Sunday, December 09, 2007

Who's killing the peace movement?

Jim: I'm doing this introduction to explain this feature. It originated as part of a snapshot C.I. was dictating last week. It didn't make it into the snapshot because it was so lengthy that it would have meant not much else would have been included. C.I. was saying to forget it but Ava grabbed the phone and told the friend C.I. was dictating to "Send it to Elaine." Ava thought it was worth preserving. Elaine agreed. Mike heard a few paragraphs of it from Elaine. I was desperate to find out about it and read it. As Kat noted, it would more than likely end up here. It needed to be finished and the concern was that the tone be kept because the power came from C.I. speaking about it in terms of a member of the generation that lived through Vietnam. To help ensure that tone remained, we asked Ruth to help out. We also thank "Penny" whom we called this afternoon when we were still unsure of two jokes. Her remarks were, "You've been more than kind. You need to hit harder. This is about an illegal war and everyone named is supposed to be a grown up." With that input we did another draft.

Turning to the peace movement, there is plenty of life there and, if you ever doubted it, check out the commentaries between Max Uhlenbeck (Left Turn) and Joshua Frank (Dissident Voice). Uhlenbeck would have served readers better if he'd noted his long relationship with United for Peace & Justice. Considering that he's writing in defense of UPFJ and attacking A.N.S.W.E.R., it is required that he disclose his long standing relationship with UPFJ.

He would be better served if he didn't write about things from a "knowing stance" when he doesn't know what he's talking about. That's not a criticism of him, it is a criticism of his elders who have spent the better part of this decade repeatedly lying (either because they baked their minds so badly they can't remember Vietnam or because it's better to rewrite history in a self-serving manner).

"Learning from history," Uhlenbeck writes, "we saw the Vietnam war end due to a series of interconnected and overlapping factors: the Vietnamese resistance itself, the mandatory draft and the development of the GI movement inside the US military, and finally mass protest domestically -- which took many forms, but were often centered on or around college campuses."

He recites the talking points very well -- he wasn't present (I believe he graduated high school in 1996) -- so it's not his fault that he's mislearned history.

There is NO draft today. But that hasn't stopped various male lefties -- who were never drafted -- from telling their distortions of how "The draft did it, man. The draft ended the illegal war." No, it didn't. The draft didn't end the Korean War either.

It's a nice little lie that excuses inaction. It's not true. Women were never going to be drafted during Vietnam, they didn't need a draft to mobilize against the illegal war. Young men burning their draft cards was a visual symbol of opposition to the illegal war; however, the reality is that draft wasn't equal, wasn't 'fair' and there were many loopholes if you happened to be White and middle-class. It's interesting that he rates "mass protest domestically" last. But then he's come of age in a movement that worships at the crotch of the US military institution.

Vietnam did end for a number of reasons and the main reason was because the people (all the people -- in the US, in Vietnam and around the world) made it too difficult for the US government to continue the war. There were many ways in which they did that. Failure of 'elders' to tell the truth today leads to one of the biggest problems facing today's movement: a disinformation campaign.

Possibly, if young people today were told the truth -- as opposed to campfire tales that play as "worship me" -- they would have realized how little they need the "elders."

Is that harsh? I hope so.

And one thing I applaud Uhlenbeck strongly for is the fact that he took his issues out into the public. He needs to. He falters in places because he's speaking of a time he didn't live through and just as surely as the right-wing practiced revisionary history (in their case meant to rewrite reality), the left-wing (or 'left'-wing) has as well (the typical inflations of the past that come with age).

United for Peace and Justice, despite what Uhlenbeck states, is the movement's problem. It's also one of the movement's success.

Life isn't computer binary code and seldom plays out in the dualistic either-or nature.

UPFJ deserves tremendous credit for being one of the organizations that carved out a space for dissent, supported voices against the war and told and kept telling the truth.

That's then. Now?

UPFJ also deserves credit for being in tune with the needs of people around the country. They were slammed by some for doing local actions instead of a DC one most recently. That action was what people wanted. Anyone arguing that's not the case needs to hit the road and start talking to people. UPFJ was very attuned to the needs around the country.

Uhlenbeck notes a reluctance to change the leadership at the top. That is a UPFJ problem -- it's also a problem of many organizations. People who lived through Vietnam (whether they remember it correctly or not) need to be self-checking on their roles in the movement.

All those decades ago, Elaine and I heard Howard Zinn speak in public for the first time and Elaine quickly identified exactly why he was such a bolt of lightning: He gave information.

He still does that today.

He provides information. He's inspiring in the genuine way (as is Studs Terkel) not that faux "Sweet Victories" way. But at the heart of it, Zinn has always transmitted information.

That wasn't always the case back then. Some 'elders' felt the need to hoard information and refused to give up their positions. They were forced out and you can sense that same thing in the air today if you speak with students.

UPFJ is not the only organization with this problem but it's a very serious problem. Uhlenbeck has noted publicly before that his role at UPFJ was often just being the young face when UPFJ needed to send out one. That's a problem.

Where are the young people speaking at rallies?

Don't bring up IVAW. (We'll address IVAW in a moment.) Ideally, the peace movement wants to see increased participation from young people (young people have been active in the peace movement throughout this decade). Well put them on stage, put them in positions of power.

This myth that they can't lead is nonsense.

They'll be living with the fall out from this illegal war long after those of us who lived through Vietnam are dead. They are the leaders. They've made, and are making, themselves leaders -- in spite of obstacles put up by many in the peace movement. It is their movement. You can't clutch it and insist, "Did you wash your hands? I can't let you take the reigns of power until you wash your hands!"

It's not ours to hold, it is the young people's movement. Our role is bodies at protests, rallies, marches, etc. Our role is to provide information, to transfer information. Our role -- those of us who lived through Vietnam -- is not in controlling the movement, dictating the movement, etc.

I'm not sure someone Uhlenbeck's age will get that point because there's been so many of us (people of my generation) lying for so long.

"Don't trust anyone over 30?"

Slogans like that and others came about for a reason and the reason was we were young, we were active and we were ready to lead. Domestic demographics being what they are, we've been allowed to dominate the society for far too long. It's time to release control (past time) and to grasp that our role is not to do what we did in the 'sixties.' We should be offering bodies and offering advise (which can be listened to or not, we shouldn't be the decision makers) but today's movement is not our movement to lead.

How vain is our generation (actually several generations) that it wasn't enough for us to be the 'stars' of the '60s' -- we've still got to hang on to the spotlight?

When Uhlenbeck is repeating the popular revision of the 'draft, man,' it is a sure sign that today's 'elders' have held onto power for far too long and, let's be honest, have told one too many "glory days" tales. Not in a way that informed -- obviously if today's illegal war still has to waste so much talking about how there was a draft back in the day, no one's been informed -- but in a really sick way.

Today, we do have some information to share, no question. But we assumed leadership in the '60s' and let's all stop lying that we were any more informed than students today are.

That is reality. Students need to know that, they need to know that there is no 'great wisdom' to be learned (and tested on?) before assuming leadership in the movement.

The reality is the peace movement at the top has become a lot like the restrictive country clubs from our childhoods, the ones society railed against, the same way we later railed against elders that refused to let us be more than flunkies. That the same generation which railed so loudly on this score has kept students out today is rather sad.

If young adults aren't in leadership roles, the peace movement sends a message about how little they are valued. And there's no 'elder' alive today that should find that shocking because we all made those same arguments when we were young and on the outs. We were correct then.

And, as we formed our own groups and came into leadership, we provided life into the movement.

Outside of CODEPINK, name an organization that can make that claim -- one that formed at the start of the illegal war? Liza Featherstone (The Nation) was wrong to think that the answer to the peace movement was to use political campaign events as a model. She was right to note the very rote nature to so much of today's events.

Why is that?

Let's be honest, my generation is largely stuck in their ways and in their own mindset and we're unable to do much more than repeat what we did earlier.

That's why any movement needs 'young blood,' needs 'new life.' Nothing will change with established organizations if they don't start bringing young people into roles of leadership. But, and we've noted this for over a year now, it really doesn't matter. Young people are leading and those organizations that do not want to recognize that, those that are not willing to transfer the power, will find themselves in the dust.

Now myths and glory tales give the impression that -- whether it is the absence of the draft, the absence of a unified resistance, the absence of the Holy Trinity of Janis, Jimi and Jim or what have you -- there are these host of 'factors' that are preventing the movement against the illegal war from doing this or doing that. The reality is that leadership is preventing and they're doing that by refusing to step out of the way and let today's young people take control of what is their movement to steer.

Norman Solomon, a very astute critic in many ways, not only made the decision to slime Jane Fonda on MSNBC before the illegal war started, he was so proud of that moment he reproduced it in his recent cut & paste book. Jane Fonda, he informed, lacked maturity. Reality check: Jane Fonda stopped the bombing of the dikes.

Sean Penn has done some amazingly brave things. But the reality is that, in earlier times, others showed a lot more bravery -- including Jane Fonda. Possibly travel companions and elders don't serve today's activists well when they offer their cautionary tales?

Cautionary tales?

Back in the day, suck ups like Toad (who was never a leader in any sense of the word) were happy to do what they were told, as they were told, by the 'elders.' The 'elders' had lived through McCarthyism and a great deal more. Many were frightened of their own shadow. Which is one reason that many of the earliest efforts to call out what was happening in Vietnam failed.

The peace movement could not conduct itself like the nuclear freeze movement or any of the other peace movements that had recently come before. Vietnam was not a case of preventing a 'potential.' Vietnam was the locale for daily dying. Which is why the movement was modeled after the Civil Rights movement which also addressed daily reality as opposed to 'potential' risks.

The peace movement lacked life and lacked urgency for many, many years. 'Elders' today can rewrite it all they want, but that is reality.

And when they were the young, they knew that reality very well. They railed against it. They pushed, shoved and fought their way into leadership and they brought life and urgency to the movement.

Jane Fonda is one of the great cautionary myths today's elders trot out. In an interview with 60 Minutes, Fonda was asked if someone should be doing what she did then and she replied she wouldn't recommend it. Fred Gardner (who does not practice revisionary tactics about Vietnam) took her to task for that. What he may have missed is that Fonda is fully aware of how she is used and would be the last to recommend to anyone that they open themselves up to what she has faced and continues to face in terms of right-wing hatred. We're talking about a lifetime of attacks on every facet of her life (including when Rupert Murdoch's trashy British press attempted to destroy her success with the workout by lying that she'd had a heart attack requiring that she lead a workout class in front of reporters to immediately end that false rumor).

For all the organized hatred, the reality is that after she got involved in the movement, she went on to win two Oscars, she went on to star in successful movies, she built the home fitness industry and her autobiography topped The New York Times' bestseller list. That point is similar to the one Janeane Garofalo attempted to make repeatedly when, following her brave efforts at ending this illegal war, ABC decided not to get behind her sitcom. She repeatedly pointed out that it had nothing to do with her opposition to the illegal war and stated how important that was to stress. If it's not stressed, it becomes a case of "Don't speak out! Look what happened to Janeane!"

Fonda's efforts during Vietnam were not beyond the pale and were not seen as such then by the left or, in most cases, even the mainstream media. The fact that they are today goes to two things. First, and easily agreed to by many, there is the fact that she has been the focus of non-stop attacks by the right. The second is less often stated because it requires that some 'voices' do a personal inventory: the left joined in the attacks. Little 'jokes,' little 'jabs' and, most of all, an effort to say, "I'm not like Jane Fonda."

Phyllis Bennis is an example of someone who was not like Jane Fonda. By her own admission, her days back then were filled with chants against US service members. By contrast, Fonda actively worked with service members. (A lie is told that she attacked POWs. She did not attack POWs. She spoke of a specific group of POWs, quick to meet with Richard Nixon, and to lie -- and it was a LIE -- about how well things were going in Vietnam to the press.)

It is amazing that the same 'elders' who fret and worry about another Jane Fonda are so quick to embrace Bennis who trotted out her anti-service member rhetoric (during Vietnam) not all that long ago when she wanted to slam Alexander Cockburn.

Why did she want to slam him?

To score some easy points, maybe. But the main purpose was to attack his suggestion that Americans might need to learn a little about the resistance and offer that it was support for the resistance in earlier illegal wars that helped end them.

Bennis rushed in, for who knows what reason, I honestly don't think the world was awaiting "Phyllis Socks it to Alex!", to say the resistance in Iraq was not organized and, besides, most were terrorists and most were this and most were that and, as you read on, you had to wonder is this the same Bennis who regularly appears to only stop short of claiming Hezbollah can cure cancer when singing their praises? She is aware that they're not dancing and singing on the deck of the Good Ship Lollypop, isn't she?

What is the resistance in Iraq like?

The reality is that few know because very few reporters have bothered to find out their stories. Molly Bingham and Steve Connors new documentary Meeting Resistance offers a look a look at some of the early stages of the resistance in Iraq for those interested. That apparently does not include Bennis. Clutching the pearls in the best Cokie Roberts manner, Bennis huffed, "We know virtually nothing of what most of the factions stand for beyond opposition to the U.S. occupation -- and from my own personal vantage point, of the little beyond that that we do know, I don't like so much." That's telling them, Phyl!

"We know virtually nothing" but that didn't prevent her from weighing in and screaming, "NO!"

When Bennis is doing that, an educated and enlightened voice in many ways, people should start to grasp that there is a problem with today's peace movement.

And the problem is at the top.

While we're on Bennis, let's note the fact that she needs to figure out what she's going to speak on. She can't be expert on everything. The Middle East is far too diverse and she's made enough mistakes on Iraq recently (not limited to but including the appalling revelation she made on CounterSpin of somehow missing Nancy A. Youssef's summer 2006 report on the US military keeping track of some Iraqi deaths -- Bennis was taking to the airwaves in that period to offer her analyses on Lebanon).

But someone thinks she can be both the Middle East expert to be brought on to discuss Israel's latest crimes and the Iraq War while also being a major voice of the peace movement.

Does no one else see a problem with that?

That's three positions she's handling and that's probably two too many.

She's far from alone.

With some, the reality is that many of them never got 'fame.' Now they are bound and determined to hold onto (hoard) what they can. Tom Hayden did achieve actual fame during Vietnam. Though two periods actually. Early on and then, later, when he joined with Jane Fonda to protest the war. (That's not meant to suggest the second phase was a one-time moment. I am wording it that way to avoid any confusion that he got back in only because he married Fonda. That is suggested by some, but it's not reality. They were very much a team. She did provide an entry point back in, but he did not ride her coattails and to suggest otherwise is insulting to both as well as untrue.)

So Hayden, whom I admire (and I admire Bennis as well), should know a lot of things that he appears to forget these days. Recently he made the ludicrous claim that what fueled student activity in his day was the invasive physical you had to take for the draft. Speaking for myself and other women, "Uh, no, Tom, that's not what fueled our activism against the war."

But it's not just the way back past that he's gone fuzzy on. Recently he wrote a voters guide for The Nation. It was the cover story and the illustration was of a student's notebook, clearly implying this was an outreach to today's youth. Does he really think they need him to tell them about elections? Or they want it?

Did he forget his on air public frustration in January 2005, when he repeatedly attempted to address Iraq and the host only wanted to discuss the 2004 election and how a recount was needed? Does he not know his annoyance was abundantly clear? (Or that of his host as he continued to address Iraq when she just wanted to talk about Ohio?)

It was strange to watch him be silent while Bennis went after Cockburn because the larger points Cockburn was making were points he made on air (on the same show) this year. The reaction from the host -- let's be honest, it was Laura Flanders in both cases. Flanders is the niece of Alexander Cockburbn which made her reaction all the more puzzling. When Hayden made the same points, it was greeted with disbelief and then, after he was off air, it was turned into, "There's confusion on the blog. People are asking, 'Does he want us to be penpals with the resistance?'" Oh, ha, ha, ha. How droll. How funny.

What's really going on here?

Jane Fonda. Jane Fonda and Joan Baez. Jane Fonda and Joan Baez and anyone else who has been demonized. The 'elders' are running scared. They don't want to be Dixie Chicked.

And that's the biggest problem with today's movement. Just as in the sixties (and this actually was during the chronological sixties), the big problem the movement had to overcome was the fear-based response of the elders who lived through McCarthyism, the biggest problem the movement today has to overcome is today's elders fear of being Fonda-nized.

They should be so lucky.

Let's be safe, let's not rock the boat, the rest of the country isn't ready for us!

Well how damn enlightened and above the rest of the country you must be. Or maybe just think you are.

The reality is that most of the 'elders' today (Hayden is an exception, Gardner is another) were not leaders then. The leaders gave it there all and, in doing so, many burned out. They were tired. They had put their lives on hold. They had every reason to move on to a quieter plane. The ones holding power today weren't doing much during Vietnam. And it frequently seems like, having spent so much time with their faces pressed to the glass, they'll be damned if they'll let any young person in today.

It's not their movement.

The movement belongs to the young people. They will live with effects of the illegal war long after those my age have died.

But they're not being handed the movement. They're being told they can be participants but not leaders. By people who, let's be real, weren't leaders back in the day no matter how much they all wish they were. And that goes a long way towards explaining how much damage they have done to history with their own revisions.

"The draft! The draft!" they cry and confuse a large number of young people today. There was a draft in place before Vietnam. A standing draft. The draft ended no war. It didn't end Vietnam. But hiding behind the non-issue of the draft certainly allows leaders to pretend that not having one today is why the movement is where it currently is.

Repeating, if you were a White and middle class male, you could get out of the draft in many cases. You could get a deferment for college, for being a father, etc. Those unaware of that reality should study Dick Cheney's bio because he managed to win a lotto of deferments throughout Vietnam. You could also avoid the draft by joining the National Guard and, in those days, that generally meant you would remain state-side. (As the current occupant of the White House did. Although if you didn't fufill your service, you did stand a chance of being shipped to Vietnam.)

[It also needs to be noted that many -- including big names in other areas today -- avoided the draft by screwing themselves up temporarily before reporting for their physical or by stating they were gay.]

The reality is that there was massive opposition to the war. The revision appears to be it was just the men who had to endure an 'invasive' physical. The reality is that also came from women, who were never going to be drafted, as well as very young students, middle school (we called it junior high then) students and the middle school males weren't about to graduate from eighth grade and ship off to Vietnam.

One of the great accomplishments of the earlier peace movement was ending the draft. But don't confuse that accomplishment with the continually repeated refrain that the draft ended Vietnam. It did not.

A sign of just how aged today's peace movement is can be found in the drinking age. Currently, you can die in an illegal war your country sends you off to at eighteen but you can't have a legal drink in most states until you're twenty-one.

The fact that today's peace movement hasn't even raised that issue goes a long way towards explaining how little it actually reaches out to young people.

You can be shot dead in Iraq or wounded, the victim of a roadside bomb or IED as well, but you're not getting a beer until you're twenty-one. You're old enough to be hailed as hero (the heroines don't get hailed, but we're not supposed to notice even when the statements come from a member of Congress in an open hearing) at 18, provided you die, but you're not old enough to order a drink.

That wouldn't have flown during Vietnam. In fact, young people won the right to vote during Vietnam by making the argument that the same country that would ship them off to die wouldn't let them vote.

Knowledge is worth sharing. Fear? No. And you have to wonder, when Tom Hayden's counseling that voters need to be realistic -- in an article the illustration declares is aimed at young people -- where the peace movement thinks tomorrow's dreamers will come from if we're all told, repeatedly, do the safe thing?

We have to do the safe thing with our actions agains the illegal war, we have to do the safe thing with our votes, when do we stop hammering training wheels onto everything? When do we get out of the damn way and let the young people lead?

We are a huge bulge in the national demographics and, as such, we really can't remember a time when the country didn't cater to us. So maybe we've grown to think that is our due?

But we're passing on way too may myths and outright lies to the young people today. We're controlling a peace movement that shouldn't be ours to control. We're operating from fear though we kid ourselves that we're 'reasonable.'

And then we want to pin the problems of today's peace movement not on ourselves but on mythical aspects that have no relation to reality.

War resisters in Canada are fighting for their right to remain in Canada. One of the biggest obstacles they face is that "There is no draft!" Canada did not grant asylum to US service members during Vietnam because of the draft. You were not stopped at the border and required to declare that you were about to be drafted and only waived through if you hadn't enlisted. (And that's not the only time Canada provided asylum to war resisters.) But because of these revisionary tales about the draft, today's war resisters not only have to make a case for why they can't go back, they're tasked with also explaining how they're not different from the earlier wave. That goes to the 'elders' in today's peace movement.

'Elders' should be occupying roles as critics and as information resources. They shouldn't be in leadership. When the protests against Vietnam really came alive, it was because the young people took up the leadership, fought for it.

Two weeks ago, having heard all the nonsense about that time recited back to me by one student in particular, I made a point to grab a real leader in the protests from back in the day and take her to campuses with us. She offered the reality on those days. Her biggest advice was: "Stop listening to them."


It was "us" and "them" back then.

We try to kid ourselves that we can be 'hip' or 'happening' or whatever we think the phrase may be today. We try to kid ourselves that we are so exceptional and wonderful that we can speak to the issues of concern for young people. We're so wise, we're so everything.

The reality is that we are leading an old person's movement. We are excluding young people and we are refusing to hand over the reigns. We had our day in the sun (or the shadow for some) and yet we're apparently going to go to our graves refusing to serve a movement because our damn egos are more important.

Us v. Them. When at all acknowledged today, we tell the tale as if it was just the 'straights' v. the 'freaks.' When the reality, as we should all remember, was it was us versus the people standing in our way and that included the 'elders' in the peace movement at that time. It's funny that in all the campfire tales repeatedly told on campuses, on broadcasts and in print, we forget to inform the young people today of that aspect.

It happens so much that you have to wonder if we are deliberately attempting to hide that reality to maintain our own positions?

Now a life off stage will panic many of the 'elders' so let's just say they move off center-stage.

We do have role models. They aren't the ones who were pushed aside because they wouldn't let us lead. (Although that seems to be who we emulate now in our old age.) They were the people like Howard Zinn who were more than happy to transfer knowledge.

But we've become like middle-management, so afraid those under us will be promoted, that we are actively destroying the movement and we need to take a long, hard look at our actions.

Earlier into the peace movement to end the Iraq War, there was the lie put foward repeatedly that young people weren't involved or that they were apethetic. Did any of those repeating that lie not notice the fact that young people weren't represented onstage at the rallies? Or that they were used as window dressing when seeking to 'turn on' the youth?

Do you think it didn't go noticed that a child could be presented as a voice of peace but a teenager or young adult couldn't? That is what happened. But children are cute and cuddly, and let's be honest, so much easier to manage.

At the start of this year, a rally was held in DC. What was the average age of the speakers? It appeared to be well over 40 and that would be a higher number were it not for members of Iraq Veterans Against the War who had to fight to be invited onstage. (Don't bother e-mailing to say that's not true. IVAW had to fight and good for them for fighting.) Yes, there were survivors of Hurricane Katrina passed off as 'victims' as well, of various ages, but 'victims' aren't really a threat to leadership by their very nature.

March 13th through 15th, Iraq Veterans Against the War stages their Winter Soldiers Investigation. That is an example of using events from the past, absolutely. It's also a way to give young people who served a voice. Students for a Democratic Society is another example of learning from the past but in a way that places young people in charge and in the forefront.

Ideally, there would be a way to share the stage but the 'elders' have made clear that they don't want to share. When that was made clear in my youth, we stormed the gates and pushed them aside. One of the most encouraging things on campuses in the last two years has been hearing students voice, on their own, increasingly, the belief that their monies were always wanted, their bodies were wanted at rallies and marches, but their skills were never wanted and their input never sought. That is a reality and it's one that we're not supposed to speak of.

Refusing to acknowledge it is hurting the peace movement. Students have been carving out their own spaces in their own groups and they're going to be taking the leadership roles in non-student groups. The ones who will not share leadership will find themselves out in the cold so elders need to be asking themselves if they themselves are the most important thing or if it's the organizations they work for or with? If it's the latter, they need to figure out how they're going to address this issue because if they can't, or won't, it will be addressed for them and it will not be pretty or tidy -- nor should it be. It wasn't 'back in the day.'

On campuses, students always share their past activities. When they share their upcoming actions, I listen. If they ask for input, I will explain the positive effects and the negative effects of something similar during Vietnam and note that the world has changed. I don't say, "Don't unfurl a banner, don't boo a speaker, don't . . ." I'm not the one who will be living with those actions. I'm comfortable explaining potential effects but I'm not a leader and don't present myself as such. Sadly others are more than willing to present themselves as leaders and to instruct on 'should's and 'shouldn't's. These are not infants or toddlers who might burn themselves on the stove. There's no great mystery to how to end the illegal war. There's no training course they need to sit through.

But haven't we (my generation) succeeded in making them think there is? In making them think that we knew all the ins and outs of everything before we organized a rally or staged a march? We who stormed and tore down the gates seem more than happy to act as gatekeepers today and we should be appalled by that.

The reality is that any student today can better reach students because they are students. They know better then outsiders looking in -- outsiders who aren't as 'with it' or 'cool' as they'd like to believe. It leads to a lot of embarrassments. One example of that is Medea Benjamin, an usually wise person, writing an embarrassing column not all that long ago where she shared the tragedy of a pie-ing. As someone who's had enough paint thrown on themselves at marches during Vietnam to cover the CODEPINK DC house (though it couldn't be used if it had been saved -- the paint was always red), I didn't have a lot of sympathy for her plight. When Iraqis are being shot and bombed, when US service members are being shot and bombed, I didn't have a lot of sympathy for the pie-ing. Considering that no anti-pie-ing column appeared when it was done to Ann Coulter (or others), the column made me recoil.

When one of our smartest voices is using her space to explain how unfair her pie-ing was, there's a problem with the movement. Pie-ing is like getting hit with a water ballon. It's not the end of the world. It's not even the world-on-hold. At best, it's an amusing anecdote to be briefly shared with friends or during an interview. When enough confusion exists to think it makes for a column, there's a problem with the peace movement including the failure to see how that would be received. Students didn't take that column seriously and it led to a lot of mocking. (The day after it ran at Common Dreams, the first campus group we visited was alive with mocking cries of "Oh no! I've been pied!")

It may have been done by lefties. It may have been done by right-wingers. Or centrists. Or someone just wanting a laugh. It really had nothing to do with Medea but she turned it into herself. It's the equivalent of the streakers in the seventies and should be taken about as seriously. The fact that it was given enough weight to lead to what one student called "Stop the Pie-ing! The Madness Must End!" goes a long way towards explaining how out of touch the peace movement can be today. I'm sure it was a shock. I do not, however, remember reports of a detached retina or anything that would lead to a need to write that column.

It's a little too much naval gazing for a generation that should be able to sketch their own navels from memory at this point. Along with illustrating that point, it's included because I respect all the people named in this. Bennis, Benjmain, Hayden, Cockburn, Frank, Max and anyone I've forgotten that we've addressed. I think all but Cockburn and the two young people are part of the problem but they are not the problem.

They are part of the problem because they are not doing what needs to be done, what they should know has to be done: Demanding the gates be opened to young people. They are named because I honestly don't believe they are aware of the problem. There are others I could name who are aware of the problem and aren't at all bothered by it.

They better get ready to be bothered because the same students who gave up on leaders that never showed and became their own leaders have been working and realizing there's no great mystery to opposing the illegal war. On my end, Ava and I will be on campuses at least once a week with a real leader from the Vietnam era for the first six months of 2008. We hope to continue that throughout the year but we have lined up the first six months.

It wasn't that hard to do. Penny (as Elaine dubbed her) went on campuses with us and discovered that the biggest obstacle today wasn't apathy, wasn't lack of awareness, it was the obstacles elders have put up which allow them to maintain their positions. Penny's now working with a group on a campus close to her, in a non-leadership role. She's sharing information

She's also been sharing with genuine leaders of the Vietnam era. That's how we were able to line up speakers for next year so quickly. She called people, she spoke of what she heard, what she saw and underscored that a lot of (at best) second and third-tier participants in the peace movement were now trying to pass themselves off as leaders and holding back young people today. People who thought they had nothing to share today that would be of value grasp that they are needed to combat the lies and myths that have sprung up.

Penny's mouth dropped as a student shared an action she had tried to get started only to have it shot down when (and by) a 'leader' visiting the campus said it was the 'wrong approach' because it might 'offend' 'some people'.

"The war itself is offensive," Penny replied. And that is the reality.

And it's one we grapsed and had to grasp 'back in the day' in order to seize power and bring life into the movement. As Ava explained last week to one group, "Real leaders wouldn't spend so much time trying to shut you down, shut you off and control you." Equally true that real leaders wouldn't hop into bed with any political party that won't end the illegal war.

Those who've spent the last few years, and plan to spend 2008, playing footsie with Democrats to enrich or maintain their own standing should consider themselves on notice. 2008 stands a good chance of being the year when the young people take charge.


* Note: We read this to Penny over the phone. She wants a section added that we're not able to fit in so we're putting it in as a note. Jane Fonda was not the leader of the peace movement during Vietnam but she was one of many leaders. If you doubt how the peace movement today has turned into a lot of turf-wars, look at the reaction to Fonda who has consistently spoken out against the illegal war (including before it started). She has no interest in being a leader today but she has repeatedly attempted to do more and everytime she does a Toad or a Pooper or someone else comes along to scream, "She'll destroy the peace movement!" And Fonda backs away. Penny: "More likely, a more visible role for her would contrast with what others are doing -- or not doing -- and demonstrate just what frauds so many of today's leaders are because she was always one of the most effective communicators the movement had. That also explains why FAIR's magazine [Extra!] elected to slam her."
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }