Remarks at George Mason University, Fall for the Book, September 23, 2010. (Video available 9-24-2010 at http://warisacrime.org)
Thank you for being here and skipping the Pledge to America event in Sterling.
I’m going to try to be brief because I tend to be very long-winded answering questions, so I’ve learned to leave time for that. It may sound, as I speak, like I’m giving an overview of a lot of topics, so please keep in mind any that you want to ask questions about or raise concerns about.
I want to thank GMU and Dave Kuebrich for setting this event up and another event this evening set up with the George Mason Progressive Democrats of America and the College Democrats. If there’s anything we don’t have time to discuss here, we can continue it there. I’m assuming non-Democrats with the capital D are welcome, since I’m going.
Democrats with a small d are, I’m certain, welcome too, despite the fact that they would have to be revolutionaries, like the man this university is named for, not violent revolutionaries — we’re long past the age in which violence could make any sense at all — but revolutionaries. If wars were expected to come to every capital in the world that lacked democracy and spread democracy to those places by blowing stuff up, I would think twice about living this close to Washington, D.C.
Eighty-six percent of Americans in a CNN poll in February said our government is broken. That’s essentially unanimity. You can get 14 percent of Americans to say anything. At least 17 percent of those with jobs get their paychecks from the government or government contractors. Of course, they may all be among those who think the thing is broken.
It’s odd that we would all think our government was broken, call it a democracy, and go fight wars to supposedly impose democracy on other countries, a concept that makes crystal clear how perverse our understanding of democracy is. Only, it’s not odd at all, and not hypocritical on the part of Americans. A majority of us want to end our current wars. A majority even say the wars were wrong to begin with, even though a majority backed them at the time (when the argument had nothing to do with spreading democracy). Very likely a majority would think attacking Iran was a bad idea after we did it, assuming we all survived to share the regret.
A majority wants to substantially defund the military and to fund green energy, tax pollution, and invest in schools and jobs and housing. A majority wants corporations and billionaires to pay more taxes, and the rest of us to pay less. A strong majority opposes bailing out Wall Street. We are not at all inclined to give up Social Security, although a plurality would like people with large incomes to start paying into it at the same rate as people with smaller ones.
A majority would shed not a single tear if health insurance corporations were banished from the face of the earth rather than empowered to require that we buy their products. We want habeas corpus back and warrantless spying ended. We wanted Bush impeached. We see no need for putting weapons in space. We want to strengthen the United Nations. And we want election campaigns paid for publicly instead of merely purchased by wealthy candidates.
The same media outlets that produce all this polling information treat some of these majority positions as jokes. But our government treats them like the plague. And so we start to get the impression that something is broken. If it’s a government of the people, why does it seem to be almost a matter of chance when the government occasionally does anything we want? Aren’t we the people?
We have the wealthiest country in the world, but we’re way behind and falling in measurements of health, infant mortality, job and retirement security, education, length of work week, and so on. We know our government’s on a path that may someday be written about as a decline and fall, but we go through cycles of imagining the destruction has been halted whenever the president belongs to one political party or the other — a fact that itself makes clear that our republic is in critical condition. People like George Mason took great risks to provide us a government where the opinions of one man alone could not guide the country. It was as well known then as now what a recipe for disaster that would be. And here we are tossing aside our inheritance.
Our congress members are expected to represent so many people now, about three quarters of a million each, that they can get away with representing none of them. Over in the Senate, one senator representing a half million people has the same vote as one supposedly representing 34 million. And a group of senators representing 11 percent of Americans can block most legislation in the Senate and the House through a disgusting invention called the filibuster, which we think is cool because Jimmy Stewart did it 70 years ago in a movie made by a guy who also made war propaganda films for the government.
We have so much freedom as a result of this wonderful system of government that we not only get countless choices of automobiles and toothpaste to choose from, but every two years we get to vote, in most cases, for the less offensive of two truly horrible and not terribly different candidates. And we don’t have to concern ourselves any more than that, since whoever wins will ignore everything we say for a year and 11 months, our opinions no matter how well articulated are not permitted in the corporate media, and unless we’re very wealthy or willing to please those who are we don’t have to worry about running for office ourselves. What a bargain! It gives us a ton of free time, unless we want to — you know — earn a living.
I heard two statistics on the radio driving over here. Last month was the record for foreclosures. And the richest 400 Americans are doing better than ever and have piled up $1.4 trillion. Something is broken.
Early this year, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can spend unlimited piles of cash on influencing elections. The idea was not, of course, to create fascism. There was no praise for bribery and corruption. Instead we’re told that spending money is protected free speech, and that corporations are persons whose human rights should be protected. Congress members and the president expressed their dismay. Then they quickly went back to holding fundraisers and chatting with lobbyists about possible career moves after their government service. The Constitution doesn’t explicitly say that calling money speech and corporations humans is lunacy any more than it provides a definition for the word ‘is’. So, we probably will have to amend the Constitution if we keep it. The other option is getting a different Supreme Court. But other smaller steps are possible too.
Dave Kuebrich mentioned to me the Fair Elections Now Act, a bill with 164 cosponsors in the House and 24 in the Senate, that would follow the successful model some states have used of providing candidates with public campaign funding if they choose not to take private contributions. This would have to be voted on and passed by the servants of the corporations now funding our politics, and it would still not prevent unlimited spending on ads to influence elections. The spending just couldn’t come from a candidate’s campaign.
Another bill called the DISCLOSE Act would just let us know who was funding what. So, a public service announcement from a group called something like Americans for Bliss and Butterflies would have to tell us if it got its money from Wal-Mart. This would be like NPR telling you it was sponsored by Wal-Mart. It would put you on the alert, but you still wouldn’t get to hear the views of critics of Wal-Mart unless they won the lottery and bought their own ad campaign.
Dave told me he took a petition on these topics to Congressman Gerry Connolly’s office and might want to do so again after his election. As long as I’m handing out unsolicited advice, I would respectfully submit that the time when these people are most likely to listen to us — and even then it’s not much — is right before an election, not after. I have no idea why the proposal to go after the election, but a lot of people would calculate as follows. It’s too late to beat Connolly with somebody better in a primary. The system is rigged to allow only two people to have a chance. The other choice is worse and Republican. So we should avoid criticizing Connolly for some months before each election, even if he only rarely, if ever, does anything we want him to.
But even if VA-11 is the wealthiest district in the country, I’m sure most people don’t want elections corrupted by money. If Connolly wants people who would vote for him to actually turn out and vote, he should do something to give them some enthusiasm. So, asking him to do something popular is not guaranteed to hurt him. It’s not criticizing him, and it’s not necessarily bad for him to request that he do what people want done. When we have to self-censor such requests, as is becoming very common all over the country, the agenda for any governance between elections is damaged.
Our representatives strive to represent three groups of people: the ones who give them money, the ones who produce cable television news shows, radio shows, and newspapers, and the ones in charge of their political parties including especially the president when he is the leader of their party. In George Mason’s view the president was to execute the will of the Congress, and no power of the Congress was more important than that of impeachment. Now Republicans will only impeach Democratic presidents, and Democrats will only impeach Democratic judges. And the executive is largely freed to tell the legislature how to do its job, rather than the reverse.
When Congress is too craven and cowardly to impeach someone or isn’t sure what they’ve done wrong, do you know what it used to do? It used to subpoena people. And it used to take that Capitol Police force that now does such a fine job of beating up peace activists in hallways, and it used to send the police to pick up witnesses who’d been subpoenaed. And when people testified but refused to respectfully answer questions, or acted like our recent attorney general Alberto Gonzales who said “I do not recall” four times a minute during his testimony, do you know what congressional committees would do? They would hold that person in contempt? And do you know where they would hold them in contempt? In a jail cell. During 2007 and 2008 Democratic committees subpoenaed dozens of top members of a Republican administration, including the vice president and the secretary of state, all of whom told Congress to go Dick Cheney itself.
So Congress asked the Justice Department to enforce its subpoenas, and the Justice Department said no. So Congress took it to court and later won. But with one weird and partial exception, not a single one of those subpoenas has been reissued and enforced by either the new Justice Department or by the committees themselves. In fact, the House Committee on Oversight has been basically put out of its misery, and the judiciary and other committees have crawled out of sight beneath the emperor’s throne. Congress just impeached and tried a judge for getting lap dances and frozen shrimp, and earlier this year impeached a judge for groping people, but it leaves a judge in a lifetime seat who wrote secret laws authorizing aggressive war and torture. Impeachment has been reserved for sex and Democrats, and the subpoena has gone the way of the dodo bird — at least unless Republicans get Congress back.
Why don’t we ever talk about the problem of Congress handing all power over to presidents? Because both political parties are happy about it, and anything they both want left alone is not news. We have a substantial right to free speech in this country, but a free press is another story altogether. A small cartel of mega media corporations has been given our public airwaves without compensation, and the more information we get from them the dumber we are. When Americans believed lies about the urgent need to attack Iraq, they believed them more depending which media outlet they got most of their news from. I’m not naming any names.
Well, OK, I’m naming names. Fox viewers believe the most falsehoods, but a lot of those falsehoods originated in the New York Times. And propaganda can’t be undone any more easily than a war can be ended once it’s begun. A study in 2005 found that among people who said they were on the right politically, if you informed them that Iraq really didn’t have weapons, they responded by believing that lie more, rather than less, strongly. Facts had the opposite effect of what they are supposed to have.
We need the big media corporations broken up. We need public media with the funding walled off from annual political debate. We need community media. We need greater variety in sources of information. And we need high school and college courses for all students to learn resistance to propaganda, instead of teaching some students so-called public relations and leaving everyone else exposed to the horrors of, for example . . . the latest Adolf Hitler of the month who’s sure to attack us any minute and whose nation is in desperate need of an altruistic and humanitarian war in which nobody’s likely to get hurt by the time the whole thing raps up next Tuesday and pays for itself.
It’s strange that I mentioned Mr. George Mason’s concerns for our government without talking about political parties. Incredibly, parties don’t show up in the Constitution, and our country seemed to get along pretty well without being dominated by them until about the time of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. Now the parties funnel much of the election money to those who know how to take orders. In addition to election money, by pleasing a party you can get earmarks and weapons factories, votes on your bills, your name on important bills, a seat in choice committees, etc. You also get your name on the ballot far more easily, get into debates far more easily, and get coverage in the media guaranteed. But even if one party tends to be better than the other, the 535 voices on Capitol Hill are often reduced to 2. The problem is not compromising and cooperating and forming coalitions. The problem is going against your constituents to please your party.
Forming a third party could be useful as a means of organizing activism. But it won’t solve the problem. In our winner-take-all electoral system, a successful third party would displace another party and become a second party, instead of a third. And it would only do that through complete corruption. If every single person in the United States who does anything more than vote — everyone who writes letters to the editor and puts up yard signs and marches in protests and collects signatures on petitions — if all of those people devoted all of their work to the Green Party tomorrow, it would still get nowhere without the Wall Street and corporate funding that buys the television ads. And if we had free air time, public financing, ungerrymandered districts, hand counted paper ballots, and all the other desirable reforms, then the existing two parties would cease to be such horrors.
When we switched the majority in Congress from Republican to Democratic in 2006, a lot of people expected a big change. We even hoped the War on Iraq might be scaled back, and instead it was escalated. But there was an excuse: Bush had all the power, he was a Republican, and challenging his power was not a fair demand to make of people who nearly had heart attacks when they saw their own shadows. So, come 2008 we took the excuse away. We made sure the Democrats had big majorities in both houses of Congress and a Democratic president. But there was still another excuse remaining for not legislating the priorities of we the people. It was a much weaker excuse, but they played it for all it was worth and are doing so to this day.
Can you guess what it was?
Here’s a hint: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
The filibuster. Now, the filibuster doesn’t show up in the Constitution or even in the text that half our senators think the government was founded on, the Bible. It only shows up in the Senate’s own rules, which it can change at any time by simple majority. The country got along fine for many years without the filibuster, and has changed it a number of times, including in 1975 in the middle of a session. The filibuster is a trick that allows 41 senators to block legislation, even though it takes 51 to make a majority. Senator Tom Udall has committed to raising the need to fix this problem at the start of the next session, operating under the pretense that the rules can only be changed at that time. But in the meantime, the Democrats have been able to blame any failure on Republican filibusters. And the Republicans have been able to filibuster and then blame the failure on the Democrats. That Republican account is a simpler message and one given more air-time, and one with some truth to it. The filibuster excuse is only there because the Democrats choose to leave it there. Of course, the Senate will not actually end the filibuster rule in January unless there is a huge public uproar, and polls suggest that people who know what the filibuster is tend to oppose it, but people don’t tend to know what it is.
Last week on the 17th was Constitution Day, a day to celebrate a very short document that people are also unfamiliar with. I have a copy in my wallet. Raise your hand if you know what Article I of the U.S. Constitution is about.
There was a headline in the Onion that read “Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be.”
Our elected officials, even on local school boards and so forth, swear oaths to defend the Constitution. We kick in doors at night and shoot families in Afghanistan to supposedly defend the Constitution. But we can’t know if people are doing their jobs unless we read the thing. We’ll still have the problem of all of its many shortcomings, but we’ll be able to better protect what it does provide if we know what’s in there. And if you think you’ll forget, just carry it with you like I do. Read it to Capitol Police officers as appropriate.
We are supposed to have a transparent government answerable to we the people. If you’re a Republican and like wars and don’t believe in global warming or the round globe, then Dick Cheney holding secret meetings with oil company CEOs to plan our military and energy policies is no big worry. If you’re a Democrat and convinced that anything Republicans consider satanic communism must be pretty good, then Obama holding secret meetings with health insurance and pharmaceutical companies to set our healthcare policies is just part of the game. But if you’re a human being, you should be worried. Secret government has not proven to be a way to get the wisest and most honest advice. It’s proven to result in people doing things in secret that we wouldn’t let them get away with in public.
For two and a quarter centuries presidents have accumulated power and passed it on to their successors, who have accepted what they’ve been given and added a little more — or a lot more in some cases. The president we needed after Bush, in the absence of a Congress with a pulse or a populace out en masse shutting the city down with its demands, the president we needed (but will never get without compelling it ourselves) was one who came in and said:
We will henceforth have the rule of law, not the law of rulers. The new Justice Department will answer to our Constitution, the treaties that form a part of it, and the statutes that are on our law books, not to me. Crimes will be investigated and prosecuted, beginning with the most serious crimes by the highest officials. Where appropriate cases will also be referred to the International Criminal Court. Laws that have been created through signing statements, secret memos, and executive orders and decrees are not laws. They will all be made public if they are not yet. They will all be eliminated. We will make public all evidence of the workings of our government that does not needlessly endanger someone. This will include text, photographs, and videos, including those depicting horrible acts of torture, rape, and murder. We are past the point of outraging people abroad. What they need to understand is that we are repudiating such conduct, forswearing similar behavior in the future, and backing up our words by deterring crime through law enforcement and, where the courts see fit, through restitution to victims. Allowing this information to dribble out in the form of partial rumors, accompanied by the certainty that no one is being held accountable, would merely encourage animosity abroad and, at home, the militarism, xenophobia, and bigotry behind these crimes. Before long we would be having churches trying to burn Korans. It is better to turn the page, not by blithely announcing that I’ve turned a page, but by fully airing the facts and punishing those responsible rather than waiting for someone else to attempt to punish us all, including the innocent, be it with a bomb in Times Square or something even worse.
This wasn’t what Barack Obama said. It was even further from what he did. He re-wrote laws with signing statements, kept open the option of creating laws with secret memos, and this week appeared to announce his intention to violate a law prior to its passage. He publicly told the attorney general to back off torture prosecutions. He allowed his staff to make clear that he claims the power to torture and rendition if he chooses. He expanded presidential powers of secrecy and immunity tremendously. A decision in the ninth circuit court of appeals last week agreed with the current Justice Department and denied torture victims access to courts to sue for damages, on grounds of national security. Why is it compensating victims that endangers our security and not the torture itself? If a piece of evidence might actually endanger someone, why not have a judge review that claim in closed chambers rather than blocking whole categories of law suits?
As the Democratic nominee for the White House, Obama reversed his promise to filibuster any bill giving immunity to corporations that have helped the government spy on us without warrants; he supported the bill. Warrantless spying programs have apparently continued, which is what things tend to do when they are rewarded rather than punished. And when you grant immunity, you’re not just pardoning crimes, you’re also preventing the public from learning exactly what crimes you’re pardoning and even whom you’re pardoning. We’re left to guess based on such circumstantial evidence as AT&T’s sponsorship of the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
The announcement of the closure of Gitmo was a nice start, and would have been easy to follow through on. You just had to try people for crimes in credible courts of law or set them free. But President Obama decided there was a third category of prisoner, those he wanted to hold indefinitely without putting them on trial. And the larger prison at Bagram was never a big issue in the news anyway. So our death camps — which is what you call a place you take people and give them no hope of ever leaving — are still grinding along.
Adding insult to injury, President Obama stood in front of the Constitution in the National Archives and threw habeas corpus out the window. After 800 years of believing people should be given a fair trial before imprisonment, I guess it was time for a change.
In England they have had non-stop inquiries into the Iraq War lies since 2003, and memos have leaked out, tell-all books have been published. In this country, the Iraq War is being recuperated. You can’t have wars without lies. We’re going to have more wars. So, we can’t leave people thinking the Iraq war was all bad. Three weeks ago the President spoke from the oval office and breathed new life into all the lies. The War on Iraq was begun to disarm a nation, he told us. Our innocent troops go caught up in the barbarians’ civil war. But we kept on killing them for their own good. And with dedication, the war was then won in 2007 through a surge of additional troops.
That surge was in reality very small and the reasons for the gradual decline in violence had nothing to do with it and are not present in Afghanistan — reasons including massive death and displacement, a unilateral ceasefire by the largest militia, bribery, and indications followed by a commitment to withdraw. None of the surge’s political goals were, in fact, accomplished at all.
But this was a speech by a man who, for the first time in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize, had given an acceptance speech arguing for the necessity of war and his power to launch wars. George Mason said at the Constitutional Convention “I am against giving the power of war to the executive, because he is not safely to be trusted with it — or to the Senate […] I am for clogging rather than facilitating war.”
We joined with many other nations in 1928 in criminalizing war. War has been a crime ever since. Our ambassador to France at the time, who also got a Nobel Peace Prize for this, told the French ambassador that he would not accept any loopholes for defensive wars or good wars. If all war was not banned, he argued, any loophole would be expanded to the point of rendering the whole agreement meaningless. But when our Senate ratified the treaty it added an exception for defensive war. And for several decades we’ve behaved as if the treaty were meaningless, even though the same ban on aggressive war was created again in 1945 in the United Nations Charter.
We’re currently moving in the direction of smaller but more secretive and criminal wars. We have a drone war on Pakistan without having had any public or congressional debate over whether to have a war with Pakistan. A United Nations report in June concluded that the U.S. drone attacks on Pakistan were illegal. We have a military increasingly privatized and employing unaccountable mercenaries. We have special forces operating now in 75 countries, but we don’t know what all the countries are. The CIA reportedly has a secret and unaccountable 3,000-man army in Afghanistan.
The Obama administration has declared that it has the right to assassinate Americans, and I have yet to see anyone respond by questioning where the hell they got the right to assassinate non-Americans. Our latest addition to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, at her confirmation hearing said the war we’re in is everywhere and has no identifiable end in time.
General Petraeus is quoted on Afghanistan saying “I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. . . . This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”
At Obama’s direction the military budget and the size of the military have been increased in 2009 and again in 2010. Half of our discretionary public spending goes into the military. This is the primary reason college isn’t free. European nations make college free or a lot closer to it, on top of providing free healthcare and childcare and preschool and retirement and family leave and vacations. Yes, they pay more in income tax, but we pay more in state and local and payroll taxes, which narrows that gap. The main difference is that Europeans get things in return for the taxes they pay. We get the honor of bailing out Wall Street and the privilege of funding a military larger than the next 15 biggest militaries in the world combined. And that’s about it. We don’t get a lot more, which is why we don’t like taxes.
But we sometimes think military spending is a bright spot in our economy, not understanding that the military spending is destroying our economy. Each billion dollars of government spending invested in the military creates about 12,000 jobs. Investing it instead in tax cuts for personal consumption generates approximately 15,000 jobs. But putting it into healthcare gives us 18,000 jobs, in home weatherization and infrastructure also 18,000 jobs, in education 25,000 jobs, and in mass transit 27,700 jobs. In education the average wages and benefits of the 25,000 jobs created is significantly higher than in the military’s 12,000 jobs. Military spending is a lost opportunity, a drain on our treasury.
While a majority of Americans would be happy to cut back on military spending, most don’t want to cut it back as much as is needed, and many don’t want to give up the habit of launching wars. Even if the Iraq War was a bad one, other wars are good: World War II, the American Revolution, maybe the Civil War (depending where you’re from), or even the war in Afghanistan. Not all wars are based on lies, or so we’re told.
The fact is that all wars have always been and always will be based on lies. World War II had nothing to do with saving the Jews and did not save them. Roosevelt refused to increase the immigration quota and killed a bill that would have allowed 20,000 Jewish refugee children to enter. The allies refused to work with Germany when it wanted to expel the Jews, and did not want to rescue them when Germany had decided to kill them all. Roosevelt lied about allegedly unprovoked German submarine attacks, just as Wilson had done to get us into the war to end all wars. Roosevelt used a forged map to claim Germany had plans to take over the Americas.
And we spent years planning a war with Japan motivated by interests in Asian markets. In 1935, Roosevelt bestowed Wake Island on the U.S. Navy and gave Pan Am Airways a permit to build runways on Wake Island, Midway Island, and Guam. Japanese military commanders announced that they were disturbed and viewed these runways as a threat. So did peace activists in the United States. By the next month, Roosevelt had planned war games and maneuvers near the Aleutian Islands and Midway Island. By the following month, peace activists were marching in New York advocating friendship with Japan.
This escalated for years as Roosevelt and Churchill longed for a Japanese attack on U.S. forces. Our country began giving airplanes and training and pilots to China for its efforts to bomb Japan. The first U.S. pilots didn’t fly missions until 12 days after Pearl Harbor, but Washington had made sure Japan knew about it. And our ambassador repeatedly warned the state department of the plans for the attack on Pearl Harbor, which was not in the United States — remember — but in the middle of the Pacific on an island whose queen we’d overthrown on behalf of sugar plantations.
The United States cut off Japan’s economy, including oil and scrap metal. Japan’s survival was at risk when Roosevelt told his cabinet officials he expected the Pearl Harbor attack to come on December 1st. He was off by 6 days.
Wars are never justifiable, and planning for them makes them almost inevitable. It also puts us at risk of triggering a nuclear holocaust that would eliminate all life on earth. It also puts the earth at risk, among other ways, through the consumption of oil. The largest user of oil in this country is the military. If the Pentagon were a country, it would be in 32nd place in oil use. I know Bill McKibben spoke about pollution here this week. I hope he mentioned this vicious cycle of burning oil in wars fought in large part for control of oil.
The night before last, I had dinner with the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who did something I don’t think an American president has done in generations. He met with peace activists to discuss ways to keep the peace.
A-ha, you may be thinking, but if you had evil intentions, wouldn’t you want to disarm the other side by talking peace? Don’t people who meet with this man risk being played for suckers? Wasn’t Roosevelt right to refuse to meet with Hitler on the grounds that we were too busy ramping up weapons production in case we had to fight him? Isn’t talking to people a form of appeasement that just encourages them?
But encourages them in what exactly? The United States overthrew Iran’s elected president 58 years ago and installed a dictator. Iran eventually, in the late 1970s, drove out its dictator, in large part through nonviolent resistance, something Gandhi had recommended to the Germans, by the way. As the United States occupies the nations to the east and west of Iran, and Iran has not itself attacked another nation since long before the United States existed, what are we afraid Iran will do?
The story is that we don’t want them to have nuclear energy because it would put them closer to having nuclear weapons if they chose to. But we’ve embargoed Iran to keep out parts for windmills and other green energy. We’re treating Iran as we treated Germany and Japan between the two world wars. None of which is to suggest that Iran has a clean record on human rights or a healthy democracy. But wars don’t fix those problems. And nothing is worse than war. And if that was the basis for a war wouldn’t we have bombed Saudi Arabia by now?
A resolution is being circulated in Congress that would ask Israel to attack Iran. Senator Lindsay Graham recently proposed that we attack Iran. Some of the most powerful forces in our country have been pushing for this for years and will keep pushing as long as it takes, unless we turn things around.
One chance to start doing that is on October 2nd. Antiwar activism is in a strange place this week, as the big push from progressives has been to let gays and lesbians and immigrants take part in our war crimes. In fact, the legislation just defeated in the Senate would make college and the military the paths to citizenship for immigrants, without providing funding for college, and without permitting nonviolent public service in place of participation in the war machine. With those misguided measures defeated, perhaps we can focus on getting the heterosexual citizens out of our wars by organizing, educating, resisting recruitment, and lobbying congress to vote No on the larger bill that is now in play which would dump hundreds of billions into the military, $150 billion into the wars, and a good chunk into building permanent bases in Afghanistan.
In July 115 congress members voted No on war money. It’s harder to get them to do so when the rest of the military is in the same bill, but we have to try. What’s encouraging is that labor and community and civil rights groups that have shied away from opposing wars are now beginning to work with the peace movement, with the understanding that we all want to move the money from wars and the military to the places it’s needed. We could have 20 high-paying green energy jobs for every soldier sent to Afghanistan. And we can push more effectively for that change if we all work together on domestic issues while insisting that all useful projects be funded in bills that are clean of war money.
On October 2nd a major and historic march on Washington is planned that will unite this broader coalition. See http://onenationforpeace.org And PDA is organizing lobbying and other events the day before, so check out http://pdamerica.org
Finally, I want to mention one area close to home we should be focused on. The rights to organize, form a union, and strike are severely limited in this country. Tens of millions of Americans would belong to unions by tomorrow, who today do not, if these rights were protected. Instead, those who try to exercise what should be basic human rights risk retaliation, and the legal penalties for such retaliation are not significant enough to be noticed by a large corporation.
So when people, like the cafeteria workers at this university, find the courage to try to exercise these rights, they are doing so on behalf of all of us, and we have a duty to support them. If someone could go to the gym and exercise for you and keep your body in good health while you sat on the couch, you’d probably say you supported them. These workers are exercising our democracy, which will otherwise wither and die. I should think the very least we could do is say we support them, and that we ought to strategize other ways to back them up.
To do so we don’t need to determine whether we think their employer, Sodexo — and ultimately George Mason University — is giving them the wages or benefits or control of their jobs that is merited. We just need to know that they feel strongly enough about it to take significant risks that will help protect the rights of everyone. When they’re satisfied, I’ll be satisfied.