Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I had a wonderful conversation recently with impeachment activists who have been using ITP in reading circles and carrying out actions. They discovered, serendipitously, after doing sign holding (and getting tons of supportive car honks and waves) that just holding a sign up while casually hanging out also elicited lively responses and inquiries from people. They're calling it "accidental activism."

In response to my raising the issue of youth and students not having yet stepped forward in the numbers and with the verve that is absolutely critical to the success of any social movement, one of them mentioned a survey that was conducted recently of US college students. This study, he said, found that college students today are extremely materialistic.

This was offered as an explanation for the relative lack of student participation so far. I pointed out, however, that in the weeks preceding the 1989 Spring Uprising in China (known most widely as the Tiananmen protests) which was not only in Beijing but in many cities and so on throughout the country, a similar survey of college students found the same thing: that students were very apolitical and into getting things. And then, from seemingly out of nowhere, erupts this massive protest against the widespread corruption, widening inequities and betrayal of the revolution by the new state capitalist leaders of China. (Of course, there were varying and contradictory trends among the participants, but this is something that I need to get into in detail on another occasion).

I know this because I wrote my masters essay on this topic (and perhaps I'll post it on this blog sometime). This movement of millions of students, intellectuals and later workers and peasants rocked the country and the world. But it wasn't until the workers starting joining the protests and started forming alliances with the students - an exceedingly potent and extremely dangerous and combustible combination that has spelled the end of regimes - that Deng Xiao-ping immediately came in with the tanks and crushed it ruthlessly.

This movement didn't actually come from out of nowhere. You could see the possibility for it and the basis for it if you were paying close attention. So we need to pay close attention now and recognize the possibility, the signs of a groundswell and the basis for such to bloom if the bravest among us step forward and create a standard for people to rally around and step forward themselves. We need to recognize that our very actions create more favorable conditions and bring forth things that won't come forward unless we tap them. The relative quiescence so far is not mainly due to public apathy. It’s mainly due to the suppressive actions of this country’s opinion-leaders who have failed to combat the fascist moves and the outright fascist laws being passed. They have shielded this regime and continue to do so - with precious, but few, exceptions (Helen Thomas, Lewis Lapham, Bill Maher, Rosie O'Donnell, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Keith Olbermann). This has created an atmosphere of disorientation among the public. The question is what will happen to this disorientation and where will it lead.

The Democratic Party and some people on the political left are doing their best to divert people into putting their hopes, once again, ad nauseum, into politics as usual and getting excited about who the next Democratic presidential nominee is going to be. Politics as electoral politics, however, is a terribly narrowly conceived view of what politics is. Campaigning and voting are what most Americans think is their role in politics. "I voted, therefore, I've done my part." But public policy isn't now nor has it ever been made by election results. Voting doesn't discharge your duties in the political arena. If you think about this for a minute, even in a hypothetically truly representative democracy, how could one realistically think that it would be enough to merely vote?

Politics decides how the resources of society are going to be allocated, among other things. How can decisions such as these be left to a handful of people? Who do you think is going to wield the most influence upon politicians and public officials in a society in which wealth is extremely unevenly distributed? The richest 497 individuals in the world today have as much wealth as the bottom half of the world's population: 3 BILLION plus people. When elections are largely decided nowdays by who has the most money and who controls the voting machines, how can we think that we are really doing anything political by merely voting and merely participating in the electoral game? People need to act politically in diverse and numerous ways. Demonstrate, form impeachment groups in your school or community, join World Can't Wait, get together with a friend or a few friends and hold up signs on the sidewalk or over freeway overpasses, put together your own flyers, write letters to the editor, put up signs on your lawns, your cars, your person, agitate, put together teach-ins, read widely and deeply, (read ITP!), get together with others to study history, politics, theory.

The people who don’t think that torture is ok are very disturbed and rightly so. And they are trying to figure out if they can do something and what they can do. One of the people who attended my book talk yesterday told me that she’s been feeling depressed because she recognizes how awful things are, but hasn’t known what she can do about it. Anger and passion turned inward, of course, turns into depression.

The people who've been saying "it will never happen, Bush will never get impeached" need to be shown through our actions and the actions of so many others, how wrong-headed they are. I plan to write more soon about what I mean about the basis for people to become a powerful groundswell, but for now let me briefly say this:

The political leadership and the opinion-leaders of this country are fundamentally restructuring what it means to be an American and what America is. They are normalizing - and getting people to accept - torture. They are normalizing massive surveillance and intrusion upon our lives. They are hacking away at due process and abrogating habeas corpus. They are doing all of these things because they need to remake what the terms of unity are, what people will accept and come to see as customary, and what the expectations are in this country. This is what the new normalcy will be. They are doing these things because they need to create new conditions in order to pursue the empire they are building. Long-standing, much vaunted principles, many of which date from the founding documents of this country, are being eliminated because they stand in the way of their imperialist plans. As they do this, a large majority of Americans, roughly 75% of us, are deadset against this. I say 75% because I think roughly 25% of the people would be perfectly happy to live in a society without the Bill of Rights (save the 2nd Amendment!). But for the 75% or so who are adamantly opposed to this, as more and more of that 75% are beginning to realize what is afoot, this large majority faces a choice: do we remain passive and get more and more depressed and afraid, or do we act? The restructuring that this government is conducting is creating a great deal of distress in the country because these government moves are violating on a fundamental level principles and practices that most Americans consider essential to living in a "free society." This wrenching process creates the potential for popular upheaval against these tyrants. That is the basis for a groundswell to turn into a massive, determined, irresistible movement for an entirely different future.

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