PDX Protests - Q&A with Noam Chomsky
During the height of the Anti-War Protests in PDX, I wrote a letter to Noam Chomsky asking for his opinion on the dilemmas we had been facing locally. The following article is comprised of these letters, beginning with my own so that his appears in context.
Dear Mr. Chomsky,
Since the beginning of the war in Iraq, many citizens have voiced their opposition to the war. Much of this has taken the form of protests in the streets, in the parks, in the square, etc. Groups have formed, wherein lunch hour is the designated time to meet up downtown and pass out anti-war fliers. However, very little is coming of this past negative response and publicity. Headlines read that 'Bush Will Not Be Deterred by Anti-War Protests'. News coverage of the protests make the protestors out to be a mob of crazed rebels doing more damage than good, and the air surrounding is heavy with 'Just give up. No one will listen. The protests will not influence the outcome, & furthermore- your position is unpatriotic'.
Taking the patriotism stance a step further, a bill (#742) has been introduced to Oregon State Legislature, which means to expand the definition of 'terrorism' to anyone who "knowingly plans, participates in, or carries out an act intended to disrupt the free and orderly assembly" of Oregonians. The minimum sentence being twenty-five years in prison without the possibility of parole.
When my friends and I come by posts online asking why people feel that protesting is necessary, we have found that the most understood answer is to explain that if no one protested, it would be easy to think that the propaganda in the media was true- that the citizens of the US are okay with what's going on- but that people such as ourselves won't tolerate that.
However, when such negative feedback is received, such as articles in newspapers from the prints' audience asking the protestors in general "what they think they are accomplishing," and "can't you figure out a better idea?" I am not sure what to say.
I was born in the early eighties. I missed (by default & childhood ignorance) the "end" of apartheid, Operation Desert Storm, the pharmaceutical bombing of Nicaragua, etc. and looking to the past for guidance I hear sorted tales of protests throughout history. I am an idealist, and would like to stick to the mentality that one voice can make a difference, let alone a community of people banding together for the sake of their cause. However, in light of these reactions (both local and in the presidential headlines), I am unsure as to where to turn. There are alternatives, both creative (sending bags of rice to the president to be given to "our enemies") and to the point (with "Write Your Congressman" sites accessible to the public)- but is there a better route?
Thank you very much for lending me your time in reading this. I sincerely hope that you are doing well, and that you are enjoying yourself in all of your endeavors.
100s of e-mails to answer, so have to be brief. What you describe is not only happening all over the country, but has been happening for 100s of years. There isn't the slightest doubt that protest is effective, but anything worth struggling for won't be won in a day. Abolitionism?
Women's rights? Overthrowing Apartheid? Pick and choose. In this case, the protests certainly had an effect, if not in stopping this aggression, in changing estimates about the next one. These protests will prove to be extremely significant, if they are the basis for building for the future, and they can be. There are, in fact, quite ambitious efforts underway to put together a really massive international movement, and it's not out of the question. Check Znet (zmag.org) for Mike Albert's proposals.
Of course, when anything is effective, there are efforts by power and privilege to stop it. All kinds of ways, including those you mention. But we're very lucky in comparison with most of the world. Repression here exists, but it is marginal by comparative standards. And people who face vastly more serious consequences than we do don't give up.
As for the best way to proceed, there's no answer, and never has been. If a magic key existed, someone would have told us about it long ago. It always comes back to the same thing: education, including self-education; organization; activism, which can take a great many forms, depending on who you are, what you choose, what are your opportunities, and all sorts of factors that only the person involved really knows about.
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