Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Leitmotif on Legitimacy

Groups, societies, and movements need leaders. This is a fact of life and of history.

The main or even overwhelming sentiment within the collective may be to do something, but if there is no leadership to turn this sentiment into a material reality, or the existing leadership is opposed to that sentiment, then it doesn't matter that the sentiment is widespread. It will remain diffuse and unrealized.

The mass sentiment that Bush and Cheney need to go - yesterday - remains blocked because the existing leadership in America - the two major political parties and the mainstream and right-wing media - refuse to entertain the idea of enforcing the law, abiding by the Constitution, or holding the executive branch accountable for crimes against humanity.

This puts the country and the people in most difficult straits.

On the one hand, and this is what many activists or activist sympathizers frequently say, Americans tend to be a relatively apolitical lot. There is not the rich tradition of mass demonstrations in the U.S. that you see in other countries. This is, of course, a real problem that mass movements in America confront. We are feeling this most acutely now. And one of the reasons for this apathy, in fact, the main reason for this apathy, is that there is a material basis for people to look the other way when confronted with the horrible underside reality of imperialism: plunder, domination and death. We live in the richest and most powerful imperialist power in human history which makes it all too easy to avoid looking at imperialism's grim reality.

On the other hand, there is also the problem of ignorance. Relatively few people realize what is really going on. You see this, for example, in comments made by people who have witnessed waterboarding demonstrations. Some of them say, the better informed ones, that they knew intellectually that torture was going on, but to see someone a few feet away from you gagging and choking, that hits you on a visceral level that makes it almost impossible to turn a blind eye anymore and makes you realize that you must act. Others, seeing this for the first time, and who didn't know that torture was routinely being practiced, are shocked and shaken. People who've read my book, Impeach the President, say similar things. They had no idea that all of these things were going on and that it was so much more terrible than they thought it was. You realize, as one reader put it, that this regime cannot be allowed to stay in power one more day.

While a significant fraction of the American people are thoroughly bought off by imperialism's goodies, the rest are not and they want to do the right thing. But they are mostly still unaware of the momentousness of what's going on, not yet acting upon their moral responsibility, and not (fully) cognizant of the impact their action has or the impact their inaction is having.

If you ask most people in America today if our government routinely tortures innocent people, most would say no. They would say that perhaps some of the interrogations get a little rough, but they would mostly say that when that happens, it's justified and it's not torture. A smaller segment would say - and are saying - that torture is going on, and it serves those bastards right. We have to protect Americans' lives, after all, they say. These kinds of people will tolerate anything - torture, murder, rape, you name it - as long as it's not done to them personally.

We need, as I've written about previously, to create a competing, legitimate leadership to contend openly and broadly throughout the society against the existing leadership class and to expose the immorality, inhumanity and illegitimacy of the existing leaders. This process has begun with individuals and elements from all classes stepping out and calling out the Bush regime and the rest of the leadership class for its crimes. That is the rationale underlying the wearing orange daily campaign - Declare It Now! - showing in your daily life a different way and taking a stand everywhere you go.

But we are obviously not where we need to be yet, far, far from it.

There are nonetheless hopeful signs and possible breakthroughs in the making. The orange ribbons and wristbands at the Oscars. Churches displaying "No Torture" Banners. The Winter Soldier testimony that began today in D.C. has the possibility of shaking things loose. Soldiers bring a tremendous amount of cred to the table. There are also the Stop Loss demonstrations of youth, joined by older folks. And there are the anti-military recruitment actions that so far have gone furthest in Berkeley.

On March 19th actions of diverse kinds including civil resistance are planned for Berkeley and San Francisco and in other cities, especially in D.C., on the fifth anniversary of the illegal, immoral, unjust war on Iraq. These actions could push the movement forward substantially. The reason why the Berkeley police and the right-wing have been so vociferous and so violent in attacking the anti-recruitment demonstrations is because they understand how this kind of action can spread and how politically dangerous this action is. They realize how vulnerable they are to the contagion of the people taking independent political action.

Vultures calling themselves military recruiters are preying on high school youth and the youth can see this everywhere they turn. Many youth are open to, and some have already begun to, move politically against the recruiters. Their actions and the actions of the Winter Soldiers and the activities over the next week could play a very important role in changing the political atmosphere and helping to uncork the mass sentiment against the Bush regime that is mostly latent and beneath the surface now.

The key question here for us is whether enough individuals will recognize the critical importance of their personally stepping forward. One person with courage can unleash very large forces. The task of creating a rival - and ultimately successful - alternative moral authority to the existing immoral leadership is an extraordinary one. But it is precisely what must be done. And it can be done.

The regime we are fighting is vicious, immoral, utterly bankrupt, and without a shred of legitimacy. They are only getting away with their monstrous and indefensible acts because the rest of the leadership class as a whole is colluding with them.

These are very hard, very dangerous, perilous times. They call for heroism from the people. They call for people one by one to make the decision that they will rise to the occasion, no matter what, to fight against reaction and tyranny.

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