Sunday, March 4, 2007

How do we make a breakthrough in the impeachment fight?

(This is the text of a talk I gave yesterday). In it I discuss some of the obstacles in our way as well as some of the factors in our favor. This has been posted at WCW's website also.)

On October 5, 2006 after I got through speaking at the World Can’t Wait (WCW) rally, a local TV network team interviewed me and the reporter asked me where are all the students? I said, they’re doing stuff, but in my mind I was thinking, damn it, this guy’s got a point. And then a couple months ago I was meeting with a group of impeachment activists in N. California and the question of where the students and the campuses were at came up. Why aren’t the campuses more actively engaged in this political fight? Why has the political fight not yet become more two-sided? One of the people there cited a survey he said was done recently of students that found that students were really apathetic and really into getting stuff – hooked into their iPods and so on. I pointed out that in China just before the massive protests against Deng broke out in 1989, a similar survey was done that found that students in China were really apathetic and just into getting material things. And then, of course, seemingly out of nowhere, erupted these gigantic protests involving millions.

If you were paying attention, these protests didn’t just materialize out of nowhere. There were signs that something like this was possible, there were clues and there were some preliminary eruptions of smaller numbers of students. So what are the signs now and what are the possibilities?

In my mind, there are two major aspects to this situation. On the one hand, you have the people who are already convinced that impeachment is long overdue – 58% according to a Newsweek poll several weeks ago. By comparison, only 26% supported impeaching Clinton. So this large majority is a strategic factor very much in our favor. On the other hand, we’ve got the reality that this 58% plus, while really, really huge, is still largely untapped. The Bush regime has its hands on institutional power and the cooperation of the Democratic Party leadership and the mainstream media (MSM). The Democratic Party’s opposition to any real impeachment fight is being reflected in the sharply lowered sights of many people who have been won over to the idea that somehow impeachment’s a distraction and is some kind of vendetta. This has blinded people from seeing the truly extreme and momentous nature of what Bush and Cheney have been doing.

As I wrote in ITP, at no time in the history of this country have the political institutions and the media been more distant and more opposed to where the people are than they are today. How did we get to this place and what’s it going to take to make a decisive breakthrough to alter the political balance of forces?

If someone like John Kerry or the NY Times were to call for impeachment the outpouring of support from this nationwide would be mind-boggling. Of course, this isn’t happening and won’t happen absent a very dramatic change in the political atmosphere. I want to get to the question of how we can effect this dramatic change in the political dynamic, but before I do it’s important to address what the Bush regime and what our government are doing because these things set the stage and set the terms of what we confront.

It is almost impossible to overstate what they’re doing and how extreme it is. One of the things I’ve been telling audiences that I’ve been speaking to since ITP came out is how much worse the Bush/Cheney regime is than you think and how there is no bottom to the pit that they represent. As bad as you think they are, the more you find out, the more you realize that they are much, much more dangerous and horrible than that. They’re fundamentally remaking what America is. As WCW has pointed out, this is no mere swing of the pendulum. It’s a momentous shift that has been underway, actually, for three decades, but has been put into overdrive under Bush/Cheney.

When the socialist bloc collapsed, the US was left with no real rivals and it was the sole remaining superpower. Globalization, which began in earnest about 30 years ago, was given a huge boost by the socialist camp’s demise. The neocons, who represent the most aggressive, most cutting edge of the ruling group, have a plan to fashion a New American Century in which no one will be allowed to pose any threat to their Empire. In order to accomplish this wildly ambitious program, they need to knock down any barriers, de facto and de jure, that present any obstacles or resistance to them. This includes much vaunted principles in the US Constitution and precious civil liberties in the Bill of Rights.

This is why they are not only expressly violating international law, including the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions, abrogating habeas corpus and carrying out massive, unwarranted surveillance and so on, but why they have legalized and are widely practicing torture. Think about what this means and where things are at: not even the Nazis ever dared to brazenly declare to the world that they were legalizing torture and making it part of their explicit, express doctrine that they would invade other countries that hadn’t attacked them first without even making a pretence of creating a pretextual invasion by the other side.

In effect, the Warner Act enables martial law. It overrides the Posse Comitatus Act that dates from the civil war and that prohibits the use of military forces in domestic affairs. The Warner Act allows the President to take control over the National Guard units over the objections of state governors and use the guard to conduct roundups, mass detentions and anything else that might be justified by him upon his declaration of a public emergency." The legislation specifies that should the President deem it necessary to declare a public emergency that he must consult with a select group of Congress members to tell them why he is doing this and what he is doing. In Bush's signing statement he declares in essence that he reserves the right not to consult with anyone: "The executive branch shall construe sections 914 and 1512 of the Act, which purport to make consultation with specified Members of Congress a precondition to the execution of the law, as calling for but not mandating such consultation, as is consistent with the Constitution's provisions concerning the separate powers of the Congress to legislate and the President to execute the laws."

In other words, he can declare martial law and not tell anyone why he's doing it or what he's doing. There is a word for this: dictatorship. Yet, in spite of this outrageous law and his outrageous signing statement, the media have been silent on this. (On February 19, 2007 the NY Times finally editorialized about the Warner Act, several months after Bush signed it in October 2006). We, the people, however, cannot be silent in the face of these moves towards a fascist state.

What was unthinkable a year or two ago is now an accomplished fact. They’re normalizing torture and war crimes because they need to get Americans psychologically used to accepting these awful, barbaric practices. Fox News shows viewers in a brief simulated waterboarding that, see, hey that wasn’t so bad, and Fox’s show “24” justifies and practices torture in primetime!

Bush et al recognize that torture doesn’t produce good intelligence and that it doesn’t in fact prevent more terrorist attacks, exactly the opposite. They are doing these terrible things for two major reasons. First, their world outlook is anti-scientific and anti-rationalist. They didn’t get to where they are and how they see things through a process of reasoning, so from their perspective, why should anyone else? What good is trying to persuade people? When they encounter opposition their first impulse is to try to fool or intimidate people into seeing things their way.

Second, and this is the principle factor here I think, they’re torturing people because they need to intimidate anyone who stands in their way in order to get their way. They know that what they want goes against the interests of the vast majority of the world’s people and that the only way they can accomplish it is to terrorize people into accepting their domination and plunder. This is where their plans in motion to attack Iran come in. As we speak a third carrier fleet is steaming to the Gulf and they’re engaging in covert OPS in Iran, funding Sunni terrorist groups. Note that the groups inflicting the most serious damage upon US troops in Iraq today are Sunnis. Their wars on Iraq and Afghanistan are disasters and like a desperate gambler, they intend to stake one last throw of the dice on an attack on Iran. This only underscores how voting, despite the powerful repudiation and message sent in November 2006 to them from the voters, doesn’t decide public policy.

Note the Democratic opposition’s position on this. Clinton has said the only problem with the war in Iraq is that it hasn’t been handled competently. Edwards and Obama have both said that all options are on the table vis a vis Iran, including the use of nukes. These people are no solution!

Bush and Cheney are also aggressively pursuing a radical fundamentalist, theocratic fascist program, an important part of which is a frontal attack on science and critical thought because in order to do what they want to do they must silence critics and any criticism. Thus, you have those who David Horowitz has dubbed the “Dirty Thirty” who are part of that opposition that they want to silence and destroy. What they are up to cannot stand the light of day, any more than a vampire can tolerate being exposed to sunlight. And just like a vampire in the sunlight, these people’s agenda and outlook burst into flames and ashes when the light is shined upon them.

The battle for impeachment therefore isn’t just about Bush/Cheney. It’s about the very nature of our society and our world. We’re at a critical point in history, not just in human history, but in the history of the planet. Because of the complicity of the existing political leadership and opinion-makers in our society, the true nature and magnitude of these dictatorial and outright fascist moves have been concealed from the people. ITP was written in part to address this problem by giving people a comprehensive sense of what their actual program and ideology is. This is one of the things that sets it apart from the other impeachment books. (Forgive me here for saying a few things about our book here. It’s not because I want to promote it for the royalties, but because there is a role for this book that I think needs to be better understood). We also designed ITP, and this is another dimension to it that makes it unique among the impeachment books, to get into an analysis of why they’re doing these horrible, monstrous things, and why they’ve been allowed to get away with it, because if the people are to be roused into direct political action and to take things into our hands, the people broadly need to understand exactly what it is that we’re up against – that this is a movement, not just a couple of reactionaries, and that this is a whole direction that the government as a whole and our economy as a whole has been going down, and that it’s going to take a powerful insurgency that alters the whole political atmosphere and balance of forces to have any chance of reversing this direction.

As I wrote in ITP and in my blog, even if a Democrat was to take the White House in 2008, we will still have Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, the AEI and Hoover Institute, Ann Coulter, Fox News, Pat Robertson and the theocratic fascist movement. These people are entrenched in the military, the churches, the media, and the government. Even if, for the sake of argument, a progressive Democrat was elected, let’s say, Dennis Kucinich, how could he do anything any good absent a wholly different political balance of forces in the country?

I’m a child of the sixties. I wouldn’t be where I’m at politically and in terms of my values if it had not been for the bravery and sacrifice of those who rose up so righteously in the sixties against authority and reaction and fought for justice and equality worldwide during the 1960s – the Vietnamese, the Chinese, the people of Paris, the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, the freedom riders and the Black Panther Party, SDS, the people of South America and Africa, and so on. So the last thing I want to address here is how we’re going to turn this battle into a fully two-sided fight for the future. Because we need another powerful insurgency like the sixties if we’re to have any chance in the face of this crisis we face today.

This underscores the significance of the first stirrings of a new student movement, what WCW has dubbed the Mission of a Generation, that we saw a few weeks ago that was kicked off at UCSB and spread to some 20 other campuses.

Two weeks ago I went to NYC to attend the Emergency Summit called by WCW and joined in by many other organizations. This summit was pulled together over something like two weeks and over two hundred people attended it. The atmosphere was electric and you can watch the Sat. night plenary on YouTube. The speeches by Ramsey Clark, Cindy Sheehan, Rev. Lennox Yearwood and Debra Sweet were extremely powerful and moving. And we put together a coordinated plan to wage this fight. I’m going to read from those plans here.

We’re in this to win, not just to have a good effort and feel good about that, or to make a grand, but failing effort. We need to win this fight and we intend to drive them out of office in 2007. The plans are designed in this way.

The genius of the A28 formulation is that it reframes the issue of impeachment on the very issue that the radical right/Bush regime have staked their claim - the moral high ground. The vacuum in leadership created by the bankruptcy of the existing leadership and opinion-leaders must be filled by an alternative leadership. Otherwise the people cannot move, because leadership is critical. One of the reasons that more of the public has not moved into direct political action is because they see that the Democratic Party and the mainstream media aren't acting like there's a problem so this must mean then that it must not be that serious. Another reason is that people are accustomed to following the lead of the existing leaders. It takes a lot to get people to stray from the existing leaders. It's a wrenching process. For them to do so requires that they, frankly, be shocked into awareness by what this government and its apologists/enablers have been doing. We need to heighten the contrast and the contradiction between Bush et al's lofty words of freedom, democracy and liberty and their actual practices. If we think that downplaying any of this will get us further, by making concessions to ethnocentrism, national chauvinism and American exceptionalism, we make a critical mistake.

We need to very clearly articulate the moral choice that we face today and advance a crystal clear moral authority in opposition to the other side's utter immorality and inhumanity. Moral leadership in this sense constitutes an extremely potent alternative. I don't mean necessarily that this moral leadership must come from religious figures - although this must happen as well. Our adversaries are committing and advocating war crimes and have legalized torture. The sharper that we draw out this contrast, the more we make clear to people that our own government is daily committing war crimes and torture, the better. Given the fact that we cannot rely upon - what could be clearer? - the existing political leadership and mass media to do this and that we ourselves must do this, we have a very tall order to fulfill. But what choice do we have? As World Can't Wait succinctly puts it: Silence = Complicity.

Henry Kissinger in his memoirs writes that there was a period in the 1960s when anti-war movement leaders exerted a tremendous amount of influence in the US far, far beyond their immediate numbers because there was a vacuum of leadership (dubbed at the time the "credibility gap"). We are in a similar situation in terms of possibilities if we recognize it and act boldly and decisively. The existing political leadership of this country (and I'm speaking beyond just the current White House's criminal occupants) is vulnerable to being exposed to the people as completely bankrupt.

To expose them as they deserve requires that we be relentless and unsparing in our exposes of them. There is no shortage of material that they generate every single day for this. We need to expose them concretely and by using particulars to unfold what they are doing more generally. We need to give people a sense of the whole, an entirely different vision, while using the parts of the whole to construct that picture. The moral terms of the fight are as clear as they will ever be. On the one side are those who use torture and countenance torture. On the other side are those who condemn torture as morally abhorrent. On one side are those who are utter opportunists who will lie, deceive, steal and/or kill in order to advance their interests and to protect those who now rule. On the other side are those for whom truth and justice are like rain to a parched earth.

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