Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Competing Legitimate Leadership

I've written here and elsewhere about the absolute necessity for a competing, moral, legitimate authority to emerge to contend against the whole direction that the U.S. government and U.S. economy have been hurtling down. I’ve argued that this is the most important factor holding a movement back. Some further elaboration on why it's so crucial and who that leadership is:

Why It's So Crucial

The unanimity of the political establishment and the corporate media around the Bush agenda - invading countries that have not attacked and do not threaten us, torture and rendition as policy, nullifying international law and long-standing core principles such as Nuremberg, the Geneva Conventions and habeas corpus, unfettered executive power, warrantless spying on us all, and on and on - has left millions of Americans gasping in astonishment. How can it have gotten so bad, so fast, and why hasn't someone stopped them?

It has also left a majority of Americans grasping at straws of hope that despite all evidence to the contrary, the Democratic Party will deliver us from evil - just keep voting for them. This, we’re told, we should do even though the Democrats allowed the presidency that they won in 2000 and 2004 to be stolen from them. And even though the Democrats have done none of the things that the electorate - in a massive rejection of the GOP - elected them to do in 2006: end the war and hold Bush and Cheney accountable.

How long will we continue to do what has proven over and over to be useless and a cruel deception? How long will we be misled by the Democratic Party leadership who tell us in effect that torture, war crimes and yet another war this time on Iran should be allowed to continue in the name of "getting a Democrat in the White House?!" What kind of immoral logic is this: over a million Iraqi dead and counting, and thousands of American soldiers dead and counting, innocent people being rounded up and detained, innocent people being tortured and murdered every single day, with more blood staining these war criminals' hands and dripping from their lying mouths every single day, in a war based on lies? We should do this, let me get this straight, so that instead of a Republican war criminal president in the White House, a Democratic war criminal can take his place? Make no mistake: those who refuse to fight against tyranny and crimes against humanity are co-conspirators and colluders themselves.

What have these same Democrats who have been controlling the Congress since January 2007 done with their majority? What have the leading Democratic candidates for president offered us? Have they restored habeas corpus? Have they ended the war? Have they promised to bring the troops home before the end of their first term in the White House? Have they called out the threats against Iran as a repeat of the lies that took us into the war on Iraq? Have they moved to abrogate the Military Commissions Act and the Warner Act? Have they prevented another torturer from becoming the new Attorney General of the U.S.? When the Democrats had the chance in Congress in September 2006 to filibuster and thereby block passage of the Military Commissions Act that legalized torture they demurred. They let the barbaric law pass, making the U.S. the only modern state to ever have the gall to legalize torture as policy.

When the Democrats got back the majority in Congress and Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House and Harry Reid Majority Senate Leader, they could have defunded the war and blocked any measures they didn't like from even coming out of committee and coming up for a vote. They refused. They could have and should have immediately commenced hearings on impeachment. They refused. When Rep. DeFazio, who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, learned that the White House was issuing secret rules about "continuity of government" in NSPD-15, (rules that include no one in Congress or the Judiciary in the continuance of the federal government in a "public emergency") and he asked the White House if he could see the rules the White House said no. No, even you who sit on the Homeland Security Committee can't see what we've planned. You can't even see it if you see it "in bubble" (a way for a congressperson to view confidential material).

Like the stage magician who distracts you, the Democratic Party is telling the American people: don't look at what my right hand is doing, look over here at my left hand where I'm offering you a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. See, you can have a woman or a black or a guy who spends $400 on his haircuts. The Democrats are saying to us: "who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"

Who Is This Alternative Leadership? The Two Elements

In the face of this abdication of moral leadership, an alternative leadership must be developed that can swing people in the tens of millions away from the current leadership and down an entirely different path to a place where truth, facts, justice, science and morality matter. Our rulers’ collusion means that they are extremely vulnerable to being exposed for their utter immorality and inhumanity. But unless and until that new leadership is constituted, the relative passivity of the people will persist. For people cannot move without leadership. Sentiment against this Bush agenda could encompass 90% of the people, but without leadership to focus and guide that sentiment, the people will accept the status quo, no matter how awful it becomes. If this new, alternative leadership doesn’t come into being and exert wide influence, our rulers will get away with their ugly gambit and consolidate some version of a police state.

What will it take for such a competing leadership to emerge? It's going to take a tremendous effort that is unprecedented in nature - but very possible. It's unprecedented because it won't be enough to get millions of people into the streets in demonstrations - rallies and marches and so on. And it's unprecedented because the role that millions must play politically in their everyday lives is greater than they have ever played. But this is something that can be done.

The vacuum in moral leadership means that people in everyday life have to step forward and become a part of a new leadership - they need to make up the social base for that competing leadership. This is the first element. For a strong enough opposite pole in society to emerge that exerts a strong enough pull on people and events to actually challenge and ultimately triumph over the forces in charge now, there must be a large enough social base that steps forward into the bright daylight and declares itself on the side of morality and humanity. This mass movement would create the requisite social base for a competing alternative leadership to emerge - the second element - that would be the leadership of this mass movement. It would give this alternative leadership the political oxygen to breathe in and protect this leadership from being destroyed by our rulers.

The core of this alternative national and local leadership is present and will grow, but the social base for that leadership needs to come to the fore and become a palpable, material force. This is necessary because the customary forms of political and opinion leadership at the top - with precious few individual exceptions (a few journalists, for example) - are all colluding with the Bush regime. So an alternative path to changing the overall direction of society must be adopted.

To put this strategy most directly: if millions declare themselves publicly in their everyday lives through displaying orange, then the social base for a competing, mass movement leadership will become a substantial, visible and engaged force on the scene. What has been latent and unexpressed in public ways will then be manifest and explicit. It's difficult to say how many exactly are needed for the tide to shift, but at least three million, or 1% of the American population, displaying orange daily are a likely critical mass. This visible force will in turn probably trigger a wave of support from those who've been sitting on the sidelines. The Bush regime and its apologists will stand naked for both their tremendous unpopularity and for their brutal parasitism and moral monstrousness. The passivity of the people that this government needs in order to accomplish their ugly plans will have been shredded. It is impossible to imagine such a scenario of millions displaying orange without accompanying this many, many other forms of political struggle and resistance. The two forms of resistance - displaying orange daily and various acts of political protest on a small and grand scale - will reinforce each other. A competing national leadership of this mass movement against the government and its apologists will then have its "army" of politically engaged people to call upon, speak to and speak as the leading exponents of and for. (I use the term "army" here metaphorically as this mass movement will not be a military force. It will, however, be a determined and mass political movement.)

The traditional means of expressing political sentiment in a mass way is through rallies and marches. But there is no reason why this conventional and traditional means has to encompass the full spectrum of ways in which millions can show their political sentiments. A majority wants Bush and Cheney gone, wants the war to end, does not support torture and war crimes, was shocked at what Bush and Cheney did during and after Katrina, and recoils from the sight of nooses. Tens of millions within this majority are aching to do something that will make a difference. They want Bush and Cheney on the dock at the Hague on trial for crimes against humanity. The reason why this mass sentiment against Bush and Cheney hasn’t materialized in quite a while in the form of traditional demonstrations is because many people have tried demonstrating – there were millions demonstrating against the Iraq war a few years ago - and other means such as voting and most are discouraged and demoralized by the absence of any standard bearers of sufficient weight to carry forward the fight and disoriented by the fact that the Bush and Cheney seem to be able to get away with murder and nothing’s done. (See here and here for an elaboration on this matter.)

A Simple, Yet Profound Act

The means for people to act is here, however, in the form of the extraordinarily simple yet profound act of putting on an orange ribbon, armband, headband, wrist band, boa, etc. and wearing it everywhere you go. This is such a simple act that some people think it’s not enough. They think, what can this simple act do? Wearing orange daily is not all that people can or should do - people should also find other ways to speak up and declare themselves, including through traditional modes of political protest, but it is critical that millions do do this simple but profound act because it is a way for the people in our majority to create a different political atmosphere on the level of everyday life. Everyday life is an arena that we have control over in that we circulate throughout our daily lives one and all. All of us are seen by at least scores of other people everyday. Individuals wearing orange is an act that doesn't require mass media attention. It doesn't require getting anyone's approval and the political establishment cannot stop it. Fox News, the GOP, the Democratic Party and the FBI can't prevent you from doing this. None of them can stop us in our millions from doing this simple but profound daily act.

This strategy is unique because it takes advantage of the fact that a large majority are deeply disturbed by our society's direction and they want something else. That sentiment isn’t, however, being expressed in ways that will change the political landscape because the necessary national level leadership isn't present in the normal places: the leading political parties and the mass media. The widespread sentiment against our government's moves has, therefore, been lying dormant. Never in our history have the leading institutions of our society been so at odds with where the vast majority of people are and want to be. This gap, that keeps widening by the day, means that the basis has never been stronger - and the need never greater - for the people to express their dissent, assert their views and act independently of the existing institutions.

Many activists and broad sections of the people have been scratching their heads or gnashing their teeth wondering why this mass sentiment isn’t being displayed through mass rallies and marches. Declare It Now: Wear Orange and the 333 Plan/Network are a vehicle that builds upon this specific alignment of forces and will allow it to find material expression. It's based on a strategy of carving out a space in everyday life for the resistance to be expressed, take root, be nurtured and spread. It's an innovative strategy that reflects the unusual alignment of forces we confront today.

People need to take personal responsibility for a different path to be forged and taken. People in the millions need to show themselves, break out of the paralysis of private grumbling and personal agonizing and act publicly. Do it and you'll feel better, as will the vast majority of people around you. Passivity and the notion that all you have to do to be political is to decide which candidate you're going to endorse and vote for have to be discarded. We are the people we've been waiting for. It's literally up to the people now because the people you might have been hoping and expecting will do it – political leaders, institutions and the mass media - are demonstrating everyday that they will not do it.

You have to stand up and be counted and display your sentiments in your everyday life and among the people you see and who see you everyday. The nature of day-to-day life all over this country in all walks of life needs to be altered.

The basis is richly there right now. And it won't take that long if we set about to do it.

The tremendous unpopularity of the Bush Regime is a major, largely untapped, strategic factor in our favor. A way for these millions to act right now exists. Declare it now: wear orange! And as each individual who hears this message (or sees someone else wearing orange) takes up this challenge, the thousands who are today doing this can become tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions, in a couple of months. Look at what one person can do and has done in these three examples:

"On November 16 [a high school student at Mother McCauley school in Chicago] went around with an orange roll of glow tape and handed it out to people. Many students wore it all day, some wrote "No attack on Iran" on them, and some even wore them on their foreheads! ... [T]his same woman has raised over 150 dollars for the legal defense of the students arrested at the October 27th demonstration, simply by going around with a bucket, telling their story, making announcements in her classes, and being consistent with students. When students don't want to donate, she asks them why, thinks about their questions, and then goes back to them the next day." (Some pictures of the results of this one high school student's efforts are at the start of this essay.)

Another example:

"An organizer from LA decided to make a solo statement and caused quite a fashion stir at the annual Los Angeles Sunset Junction Street Fair Sunday afternoon. Clad in an outfit constructed entirely out of DIN Orange Drive Out the Bush Regime bandanas, she made the scene at this Silverlake community event, known for its good time flavored family fun, and a tradition of colorful and unusually costumed revelers. Silverlake is a neighborhood of artists, performers, musicians and home to a significant Gay and Lesbian community. This is a popular and very well attended event each year in Los Angeles.

She approached the ticket gate, and the workers were so taken by her outfit and the DIN bandanas, that they agreed to flyer every entrant that afternoon while sporting their new bandanas. She managed to inspire all gatekeepers at the event to do this, and got out stacks and stacks of DIN flyers this way.

Inside, she had lots of freedom to flyer and talk to folks about the Wear Orange campaign, as well as she attracted admirers and photographers. A crew from the show 'Touts Le Habits du Monde,' a television show on the Arte and Culture Channel in France, asked if they could film her for their show. She agreed. She was asked to spin her fabulous skirt, and fan out the bandanas so that the message could be easily read. 'DRIVE OUT THE BUSH REGIME! WWW.WORLDCANTWAIT.ORG' They interviewed her about the WCW and the Wear Orange national campaign to Drive Out the Bush Regime. They plan to feature her on a show dedicated to political fashion.

We decided to do this on the spur of the moment because we didn’t have a crew to go out to this event, and we knew we needed to get the word out somehow, so we decided to make a 'fashion scene.' And a scene it was. The World Can’t Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime! Declare it Now! Wear Orange!"

And here's another example:

"Tuesday night my friends and I sat down and made about 300 orange ribbons to give away for students to wear for this coming Friday's demonstration. Inclusive this morning in my GRE Prep class I ran into a young woman who was wearing the ribbon, it was so very exciting to see someone outside, wearing it in support of this movement. Wednesday morning, around 10 am or so I set up a small display table. I draped the small table with orange fabric and set my flyers, ribbons, pledges and posters that I painted of your latest WCW poster (the fist w/ the orange band) and nervously waited for students to come up to the table. Honestly it was one of the most frightening things I've done in a long time. I was praying for a familiar face, but I just dove in and started asking students as they walked by if they wanted to pick up a ribbon to support our anti-war movement, at first many of them just kept walking and said no thanks (a little discouraging...). However, as more students began to come out of class I was able to grab the attention of a few who came up to the table and wanted to know what the orange and the ribbons were all about, since it was only myself at the table I didn't have much of a chance to explain everything in great detail when I got several people coming up.

I did, however, hand them out your flier with the Call, and a smaller flier that talked about the demonstration of orange this coming Friday. I was so pleased to see many people taking the ribbons and putting them on their backpacks and on their shirts. As time passed and more students came out, I begin to get people to pledge to get three other people to wear the orange ribbons. I got about 10 pledges from people who said that they had friends that would wear the ribbon in support. I remember this one guy who came back and asked me if he could have one for his girlfriend :) It was great! I had a young lady who mentioned that she was part of the WCW and she took 10 ribbons with her and assured me she had many people that would definitely wear it.

Another young woman from the CGU [Claremont Graduate University] mentioned that 'people in this generation haven't had their "1960s" yet and need to' and that she would try to spread this out in Claremont... Another gentlemen mentioned he had friends that would wear the ribbons too and that he was interested in how this turned out. My most memorable one was the professor that took a ribbon and thanked me for doing what I was doing :) Another professor said that he wanted to see us in front of the school picketing just like they did in the 60's.

Overall, even though my palms were clammy and I was nervous each time I spoke to someone it was very rewarding and I think I passed out about 150 ribbons, if not more, out [over the course of an hour and three-quarters], especially to classmates and even to a gentlemen at an Empire conference. I might try this again this coming Wednesday if time permits but I'll definitely keep passing out the ribbons to as many people as I can :)

I guess this brief little summary turned out longer than I expected. I guess I just got excited thinking about what happened that day." [The first photo above depicts some of those who came out the second time to do likewise after this woman did it solo the first time at Cal Poly.]

* * *

Note that in all three of these examples, these wonderful breakthroughs that triggered the actions and participation of scores of others were carried out by single individuals.

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