Sunday, September 25, 2011

Reflections on the 10th Anniversary of the War in Afghanistan, and the Continuing War in Iraq

Ten Years and Counting in Afghanistan...

Ten Years and counting in Afghanistan, U.S. troops still bogged down in Iraq after eight years, and a country deeply divided politically, ideologically, and now, even religiously, as a result. What a cluster fuck!

How did we get here?  Well, it wasn't easy; we had to work at it in order to position ourselves to be right back where we were following the Gingrich Revolution in Congress in the early 80s; it isn't just happenstance that we here we are again, caught up in mix of a retro Gilded Age, and a painful re-emergence of Nixonian forces and money creeping back into the halls and back rooms of our government. Forces who still threaten our Bill of Rights and our Constitution. 

I suggest that we are here, back from the future, because we as political and social activists have became complacent and self indulgent following our major victories of the 60s and 70s, to name a just a few; the end of the Vietnam War, the breaking down of racial barriers to voting, and the other civil rights victories of the day, including the end of the Draft, the end of domestic spying and political disruption by the FBI COINTEL Program, the downfall of Nixon, and the imprisoning of some, but not all, of his thugs. We in fact, recovered our Constitution, and re-instated the proper application of the Bill of Rights to our society. For reflection on what I think happened, I make the case for how the left actually became complacent and politically self indulgent in a piece that I wrote in 2005 entitled "The Cracker Swamp Manifesto". 

But this discussion has more to do with the future, than with the past. We can't know where we're going, if we don't know where we've been;  so, a quick look back for reference at what has worked and what  has not is called for whenever doing any kind of strategical planning for the future, whether it is personal or political. None of what I describe above regarding our foreign policy, and the retaking of congress by the Repugs and NEOCONs could have happened, to my way of thinking, if the left hadn't of become a Babylon of minority interest groups fighting among themselves over political power and money....the spoils of victory.  They sold the power of their all important UNITY in exchange for organizational, political, and cause oriented agendas and political careers that ultimately positioned them into being as ineffective as they were prior to the American social and political revolution of the 60s and 70s, as the "whole" morphed into minority special interest groups of society.  The big losers? The American people.

To my way of thinking these groupings as a whole became so distracted and fragmented with politically correct self indulgence, that they lost the hearts and minds of the American people. The very hearts and minds (and votes) that that these groups, as a grand and unified coalition of ant-war and social and political justice activists, had fought so hard for so many years to win, back in the 60s and 70s. These fragmented groups, not unlike the Repugs and Neocons, and most recently the Teabaggers, ultimately came to turn their backs on all who disagreed with their particular doctrine, whether it be a racial, political, or religious platform, beginning in the 80s.  But most importantly, they turned their backs on the American people in favor of their particular constituencies and careers. This dynamic was the birth of political correctness as we have came know it in our country. Prior to this rebirth, here; political correctness had been a strategy of Mao's Red Guard in the Great Leap Forward in China. Here, it's re-birth ultimately became the death knell for all of our efforts and successes of the 60s and 70s.

In face of all of the above, it is my considered conclusion that this Administration's current strategies aren't going to change until we as a "movement" change our's. Collective GASP!!!  I know, I know, this is politically incorrect thinking.  But, it is my critical thinking assessment that the current, and now decades old, strategies of the left must take on a new profile. This has to happen if we are to have any hope of success in saving our nation from it's second post modern  political Dark Age and the continued decline of the age of free thinking, free speech, and Constitutional democracy. 

Here in the 21st century, we need to develop our own strategies that are more pragmatic in their direction and application. The 60s and 70s are now relegated to history.  We need to refresh and re-energize our approach to social and political revolution if we are to be effective in a 21st century social and political environment. In today's environment politics vs reality on the ground as a strategy, is a failed policy.  This was true for Vietnam, and it most certainly true for Iraq and Afghanistan. That dynamics won't change until our strategy is changed.

That is not to say that militancy, fiery rhetoric, and occasionally manning of the barricades, is not critical to this process; it is to say that our militancy has to be more pragmatic than symbolic, our rhetoric based in empirical thinking and objective truth, as well as documentable evidence of that truth. It needs to incorporate clearly defined and realistically achievable demands and goals. Most importantly, it must appeal to more than those of one's particular organization, race, religion, ideology, and/or political party affiliation. And, it must be designed to democratically find the core issues that are common to all of us and rally around them in unity, and leave the ideological, racial, organizational, religious, and personal differences at the door. The keys to success in my paradigm are Mutual Respect, Unity of Purpose, and Mission Focus.

We are after all, all in this together; and we cannot succeed without mutual support, and the support and votes of the American people, who (as evidenced by history) we are potentially able to educate to the truth of our anti-war social justice agenda, and how it applies to them as individuals, and as citizens. To my way of thinking; in today's world, this is best achieved by speaking with them, rather that at them.  They must be given a reason to want to join with us and take action, not be verbally bludgeoned or shamed into it. So it is our responsibility to educate them to the issues,sort out what they agree with us on and what they disagree with us on, and act accordingly in incorporating their energy and votes into our struggle. 

Another major consideration is the diminished impact of "mass" demonstrations where-ever they are called for to be held, or by whom. I can only conclude that the government actually welcomes this kind of activity anymore, since they are much more equipped to deal with then they were, forty years ago, when they worked, i.e. VVAW's 1971 Dewey Canyon III. These days they send everyone in the police approved and fenced off demonstration free speech areas home for the day, so that they can't be accessed or confronted by the revolutionary forces in the street. They reinforce the police ranks with crowd control trained riot police and ariel surveillance, and everyone gets overtime.  Then they work closely with civil disobedience organizers to arrange for the orchestrated "civil disobedience arrests", for which demonstration organizers have made prior arrangements to let ourselves be arrested, celebrities and authors first, in hope that someone out there in the hinterland will see how truly oppressive our government is to those who dare to speak truth to power, in spite of the fact that the buildings we are confronting are empty, and the mainstream media is in conspicuous absence, and as a result rise up in rage against the state.

Of course participants in these national confrontations are expected to be able to provide the 100 dollar bail that goes into the city coffers...let's see 130 demonstrators X 100 = a quick 13,000 dollars into the city coffers. So, the cops are getting overtime, and the city is profiting from the demonstrations at our expense. All very surreal to this old school anti-war and peace and justice activist and journalist. It's Kabuki Theater rather than Guerrilla Theater to me.  In spite of it's repetitiveness, nothing ever seems to come out of it all, except some great photos and action reports on  the underground internet activist blogs and in the foreign press. In addition, these events require a lot of personal expense and energy that could otherwise be better used in furthering our cause out in the grassroots, where our true constituency lives. Too often the issues and the demands become polluted with conflicted ideologies and messaging by participants, reflecting to the public more divisions than unity. And, of course, the mainstream media, whether under duress or lack of interest, ignores us. The most recent blatant example of this mainstream press black-out is the on-going Occupy Wall Street protests.

We need to recognize that there is not one among us who has all of the answers, whether it be as an individual, a celebrity, or as a representative of an organizational or ideological agenda. Each have specific resources and tactics to bring to the campaign, but that is only becomes  politically effective when rallied around in unity on mutually agreed upon specific demands; ones that are realistically attainable through pragmatic and unified message application.  I believe that this process best takes place out where we all started, at the grassroots. Not on the steps of monolithic institutions, where we now all occasionally gather to voice our displeasure with our government's failed policies, both foreign and domestic. They're on to that one these days, folks, and know how to deal with it effectively; containment and media black-out. Now, just as back in the day, the power lies with the people. Remember our rally cry back then; "Power To The People!"?  We meant ALL the people, not just a few politically correct ideologues and "radical fringe" dissenters from a particular group or class, as outlined in Marx's Dictatorship of The Proletariat.

There are, of course, many other opinions and choices of action, but here is what I have concluded to be essential ingredients as a result of my personal experiences and a studied review of our history, and of our current outdated paradigm for social and political action.  Here is a suggested  minimal guideline model that we as a "movement" can easily mobilize around and together and implement with our existing resources, in order to make a seamless paradigm shift into the 21st century world of effective social and political activism:

     I. Personal Contact

  • First, and most important, make personal contact (no not on FB) by phone, or personal visits.  Get to know one another; what we believe in, where we've been, who do we know mutually, what do we have strong disagreement on, and what do we strongly agree on. We should be friends (real ones) as well as political compatriots.
  • We must then agree to share resources and work together (personally and organizationally) to further the issues that we believe in, and agree to personally respectfully disagree on things that we disagree on, but keep those disagreements out of how we together, in unity, support the issue in question, publicly.
 II.  Prioritization of Issues

  • When considering issues, we can all I am sure, agree to an anti-war/social peace & justice agenda, in general terms.  But we have all arrived at that agreement from diverse experiences. Those experiences all began somewhere locally, so it makes sense to consider the demographics of a locality when outreaching for recruits or volunteers, and begin by using our experience in rallying local folks around local issues that we can directly relate to the prior mentioned general agenda. 
  • From these personal connections, build a 21st century style electronic national network of individuals, chapters, and organizations (much as we did back in the day with land-lines, and Rolodexes) that are all on the same page, and are ready and able to mobilize quickly around our agreed upon national campaign priority issues, right  there in Your City, USA. Grassroots coalition building vs organizational or cause chauvinism. That's how Joe Hill would do it.

     III. Modern Media Communications

  • Just as IVAW is currently doing, we also need to educate ourselves to 21st century social and journalistic digital media. I attended two such workshops that IVAW presented at the VFP National Convention in Portland, OR, in August. The main theme of both of these workshops was messaging methodologies. They are ahead of the curve on this one.  We can learn from them.
  • As we have seen with the Arab Spring up-risings, social media can have a profound impact on the ability to mobilize people quickly, and it can allow for a running account of events first hand.  From a journalistic point of view, the mainstream media, who never covers our events as we would like, are being sidelines, due to the ability of social media to get our message out quickly, and to be in instant communications with one another if need be. 
  • We should all, individuals and organizations alike, learn how to use this powerful medium in a coordinated fashion to coordinate our activities in unison, at the grassroots, as well as in Washington D.C., when appropriate.