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imperialism & war | political theory m19 2006

An Open Letter to the Anti-War Movement

Everyone on Sunday felt good being around so many other people who seemed to share the same basic rationality of opposing the war. Big permitted demonstrations provide an important space for a variety of people to see the size of their movement. Maybe the experience will even move some people from being mere marchers to being committed activists and organizers. But I must say that these marches mean next to nothing if they are not part of a broader and more confrontational (not violent) strategy centered on direct action.
An open letter to the anti-war movement

The anti (Iraq) war movement not being my personal focus (I'm a Latin America solidarity organizer), I offer these words with the sincere belief that the anti-war movement is the most important social movement in America and with the hope that it can win. I think that the movement is approaching a unique historical juncture and must choose to either take advantage of the current moment or fail.

It was heartening to see upwards of 20,000 students, union members, church people and others march through my city of Portland, Oregon this past Saturday. Anti-war activists did an amazing job organizing Portland's largest anti-war protest since the 2003 invasion. I am certainly not writing this letter to condemn large, permitted rallies. I believe that they could be an important part of a broader, campaign-based and tactically diverse anti-war movement.

Everyone on Sunday felt good being around so many other people who seemed to share the same basic rationality of opposing the war. Big permitted demonstrations provide an important space for a variety of people to see the size of their movement while at the same time demonstrate that size to the non-protesting public at large. It also provides a space for more mainstream people who oppose the war, but might not be ready for arrests, to participate in the movement. Maybe the experience will even move some people from being mere marchers to being committed activists and organizers.

But I must say that these marches mean next to nothing if they are not part of a broader and more confrontational (not violent) strategy centered on direct action.

What I mean by direct action is any action taken that in and of itself accomplishes the change you want to see.

The counter-recruitment campaign, for example, is a great idea. This campaign has the goal of stopping military recruiters from getting access to our youth. No more fresh bodies for the war machine means no more war.

Direct action means bringing the war home. Without a draft, a relatively large number of people experience the Iraq war as an abstraction. In the absence of a draft, we need to develop strategies that remind our fellow Americans every single day that we are in the midst of a brutal, illegal and immoral war. If your senator won't call for an immediate pullout from Iraq, we need to fill their offices with civilly disobedient bodies until they change their mind (kudos to those who did this yesterday). We need to strategize for no "business as usual" until the war is over.

Finally, we need to work with organized labor and communities of color. The 2005 AFL-CIO national convention passed a resolution calling for U.S. troops to come home now. This presents a serious opportunity to work with unions in our fight to bring American soldiers—mainly working class, union family kids—home, safe and alive. The same goes for communities of color. Instead of asking them to join our movement, we need to ask them how the anti-war movement can work with their communities, in solidarity with their fights.

This alone isn't going to stop the war...but it might if combined with a dozens of other similar campaigns. I encourage the anti-war movement to begin strategizing for a new level of action.

I offer this letter not as a directive or detailed strategic plan, bus simply as a conversation starter so that we can work together and develop a strong and tactically diverse anti-war movement that is a daily reminder to all Americans that we are at war and need to put an end to it.

The rest of the world and well over 50% of Americans are waiting on us. We must seize this moment.
Understood and yet.... 22.Mar.2006 11:08

Maxjulian antibes13@hotmail.com

Dan, I have been personally trying to get this point across to deaf ears. I believe that most marchers believe in "symbolic" prostest: they want to impress everyone with their righteousness, but at the end of the day, they aren't going to sacrifice anything for a matter of principle, let alone saving the lives of brown people on the other side of the world. When one proposes any tactic other than a meaningless march, the brainwashed lefty immediately cries, "you're advocating violence." They equate direct, tangible action with violence. Of course they don't believe in violence - unless its their Subaru or their property values we're talking about. The fascists have won when lefties can't think themselves out of their own mental roach motels. I believe if Bush announced tomorrow that he was ending white privilege and forcing white folks to change places with niggas, you'd see violence on an atomic scale. But there is no threat to white privilege so the beat goes on....

Marches are nothing but a fashion, a fashion accessory, eyeliner to highlight one's faux leanings. You can't seriously suggest to these people that they do something that might win justice. No, that's for elected officials, not us, in spite of the fact that politicians are whores for the corporation. Plus, how can one do more than march when they have to manage their stock portfolios and trust funds.


Unity against Imperialism 22.Mar.2006 13:51

Marik marik@aracnet.com

A lot of us have been advocating such tactics and orientations. The term 'non-violent' is used to bash a wide array of militant actions. Anyone who advocates militant actions is labeled by the liberal strata as advocating violence...nevermind the continous violence being used against the international working class by the rich ruling assholes in power across the globe. Radicals who are white become troublemakers, radicals who are not become terrorists..

White privilege definitely exists, but we must understand the purpose it serves. It keeps the working class divided along racial lines, and prevents potential working class leadership from engaging each other across these divides. This division makes it nearly impossible to create a movement that threatens continued bourgeois rule.

Take the vietnam anti-war movement for example. This movement had been built off the strength and militancy of the black human rights movement of the 50's and 60's. There was a very strong sense of leadership in these communities, a very real threat. This leadership had an overwhelming amount of effect on the strength and militancy of the anti-war movement, which managed to win the concessions of Nixon's resignation and the inability of the ruling class to stay in Vietnam.

So what do we, as radicals, as people who oppose the stick and carrot reform policies of the capitalist class, do? We have no political backing or support. Nor will we ever really get them. The ruling class will attempt to derail any of our efforts to build a movement aimed at them and their system. One which is threatening enough to make them pull out of Iraq, Afghanistan, the Phillipines.. One that makes them remove permanent military bases and secret torture camps. One that can rally support for the people's of South America.

If we want this kind of a movement, we will have to get broad support for it from all of our communities. FOr people to support it, they have to understand why it is absolutely necessary. This requires grassroots colloboration by those activists who understand that need. We need to build a solid movement against imperialism out of the anti-war movement, the Gulf Coast struggle, the labor movement and the attack on immigrant workers. We need political solidarity between all of these movements, based on the understanding that we are all at the mercy of Imperialist system. Some communities are much more exploited by Imperialism than others, and we must understand this too. But these movements affect all of our communities, regardless of their ethnicity. They are all at their root, caused by racist imperialism and the bourgeois ruling class.

We must start by conquering the racial divides in our own city, and achieve political solidarity between all of our communities and their movements. Unity against Imperialism.


Instead of advocating... 23.Mar.2006 18:54

George Bender

Why aren't you organizing whatever you want to happen? Some activists seem to have the weird idea that it's up to them to pursuade other activists to do what they want to do. What would make more sense is for you to do it yourself.

Or join some of the small groups that are already doing more militant things. There have been recent articles on this website about their actions. I'm sure they would be happy to have more members, as long as you agree with their strategy and are willing to stick to it.

Too much talk.


Analysis Paralysis 23.Mar.2006 21:34

Black to the Future antibes13@hotmail.com

It is very interesting that critical analysis is not allowed within the boards of PIMC or among white liberals. What I've noticed as a black person in Portland is that white liberals/radicals' shit doesn't stink (as far as white liberals and radicals are concerned). Instead of being grateful when you point out their propensity for racism or myopia, they get mad and say join somebody else's movement because you aren't wanted in theirs - unless you SHUT UP and agree with their lying inaction cloaked in activist garb. To George and other whites like him: The hostility that I have received from so-called lefties is worse than rednecks in the south that I've encountered. I feel its my duty to point out the diseased blindspots of the activists I would like to JOIN in fighting the enemy; unfortunately, I'm finding that my enemy includes YOU! I don't want it that way, but what else am I to think when I try to join/stimulate/envigorate a movement that stifles itself, a movement that discriminates against people of color and a movement that is unwilling to hear anything but rosy falsehoods? The resistance, the desire to celebrate nothing as some kind of victory is astounding. Who bodysnatched the white left and replaced them with these hollow, grinning, slogan chanting stooges? The people who enjoyed last week's march the most are the Bushies who know they have nothing to fear because they face NO REAL opposition. When are you gonna take the castor oil and listen?


last sunday's march 23.Mar.2006 23:02

anonymous

I quickly lost track of how many people approached me at the end of Sunday's march and rally. "Wasn't this a GREAT march?" "Didn't you have FUN today? I sure did, what a GREAT day this was!" "Didn't the weather turn out to be just GREAT for our march today?"

My apologies for sounding negative or for being a downer to everyone's GREAT mood... but somehow, I didn't really think that having FUN was what this march was about. Innocent Iraqi civilians, women, children, and our own sons and daughters are dying en masse every day, and people wanted to know if I was having FUN????

Yes, I agree... by and large, this rally was a fashion statement. A way for the mainstream, white, middle class to assauge their collective conscience. They can all now say, "I've done my part. I marched in the streets. I carried a sign. The war is not my fault- I did what I could to stop it." They can now go back to their SUVs and their $500K houses, guilt free.

Well, we haven't done our part. Not by a long shot. Let's get it together already. Let's wake up and realize that the Vietnam War wasn't ended because of peaceful protests and hippies carrying signs. Let's take some risks. Let's make our voices heard.

There are three recruitment offices in town. Senators Wyden and Smith, as well as Rep. Blumenauer, all have offices in town. I am happy to help organize a phone tree or try to work out a schedule of sorts, so that we can have people filling these spaces every day of the week until it makes a difference. If anyone reading this thread is willing/interested in really making this happen, say so. Let's stand up and be counted. Direct action that actually affects the people in power is the only thing that will get their attention.

I'm not advocating violence. But the fact of the matter is that pacifism is not always the right choice. And when people are being murdered right under our noses, and in our names... pacifism itself becomes a form of violence.

YES! 23.Mar.2006 23:07

y

You took the words straight out of my mouth (keyboard), and saved me a lot of typing!

Direct action get's the goods.
Which (nixon? LBJ?) administration official once said: "let them march all they want as long as they pay their taxes!"

All Tactics 24.Mar.2006 09:59

just a thought

I heard an interview with Josh Harper, who recently went to prison for speaking out against the oppression of animals. Anyway, it's really changed my thoughts about how I look at these things. In the interview, Josh said that the reason why SHAC is so effective is that "we don't deny anyone's tactics." He spoke very eloquently about the need to stop demonizing each others' tactics, and to allow people to act in any way they can. (The interview is in one of the pdx indy video collective's films, called "refusing to be silent.")

Anyway, I thought a lot about what he had said, and I realized that he was right. It's always bothered me to hear people badmouthing black blocers, or talking down to radicals. But until recently, I felt it was important to point out how aimless these big marches are, just as some of the authors above have done. (In truth, I still think it's important to talk about. I do believe that such things are capable of diffusing people's energy, making them believe they have done something even if they haven't. People drive in, march around for a bit, then go shopping. They often do not see the connection between what they do in their own lives and what they are there giving lip service against. It does make me a little nuts. I also shudder at some of the ego trips among those who often organize and "sponsor" these things.)

But on thinking about it, I realize that these marches are one tactic among many, and that the people who take part are good people, doing what they can. The truth is, if all they did was to walk in a big, permitted, circle, it would be truly useless. But I think the role of these things is to bring people into the movement, to awaken some awareness, and to act as a bridge between the relentless feelings of powerlessness so many people have and a supportive community that can provide information about things they can do to make real changes. In other words, marches and demonstrations can have a useful purpose.

Maybe, instead of spending a lot of time deconstructing what is wrong with other people's tactics, maybe it's time for each of us to just make sure that we're doing real work that we believe in, and that we are, at the very least, doing SOMETHING. I mean, it's good to have discussions about what can be done better or more effectively (like, not selling each other out to the cops because they're not behaving in "our" marches, or not disrespecting a particular event by using it as cover for actions that scare the organizers and put people at risk who did not intend to be part of such things). But constantly pointing our fingers at what other people should be doing often obscures the fact that we could be doing more too.

I guess the point is, if you want to march, then march. And write letters, and make phone calls, and engage in civil (and not so civil) disobedience, take part in direct actions, and make the way you live more sustainable. Take less, consume less, and DO MORE. Do the things that you can do, and allow others to do what they can do. Let's stop badmouthing each other, stop putting down each others' tactics. If someone is engaged in radical direct action, then support them in it! (At the very least, do not criticize, demonize, or otherwise support the SS.) And if someone is engaged in marching around the city with a sign in their hands, then support them in it. (At the very least, do not criticize, demonize, or otherwise support the SS.)

Haven't Done Enough 24.Mar.2006 10:30

billray

"UNTIL" by Max Merckenschlager

Until the last is fed and clothed and safe in friendly arms,
Until the fitful sleeps of fear aren't shattered by alarms,
Until inoculation has their killers by the scruff,
Until we've met their basic needs, we haven't done enough.

Until the universal laws aren't honoured in the breach,
Until religions' followers all practice what they preach,
Until we cherish children whether brindle, black or buff,
Until we've made them family,
we haven't done enough.

Until our leaders demonstrate it's economic sense
to budget aid for others as our paramount defence,
Until we view equality as more than words of puff,
Until we treat the symptoms too, we haven't done enough.

Until a life of freedom and the tools with which to learn,
Are seen as rights of everyone - not privileges to earn,
Until we've bled a little and, by choice, we've had it tough,
Until we've changed the way it is, we haven't done enough.

Dialog and criticism 24.Mar.2006 11:34

Marik marik@aracnet.com

Dialog and criticism are the foundations of human development. You mistake attempts by radicals to create a dialog questioning the merits of having liberal-imperialist leaders in our anti-war, and other movements, as dehumanizing attacks on other activists. You mistake criticism for personal attacks.

Moreover, ALL of my criticisms have been aimed at the liberal *leaders* and their inability to help us create a bigger movement aimed at smashing U.S. imperialism and bourgeois rule. In fact our movements are weak and watered down directly because of the liberal coalitions that control our movements. Such examples include but are not limited too; NION, UFPJ, SNOW, WCW & ANSWER.

It would be nice if for once, instead of simply being labeled and elitist know-it all or being labeled as attempting to split the movement, that we could develop an on-going dialog on the situation. The rest of the world is waiting on us for it.

Frankly, I'm very excited about all of these threads here (Thank you by the way, to Portland Indy for putting these threads on the center column!). It seems more and more of us are beginning to question the doctrine of white liberal non-violence.

Mayday is right around the corner too...will it be a similiar liberal lead (and thusly, ineffective) march through the city? Or will we shut the city down as an act of solidarity with international workers?


Why a Critique is Absolutely Necessary 24.Mar.2006 12:42

The Free Slave antibes13@hotmail.com

Good comments. Can the movement to change this society afford to be splintered? Can this movement afford to have the overwhelming majority of its creative resources tied up in marches billed to "end" wars that after the fact are claimed to be about 'keeping the morale up', etc? Why isn't that on your bumperstickers, t-shirts or picket signs? ("FEEL BETTER ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR INEFFECTUALITY - MARCH") There really aren't that many of us - how do uncoordinated "actions" by splinter groups who won't speak to each other, who practice behaviors that rarely rise to the level of 'action' help change anything?

I'm trying to be honest, assess the situation(s) and offer constructive criticism. The reason I get nasty in my criticism is that I have spent years talking nicely to white liberals who REFUSE to hear suggestions; they think they know everything, think that I don't know anything and don't respect people of color or opinions different from theirs.

We can't afford NOT to be a united front. If we aren't going to use violence, then we absolutely HAVE to create an authentic, MASS movement that attracts as many people as possible. (Remember: 'they have the guns, but we've got the numbers, baby!') That large movement has to move like a single organism; if we don't WE will continue to go nowhere. Right now its an elitist thing that would do Skull & Bones proud.

There seems to be a cabal of leftists who hold the same march, invite the same people who say the same thing over and over again. Since we now know that we need to create a broad, huge movement - how do we invite more people in instead of sending out secret invitations to our cronies? Do white liberals even want to have a broadbased movement? Its hard to tell.

I believe we need to many planning sessions: we need to reflect on the mistakes that have been made these last few years by the so-called Left and create a blue print for successful revolution. Without serious, unsparing reflection, without a willingness to see what mistakes have been made - then we are no better than idiot Bush who claims he can't think of one thing he's done wrong. Too many white folks and some colored ones act the same way - "why do I need to look at ME," AND "who do you think YOU are, how dare you say that to me?"

I sense that among many white lefties, there is a prorietary feeling re. activism: 'its OURS, its our thing done OUR way, this is how WE do it because this is how its done! AND, if you don't like it, you can go do your "actions" with your clique; just don't think that we want to hear your complaints!' This is immaturity and insanity. A person or group unwilling to hear a critique and/or the truth in the context in which we operate; a person who rejects out of hand anything that doesn't conform to their rose colored delusions about themselves - is a walking corpse. Its no wonder that there has been NO progress in stopping this war, stopping racism/white supremacy or any other isms - the practioners of all of the above don't want to hear about it.

I'll close with this: this white dude, George, said something somewhere on PIM about there being too much talking not enough action. If we don't stop and THINK, and then really act - not the fake actions he's advocating - we'll ALL end up in somebody's gas chamber, insisting in the shower that we know what we're doing. The Bush administrations continued stay in the White House is evidence that ain't shit. But to rise from where we are to an improved plateau begins with a plan. Is ya with me?


make use of marches 24.Mar.2006 14:25

deva

There are some false assumptions goin round.

First, people who offer criticism does not mean that they just sit at home at the computer. They are often people who are committed and working hard.

Second, criticizing a march is not a narrow tactical view. Let's have a march. Let it be permitted. Make that choice. Then turn it into something valuable. Have speakers who then talk about the need for outreach and organizing efforts.

The thinking is often narrow and dichotomous. Someone says that march is ineffective, and the response is well we are not interested in violence, or some variation. If you say we need to do something more, someone replies that civil disobedience is planned, as if that is the next and only logical step. It is like a broken record.

So yes, let's have a march. Let it be permitted. And then have speakers who talk about the need for regular citizen involvement. Who encourage people to sign up to do community outreach, host neighborhood meetings to discuss eroding civil rights, distribute literature, hold peaceful vigils at recruiting centers (kudos to the Catholic Workers who are at the Lloyd Center Recruiters every Tuesday!) etc etc.

Have speakers who mention that electronic voting may have insured an outcome people will not even vote for. Telling people that the most important thing they can do is vote, and not even mentioning that the vote may be rigged is almost suicidal. Voting also assumes that there will be someone worth voting for and who will have a chance to change things. Not assumptions that we should make. The primary need, is to get people involved.

There are so many ways that people can get involved that are legal, peaceful and safe. A rally like that is a fine opportunity to sign people up when they are all together and feeling more encouraged. Imagine 1000 people out in the city every week, informing, educating, challenging the corporate media lies that have hooked so many people. It would bring a profound change in the city, and swiftly too!

United Anti-Imperialist Front 25.Mar.2006 00:30

Comandante Gringo ComandanteGringo@gmail.com

Good to hear some of this stuff -- especially from the komrad who knows so well that racism is what the ruling class uses to divide the working class. And even the Left. And how we need that United Front (even Condosleezza Rice wants to pre-empt us by stealing that idea. Such are the fruits of having a mass-espionage apaaratus following our every conversation...) And also from the other komrad about the need for a MayDay action next: something concrete to grab onto and sink our teeth into.

Let's work backwards here: we need to get rid of capitalism. That's the bottom line, isn't it? Capitalism/imperialism is now clearly a threat to the very life of our planet, let alone the masses it enslaves in its economic bowels. So we need to build a mass movement with the express goal of removing capitalism from the world stage. Pronto.

But tell me that violence won't be involved; the idiot, hypocritical arguments about violence we always hear are really all about the cowardice of the excuse-maker; because no matter how 'non-violent' we are -- if we challenge their system, they WILL be MOST violent to us. And so we PREPARE for their violence. This is BASIC STUFF. Moralizing about violence is worse than irrelevant in this case: it's downright criminally incompetent and pathetic. People will DIE -- needlessly -- because cowardly liberals won't plan for the inevitable. NO matter that people will die regardless.

So one thing that people have to start agreeing on is that we are in a very real and serious struggle with gangster war-criminals of Nazi-esque stature; and that this struggle WILL turn violent, no matter what we decide. And it WILL do so especially if we start to prevail. COUNT on it. You can BANK on it. 'Make book' on it... The question thus is only how to DEAL with a violent police state that WILL ruthlessly use all its power and technology against every one of us.

So. Still want to march on that basis..?
Or do we all just go vote Democrat and cry in our milk?

OK - how? 25.Mar.2006 16:27

m

Agree with the desire about escalating resistance and direct action. But the question remains --how to do so? - given the erosion of civil liberties and the very real increase repression since 9-11. Direct action advocates have yet to develop an effective response to the Miami Model for brutally suppressing mass non-violent direct action - or the government's latest strategies for disrupting decentralized affinity group actions -- ala the ELF-ALF. That's the challenge right now. To be smarter, faster and more creative than the opposition.

[ 26.Mar.2006 10:56

]

How? Organize people!

And start telling the truth without fear or political calculation.

First, there is no real anti-war movement. It is something of a ruse. The US goverment bombed Serbia back into the stone age and killing mass numbers of people based on lies as false as the ones Bush told. Why were there no anti-war protests? Because there was a Democratic President. The left establishment and the Democratic Party have effective control of the anti-war movement. That is how the anti-war movement was turned to vote for a pro-war candidate.

People independent of such control need to organize with each other. Medea Benjamin has sold out to democratic interests. Other high profile people are in the same position. A people's movement needs to be free of control by either dominant party.

The political left in this country will stab people in the back every time.

[ 26.Mar.2006 12:46

]

I should not have said there was no anti-war movement, just not a coherent one free of establishment control.

Anonymous: I'll be on your phone tree, how do we contact you? 26.Mar.2006 13:41

pinkkatie pinkkatie@riseup.net

Anonymous and others:

I definitely agree that the march should be just one piece of a larger campaign including direct action, and without a doubt sit-ins in Senators/Rep.s offices. You say you're willing to put together a phone tree to help accomplish this, but you don't have any contact info in your post.

The analysis discussions are valid and important. And lots of people have great ideas about how to do more. And as someone who spent 2 days with a woman from Iraq this weekend, I am convinced that we all need to work harder and do more if we are going to bring this occupation to an end.

However, I want to bring up a point I have not seen anyone else make yet: We need more people to do all this work. The march and rally, and the direct action in Wyden's office, both took a LOT of work, and planning, and energy, and time to put together. The people involved in the planning of these events are now very tired and pretty fried. We are not the ones that should be getting the brunt of the criticism, but instead, the people who say they care, but did not actually do any of the hard work for the last couple of months.

Different people need to get involved. Anyone can be a leader, and begin planning an action or event. Just do it. Get started, do the work, and then if you want people to show up, I will be there.

The missing piece is not sheer numbers of people who care, Portland has shown that we do.

The missing piece is people who are able to come up with ideas, figure out how to implement them, and then call/email everyone else to come out in support again.

My email is below, I will be happy to show up. And even help, if you need. Just let me know.


Denvir's actions belie his words 24.May.2006 16:05

Henry hjnoble@igc.org

If Denvir indeed wants to enlarge the movement why did he expel groups from the Immigrant Rights Coalition May 16 because he disagrees with their views? Free speech and democracy are cornerstones of building any coalition. Let the ideas be aired and then people can decide which to choose. Denvir should know this from his work with Latin American leftists.