Imagine this: a Congressional Democrat running for re-election next November with a leaflet that says, “Vote for me! I supported Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld as they waged war in Afghanistan. I kept my mouth shut as, week after week, civilians died from errant bombs. When refugee agencies and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for a bombing pause in October because of the risk of starvation this winter for literally millions inside Afghanistan, I didn’t utter a word. I said nothing when a month went by and the Friendship Bridge, controlled by our allies, was kept closed, preventing the shipment of urgently-needed supplies from Uzbekistan into northern Afghanistan. I’m proud to be an American. United we stand!”
Of course, we’re not going to see leaflets like this. Hopefully, however, we will see large numbers of intelligent and articulate independent candidates speaking to these and related international issues, exposing the sham nature of the “war on terrorism,” pointing out the collusion between both parties in maintaining an unjust and abusive foreign policy for many decades, and putting forward a positive, global justice program for truly ending all forms of terrorism, including state terrorism.
At first thought, there seem to be many similarities between our situation today with the just-beginning “war on terrorism” and the situation during the first years of the Vietnam War. Back then there was also nearly-unanimous war support on the part of Republicans and Democrats. Indeed, the big escalation of the war happened while Democrat Lyndon Johnson was President. The mass media was obediently reporting government propaganda and lies as the truth. It was easy for peace activists to feel an overwhelming combination of sadness, anger, despair and frustration as they seemed powerless to stop the devastation being visited upon the poor country of Vietnam.
Today, however, our situation is different in at least three major ways.
One big difference is that today, the progressive movement is organized in many more sectors of society, has a much broader base to begin from, than was true in the ‘60s. Back then, from my study of history, there wasn’t much around as far as a women’s movement, a lesbian/gay rights movement, organizations supporting the rights of seniors or people with disabilities. There were very few progressive student or youth groups, environmental justice community organizations or activist Latino, Asian-American or Native American groups. There was no global justice movement, no independent media centers, and very little as far as organized, pro-justice, people of faith. Today, in all of these areas of life, as well as within the labor movement, the African American community and elsewhere, there are progressive groups with members, activists and chapters all over the country, and many of us have been making connections with one another.
Another major difference is that there were almost no Green Party, Labor Party, New Party or other electoral-oriented, third party groups back then. No one like Ralph Nader ran as an independent for President in 1960 or 1964, getting several million votes the second time around, presenting an alternative way of viewing the world that resonated with many millions more, even if our winner-take-all electoral system inhibited them from voting for him.
Finally, in the ’60s we didn’t have the communications possibilities that we do today. There was no internet, no web sites, no email lists.
There were also no fax machines or telephone answering machines.
These are three big differences. They are of major strategic importance to the new peace and justice movement that has been taking shape since September 11th. Taken together, they are grounds for hope that, as this difficult year moves toward an end, there is reason to believe 2002 could be much better.
It will be better if the urgently-needed, multi-issue, national mobilization for April in Washington, D.C. being initiated by the newly-formed National Youth and Student Peace Coalition is actively supported by much of the progressive movement, as it should be, and if this hopefully-unified effort lays the basis for on-going educational and organizing activity afterwards.
It will be better if there are many hundreds, a thousand or more, independent candidates running hard in school board, city council, state legislative, Congressional and U.S. Senate races all over the country, mostly Greens but also other parties and non-partisan candidates. It will be even better if most of them unite together as part of a national peace and justice slate.
And it will be better if we build upon all of the communications networks and structures already in place and find the ways to complement and maximize them. Those with internet expertise have an important role to play in this regard. All of us need to consciously function in as non-sectarian and unitary way as possible.
We’ve done it before. Black people and their allies broke the back of legal segregation in the South. We supported the Vietnamese and together ended that devastating war. We defeated the plans for building hundreds of nuclear power plants all over the country. We played an important role in the defeat of apartheid in South Africa. We’re very much still alive and kicking. Let’s reach out to our neighbors and co-workers, engage with them with intelligence and compassion, and show the world that, while we mourn the victims of September 11th and the war on Afghanistan, the pro-justice movement in the U.S. is rising back up, stronger and broader.