With the November elections looming, politics and the public policy debate are being Twitterrized, i.e. reduced to cable news buzzwords and treated like a horserace. It’s a bad time to be an antiwar activist. Foreign policy, and the vital issues of war and peace, are lost in the chatter.
There are, of course, a few politicians whose dedication to principle rises above the general noise level – Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich come to mind – but this time around there seems to be even less of a focus on what’s happening outside of the continental US. This is due largely to the economic crisis. Bread and butter issues are in the forefront, with massive cuts in social services on the agenda and howls of pain rising to ever-higher decibels. What’s happening over in Afghanistan is the last thing on people’s minds.
The antiwar movement, for its part, is way down in the doldrums, having been abandoned by its lefty-"progressive" adherents for the joys of Obama-ism. The United for Peace and Justice "coalition" – a group of leftist and pacifist organizations – has just dissolved for lack of interest (and lack of funding), and the Trotskyist-initiated conference in Albany, New York, which was supposed to fill the vacuum, decided to join up with a bunch of government unions and other groups protesting cutbacks in the "One Nation Working Together" march in Washington, sponsored by the AFL-CIO and other "social activist" groups. Predictably, they’re marching on behalf of a multitude of causes, with the war issue tacked on like an afterthought.
In short, Obama-ism has taken its toll on the antiwar movement, bringing it to a screeching halt.
What, in the face of all these obstacles, is the right course for what remains of the antiwar movement?
What’s needed is a revolution in our own mentality, one that will sweep away the routinist thinking that has dominated the movement for too long, and capture national attention in a dramatic way.
This entails a new focus, a new strategy, and a renewed commitment to activism. Boring "marches" don’t cut it anymore: these are invariably hijacked by ideologues who use them to promote all sorts of ancillary causes – until the main issue, the issue that ostensibly brought the marchers together in the first place, is submerged in a babble of bromidic sloganeering.
What’s required is a single-issue focus that is laser-like in its intensity, and uncompromisingly militant in its tactics. This means we ought to be concerned with the issue of war and peace and nothing else. Period.
Secondly, we need to develop new forms of activism, qualitatively different from the peace crawls of the past. The time is past when supposedly "massive" marches on Washington, or anywhere else, are going to have a positive effect. We need to develop guerrilla strategies for confronting the War Party and making peace a living issue in this election year. And we can do it – but only if we abandon the dregs of the past and start looking at things from a fresh perspective.
This election year is going to be a major one, a pivotal event that will determine the shape not only of Congress but of our country’s fate for a long time to come. The economic and social crisis that has gripped the US shows no signs of abating: indeed, it shows every sign of intensifying, with the very real prospect of a major economic downturn. Instead of trying to tail the unions, the Democratic party (or do I repeat myself?), and whatever "mass movement" appears to be "in motion," we need to strike at the very heart of the monster – the US Congress, whose members are seeking reelection this November.
Congress holds the power of the purse: they can deny funding to Obama’s wars, if they so choose. They haven’t made a move in this direction, naturally, and won’t unless forced to – so let’s go after them, hammer and tongs.
Oh sure, a few Democrats and a smattering of Ron Paul Republicans made a showing of it, the last time war funding came up for a vote, with a record number voting "nay." But that isn’t enough: the war(s) continue, and are being escalated even as I write.
There’s just one way to draw attention to this issue and that is by confronting them. Every election season the politicians come back from Washington to ask for your vote: they come out of hiding and even hold "town hall" meetings, which you are notified of by franked mailings (paid for by you). They make public appearances in their home districts, and expose themselves to the hoi polloi: it’s a perfect set-up for confronting them with the enormity of their crimes.
Not every member of Congress, of course, is a war criminal: some, like my own congresswoman, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, have not only voted "nay" but raised their voices against the madness that is our foreign policy. Unfortunately, these innocents are few in number: the vast majority are guilty, and have to be confronted with their guilt.
We don’t have to be nice about it, either, and we shouldn’t be.
Anyone who voted in favor of funding this war needs to be pursued, condemned, and harried at every opportunity. If they’re on the hustings, campaigning, they need to be ambushed – metaphorically, of course – and held to account.. They have to be made to understand that the American people are sick unto death of paying for their policy of mass murder, and they have to be convinced we won’t be appeased until the mayhem stops.
I know most progressives are contemptuous of the so-called tea partiers, whose protests have roiled the political waters, but at least they ought to look at the tea party’s tactics, and acknowledge how effective they were in grabbing national attention. The tea party protests started at "town hall" meetings called by the politicians themselves, who thought that – as usual – no one but the terminally bored and their own supporters would show up. Boy, were they wrong.
Overnight, the tea party movement became the focus of national attention: the image of angry protesters booing and mocking our preening politicians was indelibly imprinted on the national
consciousness. Suddenly faced with the unfamiliar task of explaining themselves, these pampered princes and princesses were in shock — and today they are in a panic, as the prospect of losing their jobs looms large.
While keeping our tactics strictly legal, we should not cavil at employing the tactics of deception: after all, the War Party’s agenda is one great big deception. One way to "ambush" unsuspecting warmongers is to invite them to a "candidate’s forum" to discuss their views. The invitation should come from an innocuous-sounding front group – "Citizens for Public Policy Participation," or something equally harmless-sounding. Invite a few reporters, and some local "respectable" types, so they feel safe. Once you’ve got them in the room, they’re immediately in a position where they have to answer questions – and, having done your homework, you’ll have just the right embarrassing questions in hand.
Don’t forget to videotape everything.
We also should make a point of giving administration officials the same sort of treatment, regardless of the fact that they’re not running for office but are instead appointees. Wherever they turn up in public they need to be reminded of the crimes the Obama regime is committing all over the world.
Politicians are opportunists, by their very nature. They respond to noise – and so we have to make a lot of it. And we have to be loud. A high decibel level can make up for our present lack of numbers.
Our task, in short, is to dramatize our opposition to the Empire in a way that simultaneously startles and educates our audience. Grab their attention, and then use the opportunity to focus on an issue that gets short shrift every election year.
While we should seek out confrontations with the most aggressive neocon types, it won’t always be necessary to engineer the sort of "ambush" described above. A lot of the more ideologically-inclined pro-war public officials may be eager to debate the issue, because they think it will help them politically to be seen as pro-war: we should make every effort to engage them, and disabuse them of this notion.
Our goal is to make US foreign policy an issue. But we can’t do this in a vacuum. Nor can we do it by holding endless conferences where "national" marches attended by a few thousand die-hards are solemnly organized. Local groups, acting at the street level, are the most effective. There is no need for any kind of nation-wide "coordination." Decentralized groups built around specific actions will develop their own methods, and strike on their own schedules.
We need to pursue the War Party’s public representatives like harpies, like Nemesis on the prowl: we must harry them and humiliate them and make it impossible for them to make an appearance without the expectation that they’ll soon be in a confrontation with yet another American who wants to know why we’re spending trillions on rebuilding Afghanistan while our own nation is falling apart at the seams.
We need a new strategy, and militant tactics, because we don’t have a whole lot of time. The weight of empire is like an albatross hung ‘round the neck of the American giant, and there are plenty of signs that the burden is bringing him down sooner rather than later. When the American empire collapses, it will likely drag a lot of us down with it: the economic consequences of our foreign policy alone, let alone the moral aspects, require immediate action.
So don’t just sit there – go out and make some noise!
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I’m taking my show on the road this autumn, to campuses around the country, talking about some of the ideas expressed in my recent column on "Anti-Interventionism: The Left-wing Tradition." My talk is entitled "Why Has the Left Sold Out the Antiwar Movement?" – which is sure to provoke a controversy, or at least that’s the hope.
If you’re interested in booking me at your campus, write firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the Antiwar.com office, at: 510-217-8665.