On the Upswing Again

About two months from now tens of thousands of people will be converging on Washington, D.C. over the weekend of April 19-22. Three national coalition efforts, the Colombia Mobilization, the April 20th Mobilization Committee and the Mobilization for Global Justice, are organizing what promises to be a significant and timely four days of activity. There are close to 200 organizations already actively involved or publicly endorsing one or more of these coalitions, and the three groups are coordinating and working together so that the respective actions each is organizing will complement and support one another.

This is exciting news. These actions will be building upon the success of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil and the massive demonstration in New York City against the World Economic Forum in early February. Together, these past and future actions make it clear that the people’s movement is on the rebound and on an upswing after September 11th.

Yet, there are some critical issues that need to be addressed concerning this movement against U.S. corporatism and militarism and for social and economic justice, at home and abroad.

A key political issue is how we will combine firm solidarity with people struggling against corporate and military domination in countries around the world with outreach to the many millions of U.S. Americans who are open to or supportive of our anti-corporate, pro-justice message but who, since September 11th, are understandably concerned about the threat terrorism poses to their lives and their security.

It is essential that our anger and outrage against the ravages of global capitalism and go-it-alone U.S. militarism do not lead us to the dead-end politics of anti-Americanism. Indeed, we need to consciously and openly identify with the “other America,” those movements for democracy, justice and equality that have achieved important successes over the course of the history of this highly contradictory, almost schizophrenic society.

We need to do this because in doing so we will feel empowered personally and be stronger as a movement as we study, know about and feel pride in people like those who fought for the Bill of Rights, the early labor unions of the 19th century and many heroic unionists since, Tecumseh, Sitting Bull and Chief Joseph, Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey, John Brown, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Eugene Debs, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ella Baker, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer and many, many more. We have a rich tradition of righteous struggle for the truth and against oppression, and victories to show for it.

We also need to do it because we cannot allow the Bush
oil-and-war-men and their supporters to wrap themselves in the flag and portray anyone who seriously opposes their policies as terrorists, traitors or un-American. It is essential, if we are to have any hope of reversing this country’s current, dangerous course, that we fight for the political space to keep building a broadly–based movement, one that, over time, must involve literally millions of people in action of some kind. Given what we must contend with, particularly a mass corporate media that disinforms, miseducates or confuses so many people, we must have foremost, in the absolute forefront of our consciousness as we go about our work, the understanding and firm
belief that we are the ones who are truly fighting for our peoples, our land, our world and our future.

We must use language that invites, not repels. Let’s talk and write in ways that regular folks can understand and relate to. Away with all rhetoric!

We must also think clearly and soberly about the appropriate tactics for our movement at this particular point in time.

The actions being organized by the three coalitions for April 19-22 combine a mix of activities. On April 20th there will be a massive, non-violent, legal demonstration to Stop the War, At Home and Abroad. On April 21st there will be a similar demonstration calling for an end to U.S. support of war and oppression in Colombia. Actions will also take place as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank meet during these two days. There will be conferences, workshops, trainings and lobbying. There will almost certainly be puppets, street theatre and other forms of creative, artistic action. And on Monday the 22nd there will be disciplined, focused, non-violent civil disobedience organized by the School of the Americas Watch and the Colombia Mobilization.

It seems to me that these are the appropriate forms of action for this particular weekend, for this particular time and place.

Since Seattle in late 1999 I’ve participated in many of the major demonstrations organized by the direct action wing of the global justice movement. I was part of a “flying squad” on April 16th, 2000 in Washington, D.C. I joined with the Kensington Welfare Rights Union in their unpermitted march down Broad St. in Philadelphia to the Republican Convention on July 31st, 2000. I was part of the march on the Wall of Shame in Quebec last April and was tear-gassed four times during those protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas. I expect I’ll participate in similar types of actions at some point in the near future. But not on the weekend of April 19-22.

April 19-22 will be successful if we turn out big numbers, and if the April 22nd non-violent civil disobedience is conducted in such a way, as I know it is being organized, that the urgent message being conveyed through the action is much harder for the media to distort.

We have an awesome task before us. People around the world need us to be not just brave and courageous but smart and intelligent. We must find the ways to build a movement not of thousands, not of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands. We will need millions, with the support of tens of millions more, to achieve our objectives. Let’s act accordingly. The whole world is watching; let’s not let them down.