We all need to face up to it. Whatever our main area of political work, whatever our culture or nationality, wherever we live, whatever our age, the world has shifted because of what happened on September 11th, and our lives are going to have to shift too.
George Bush is clear on this shift, and he’s very open about it. Today, the 13th, he talked about how these terrible attacks are an “opportunity to do generations a favor by coming together and whipping terrorism.”
Not just the group, whatever it may be, responsible for this recent crime, but “terrorism.”
As if the U.S. government has the moral authority to decide what constitutes “terrorism,” the same government which has militarily intervened or supported repressive governments and movements all over the world for decades.
It is essential, imperative, that we speak up wherever we are and however we can in opposition to the intended, opportunistic use of this terrible tragedy for political, economic and military gain in the world.
It is one thing to go after the group found to be responsible for the September 11th attacks. It is another thing entirely to see this as just the beginning of a generalized, anti-“terrorist” campaign, as Bush administration leaders are now saying.
In the short term, it is going to be tough going for us to speak out in this way. We shouldn’t underestimate the legitimacy and depth of peoples’ feelings about these attacks. These feelings, in combination with continuing racism and ignorance of realities on the ground in the Middle East and elsewhere, will make it an uphill, difficult political battle for some time to come. It is realistic to expect attacks on our civil rights that will make it even harder.
Longer-term, there are reasons to believe we can have an impact.
One reason is, quite frankly, because it is a Bush presidency and not a Clinton presidency. The Bush/Cheney administration’s unilateral actions since taking office–withdrawing from Kyoto, pushing “National Missile Defense,” the low-level delegation sent to and the early withdrawal from the World Conference on Racism, other examples-while temporarily forgotten in the immediate crisis atmosphere, continue to be issues other countries care passionately about. There was already widespread concern about the “cowboy” nature of this new regime before September 11th. If, or as, the U.S. government escalates its “war against terrorism,” going beyond efforts to neutralize whatever group is responsible, they are likely to face mounting international resistance.
The other reason has to do with the nature of our overall progressive movement today, and the political impact we have had and are having.
>From my vantage point within the movement, I see many positive
developments taking place. It is certainly uneven; we by no means have gotten it all together, but there is much to be hopeful about. When I look at what is happening on college campuses, when I see the staying power and relative unity of the global justice movement, when I hear about the many positive developments at the World Conference Against Racism, when I observe, connect with and participate in Green Party and other third party organizing activity all over the country, when I see the mix of constituencies, races and ages at the near 1,000 person-strong national Jobs with Justice conference just last weekend–all of these and other examples paint a picture of a progressive movement that is moving forward. We are moving forward because our organizing work in all the many different arenas of struggle is striking a positive chord among the different cultures and peoples who make up this country.
This movement has the potential, over a relatively short period of time (as in months) to, yes, take advantage of this terrible crisis we are all suffering through and turn it into a national educational campaign on the roots of terrorism. Why would people take such desperate actions?
What are the realities of life in the Middle East, in the countries of the Global South, which propel such a wide variety of forms of resistance, some we stand in solidarity with, others we abhor? What is the way, beyond this immediate crisis, that we can really “break the back of terrorism,” not through military action but through action to create a truly just and healthy world?
Perhaps the projected Global Justice Week of Action in Washington, D.C.
September 25-October 1, or at least the September 28-30 weekend portion of it, could become such a teach-in. Perhaps it could be a place where those from around the country also learn the skills involved with organizing such events and decide upon a national week when we would make them happen in a coordinated way all over the country.
The U.S. government and military are moving fast to turn this tragedy to their advantage. We can’t sit back and let them do so, unchallenged. On an individual level, first, we need to be there with our families, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, speaking up to point out the folly and danger of what they intend. And we need to take on new responsibilities to organize a 21st century peace and justice movement that will combine the best of past peace movements with the new strength and insights we have been gaining over this most recent period of time.
The urgency is clear, and we must answer the call.