques, where we must find ways to promote dialogue and understanding, and to resist U.S.-sponsored terrorism abroad.

The “War on Terrorism” Gives New License to Plan Colombia.

For those of us who have been doing the hard, painstaking work of educating people about the situation in Colombia, our work just got harder (if that is possible). Whereas before the task was to reveal the dismal human rights records of the U.S.-supported Colombian military and to unmask the fraudulent “war on drugs,” now activists have to respond to the Colombian guerrilla fighters’ new U.S.-generated label — “terrorist.”

Now, Plan Colombia can be made to look like part of a patriotic war on terrorism instead of what it really is, which is an effort to prop up a corrupt military, undermine the peace process, and destroy grassroots attempts to build power, such as in unions and peasant organizations.

For newly mobilized anti-war activists, our work just got harder too. Whereas before we tried to teach people about the illegality of U.S. bombing in Afghanistan and its disastrous humanitarian consequences, now we have to move into the more complicated terrain of seeing how the “war on terrorism” is a way for the administration to ram through its agenda both at home and abroad.

Each struggle has more challenges. But understanding the commonalties in what we’re up against will make both movements stronger.

The “War on Drugs” is Actually a War on People.

The “war on drugs,” has so far accomplished not much more than fumigating Colombian peasants and incarcerating a disproportionate number of poor people and African Americans. A real effort to fight drugs would include addressing demand at home. But that would mean putting money into prevention, recovery and rehabilitation, and a serious evaluation of the social problems that lead to drug addiction.

Instead, the government has done the opposite. On March 31, 2002, for example, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) completely cut the $309 million teen drug prevention program — closing youth centers around the country and leaving young people with no access to the mentoring, homework help, and recreational activities that they previously enjoyed.

Wealthy drug abusers are less likely to end up in jail, and more likely to get help for their addiction — because they can pay for it. Undermining drug prevention programs makes the “war on drugs” more like a “war on poor people, people of color and youth” since they have fewer resources and so less chance to avoid the consequences of current policies, which are designed to punish, incarcerate, and not treat drug-users. Efforts to stop Plan Colombia and efforts to support domestic policies that help meet people’s real needs and empower them should be intimately connected.

The U.S. Military Educates Terrorists.

It’s been said by others but it bears repeating: If Washington’s war on terrorism were truly directed at the most egregious sources of world terror, it would have to take aim at itself, along with such terrorist training grounds as the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. Recent newspapers (see NYT 3/18/02, for example) are filled with color photos documenting terrorist training manuals found in Al Qaeda camps, bunkers, and caves in Afghanistan.

But the School of the Americas doesn’t hide the terrorists it trains with U.S. tax dollars. It openly graduates them and sends them back to Latin American countries where some of them have become brutal dictators, and others have overseen civilian massacres and assassinations. Bush’s “War on Terrorism” gives U.S. activists an opportunity to bring attention to our own country’s state-sponsored terrorism, and to continue seeking ways to stop its brutal trajectory.

It should remind us how elites in this country protect the interests of elites in other countries in order to keep non-elite populations in all countries continually servicing the privileged.

Capitalist Globalization Depends on Military Might.

The western-based anti-capitalist globalization movement, which turned out tens of thousands of people in Seattle, DC, Quebec, New York, and Genoa, well understands that international financial organizations and free trade agreements ensure the free flow of capital but trap workers in dead-end jobs.

They condemn less developed nations to a cycle of debt, belt-tightening, and converting more and more to cash crops. They allow for the privatization of water, the patenting of life forms and intellectual property, and allow powerful corporations to extract resources from third world nations, leaving behind nothing but environmental destruction and domestic armies whose job it is to squash domestic resistance.

This process of capitalist globalization depends on compliant populations both at home and abroad. A strong U.S. military presence worldwide — with new bases springing up everywhere — uses brutality (or the threat of it) to bring local grassroots populations into line and helps persuade local elites to follow U.S. mandates. The “war on terrorism” helps promote the United States as the world’s “enforcer.”

Anti-militarists would be more effective in their work if they could see how safeguarding elite interests is the prime engine behind U.S. military expansion. The work we do to block certain weapons systems must be done in conjunction with organizing to undermine the for-profit, market-based economy that institutionalizes greed, concentration of wealth, and a class-based society that reinforces hierarchy and privilege at every turn.

Building a stronger labor movement is not only fair and just for working people at home, but it weakens elites who use their power to oppress people all over the world.

U.S. Power Rests on Racism, Classism and Sexism at Home.

As Bush widens his “war on terrorism” we will likely see the pattern continue — the United States will continue establishing itself as policeman of the world, the superpower that is above the law, AT THE SAME TIME that it continues to punish the disenfranchised at home. In the process, many innocent people will die because, as we have learned in Afghanistan and many other parts of the globe where the U.S. has asserted its power, OTHER people’s lives don’t matter. Certain human beings are expendable, we are told.

Who are these “others” exactly? They are not just the nameless Afghans dying under U.S. bombs and due to hunger and exposure. No. The “others” are also some of us. The “others” live here in our neighborhoods.

They are those who live and work here in the United States, immigrants who come here looking for a better life, African-American, Latino and working-class families with few educational opportunities and little chance of finding rewarding work with decent pay.

They are people of color who are victims of police violence, who are racially profiled, and who are disproportionately imprisoned by a racist judicial system. They are the so-called “super-predator” youth and “teen mothers” who are scapegoats for a dysfunctional society. They are children in our inner cities who suffer infant mortality rates similar to those in some of the most impoverished nations.

They are women who carry the double burden of being exploited not just in the workplace but at home as well. They are gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people who are marginalized and demonized by a society that needs to designate certain folks “the other” — setting them apart, making them the targets of our fear and insecurity.

They are people who have perhaps never felt “at home” anywhere, because their neighborhoods are insecure, because U.S. society, despite the sheen of unity, is marked by deep divisions that hurt people and make them invisible — indeed, that often make them homeless.

These same populations — the most vulnerable people among us — are the ones who absorb the cost of U.S. greed and domination. It’s the poor and working-class people among us who will be the foot soldiers in this war against terrorism; it’s the disenfranchised who say, “What’s so new about having guns turned towards us? About living on the razor edge of survival?”

It’s not always firepower that’s aimed at us. Sometimes, it’s bad policy and bad economics — institutional structures that leave us poor, without health insurance, unjustly detained and imprisoned, without decent educations, without hope for the future.

A set of domestic policies that makes certain human beings expendable helps justify a set of foreign policies that does the same thing. They are both inhumane, and they are interdependent.

Home Is Where Our Work Is.

There are many Americans who do not accept the war at home or the war abroad. We don’t accept that any human being is expendable — whether in Afghanistan or in our own communities or any other part of the world. We are coming together to join our struggles, to learn from each other, and to strengthen ourselves to the point where we have a voice and the ability to fight for a society that is determined by all of us, not just an elite few. April 19-22 provides a critically important moment for us to bring several strands of our movements together.

Everyone who is able to should go. But the true test of our strength comes when the buses roll back into the cities and towns all around the United States, and we return to our own communities. That’s where many vibrant grassroots organizations have long been fighting the idea that certain people among us are expendable. That’s where we build democracy. That’s where we cultivate networks that allow us to raise our voices. That’s where our actions will do nothing less than determine what happens next.

For more information, see http://www.zmag.org/a19-22.htm.

Cynthia Peters writes for www.zmag.org, and is active in peace and justice work in the Boston area.

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