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imperialism & war

Analyzing the Movement-Looking Back at PPRC 2

In late September of 2001, maybe a week or two before the US bombing of Afghanistan, while millions of Afghan refugees were fleeing to the Pakistan border, while the aid agencies were begging the US to reconsider, I went to my first PPRC peace protest. I joined it midway through, abandoning my outside table at a corporate coffee shop near work, and catching up to the marchers, glad to see their unambiguous peace signs, their open defiance.
In Eduardo Galeano's The Book of Embraces there is a chapter entitled "The Culture of Terror." It is a very short chapter. In fact, here it is:

"Blatant colonialism mutilates you without pretense: it forbids you to talk, it forbids you to act, it forbids you to exist. Invisible colonialism, however, convinces you that serfdom is your destiny and impotency your nature; it convinces you that it's not possible to speak, not possible to act, not possible to exist."

In late September of 2001, maybe a week or two before the US bombing of Afghanistan, while millions of Afghan refugees were fleeing to the Pakistan border, while the aid agencies were begging the US to reconsider, I went to my first PPRC peace protest. I joined it midway through, abandoning my outside table at a corporate coffee shop near work, and catching up to the marchers, glad to see their unambiguous peace signs, their open defiance.

This was, I later learned, PPRC's third rally. It was also the last major demonstration that PPRC would put together. With about a thousand participants, it was certainly the largest war protest that Portland would see until April 20th of 2002, and the A20 event would be a non-PPRC event. By the time the big demos against the invasion of Iraq came together a new group had formed (the Coalition for Peace and Justice), and while this group would consist mostly of PPRC leadership, it would be a separate organization with an entirely different (and even less democratic) structure. In many ways this third rally in 2001 was the last time PPRC would be relevant.

After the march we ended up at Shemansky Park; there were about a thousand of us, it was about three o'clock in the afternoon, and I found myself in the back of the crowd, listening to the official activists who had formed a line behind the podium. I remember PPRC had a decent sound system for the event, probably on loan from the Green Party. I wouldn't see a sound system at a PPRC event again for months.

Lloyd Marbet stood up to speak.

"One of the most important problems facing the American people today, one that you don't often hear about on the TV news, is the amount of corporate money floating around in political campaigns. If we're going to take this country back from the corporation we have to pass strong campaign finance reform. This is no other way," Marbet said.

"What the hell is he on about?" I asked the crowd in front of me as loudly as I could.

A guy next to me, in his early 20's and collegiate looking in a fine wool coat and fashionable glasses, tried to explain it to me:

"He's talking about Campaign Finance Reform, an important issue," the college student said.

"We have a war to stop. He can run for office later," I told the guy.

But, after Marbet somebody stood up with an acoustic guitar, sang "Imagine" by John Lennon, and then just played on song after another. I settled down. Listening to the words by Lennon, I was even moved. A few women with sidewalk chalk started drawing a spiral Mandala at the front of the crowd, and the crowd walked the path the women had drawn, one at a time, to the center of the spiral.

When I got to the center of the spiral I was overcome by despair. I understood what the singer and the sidewalk chalk artists were up to, I even supported the sentiment, but it was clear that all of this was a dead end. It was hopeless to call for simple peace, to rely on beauty and love to save us. For one thing it seemed a nostalgic act. My 70's childhood, recuperated images of flower power and be-ins, seen only on Saturday morning television, came back to me in Shemansky park.

These paltry visions of paisley patterned peace were all I had though. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, every other set of cultural tropes tended to affirm America's New War. Every other myth just propelled you into a lockstep march to war.

This nostalgic yearning for 60's style rebellion was a paltry impulse. It was inadequate, but it was also all most of us had.

"We've got to start talking about the economic sanctions on Iraq," my radical friend from work told me when I found him in the crowd.

"You said they'd rally around the flag," I told him.

"So?"

"They didn't. It's not much, but they did something," I said.

"I'm cynical."

"They're not rallying around the flag, though. You admit that."

"Aren't they?" he asked.

I had two separate responses to the challenge of 9-11. I both fell into a period of sentimentality, a touchy and mawkish commitment to na´ve pacifist principles, and I also had an impulse to gather facts. I read five or six newspapers a day, though mostly the American and British press, and I started compiling the facts I gained, making lists. It was as if I thought that my sentiment combined with an unassimilated list of facts would amount to not only a good understanding of what was happening, but a response.

Here's what I didn't hear at that first rally, a list of topics that I think might have been helpful to consider at the time, but were ignored.

1. What is extradition? Why is the Bush administration avoiding extraditing bin Laden?
2. What do we know about the crime of 911? What should we expect to know before action is taken?
3. What are the predictable consequences of a US bombing campaign in Afghanistan in terms of future terrorism, recruitment of terrorists, etc...
4. What will the human costs of a bombing campaign be, especially in light of the famine in the region?
5. What can we do?

Finally, what I didn't hear at this rally was any kind of conversation about anything. Instead there was a series of disconnected lectures, mostly about the evil nature of war, but none of them speaking to immediate problems. None of it seem to intend to really challenge the specific decisions being made in the moment.

The rally was, in fact, merely a ritual, an empty gesture. And as an empty gesture it was merely another form of invisible colonialism. It's emptiness perhaps unintentionally convincing us that it was not possible to speak, not possible to act, not possible to exist in opposition to the US Empire.

homepage: homepage: http://www.douglaslain.com

you don't back up your opinions well at all 09.Dec.2003 23:48

enji

Doug,

i've met you and like you, but you seem to have developed feelings that have developed opinions that don't really have any sound argument behind them. or, if you have an argument, you're not laying it out well at all.

for instance, you quote Eduardo Galeano, but don't bring the reader back around to it to make your point.

you dis Lloyd Marbet for going on for campaign finance reform without making any effort to understand WHY such an issue is brought up at an anti-war rally. without that understanding, you haven't even begun to make an argument for it NOT to be there.

your feelings told you art and ritual were a 'paltry impulse'. you have done nothing else to show why they are paltry.

oh i guess you do bring us back to your opening quote, calling it all an empty ritual, empty gesture, thus a form of invisible colonialism. i don't see your case. all i see is your opinion based on your feeling.


oh, and how can you say has an "even less democratic structure" without explaining yourself? how rude!

frankly, although we've been going to the same rallies, some of them, and met the same people, and heard the same people give their speeches, we could have been going to rallies in different towns, considering our different impressions. doesn't that tell you something?

Thanks 10.Dec.2003 00:22

Bee

Thanks Doug. Thanks for speaking up.

Pearls 10.Dec.2003 06:00

Bill

I think Doug has been too subtle for you, enji.

For example, in his last paragraph, he quotes Galeano, word for word.

In the dialogue with "college student" he shows that Marbet did not make clear the connection between war and campaign finance. Although there is room for dispute over how much responsibility speaker and listener bring respectively to an encounter, in public lecture we generally lay most of the burden on the speaker. Marbet seems to have failed both Doug and student.

I wasn't there; however, I wish to take this a little further. I have lost count of the number of speakers who seemed to have no interest whatsoever in reason we had for gathering and who seemed to think that, regardless, they had some right to push onto the platform and to harangue us on their pet obsessions. I believe we (the groups I have been with) have been far too 'polite', tolerating many "a series of disconnected lectures", allowing important issues to gasp out their lives in a toxic fog of tedium and irrelevance.

Doug does not say, "art and ritual were a 'paltry impulse'". He says, "This nostalgic yearning for 60's style rebellion was a paltry impulse." Also, you seem to have missed entirely his paragraph containing, "...it seemed a nostalgic act. My 70's childhood, recuperated images of flower power and be-ins..."

Doug does not say that this third rally had an "even less democratic structure". He says, "a new group", some seven months in the future, the Coalition for Peace and Justice, "would be a separate organization with an entirely different (and even less democratic) structure."

I suspect Doug will be "rude" to it in a future article. Albeit, the present article regards PPRC's third and Doug's first rally, and Doug has chosen, wisely in my opinion, to stick to the topic.


You see, engi, Doug is writing about his experiences and impressions. Being the sole authority on what happens inside his head, he does not need to back up his statements -- indeed, it would be ridiculous for him to post a plea for eye-witnesses, the way a victim of a pepper-gas assault might.

On the other hand, when you write about Doug's experiences and impressions, the burden of proof is enormous. You can't claim to have witnessed what he really thought. You must show impossibility, for example, proof that he was not at the event; or inconsistency, for example, evidence that he has told a significantly different story elsewhere. At the very least, you must challenge what he has actually written.


Since you mention, "we could have been going to rallies in different towns", I wonder if you could do us the favour of writing about the rallies you attended and, perhaps, what it means to _you_ that you have such different impressions. In particular, I am curious, because of the experiences I outline above, did you attend this rally and hear Marbet? Did Marbet show the connection between war and political funding?

PPRC Marches On 10.Dec.2003 08:54

Dubious George

Doug wrote: "It's emptiness perhaps unintentionally convincing us that it was not possible to speak, not possible to act, not possible to exist in opposition to the US Empire."

If Doug is speaking for himself, who is this "us" that he was talking about? The rally was obviously inspiring enough to intice Doug into "abandoning (his) outside table at a corporate coffee shop near work, and catching up to the marchers, glad to see their unambiguous peace signs, their open defiance." That seems to be among the MANY small victories of these demonstrations, and appears to negate the first quote of my comment.

analyzing the movement? 10.Dec.2003 09:25

Dr. Brown

Did analyzing the movement require getting a stool sample?

but thats the nature of protests and demonstrations 10.Dec.2003 09:43

alex

Complaining that PPRC, which is primarily a "walk around, hold a sign and chant" organizer, is unable to stop the war or answer complicated questions is inappropriate. It's like complaining that your dog can't do algebra...c'mon, its a fucking dog. PPRC has been relatively successful operating in its own strange somnambulist bubble. "Activism" will never accomplish more than mildly agitiate the public and if it does, you wind up with violent revolt which isn't all that a lot of naive revolutionaries think. It might not be valued as a compliment, but I'd say the PPRC is a real gold plated turd. Cut them some slack.

Regarding Dr. Browns post, I'd call such scrutiny "anal-izing" the movement.

funny alex 10.Dec.2003 13:11

me

(Lovin' Alex's comment.)

I think Doug should be applauded for politely and intelligently thinking through the PPRC and it's anti-war efforts.
Hopefully his thoughts and comments like alex's will help people who believe that sign carrying, rallying and writing your congressmen to reflect on the efficacy of their (and their organization's) actions.

Interesting that Doug did not seem to mention the male domination problem in PPRC. I know several people of all genders that attended PPRC meetings and fled due to the male domination.

But for what PPRC was (a *reaction* to the impending war with Afghanistan) it did one thing well: provided an platform for the liberal/leftist mainstream left (not-so radical college students, young adults, families) to gather around and raise their voices. PPRC can be castigated six ways from sunday if you really want to play that game, but at some point events like Sept. 11 and the Afghanistan war cause people to LEAVE the mainstream and they often need a stepping stone group like the PPRC to join that doesn't push them to start screaming slogans about ending imperialism or "no war but the class war" where they can test their activist wings and learn from their mistakes what effective organizing looks like. (Let's not forget how hard the media tries to make the organized left look scary and cultish. Many people need to ease in.)

The real failing on the part of people like myself and the many others who recognize the need for stepping stone groups is
1. not too many folks actively went into PPRC in an *organized* fashion and did conciousness raising among the hundreds of people that were showing up.
2. there was no long term, more radical/effective structure to recruit the radicalized people into. this is partly because peace/anti-war groups tend to wane when there is no threat of war.......

anyway, those are my thoughts.

Interesting tactic 10.Dec.2003 15:48

Jeff

"me" writes:
"Interesting that Doug did not seem to mention the male domination problem in PPRC. I know several people of all genders that attended PPRC meetings and fled due to the male domination."

Damn, that's a _great_ way to address male domination - simply run away from it! Keep hopping from group to group until you miraculously find one that isn't male-dominated. And, then hope fervently that no men will ever get involved and take over.

For the record, at its inception the PPRC had a vibrant, dynamic female presence. Many women have held meaningful positions throughout various stages of its organization. I haven't been involved in quite a while, but if "male domination" was such an issue, there were far more effective ways to deal with it than running away. That's pretty pathetic.

no title 10.Dec.2003 18:41

alex

I agree with "me" that more should have been done to "recruit" PPRC attendants into more radical action. I don't mean anything untoward or antisocial, but addressing class and real democratic action. Until the slaves rise up and take control of their own lives and the world around them, all the things PPRC spoke out against will continue. While PPRC rallys might not have broken the slaves chains (which ultimately can only be broken by their wearer) at least it got them grumbling a bit. It's a start, but a squandered opportunity.

I'm not familiar with the PPRC's sexism, but have heard about it. I agree with Jeff that it will not be addressed properly by walking away but I assume (hopefully) that the issue was raised. If it was ignored there is a problem.

Urgency and Hope 10.Dec.2003 18:59

OK Doug

Doug appears to have the same disease most americans have these days: Don't think, ask a professional. Maybe you watch that blue window in your living room too much? Who says PPRC is it? People like Doug reading this need to take their knowledge, consciences, and desire for change to that great big world called participation. Get involved in Media, Government and Community. Sound hard? Sure is Brothers and Sisters! But it will make life oh so much more easier....Reach Out! Inform! Reform! Don't Mourn, Organize! How do you think we got the weekend?!

Don't be silly, George 10.Dec.2003 19:11

Bill

You don't need me to tell you that "us" is a deliberately -- and entirely appropriately -- vague reference to Doug and people like him attending the rally. You know he continues to speak for himself when he relates his impressions of the effects of the event on himself and others whom he can see and hear around him.


At Hastings, 1066, the Saxon spearmen held their ranks closed, while the Norman horsemen probed in vain. Eventually, the Normans began to withdraw to their beachhead, from where the still gathering Saxons would surely have kicked their sorry asses back to Normandie. The Saxons pressed after. In the excitement of the chase, they became careless, allowing their line to break up. Harold being inopportunely slain, and nobody able to wield his influence to repair the line, initial victory became sudden and final defeat. The Normans, noticing the Saxons had made themselves vulnerable, turned back and slaughtered them, one ragged band at a time.

You must be careful in identifying what was "inspiring enough to intice Doug". It was not the rally, but Doug's perception of the rally. Doug has made it clear, several times, that he came to understand PPRC not to be what he initially thought. He is saying that _his_ small victory lead to emptiness and the impossibility of being.

This is what the police are teaching us when they spray pepper in our babies' faces, or when they imprison and torture us. Impunidad. Helplessness. Surely, we do not want PPRC standing shoulder to shoulder with PPD. Not even unintentionally.


PPRC, as you say, marches on. Do you wish it to continue marching like a horde of lemmings without troubling to question where it is driven? Other posters are beginning to raise their voices : Doug is not the only person who is unhappy with PPRC. It may be that PPRC ... CPJ ... the Green Party ... the entire movement needs improvement. It may be not. Certainly, we will never know if we forbid and ridicule our Dougs.


The only people who have a legitimate need to keep us ignorant are oppressors and parasites.

For the record 10.Dec.2003 19:27

Bill

At least two posters disagree with your assessment, Jeff, of the vibrancy of dynamic female presence in PPRC. Or, perhaps, they fail to grasp the fullness of its meaning. In either case, you can't change reality with a simple denial. Not even the Pope believes he can change the world for everyone with a Bull, anymore.

This may seem harsh, however, I have only the evidence of your post above : If you are typical of PPRC leadership, any attempt to address male domination, any murmur of dissent, was swiftly put down, ridiculed, and finally demonized.

No self-respecting woman would submit to that.

We walked... 10.Dec.2003 21:55

Rebecca

You got it ....we women walked. It was bullshit. Everytime a woman spoke up to lead or come up with an idea...men talked over us. Treated us like we were invisible. And, after all that many of us vibrant women have moved on to do our own thing...Code Pink and Women in Black, pagan cluster, and BB women.

No need to worry we know where we need this revolution to go!

Keep writing Doug 11.Dec.2003 01:40

Big Tree

I must admit from the beginning that my only involvement with PPRC was at the rallies, and thankfully. I never felt more like cattle being penned in and sent to the slaughter house (of inenitable invasion) than at a peace rally. Peace without justice is nothing but empty liberal moralism. Tyranny of the shortsighted if you ask me. I empathize with dougs desperation in the face of inevitable global violence perpetrated by the US government. i too searched endlessly through domestic and foreign media sources hoping to find that one nugget that would change Americans minds. i too crafted a nonviolent pacifism i hoped would make a difference. but what i ended up realizing was that if there are peace rallies going on its already too late. by that point the whole process is reactionary. the left (if i can generalize such a variety of viewpoints) needs to focus less on reaction and more on creation. creating a world where the debate is not shock and awe or the status quo, but how to develop meaningful human association. Keep writing Doug, and bill too.

What to do 11.Dec.2003 14:07

History

There are times when active disruption and intervention by popular force of the hegemony is not sufficiently feasible. While that should remain the goal whenever possible, bearing witness must occur when more concrete resistance is not possible.

Bearing witness 11.Dec.2003 21:41

a simple witness

Okay, History, I am called to agree. There are some who've been bearing witness for more than 9 months in the simple, small protest on the Bag[h]dad sidewalk. We can't claim that we make a difference for Others; we know that we make a difference to one an Other. We choose to believe that these small gestures might make a difference. For this time and this place, it is enough to keep us alive and kickin'.