Sunday, April 30, 2006

Editorial: Yesterday's protest and the future protests

You may not have seen it, but the paper of record did, for it, an almost good job covering the protests. The number of those participating Saturday was lowballed. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! has noted, many times, The New York Times' counting problems when a rally or march is held. Nicholas Confessore tells you "thousands." The estimate is around 300,000. But Confessore, to his credit, actually managed to talk to those taking part. Something the paper seems to have almost as big a problem with as counting. (Maybe it helps that no easily distracted reporter was presented with anyone "nearly naked" -- to harken back to a journalistic crime in 2005.) We get a professor from Florida, a local priest, a local physician and a musician/environmental educator.

We'll give Confessore credit for the best demonstration coverage the paper's done since the illegal invasion. We're aware that could be read as not saying real much, so, to be clear, the article could be longer and "thousands" should read "hundreds of thousands" or "an estimated 300,000." But that's about all of our quibbles with Confessore. We'll even say "Good job" to him. Here's a problem, not of his making, it's not in the national edition.

Are you surprised? We weren't when we called to check on that.

So yesterday, people marched in NYC. (And took part in other activities across the country. We look forward to reading of a house party that Rebecca's reader Goldie held with her friends and those of her mother's.) What's it mean, what did we see and hear?

We heard and saw dedicated citizens doing their best to raise awareness and build the coalition to end the war. (And stop a new one on Iran.) In the mammoth/epic roundtable, we note a few things. Including that some participating expressed the need for the rallies to move beyond "first principle" (as one man termed them). The organizers deserve praise for all they have done (not just yesterday but for some time now), the participants deserve praise for standing and being counted.

But what we're up against, as Danny Schechter could tell anyone, is a media that still not connecting the dots. The goal has to be, as Naomi Klein has so often noted, to bring the war home. Don't panic Toad, she's not coming after your flat screen with a tire chain. That's not what she meant. She's talking about doing the job the mainstream media won't. (Or the bulk of the politicians.)

NAOMI KLEIN: When I say we don't have the luxury, I mean there is a war going on right now. If we are an anti-war movement, we don't get to choose our strategic moments to oppose a war and ask ourselves how it's going to play in swing states. We oppose wars when they are being waged. And there is an emergency in Najaf right now. People in Iraq are flocking to Najaf, acting as human shields. Sistani just yesterday called for massive peaceful demonstrations. I think, the least we can do is not -- I actually resent this idea that protest is infantile. I think it is very politically mature and I think responsible. I think the onus is on Americans because it is their bombs dropping on Najaf, to be in the streets making concrete demands to end the occupation, to end the siege on Najaf, for massive reparations for Iraq. I really believe the arguments that Todd Gitlin is making is really part of a three-pronged strategy to scare people out of the streets of New York. I think part of it, people are afraid of terrorism. They're now afraid of anarchists because it's being whipped up by the tabloids, and I think into this debate is being inserted this false analogy with Chicago 1968 that says to liberals in New York who were really feeling defiant and were planning to show some real courage on the streets that actually you can do more by staying home than being in the streets. I don't think what we’re going to see on the streets is a temper tantrum. I think there's serious, mature opposition to this war and that the onus, all of us who have marched against the war before it started, is to bring those voices from Najaf. You know, I was there. I wasn't in Chicago in 1968, I hadn’t been born yet, but I really feel a tremendous responsibility to the people I met in Iraq, to bring those voices here, because they're being crushed there, and we owe it to them.

Klein made those points nearly two years ago. Bring Najaf to New York, Klein said. Toad argued a position that could be read as "stay home, don't protest!" Klein called it a "get out protest free card." (By the way, as Klein predicted, police did pose as protestors.)

Where are we today? You still have people dismissing the need to protest. People who are yet again placing their eggs in the election basket. Call us let than optimistic about that as a tool for change. Change comes from the people, not from the "leaders."

On the plus side, you have a growing awareness (that continues to build). You have a refusal to be silenced by many (it's a growing number). We spoke to quite a few who said yesterday's protest was their first one. The numbers continue to grow. While applauding the organizers for what they've accomplished (a great deal and not just with this one rally), it's probably time to examine ways to further the events themselves. That may be a topical issue (in terms of what is spoken of or, in fact, who gets to speak). It may also mean shaking things up a little.

How so? Maybe some creativity. Even in chants, we could use it. But in terms of the structure itself, we could probably use it as well. We have no illusions regarding when the war will end. We think it is highly likely that this site will close down (the plan is to close the site in November of 2008) before the war ends. It's a long process and we won't kid anyone and say, "Just one more protest, people, and the troops come home." This has to be prolonged action that takes in speaking out, civil disobedience and continually putting the war on the front burner.

That's not to dismiss other issues. There's room to protest many things. That is to say that when Operation Happy Talk launches another wave, we're smart enough, informed enough not to fall for it. Not just you are who are reading, but everyone you know. We don't need to hear, "Blue fingers! Everything's on track now!" Not from each other, true, but not from the people around us either.

There's no corner to turn here. Every corner leads to more chaos. The illegal war was built on lies. The occupation had a plan, don't believe the hype that it didn't, it's plan just didn't include the needs of Iraqis. It focused on the needs of corporations. That's why a nation with massive unemployment saw no efforts to employ Iraqis but shipped in foreign workers. It's been a tag sale and as the thirt-day clock is ticking for the "government" to take hold, the issue is will they be able to ratify the Bremmer proposals?

"Liberation" involves self-rule. There's been no attempt to turn over rule to Iraqis. There's been a move to use them as a facade for the trade and ownership policies that the United States government wants. That's not self-rule. That's not an end to violence. And it sure as hell isn't liberation.

Until people can grasp that the (illegal) occupation is at the root of the violence, they'll continue to delude themselves that the good times are just around the corner. They aren't. The United States can occupy Iraq for ten years, for twenty years, the roots are corrupt.

That's what Iraqis (the rare times that they are heard in the mainstream media) are talking about when they say that they had some hope when Saddam Hussein was removed from office but that the hopes have vanished. That's why polling of Iraqis show that they want the United States out and the occupation ended.

Maybe happy talkers don't notice, for instance, the health care crisis in Iraq, but Iraqis do. James Glanz writes about it for The New York Times today with "U.S. Pays for 150 Iraqi Clinics, and Manages to Build 20." That may not register here anymore than the attacks on hospitals and medical workers, but in Iraq, it is an issue that's noticed.

By all means, the organizers of the demonstrations should be thinking of ways to interject new life and keep the movement alive. But that doesn't just fall on them. It falls on all of us, in the ways we are interacting with those around us. That's the challenge for the movement right now, finding ways to get the message out. And to keep it out there. To reach the ones who agree with us as well as the ones who have taken the "luxury" of sitting this out.

As the war drags on, now more than ever, "War Got Your Tongue?" is not an option. We need to use our voices, loudly and clearly, we need to discover new ways of getting the message out, and we need to keep the war front and center. Even when the mainstream media rushes to tell us things are looking up. It's an easy, pleasing lie. We need to reject it, not after the fact, but before it's uttered.
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