Join 3,561 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"Me, me, me – it's all about me!"
March 19, 2003 11:24 AM   Subscribe

"Antiwar movement should shut up about 'shutting it down' – before the state shuts us down." As some in the antiwar movement "prepare to escalate," Justin Raimondo at Antiwar.com accusses them of narcissism and soberly warns that "it is clear, at any rate, that such a strategy would be largely ineffective. That is, it would not accomplish its ostensible goal: to stop or even slow down the U.S. assault on Iraq. On the other hand, it would succeed in giving John Ashcroft and the War Party a perfect means by which to test the more draconian clauses of the 'Patriot' Act – and a rationale for proposing even harsher legislation in the near future." [First link via cursor.]
posted by homunculus (20 comments total)

 
Those curious about Raimondo and the political coterie to which he belongs should read this.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:31 AM on March 19, 2003


so, what, they should behave? i don't agree.

there's a good chance this will turn into a philosophical debate about whether its better to tone down your misbehaving so you can get what you want in the future vs. misbehaving on purpose to raise the tension and maybe cause the dam to break and all hell to break loose...i don't think all hell's going to break loose any time soon, but i'd misbehave just as much, at least keeping one eye on having it look somewhat mature and thought out.

besides, 2004 is only a year away.
posted by oog at 11:40 AM on March 19, 2003


For me, it's a simple question of what is most effective, and I worry about Berman's points from the salon article:
That's just what Paul Berman fears. Berman, author of the recent book "Terror and Liberalism," is a veteran of the '60s peace movement and an opponent of the Bush administration, but he believes no good can come of war opponents rampaging through the streets. "This is just going to create a real crisis within the country," he says. "It's a completely destructive thing to do."

He's done it, and now believes that the days of rage he participated in during the '60s helped prolong the Vietnam War. "At the time I did some of that myself and thought it was doing good, but now it's apparent to me that all that stuff just fell into a trap laid by Richard Nixon," he says. "That kind of stuff allowed Nixon to win in 1968 and again in 1972, and a Democratic president would surely have withdrawn sooner. And so in effect, although it's painful to say so, I think that kind of stuff had the effect of prolonging the war. It played into Nixon's hands. There were famous scenes where Nixon specifically ordered that his entourage drive through streets where he knew he'd be attacked by demonstrators because he wanted the right scenes to appear on TV. He presented it to the public: You had to choose between Richard Nixon or some long-haired marijuana-smoking lunatic communist. Guess what. The public chose Nixon."

The larger problem with such protests isn't that they could help Bush, Berman argues, but that they could hurt Iraqis. Whether or not war is advisable, he says, once it has begun, the question becomes whether Bush will sell out the liberal aspirations of Iraqi reformers, installing a pliable military regime, rather than undertaking the costly job of helping Iraq build its civil society. The problem, he says, is that the debate about war has become so polarized: Just as supporters don't see an invasion's potential disasters, so war opponents can't conceive of anything positive emerging from it -- and thus won't fight to hold Bush to his promises of Middle Eastern democracy.

"There's a chance that there's going to be a good result, which would be the liberation of the Iraqi people, possibly with good effects for other people," Berman says. "This possible consequence depends very largely on what the United States does. If your feeling about Bush is, as mine is, that you don't trust him to make the right decisions, what you want to do is press the government to do the kinds of things that will lead towards [a democratic] result. Instead, there are a lot of people who are imagining that they can perhaps force the United States to withdraw its troops."
besides, 2004 is only a year away.

Exactly why the current antiwar movement should be wary of helping reelect Bush the way Berman claims his generation helped reelect Nixon.
posted by homunculus at 12:24 PM on March 19, 2003


I know this is the easy ad hominem, but I think anybody who leads in his collumns with his name in 38pt font and a huge picture of himself with a 'tude and danglin' cig ought to be really careful about allegations of narcissism.

Sorry, had to get that off my chest.

I also believe that the ONLY way to stop the madness is massive dissent and civil disobedience. If the internal cost of the war is too high, it might be stopped. But homunculus' point is well taken -- I honestly don't know. I do know that writing angry letters to the editor just isn't going to cut it anymore. If you agree with Wallace Shawn and his eye-opening piece in the Nation that our leaders are indeed insane, something ought to be done.

I'm always open for fresh ideas. Raimondo doen't seem to be helping.
posted by muckster at 12:55 PM on March 19, 2003


Homunculus: I say again, excellent posts. Precisely this issue came up a year ago in an international development class I was in. We were discussing a famous mining strike, and also Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. We watched a video on the strike, and I was struck by a scene where the strikers were having a rally and an actual picket scene. I have to say that even as a person who felt extremely sympathetic to the plights of labor in general and specifically these miners, I was scared by their behavior. I brought this up with the Prof, and he sortof said, well, of course it's scary, that's part of the point, and I asked if I thought a credibility problem or backlash could develop from this kind of action. He sortof left the question hanging in the air, and non of my classmates wanted to address it easier.

Protesting is partly about organizing and together demonstrating the presence of an opposing view. But it's partly a recruiting (or repelling) tool: you want people to join you. Are you sympathetic? Are you projecting the kind of image that makes you empathetic, makes people interested in being open to dialuge you might have? Or can people in power use your angry, soundbite-irrational appearance to marginalize you in the debate?

On preview: muckster, I think the main point I'm taking from Raimondo is the one about dialogue. "No war ever" is an impractical slogan, and most people know it, and even if they don't mean it, most anti-war protestors exude this -- along with naivette and disenfranchisment. It's treated like a pep rally. What if protestors all dressed in their business best, and held up signs with cogent slogans, like "International Goodwill is as Important as Military Might." Or abandoned chanting and slogans altogether, and just stood in front of the capitol, waiting to be interviewed and addressed. Or something.

The basic fact: the recalcitrant (much less angry) mob has decreasing street cred and official cred. There will be a new brand of activist that recognizis this, or activism will continue to be marginalized.
posted by namespan at 1:31 PM on March 19, 2003


A population largely unable to distinguish Osama from Saddam can hardly be expected to meditate admiringly on the legacy of Ghandi and Martin Luther King while trapped in street blockages.

Annoying commuters in such a fashion won't undermine support for the White House. At least, not as much as it makes those affected agree with Ashcroft that the national security apparatus is under-equipped.

Have I got the magic bullet that will make principled dissent effective? Nope. But I can recognize a counterproductive idea when I see one.
posted by sacre_bleu at 1:41 PM on March 19, 2003


Just remember, even if your intentions are pure, it may still be treason. Especially some of the "black block" or what have you things that I've heard people trying to do. Intentionally disrupting supply lines, power, or military bases? Not a good idea.

See, Article III.3 of the constitution lays it out pretty well:
"Section 3. Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court. "

Giving enemies aid and comfort and adhering to the enemy (i.e. the proposed attacks on Air Force bases) are treasonous in time of war. Whether or not you agree with the war.

Where are the brilliant antiwar types like Hoffman and the Yippies?
posted by swerdloff at 1:41 PM on March 19, 2003


Hmmm. I wonder if this "escalation" has anything to do with allegations by unabashedly right-wing Fox News that the major anti-war groups are backed and funded by the unabashedly Bolshevik Workers World Party?
posted by reality at 1:46 PM on March 19, 2003


i don't know what really needs to be toned down. people in the streets chanting and yelling about what they view as wrong doesn't seem like anything extreme.
i think part of what makes the protests seem so extreme is the police presence and the way the the police act. and then the way it is sometimes portrayed in the media. last saturday, at MacDill AFB, the cops had their attention focused on the peace rally, with their backs on the war supporters. a few months ago, protesting the Bushes at a university, i saw a lady get arrested for crossing the street. her charge? trespassing, cause they have to do something to make the protesters look criminal.
locking yourself to a door, even if it is the wrong door(that was funny Captain_Tenille!), is nothing new either, or that extreme. i haven't heard of anyone saying they were going to overthrow the administration. i guess i haven't heard all the "shut 'em down" plans, but the stuff i have read about doesn't seem like something beyond the previous scope of protest activity. for something as important as the current situation, worrying about next year's election outcome seems to be jumping the gun, especially when you look at how bad the Dems seem to be with getting someone who will be capable of defeating the shrub.
posted by memnock at 1:49 PM on March 19, 2003


Somewhat related: Clear channel sponsors pro-war rallys.
posted by muckster at 1:53 PM on March 19, 2003


it is clear, at any rate, that such a strategy would be largely ineffective. That is, it would not accomplish its ostensible goal: to stop or even slow down the U.S. assault on Iraq.

It was clear that chucking a shitload of tea into Boston harbour would be largely ineffective, too.
posted by riviera at 1:53 PM on March 19, 2003


Hey REALITY -

"Answer, whose name stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, was formed a few days after Sept. 11, 2001, by activists who had already begun coming together to protest policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Some of the group's chief organizers are active in the Workers World Party, a radical Socialist group with roots in the Stalin-era Soviet Union. The party has taken positions that include defense of the Iraqi and North Korean governments and support for Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugolav president being tried on war crimes charges. "

From the not particularly pro-war nor particularly-right wing New York Times

And riviera, that wasn't a foregone conclusion, it was an act of treason. If the protestors want to commit treason, they can, but they'd better hope they win.
posted by swerdloff at 2:22 PM on March 19, 2003


there are several good points floating around here.

Instead, there are a lot of people who are imagining that they can perhaps force the United States to withdraw its troops."

and this can be a death wish for most protest efforts. ambition is often laid bare in groups that oppose the status quo, and often it is this ambition that is the cause of any kind of credibility attacks on said group. showing some kind of respect for public peace of mind in most cases is a fundamental part of having a credible argument, in the minds of the public.

and that's what's important here, isn't it? real hard core supporters and protesters aren't really going to be swayed by people walking on the street. i think the focus should be on the millions of americans who let all political issues wash over them without attempting to form their own opinions. it is they who will more than likely carry any kind of a vote in 2004, going largely along with the general sentiment that prevails throughout the country.

that said, i just can't rationalize in my brain someone toning their anger down just because of an election that is a year away. after all, this is still technically a democracy, and voices need to be heard, one way or another, even if its only to frame an opposing viewpoint that the population and to a lesser extent the media only wish to caricature through epithets and marginalize through headlines and captions.
posted by oog at 2:25 PM on March 19, 2003


It was clear that chucking a shitload of tea into Boston harbour would be largely ineffective, too.

That's an excellent point. The question that should immediately follow: what made it effective where the anti-war protests weren't (and other protests often aren't). What makes an effective popular demonstration/stunt, vs. one that makes you simply look crazy or lawless?

(If you were going to say "perspective," save it, because it's true, but not the whole story or the relevant point of this discussion.)
posted by namespan at 2:29 PM on March 19, 2003


swerdloff,

wow, thanks for that confirming link.

a little off-topic here, but i distinctly remember running into these characters in Union Square a few days after 9/11, yelling to me that "it is we who should be apologizing to the people who did this for making them so angry that they did it"

that kind of sealed it for me, i tell you
posted by reality at 5:22 PM on March 19, 2003


that kind of sealed it for me, i tell you

Sealed what, that you lump in all anti-war protests with a few people who bugged your sensibilities?
posted by krinklyfig at 6:12 PM on March 19, 2003


a little off-topic here, but i distinctly remember running into these characters in Union Square a few days after 9/11, yelling to me that "it is we who should be apologizing to the people who did this for making them so angry that they did it"

Someone actually did that? I usually get on right-wingers for not being able to tell the difference between looking at underlying causes and sympathizing with them, but that's pretty insensitive and unbeleivable.

Sealed what, that you lump in all anti-war protests with a few people who bugged your sensibilities?

This is the important point. People often don't take the time to make this kind of distinction. Just recently I had a relative living abroad send a email out to our family that was critical of our current administration's diplomacy skills, though not necessarily their goals, and an uncle quickly responded with "The next thing I expect to hear is that we are responsible for 9/11." There was an assumption made that any criticism implied total rejection.

I think people shouldn't be that way, but they are, and this is what protesters, critics, and progressives of every stripe have to face. They need to learn to work with it.
posted by namespan at 6:27 PM on March 19, 2003


Intentionally disrupting supply lines, power, or military bases? Not a good idea.

To say the least.
posted by hama7 at 9:37 PM on March 19, 2003


It was clear that chucking a shitload of tea into Boston harbour would be largely ineffective, too.
The difference is in the degree of popular support for these actions. If, as in the case of the US, the anti-war folks are a minority, then doing anything that might be used as a weapon by your oponents to demonize you, or would alienate regular people would be counterproductive.
I mean do you think that breaking shopping windows in Seattle brought the message of the organizers closer to the masses?
If on the other hand you have popular support, have won the argument on the grassroots level (as in the revolutionary US or, say, in Spain today) and the ruling regime acts in opposition to popular sentiment, you might have a lot to gain by non-violent (or even violent- remember Chausesku) actions.
In other words, as a matter of political strategy, would it be productive to disrupt military bases in the US? No.
Would it be productive to disrupt supply lines in Spain or Italy? Maybe.
posted by talos at 2:55 AM on March 20, 2003


I think the key to whether a protest is effective is much the same as with art . . . does it cause one to think?
So many Americans are content to have their opinions served up to them via the sterile channels of the mass media that it takes something to rock them into thinking.
Tea in the Boston Harbour--illogical but effective.
Wearing warpaint to give HUAC testimony(ala the Yippies)--silly, but effective
Closing down US Rt.95 in NJ and holding it as ransom till the war ends (4/71)--annoying to many but capable of getting a message across that "something's happenin here!"

Yes, such acts may be counterproductive in the short term. Yet I believe that such protests, together with fundamental organizing and educating are the only means that "We the People" have of moving an anti-establishment agenda. Guerilla theatre has as it's basis the capturing of an audience for the purpose of making them think. To quell dissent is to invite more of the same.
posted by ahimsakid at 12:37 PM on March 20, 2003


« Older The War is about to Start and for those of us with...  |  The Onion keeps getting funnie... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments