Remarks at United National Antiwar Coalition in Richmond, Virginia, June 17, 2017
Did you hear about Trump calling up the mayor of Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay and telling him that, contrary to all appearances, his island is not sinking? I want to focus on one element of this story, namely that the guy believed what he was told, rather than what he saw.
Did you hear about Secretary of War Mattis telling Congress that for the 16th year in a row he would produce a plan for “winning” a war on Afghanistan? Congress either believed it or has been paid to act as if it believes it. Congress members Jones and Garamendi have a bill to defund this endless act of mass-murder. We need a movement that can nonviolently shut down Congressional offices until they do so.
We do have marches in various cities this weekend to ban nuclear bombs, and negotiations underway at the UN to create a treaty that does that. Once most countries on earth have banned nuclear bombs, the US will explain that, as with successful bans on guns, banning weapons is just not physically possible. Your eyes must be fooling you. A large percentage of that small percentage of people in this country who hear about the matter at all will believe what they are told.
Even more will believe what they are not told. Many who care about resisting climate change, completely ignore the growing danger of nuclear apocalypse, because they don’t hear about it — some people even going so far as to wantonly demand greater hostility between the US and Russian governments. What could go wrong?
We need radical reforms in our education system that go beyond ending standardized tests, shrinking classrooms, and training and paying teachers. We need courses taught in every school in the subjects of social change, nonviolent action, and refining practical techniques for the successful recognition of bullshit.
Trump says dealing more weapons to Saudi Arabia raises no human rights concerns, but visiting Cuba to drink a mojito on the beach, or allowing Cuban medicines to save US lives, borders on a crime against humanity. Others say that weapons of military mass murder should properly be spread only to nations that murder their domestic prisoners in humane ways, like Arkansas. Meanwhile we can’t talk about millions of people on the edge of starving to death in Yemen, we can’t build a movement against starvation, of all things, because the starvation is caused by war and war is not to be questioned.
Did you know that over in Charlottesville our city voted to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee that was put up by racists in the 1920s? But we can’t take it down because a Virginia state law forbids taking down any war monument. That is a law, if ever there was one, that needs repealing in this capital of the confederacy — or at least amending to require an equal sized peace monument for every monument to war. Imagine what that would do for Richmond’s landscape.
Imagine what it would do for our souls. We are in need of a secular and collective resurrection. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift,” said Dr. King, “is approaching spiritual death.” And “a nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.” We’ve paid up, all the installments. We’ve reached spiritual death. We’ve gone into spiritual decomposition. We’re rapidly making our way toward actual extinction.
When the United States wants to start a new war, the number one justification is that some former client “used chemical weapons on his own people,” as if using them on someone else’s people would be OK, and as if people can belong to someone. When the United States uses white phosphorus as a weapon on human beings, we should understand them as our brothers and sisters, our own people. Our government is an outlaw whose own actions by its own standards justify its overthrow.
Here’s what I propose, as a beginning. World flags in place of national flags. Thank yous for their service to everyone engaged in programs of social uplift. Backs turned on national anthems, pledges of allegiance, and war promoters. Peace demonstrations on every war holiday. Peace books promoted at every school board meeting. Picketing and flyering at every weapons dealer. Welcome parties for all immigrants. Divestment from all weapons. Conversion to peaceful industries. Global cooperation in requiring the closing of all foreign bases. Urging every U.S. mayor to endorse the two resolutions coming up before the U.S. Conference of Mayors that tell Congress not to move money from human and environmental needs to the military but to do just the reverse. And nonviolent resistance to business as usual at every local office of every elected official not on board with the radical change needed to protect peace, planet, and people.
Needless to say this requires political independence and principled promotion of policy, not personality. The same people who rigged a primary to nominate one of the only candidates who could have lost to Donald Trump are now targeting Trump with one of the only accusations that can blow up in their faces for lack of proof or in all of our faces in the form of nuclear war. Meanwhile, Trump is openly guilty of illegal wars, illegal prejudicial bans on immigrants, illegal willful destruction of the earth’s climate, unconstitutional domestic and foreign profiteering from his public office, and a whole laundry list of crimes from sexual assault to voter intimidation.
Trump opponents, too wise by half, say don’t impeach him, his successor would be worse. I respectfully maintain that this position fails to recognize what is needed or our power to achieve it. What is needed is to create the power to impeach, eject, unelect, and otherwise hold accountable anyone who holds public office — something we do not now have, something we must have for whoever comes after Trump whenever they come after Trump, but something that we can only have if we create it.
Nancy Pelosi says to sit back, relax, because Trump will “self-impeach.” I respectfully suggest that people no more self-impeach than wars self-end, guns self-ban, police self-reform, energy systems self-convert, schools self-improve, houses self-build, or planets self-protect. The only strategy this mindset leads to is self-destruction. Congress clearly will not self-govern. We have to impose our will. We have to understand what is needed and create it, against the concerted efforts of those in power. Power concedes nothing without a demand, said Frederick Douglass. Let’s do some demanding.