[Note: this is the text of the talk I gave at the October 5, 2007 WCW National Meeting in NYC. Based on the ensuing discussions at the meeting I want to underscore and elaborate upon two points upfront that I discuss in the talk:
Clearly, we are facing an extraordinary situation today as the Bush Regime and its enablers are decisively refashioning the social compact in the US and accelerating their efforts to silence dissent and clamp down on the society. Their aggression abroad is being matched by their need to carry out repression at home. The gap between their drastic and appalling steps and the level of the overt public response against this to date is agonizing to contemplate. There are some very important stirrings evident such as Jena and the righteous actions in NY, but the acceleration of our adversaries means that we need to ratchet up the resistance in a very big way.
This brings up the first point I want to highlight. The Steering Committee has been trying to figure out why DIN [Declare It Now: Wear Orange] and especially 333 haven’t been embraced more thoroughly and uniformly within our ranks and thereby moved forward more powerfully. I think the problem may be that the challenge we face as activists is analogous to the challenge that faces the people who are not yet politically involved. As hard as it is for the people to see that they must act and as hard as it is for them to recognize at this point how important their actions would be, it is just as hard for us as conscious political forces to see how decisive our actions are in determining whether or not the people are really unleashed. There seems to be a certain expectation within our ranks that the people will step forward more spontaneously into political action than is warranted.
Some activists, especially very new forces, but not only new ones, thought that taking out DIN would be simpler and easier – that the people would see the orange and take it up. Our job according to this view was very straightforward: show them the colors and they’ll wear them too. In fact, as some of the more advanced experiences sum up, the people need to be politically struggled with and their spontaneous understanding isn’t sufficient to get them involved. The moral and political leadership vacuum that I speak of in this speech does not automatically lead to the people being able to fill that vacuum and find their own way to expressing themselves in potent political ways. The vacuum needs to be filled concretely by an alternative leadership: by us and by others on a similar path with us. The transition from a felt vacuum of leadership to adopting a new leadership isn’t an easy or straightforward, much less, spontaneously taken, path. We’re going up against force of habit, tradition, repression, fear (the goddamn phony “war on terror”) and the ruling circles’ long-standing influence. How many years have the GOP and the Democratic Party been around after all? How much money and influence do they have?
The people need to be uncorked by political leaders/organizers. The broad masses of people tend to think that all they have to do is come out and demonstrate a few times and things should change. We make the same mistake if we think that going out and brandishing orange will do the trick.
Just pointing the way forward to people isn’t enough. We have to “get into it” with them. Just as the people need to raise their political activity, we need to raise our political activity as leaders. This doesn’t mean that we need to just get busier. It means that we need to recognize the importance of politically struggling with people on the cardinal questions and if we do this, we will find that many, many more people will step it up and get politically engaged. Our actions can charge the atmosphere and will change the conditions, but just going out there and expecting people to step up just because we’re out there among them with some bright colors isn’t going to cut it.
Asking people if they want to wear orange isn’t what’s needed. We have to challenge them sharply: “if you don’t choose, you’ve chosen.” “I’m against torture, are you? If you are, you have to show it. If you don’t then you don’t really mean it.” “Do you think that Iraqi lives are any less important than Americans’?” Etc. We have to engage people in a fierce, unapologetic, uncompromising way to win them to becoming active participants in political affairs and to becoming political representatives of a new order themselves. We have to make it larger than life for people what’s going on and we have to make it vivid to them what the choices are: if you’re against this and you don’t show it, then it doesn’t count. People will not fall into our laps. Political power must be won. Political change is a big fight. Otherwise, we make the error of thinking that getting a lot of people demonstrating a bunch of times is going to do what needs to be done. Our task and the task of the people are much bigger and more protracted than that.
The Seattle chapter’s summation about an early effort to take out DIN speaks very well to what difference it makes to get right what we’re doing. Initially they were taking out the orange to a concert crowd and they were getting hardly any takers. It was going nowhere. They then summed up that they needed to talk to people and find out what they thought about the Bush Regime. In the course of those discussions they started to connect with people and raise their understanding by challenging spontaneous assumptions (like “they’ll be gone in 15 months anyway”). This allowed them to bring alive why DIN and wearing orange made sense and needed to happen. They then found such a remarkable change that it was almost as if they were working with an entirely different crowd. The crowd, of course, didn’t change in composition. What changed was what the activists were doing and how they were interacting with the people. Then everything changed.
This brings up the second point that I want to underscore. It’s not surprising that we all have a preference for taking out DIN to people in the midst of high tides of struggle such as Jena. We find ourselves mobbed and without time even to talk to people because the demand for the orange et al is so strong. Given a choice nearly one and all of us would prefer to be at a demonstration chanting and expressing our fury at the powers. It’s exciting and gratifying and important. We feel the power of the people when we do this and it’s great and gives us greater inspiration. But as organizers we have a higher responsibility than this to politically solve the barriers standing in the way of people who should step forward and those who have stepped forward and need political nourishment to stay with it and grow as organizers. This is where we earn our keep. This is where our work makes the biggest difference. Orange isn’t going to become the color of resistance just because it gets associated with political protest. This is true of course in one respect. People who are carrying out marches and so on should be wearing orange and it does become linked that way. But orange doesn’t require that this happen first for it to be the sign of resistance and TO BE resistance. Wearing orange everyday, decorating with orange, are themselves, in and of themselves, acts of resistance.
The extended comments I make in the following speech about electrifying the day to day world of people’s individual’s lives aren’t just rhetoric. I mean them to be taken literally. I wasn’t speaking just to try to get us inspired and set goals that we can’t really achieve. Taking the view that orange will spread because it will be associated with protest actions in the traditional mode is missing the essence of the innovative character of DIN and will stand in the way of our carrying out 333. We need to see what political resistance is with new eyes. It’s much bigger, broader and more diverse than we are used to seeing it as. We would not be doing our duty and we would not be meeting the challenge we face if all we were doing was succeeding in getting tons of people to come out and demonstrate. The point is that even coming out to demos isn’t enough. People need to take personal responsibility for being tribunes of the people in their daily lives.
DIN and 333 are a paradigm shift. They’re a very different way of doing political work and they’re based on a fundamentally different vision of what we’re doing and what we need to do, especially in these specific circumstances. The particular configuration of political protagonists at this point in US history requires us to make this conceptual breakthrough. If we don’t we will not be able to draw upon the kind of forces among the people that we need to do this exceptionally difficult and unprecedented thing – driving out a fascist regime from power in the homeland of the greatest imperialist power in history that is not facing any other national power at this point. If we’re going to do something unprecedented, don’t the methods we use and the analysis we bring to what we’re doing have to also be unprecedented? Do we really think that we can do this huge thing by just using the conceptual tools and methods of the past? We’re not going to gather enough forces merely building from demo to demo.
The essence of DIN and 333 need to be studied carefully and grappled with by our forces. It’s not a gimmick, it’s not just “the thing we’re doing now,” and we won’t move forward if we are now looking around for the next thing to try without first really coming to grips with what DIN and 333 are. If we grapple with and get what DIN and 333 are about and how they are different from what is ordinarily done, we will make breakthroughs that we never thought were possible. We’ve already had some glimpses of this. But we need more than glimpses of the light. We want the whole goddamn view: on the oceanfront with a panoramic view. I want to hear the surf roar in my sleep and I want to wake up to the orange sunrise!]
* * *
The political establishment and the corporate media’s complicity with the Bush agenda have deprived the American people of the traditional sources of leadership that they look to protect them from dictatorial and fascist threats like the Bush agenda. This is leaving millions of Americans alternating between shock and despair. Even though most people don’t know how monstrous this regime is because the mainstream media (MSM) and Democrats aren’t telling them, the Bush Regime (BR)’s actions and policies are so drastic, so extreme, and so awful, not just in terms of US history, but also in world history, people can’t help but recognize that we are in the midst of a dramatic and ominous shift.
Why is this going on? The US imperialists are in the process of carrying out a radical rupture – not just a departure, not just a more extreme version of the past, but a rupture with past practices. US presidents have never been above torture. The practice of rendition actually began under Clinton, albeit on a much smaller scale. What sets Bush and Cheney apart here is both the magnitude of what they are doing and the fact that they and Congress are making all of this monstrous and dictatorial behavior the law.
The reason why this is happening I go into in my book, and have discussed in essays posted at WCW and my blog and some other places, but to put it briefly, they – and by “they” I mean the Democrats and the Republicans – are out to create an entirely new normalcy in which civil liberties and civil rights, due process and the right to privacy, innocence until proven guilty, the Geneva Convention, even the Constitution itself are largely or completely eliminated. If there are some within elite ranks who oppose this agenda, they are with very few exceptions too cowardly or too onboard to resist this. The NY Times is a perfect illustration of this. They editorialized against the Military Commissions Act and they editorialized once very belatedly in February 2007 against the Warner Act that was passed in September 2006, and signed by Bush in October 2006 in a private ceremony, but they helped to build the case for the war on Iraq and they are doing the same with respect to Iran. Moreover, they surrendered in disgusting fashion the other week to the radical right and GOP when they backed down in the furor around the MoveOn ad about Gen. Petraeus.
My assessment that the main problem we face today, the reason why there hasn’t yet been a high tide of mass struggle against Bush and Cheney, is primarily because of the political leadership’s unanimity in its support and collusion in the BR agenda, differs from the more common one within movement ranks. The common view is that the problem is the American people. According to this view, Americans are too apathetic, too philistine, too ethnocentric, too ignorant, distracted, and national chauvinist to react appropriately to this urgent situation. All of these descriptors are to some extent true. The American people are second to none internationally for political naivete and for being more readily fooled by manipulative elites. There certainly is a base for fascism in this country and there are Americans who are terrible national chauvinists. As an expatriate American in Michael Moore’s film “Sicko” points out, in Europe the governments fear the people and in America the people fear the government.
We do have a proud tradition of social movements in the 1930s’ labor struggle and the anti-war, feminist and civil rights/black power movements of the 60s, but it is also true that the American people are not as ready to take to the streets. So to some extent the problem is the people. But the people are not the main part of the problem. This point is central to understanding what DIN is designed to do. We can make DIN and 333 work and it will make a dramatic, historic difference, but we have to break with the conventional view of blaming the people for this situation.
The traditional leadership’s abdication and collusion has put the people into a situation where despite their shock and despite their rage, they haven’t had a real means to effectively express this. It’s true that Americans could take to the streets in massive demonstrations, but one, Americans are not accustomed to doing this on the scale that is necessary, and two, they actually have acted politically in the ways that they have been accustomed to thinking would do the trick. They did come out in 2000, 2004 and especially 2006 to repudiate Bush and Cheney in the elections. They voted them out. In 2004 Bush and Cheney lost by a margin of 5 million (had the votes been counted properly) and in 2006 a landslide beat the GOP: a mass repudiation of the GOP and the White House. But the rules have changed. Elections are fixed. The Supreme Court is fixed. Speak up against it, dare to challenge it, and the "new rules," as Bill Maher says on his show, are that they will grab you and taser you as Andrew Meyer learned at the University of Florida recently.
So what can we do?
Besides the fact that we have truth and facts on our side, we have at least two other key things going for us.
1) Bush and Cheney are extremely unpopular – Bush’s approval rating recently went as low as 18%, which I believe may be a record. We’re talking here of at least 210 million people who want to see Bush and Cheney gone already. Among those who are more politically conscious, who number in the tens of millions, Bush and Cheney are reviled. This is a huge untapped strategic factor in our favor. Not just in terms of the fact that a large majority dislike Bush and Cheney and can’t understand why they aren’t gone already, but in the fact that there are these tens of millions who hate, despise and hope that Bush and Cheney are tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity and are put to death for their crimes. The fact of Bush and Cheney’s huge unpopularity is not obvious to the naked eye so there’s some disbelief that it’s true, including within our own activist ranks.
2) The BR is made up of moral monsters, and their enablers, the DLC and MSM, are tainted by their craven complicity. This White House and this Congress have NO moral authority to stand on. By abdicating responsibility to hold them accountable for their crimes, the rest of the political leadership has created a vacuum of leadership. A big vacuum. This is a factor that we must not underestimate. They have created the opening that we can use; they’ve created the highway that we can peel out onto, if we ignore the puny wooden barriers that block this path off. You know the ones, they say on these A-frame wooden signs: “No Exit.” They say “Off the Table.” They say, “Stay on the Main Road, Stay in the Mainstream.” They say, “Wait until 2008 and 2009.”
So they’re already dramatically unpopular AND they have no moral authority and on top of this are everyday doing more terrible and immoral things. Their war in Iraq that they actually thought was going to be a cakewalk is blowing up in their faces.
“So what?” you might think. So they’ve lost moral authority. What difference does it make? They’re still in power. They’ve still got Fox News. It makes a huge difference if we act on this and it’s up to us and others out there who are starting to speak out on this to take advantage of their moral bankruptcy and their tremendous unpopularity.
I wrote an essay called “Why We Take the Moral High Ground.” In it I spoke to the fact that the moral high ground is our one absolutely irrefutable argument. It is the one thing that nobody has a good retort to. It’s not the only weapon in our arsenal, but it’s our best weapon. It is, however, a weapon that won’t work unless we wield it. The moral monstrousness of the BR isn’t going to occur to people spontaneously in the numbers we require. It’s apparent to some people, and these people are acting, but how many people tell us “it’s almost done, they’re only in office for another fifteen months?” When we say in response to this: but everyday they’re in office more people are being tortured and more people are murdered, and global warming is being ignored, how many of them then say, “Oh, I didn’t think about that.” “I never thought of it that way.”
It’s not their fault that they haven’t thought of it that way before we pointed it out to them. They’re reflecting what the MSM and Democratic Party have been saying. They’re reacting in the customary, conventional way. We do also live in an imperialist country after all! But if we lead them and show them a different way, many, many, many of them will recognize the truth in what we say and see that they can and must act. But we have to show this to them and we have to struggle with them.
If you don’t choose, you have chosen. As Sunsara said earlier, if you’re against it but don’t show it, then it doesn’t count. If you don’t act when it counts, your actions won’t count.
We need to take the fury, frustration, disorientation, shock, and political paralysis that’s out there as a result of the Democrats’ and MSM’s complicity and find the way to get millions of people to enter into direct and public political opposition to the BR. We are aiming to mobilize 1% of the population or three million people. If we get three million people wearing orange and taking a public stand we will have created the critical mass that we need to alter the political atmosphere. To do this we need to do two things. We need to do them together.
First, we need to politicize the nature of everyday life. The media won’t show people the everyday horrors of this regime’s policies. They won’t show the daily torture and murder. If they did, of course, the situation on the everyday level would be dramatically different.
Consider what happened in the 60s when TV brought the scenes from the Vietnam War into people’s living rooms. People need to be talking amongst themselves about how horrid the BR is and what a betrayal the Democratic Party is. We have to find a substitute for the media and Democratic Party’s blocking this scene from happening all over the place.
We need to find a way for the three million or so people who make up the 1% to create a different political atmosphere in their everyday lives. You know when scientists are trying to solve a very big computer computational problem and they enlist the help of hundreds of people’s PCs to work on it instead of one gigantic computer? We need people in their day-to-day lives to act as the ambassadors of another way. We need a grassroots media on the level of the individual in their daily lives. We need people in their own communities to be everyday political representatives, political organizers, and moral authorities against the BR and the existing political and opinion-making leaders. We need to electrify the atmosphere of everyday life.
We can do this. We have a majority of people on our side right now. Is there any question that there isn’t tens of millions of people right now who want to do something, who want to stand up and declare to the world that they are horrified and opposed in every fiber of their beings to everything that this regime has done and stands for? DIN gives them a vehicle to express this. But just wearing orange ourselves isn’t going to accomplish this. We have to struggle with people politically to take this up in a big way, to take it out to others, their friends, family, co-workers, teammates, etc. and get them to do likewise. The vivid color orange by itself isn’t going to magically spread just because it’s a bright color!
The problem we face isn’t that we are going up against majority sentiment. The problem isn’t that there are too many people who are still in thrall to the BR or to the Democratic Party. The problem isn’t that the BR is so full of charismatic, popular leaders and their policies are so damn popular. The BR is widely hated and despised. They are like the Wizard of Oz who is all smoke and mirrors. They are not mighty. The majority despises them and we need to make that visible the way infrared makes visible the normally invisible. The problem is that we haven’t yet taken advantage of the opportunities that are in front of us. We’ve made breakthroughs and gotten a glimpse of the basis for and possibilities for DIN when our forces or others have taken DIN out big. And we’ll be hearing about this from some chapters later on today. We also hope to really get in and dig into what the issues, questions and doubts are about DIN and 333 also.
While we want and need to take advantage of high tides of political action like Jena to spread orange swarms – and these upsurges are extremely important - we also need to see with new eyes that political resistance and political activity can take a number of different forms. It’s not only demonstrations in the traditional mold that constitute political resistance. We can and must rely on millions of people in their everyday lives to be political representatives of another way and another world. We can and must rely on millions to be moral authorities, people who have seized the moral high ground from the profoundly immoral leaders we have now. We can and must rely on millions to be out there in the everyday world politically organizing others and getting them to choose sides and to step forward.
One thing that I’ve noticed is that some people who have no problem demonstrating and even organizing demonstrations and risking police arrest and so on, have a harder time putting on a political shirt or an orange ribbon everyday where they’ll be seen by their co-workers and friends. For those of us who have thought that wearing orange is some kind of softer resistance or quieter resistance, think again. What we’re doing in DIN and 333 is we are bringing into being in microcosm, in embryonic form, the kind of society we want to see where people are broadly politically engaged and not disengaged and disinterested. We are calling upon people to take a public stand and to directly engage in the fight to change the world. This is no small thing, but it is exactly what is called for.
The traditional way of trying to mobilize people is through putting up posters, handing out flyers and maybe taking out ads and calling people up. All these things are good. But what DIN is is something else. I know that people here are feeling the enormity of the responsibility we face and that this is part of the problem, that we have to steel ourselves in the face of and recognize where a real chance of winning lies.
We need to make the political moves of the BR and the Democratic Party something that is being responded to on a daily, everywhere basis. It needs to be in people’s faces all the time and for that to happen we have literally millions who could and would play this role. It’s up to us here to take that to them and tell them – there IS a way, there is something you can and must do. You can and must declare it now! We have the moral authority to do just that! We have to exercise that moral authority. I can’t emphasize this enough. The moral high ground is an extremely powerful position to be in. It’s a way for small forces that do not hold power to overcome their disadvantaged position and to draw people to them and challenge the forces that do hold power.
DIN is a radically different way of organizing people. Because it’s so different, it has encountered some doubts and some confusion about what it’s about and whether it will work. I think that most of the doubts or disagreements have to do with a different understanding of what our role and responsibilities are as political leaders and organizers. The problem isn’t that we as political organizers have been too intrusive on the people. When we’re reluctant to ask what we think is too much of people – whether that’s money or their taking up DIN and 333 - we are inadvertently reinforcing the mistaken idea that the situation isn’t all that critical and that they don’t need to step forward in every way that they can. People out there broadly aren’t feeling too much follow-up with them. They are feeling too little! Here again leadership is key. We have allies among the people, there are millions and millions who would step forward, but they need us to give them the way to do so and they need us to struggle with them about the urgency to do so.
This issue of doubt and confusion connects up to the second thing that has to happen: we need a competing, alternative leadership to emerge that takes the moral high ground, draws people to it and radically alters the political atmosphere in this country. It’s a competing leadership in every sense of the word. We need a leadership that calls out the existing establishment and says, follow us. It’s like that line from “The Terminator:” If you want to live, come with me. Abandon those others. Repudiate those others. We need to go in an entirely different direction.
Bringing forward the millions who we need and who are aching to act in some way that will make a difference depends upon leadership and a critical part of that leadership is right here in this room. We are the ones who can and are positioned to play that role in changing the political situation, of recognizing the crossroads that we are in and taking hold of the moral high ground and not letting go!
Creating a competing leadership AND bringing forward millions are inter-connected and indispensable to each other: we need a leadership and a broad support base for that leadership. We need 1% to step forward to constitute our active base.
This 1% will do several things:
1) It will create the favorable ground, the breathing room, the loyal, determined, solid base for the new competing leadership;
2) It will create the backbone of a network of activists who can be mobilized quickly and all over the nation;
3) It will make visible the determined resistance of tens of millions and it will concentrate and help to focus the inchoate sentiment of the majority against Bush and Cheney;
4) It will impact the wider population, allow us to by-pass the MSM and make real to the wider population another path as a real possibility.
We are pulling this competing, legitimate authority together from disparate elements, including from some people who are from elite ranks but who have broken with the BR and Bush agenda. We are asking for models to step forward from both prominent people such as Michelle Phillips and Ed Asner and from the grassroots such as youth who other youth respect and emulate. We need to struggle with these people and get them to take up 333 and if we win them to it then this campaign will develop legs.
Let me say something here about 333. Simply put this is: you get three people to take up orange and they in turn get three people each. You check back with them in three days. In two months, one person can start a chain that brings into action more than 19,600 people. The beauty of 333 is that not only does geometric growth in our ranks become something that we can through our own efforts and those who we recruit can do, not only do millions become a real, concrete outcome if we really do this, but it is beautiful (and hard!) because it puts the responsibility for its fruition into the hands of the people immediately.
We are doing something with DIN that in some ways has never been done. It’s a very different approach. It’s designed based on the specific conditions and on the motion or direction of events, where this government is taking us and what kind of fractures and fissures and strains this is creating. It’s based on looking at what our adversary’s weaknesses are and what our strengths are. Given this, it’s not surprising that some people would have some reservations about it, some confusion and some resistance to taking it out fully.
We need to politicize the atmosphere. The level of political awareness and political activity needs to be ratcheted up on the everyday level of everyday life. How do we do this? The MSM and DLC aren’t obviously going to do this. The actions of the BR, while they create the raw material for a politicized reaction, their actions, filtered through the right-wing media and through the MSM, will not do this by themselves.
Wearing orange everyday and having millions doing it is a way to politicize the atmosphere in a visible, palpable way. This can happen and should happen in conjunction with high tides of political struggles such as Jena and the protest against Bush at the UN and Horror-witz’s “Islamo-Fascist” offensive. These upsurges are an excellent opportunity to spread orange as the color of resistance, but we have to realize that the basis exists in spades in the everyday lives of people everywhere to take this up now regardless of whether there is a more traditional protest action going on or not precisely because of the past and present actions of the BR.
This country’s current leadership is bankrupt and to move forward we have to constitute a competing, legitimate leadership. We cannot depend upon and will not receive from these current leaders and from this current system the dramatic changes necessary to reverse the direction the Bush regime has been spearheading. It is up to us. We, together with the people we bring forward through struggle, can do this.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
[Note: this is the text of the talk I gave at the October 5, 2007 WCW National Meeting in NYC. Based on the ensuing discussions at the meeting I want to underscore and elaborate upon two points upfront that I discuss in the talk: