Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Failure 101

Oops! I sign on tonight and discover that I completely forgot to post yesterday's piece! Speaking of failures.... Oh my, I need to keep writing myself notes or something. Since I had the chance, I slightly rewrote this; the Footnote is an addition.

We have failed. And we have been failed.

I mean we, us, the broad we, the peace (or, if you prefer, antiwar) movement we, the social justice movement we. I don’t necessarily mean on any particular issue or any particular bill, but overall. We have failed through lack of courage and love of comfort, by preferring accommodation to action and concession to contention. Even in “victory,” the underlying failure is visible.

As you may realize, I’m referring in that last sentence to the debate, if you can call it that, over the Protect America Act, or PAA (an appropriate acronym, one pronounced "pah", defined as an interjection “used to express disgust or irritation”). That’s the debate that saw the Really Big Victory of Senate Democrats shooting down a GOPper cloture motion designed to block any discussion of any amendments. Yes, Victory! Hooray! Cake and ice cream all around!

Except -

Except that as Glenn Greenwald rather forcibly pointed out,
[t]he only reason Democrats were able to hold their caucus together today to filibuster is because The Senators were offended that their inalienable Senatorial Right to vote on amendments was deprived by the GOP's premature Cloture Motion.
That is, this had nothing to do with concern over telcom immunity or spying on citizens or justifying criminality after the fact or any reluctance to put more and more power in BushCo.’s hands or any other reasonable or worthy cause. It was a fit of pique. If cloture had not been filed “prematurely,” Harry “I really am opposed to immunity, I swear” Reid likely would have had a quick series of up-or-down votes on various amendments which in each case majorities of Senators would happily vote down in an attempt to push through a Bush-pleasing bill as quickly as possible.

To be clear: A majority of the Senate is prepared to give the WHS* everything they want and the Democratic “leadership” is prepared to let it happen, indeed to enable it (by having made the Intelligence Committee bill instead of the Judiciary Committee bill the primary one), all so long as their egos get stroked the right way and their procedural prerogatives are not disturbed.

This is not a victory except insofar as a short stay of execution is a victory.

So, as has been asked before and I’m sure will be asked again, where is the outrage? Where is the indignation over what the Senate appears entirely prepared to do? Where is the furor over untrammeled authority to intrude, invade, and impact without oversight of any meaningful sort, over the casual intention to shield corporate criminality?

I don’t mean to denigrate the work that various people have put in on this and I don’t in any way intend to dismiss the outpouring of support for Senator Dodd’s declared intention to filibuster final passage if the bill contains telcom immunity, even less to dismiss his own efforts. (I noted here some of the contacts I made on just that point, so I would be trivializing my own efforts if I was dismissive now.) But the fact remains that in the face of the hard reality that the Senate appears entirely willing to fold yet again, there is almost no reaction, no outrage - and more importantly, no serious attempt to generate any among the “leaders” in our not-worth-the-name “movement.” And no, pushing for phone calls and email petitions is not “generating outrage.” Organizing sit-ins in the offices of Harry Reid and John Rockefeller would come a lot closer, but bluntly there is no chance the “leading” organizations - and here I specifically include those who agreed to back off on efforts to end funding for the Iraq war - would push for any such thing. Rather, they would oppose them. And in that refusal, in that opposition, is the meaning and the measure of our failure.

I see one of the purposes, one of the basic reasons for the existence, of any peace or justice movement as trying to push beyond, whether in the issues we address, the tactics we employ, or even the analysis we present, where society is already willing to go and that where government has agreements with us, our position shouldn’t be “yes,” it should be “yes, but....” We have an obligation to say the things that otherwise wouldn’t be said, to raise the issues that otherwise wouldn’t be raised, to agitate and educate in ways that otherwise wouldn’t be used for agitation and education. We have an obligation to be what others aren’t yet willing to be, to perpetually say “We can do better.” That's what we exist for. The result of that obligation, I believe, is that to the extent a peace or justice movement settles comfortably into its political surroundings, to the extent it ceases to be a creative irritant, a moral and logical gadfly, to those in power, no matter who that might be, to that extent it fails its responsibilities. And by that standard, this movement is clearly failing.

In a real sense, the essence of any peace or justice movement is to lose - not to fail, but to lose. Because once any victory is won, it’s time to move on. I recall that it was supposedly e. e. cummings who wrote something to the effect that “the wise man always fights for the lost cause, knowing that all else is merely effect.” (Completely irrelevant but interesting sidebar: There are those who argue that it should be written E. E. Cummings unless used as the signature on a poem. The folks at the E. E. Cummings Society have expended considerable effort on this point. Personally, I can't see where it's that damned important.)

I guess I imagine a movement, ideally, as cycling through four stages: In Stage One, we press our view with the public and those in power, arguing, informing, educating, gesticulating. In Stage Two, we’ve won public support and instead of pressing our case to those in power and the public, we can legitimately claim to be pressing it to those in power on behalf of the public. Stage Three, when the public has raised its own voice and those in power are responding, either willingly or, more likely, as the result of political force, should generate Stage Four - which is when the movement cycles back to Stage One either on a new issue or a more radical perspective on the same issue. But what we see now is a movement that went off the rails somewhere between Stages One and Two and instead of pressing the case to those in power, it pressed a case on behalf of those who wanted power and with whose interests it had come to identify itself - the "those" here being, as I know you realize, the Democrats.

So instead of the activist, energetic, aggressive peace and justice movement for which I feel there is a great need (both locally and nationally), we have the increasingly-jacketed-and-tied mien of movement “leaders” who think that the cause is best advanced by prowling the halls of power and seem to regard their new-found (and marginal) access there as proof of their importance and now find boisterous, blustering, disheveled, and (“Still Crazy After All These Years”) sometimes hairy demonstrations - that is, the very kinds of actions that pried open the gates of power through which they’ve passed - vaguely distasteful.

More than distasteful, in fact, just plain bad. Demonstrations have been labeled "chaotic," inefficient, pointless wastes of time, just a means of "self-expression" unrelated to effective political action. Before the 2004 Democratic convention, one top blogger wondered in all seriousness why there were going to be protests there and suggested only "the usual loonies" and "the crazies" would protest the Democrats. Demonstrations during the GOPper convention that same year were discouraged on the grounds that they would be seen as "disrespectful" of Bush. These same leading lights also discouraged the counter-inaugurals in January 2005 because "they will make us look like sore losers," thereby openly acknowledging their identification of "advancing justice" with "electing Democrats." And the September 2005 rally was denounced before the fact on the grounds that the involvement of groups like ANSWER would be "divisive" and the action would damage all efforts to do many many good things - and, bizarrely, denounced (albeit at a lower volume) after the fact on much the same grounds even though it had come off without a hitch.

All this was done in the interest of being seen as "serious," as players, as involved, as insiders. That, we've been told, is the goal, the grail, what it's all about. Let me disillusion you bozos: You are not players, you are not insiders, and contrary to your burnished self-interested image in your fund appeals, you have no power. You have been co-opted, exploited, used, turned into party hacks and shills good for another round of fundraisers and little else. You think you have power because they return your calls, but here's some news: Power is not when you call them and they call back, power is when they call you.

I have written about this before, about how too much of our "movement"
is too god damned concerned with its own image. Too god damned concerned with being "respectable," with being seen as "serious," as truly "pro-American." Too god damned concerned with politics over praxis, with positioning over protest. As a result, it has surrendered tactical decisions to the leadership of the Democratic Party and moral leadership to a crew of inside-the-Beltway wannabes both on- and offline who have mocked demonstrations and made Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi the arbiters of the acceptable limits of debate. ...

[Well,] screw "respectability." Screw "seriousness." Screw "a seat at the table." And screw right down through the floor the fear that drives us to attack and isolate our own real and potential comrades because some right wing flakes and their media hack ass-lickers call them names.
Screw, that is, the self-deluding cowardice that has throttled our voices and hamstrung our efforts. I have said this omigosh I don't know how many times but I will keep on saying it: The movement for peace and social justice in this country has been at its strongest and most influential when it has spoken the truth without giving a flying damn if anyone was “offended” or not. We didn’t build a movement against the Indochina War by harping on the “shortcomings of both sides” but by blasting it for what it was, a monstrously immoral and evil enterprise which should be stopped immediately. We didn’t build movements for civil rights, women’s equality, or a cleaner environment by worrying about how we’d be received by bigots, sexists, or greedy corporate bosses - or how we’d “look” or who we’d “turn off” if we labeled the discriminators and despoilers for what they were. And we didn't do it by worrying about how we were going to impact the electoral chances of the Democrats!

But oh, these folks did worry. They worried, they worked, and they got their Democratic Congress in on pledges to end the war and stop the undermining of our civil liberties. And now, a year-plus later, there are more US troops in Iraq, hundreds of billions of dollars more have been approved, the big claimed achievement is that the rate of death and destruction is down to the peace-filled days of 2005 (a reduction due in significant part to a cease-fire by the Sadrists and the large-scale "success" of various drives for ethnic cleansing), GOPper candidates talk openly of a decades-long occupation and Dem candidates dither and dodge over whether troops would be out by the end of their first term, four or five years down the road - all happening while we have become less secure in our freedoms as our civil liberties come under increased pressure.

Our, and I do use the term advisedly, movement is afflicted with "leaders" so eager to be part of the “mainstream” (which we’ve let the right wing define - a right wing which in turn includes much of what passes for "liberal Democrats" these days), so eager to avoid “isolation,” so eager to be seen as “serious,” so tremblingly terrified of not being seen as 110% American, of being accused of being "soft on terrorism" or "risking national security," that we’ve been ready to trade real truth for rudimentary tolerance - and in so doing have become profound failures. Jim Hightower is fond of saying that “the only things found in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead armadillos.” The "leaders" of the present US peace and justice movement, again both on- and offline, appear to bear the characteristics of both.

Do I overstate? Do I ignore the energetic activism that can been seen on any number of issues in any number of local communities? Am I overlooking the individual commitment shown by folks like Ashley Casale and Michael Israel, folks like John Nirenberg, omitting the dynamism of such as Code Pink and the organizing efforts of such as United for Peace and Justice? Am I unfair? In order: Probably. Yes and yes. But no, not to those I am describing, because none of that activism, that commitment, that dynamism, that organizing, is coming as a result of those "leaders." It is coming in spite of them.

So what should you be doing? For the immediate moment on the FISA bill, probably not much beyond what you're already doing because time is so short that organizing more is at best problematical. But you could tell your reps in Congress that, as I said a few days ago, their stand on the FISA deform bill (that's spelled right) can be a deal-breaker: "Fall short on this and I will not work for you, I will not contribute to you, and I will not vote for you." You could even tell them - and mean it - that this applies if after all is said and done there are either fewer restrictions on wiretapping or less oversight than existed last summer. "Our loss of civil liberties, the attack on the Fourth Amendment in particular, has gone far enough," you could say. "Not one step further."

More to the point, for one simple thing for starters, you could join Code Pink's pledge to refuse to pay that portion of your federal income taxes going to the Iraq War (about 7% by common estimate) if by April 5, 100,000 others pledge to do the same. Since they've gotten 710 names in six weeks, that goal seems out of reach to me so if you're ready to take that step or an even bigger one, you might check out the website of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC).

And you can damn well be ready to take to the streets on March 19.

By the way, have any of the Big Blogs mentioned either of these, the tax resistance or the demonstrations? Perhaps they have, but I haven't seen it. Have any of you? And what, if I'm right about their silence, does that say?

Footnote: Just to be complete, the situation about the FISA deform bill is more complex than what happens in the Senate over the next few days. The House has passed a two-week extension of the current PAA and Senate GOPpers, again with studied disingenuousness, have agreed to the same - provided that the Senate pass a White House-approved version of the bill this week. The intention, apparently, is to push the burden on the House, which has already passed a version containing more oversight than the Bushites want (ignoring for the moment that any oversight is more than they want) and no telcom immunity. It appears to me that the calculation of the troglodytes now is that if they can stampede the Senate into a quick surrender, they can use that as leverage against the House.

You might check here to see the sort of fear-mongering the conservative creeps and cretins are peddling.

*WHS = White House Sociopaths

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