Activism Is Surging: Commentary for Pandora Tv

By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, June 8, 2020

Hi, my name is David Swanson. I grew up in and live in the state of Virginia in the United States. I visited Italy in high school and then as an exchange student after high school, and later for some months during which I got a job teaching English, and then various other times just to visit or to speak or to protest base construction. So, you’d think I would speak better Italian, but perhaps it will improve because I’ve now been asked to provide a regular report for Pandora Tv as a correspondent from the United States focused on war, peace, and related matters.

I’m an author and speaker. My website is my name: I also work for an online activist organization called that is very much focused on the United States, but anyone can join in. As you may have noticed, what happens in the United States can have an impact elsewhere. I’m also the Executive Director of a global organization called World BEYOND War, which has chapters and board members and speakers and advisors and friends in Italy and in most other countries. And we’re looking for more, so visit:

What we’re seeing right now in the way of activism in the United States and around the globe that is at least tangentially related to war and peace is amazing, and not something I predicted. It’s something many of us have long encouraged and pushed for. This has happened despite:

  • The longstanding pretense in U.S. media and culture that activism doesn’t work.
  • The longstanding severe shortage of activism in the United States.
  • The pro-violence thread running through U.S. culture.
  • The tendency of the police to instigate violence and of the corporate media to change the conversation to violence.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The partisan identification of violating shelter-in-place policies with the Republican Party and armed rightwing racists, and
  • The billion dollar a year pro-military marketing campaign funded by the U.S. government.

Things that may have helped include levels of desperation, the abysmal failure of the electoral system in picking Joe Biden over Bernie Sanders, and the power of video footage of police murders.

Already we’ve seen, as a result of people taking to the streets in the United States:

  • Four policemen indicted.
  • More racist monuments dismantled — though not yet those here in Charlottesville that inspired a Nazi rally a few years back.
  • Even long-lied-about-and-glorified war criminals like Winston Churchill are coming in for criticism.
  • Numerous right-wing and establishment and war-criminal voices turning against Donald Trump and his push to use the U.S. military in the U.S. — including the head of the Pentagon and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • Some minimal and inconsistent limit on what the New York Times editorial page will defend having done in the way of spreading evil.
  • Some minimal and inconsistent limit on what Twitter will do in the way of spreading evil.
  • A virtual ban on continuing the pretense that kneeling for Black Lives Matter during a national anthem is an unacceptable violation of the sacred flag. (Note that the change is not in intellectual ability but in what is deemed morally acceptable.)
  • Much greater recognition of the value provided by those who videotape the police committing murder.
  • Some recognition of the harm done by prosecutors — largely due to the accident that a particular former prosecutor wants to be a vice presidential candidate.
  • Federal legislation introduced and discussed to halt the provision of war weapons to police, to make it easier to prosecute police, and to prevent the U.S. military from attacking demonstrators.
  • Proposals widely discussed and even considered by local governments to defund or eliminate armed police — and even the beginning of those efforts underway in Minneapolis.
  • A reduction in the pretense that racism is over.
  • An increase in recognition that police cause violence and blame it on protesters.
  • An increase in recognition that corporate media outlets distract from problems being protested by focusing on violence blamed on protesters.
  • Some increase in recognition that extreme inequality, poverty, powerlessness, and structural and personal racism will keep boiling over if not addressed.
  • Outrage at the militarization of police and at the use of military troops and unidentified troops/police in the United States.
  • The power of courageous nonviolent activism on display, moving opinion and policy and even winning over armed militarized police.
  • And some of us have started local campaigns to end war training and war weapons provision to local police.

What could happen if this continues and escalates strategically and creatively:

  • It could become routine for police to be barred from murdering people.
  • Media and social media outlets could block promotion of violence, including police violence and war violence.
  • Colin Kaepernick could get his job back.
  • The Pentagon could cease providing weapons to police, and not provide them to dictators or coup-leaders or mercenaries or secret agencies, but destroy them.
  • The U.S. military and National Guard could be kept entirely from deploying on U.S. land, including U.S. borders.
  • Cultural and educational and activist changes could reshape U.S. society on many other issues as well.
  • Billionaires could be taxed, a Green New Deal and Medicare for All and Public College and fair trade and universal basic income could become law.
  • People objecting to the military on U.S. streets could object to the U.S. military on the rest of the world’s streets. Wars could be ended. Bases could be closed.
  • Money could be moved from police to human needs, and from militarism to human and environmental needs.
  • Understanding could grow of how militarism fuels both racism and police violence, as well as how militarism drives numerous other harms. This could help build stronger multi-issue coalitions.
  • Understanding could grow of health workers and other actually useful jobs as the heroic and glorious services we should thank people for instead of war.
  • Understanding could grow of climate collapse and nuclear threat and disease pandemics and poverty and racism as the dangers to worry about rather than demonized foreign governments. (I’ll just note that if the United States destroyed much of the Middle East in response to 3,000 deaths on September 11, 2001, a similar response to the Coronavirus deaths thus far would require destroying whole planets. So we’ve reached a point of absurdity that cannot be avoided.)

What might go wrong?

  • The excitement could fade.
  • The media could be distracted. The corporate media played a huge role in creating and destroying the Occupy movement nine years ago.
  • Trump could start a war.
  • The crackdown could work.
  • The pandemic could surge.
  • The Democrats could take the White House and all activism evaporate if it was more partisan in basis than it sometimes appeared.

So, what should we do?

  • Carpe Diem! And quickly. Anything that you can do to help should be done immediately.

One thing we can do is point out various connections. The Israeli military trained police in Minnesota. The U.S. military provided weaponry to police in Minnesota. A private U.S. company trained Minnesota police in so-called warrior policing. The policeman who murdered George Floyd learned to be a policeman for the U.S. Army at Fort Benning where Latin American troops have long been trained to torture and murder. If it’s objectionable to have U.S. troops in U.S. cities, why is it acceptable to have U.S. troops in foreign cities around the world? If money is needed for schools and hospitals from police departments, surely it’s also needed from the vastly larger military budget.

We may also be able to build an even larger movement for justice in the United States if certain people recognize that the harm done by armed policing and mass incarceration and militarism is done to people of all skin colors. Thomas Piketty’s new book has just come out in English in the U.S. and is being widely reviewed. Capital and Ideology points out that in various countries the poorest 50% of the people had 20 to 25% of the income in 1980 but 15 to 20 percent in 2018, and only 10 percent in 2018 in the United States — “which,” he writes, “is particularly worrisome.” Piketty also finds that higher taxes on the wealthy prior to 1980 created both more equality and more wealth, whereas slashing taxes on the wealthy created both greater inequality and less so-called “growth.”

Piketty, whose book is largely a catalogue of the lies used to excuse inequality, also finds that in countries like the United States, France, and the UK, during the period of relative equality, there was relative correlation in electoral politics of wealth, income, and education. Those with less of all three of those things tended to vote together for the same parties. That’s now gone. Some of the highest educated and highest income voters back the parties that claim to stand (ever so slightly) for greater equality (as well as less racism, and relative decency — shooting you in the leg instead of the heart, as Joe Biden might put it).

Piketty doesn’t think our focus should be on blaming working class racism or globalization. It’s not clear what blame he places on corruption — perhaps he sees it as a symptom of what he does blame, namely the failure of governments to maintain progressive taxation (and fair education, immigration, and ownership policies) in the era of global wealth. He does, however, see another problem as a symptom of these failures, and so do I, namely the problem of Trumpian fascism fueling racist violence as a distraction from organized class struggle for equality. Of possible interest in Italy is the fact that Trump in the U.S. is increasingly compared with Mussolini.

Beyond building on the Black Lives Matter movement, there are antiwar developments that can be built on. Chile just dropped out of the RIMPAC war rehearsals in the Pacific. The U.S. claims to be pulling 25% of its troops out of Germany. Members of the German government have been pushing for more, including the removal of U.S. nuclear weapons illegally stored in Germany. Well, what about Italy, Turkey, Belgium, and the Netherlands? And if we’re going to disband police, what about the self-anointed global police? What about disbanding NATO?

Those of us trying to make things better here in the United States need to hear from you in Italy what you’re working on and how we can help.

I’m David Swanson. Peace!


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