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Beginning the Ending of War

5:07 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

This article is the Introduction to the new book War No More: The Case for Abolition, published in October 2013.

As I write this, in September 2013, something extraordinary has just happened. Public pressure has led the British Parliament to refuse a prime minister’s demand for war for the first time since the surrender at Yorktown, and the U.S. Congress has followed suit by making clear to the U.S. president that his proposed authorization for war on Syria would not pass through either the Senate or the House.

Now, this may all fall apart in a week or a month or a year or a decade. The forces pressing for a war on Syria have not gone away. The civil war and the humanitarian crisis in Syria are not over. The partisan makeup of the Parliament and the Congress played a role in their actions (although the leaders of both major parties in Congress favored attacking Syria). Foreign nations’ intervention played a role. But the decisive force driving governments around the world and U.S. government (and military) insiders to resist this war was public opinion. We heard the stories of children suffering and dying in Syria, but we rejected the idea that killing more Syrians with U.S. weapons would make Syria better off.

Those of us who believe that we should always have the right to reject our government’s arguments for war should feel empowered. Now that it’s been done, we cannot be told it’s impossible to do it again … and again, and again.

In the space of a day, discussions in Washington, D.C., shifted from the supposed necessity of war to the clear desirability of avoiding war. If that can happen once, even if only momentarily, why can it not happen every time? Why cannot our government’s eagerness for war be permanently done away with? U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the unsuccessful marketing campaign for an attack on Syria, had famously asked, many years earlier, during what the Vietnamese call the American War, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” We have it within our power to make war a thing of the past and to leave Secretary Kerry the last man to have tried to sell us a dead idea.

(An argument will be made that the threat of war aided diplomatic efforts to disarm the Syrian government. It should not be forgotten that when Kerry suggested that Syria could avoid a war by handing over its chemical weapons, everyone knew he didn’t mean it. In fact, when Russia called his bluff and Syria immediately agreed, Kerry’s staff put out this statement: “Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used. His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.” In other words: stop getting in the way of our war! By the next day, however, with Congress rejecting war, Kerry was claiming to have meant his remark quite seriously and to believe the process had a good chance of succeeding.)

In this book I make the case outlined in the four section titles: War can be ended; War should be ended; War is not going to end on its own; We have to end war. 

Others have made the case that war can be ended, but they have tended to look for the source of war in poor nations, overlooking the nation that builds, sells, buys, stockpiles, and uses the most weapons, engages in the most conflicts, stations the most troops in the most countries, and carries out the most deadly and destructive wars. By these and other measures, the United States government is the world’s leading war-maker, and—in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.—the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. Ending U.S. war-making wouldn’t eliminate all war from the world, but ending war-making only by poor countries wouldn’t come close.

This should not come as a shock or an offense to most people in the United States, some 80 percent of whom consistently tell pollsters that our government is broken. It’s been over half a century since President Dwight Eisenhower warned that a military industrial complex would corrupt the United States. Military spending is roughly half of the U.S. government’s discretionary spending every year, dwarfing any other expense. The United States is closely tied with the European Union as the wealthiest place on earth. Surely that money must be going somewhere. Surely a broken government is bound to be at least a little broken in the primary thing it does—in this case, the making of war.

By “war” I mean roughly: the use of a nation’s military abroad. The use of a military at home to establish a police state or attack a sub-population is related to war and sometimes hard to distinguish from war, but usually distinct (the exceptions being called civil wars). The use of military-like tactics by a non-nation group or individual may sometimes be morally or visually indistinguishable from war, but it differs from war in terms of responsibility and appropriate response. The use of a nation’s military abroad for purely non-war purposes, such as humanitarian relief, is not what I mean by war, and also not easy to find actual examples of. By the term “military,” I mean to include uniformed and non-uniformed, official troops and contractors, acknowledged and clandestine—anyone (or any robot) engaged in military activity for a government.

I intend this book for people everywhere, but especially in the United States and the West. Most people in the United States do not believe that war can be ended. And I suspect that most are aware of the significant role the United States plays in war-making, because most also believe that war should not be ended. Few actually view war as desirable—once a widespread belief, but one heard less and less since about the time of World War I. Rather, people tend to believe that war is necessary to protect them or to prevent something worse than war.

So, in Part II, I make the case that war endangers, rather than protecting us, and that there isn’t something worse than war that war can be used to prevent. I argue that war is not justified by evil forces it opposes or by false claims to humanitarian purposes. War is not benefitting us at home or the people in the nations where our wars are fought, out of sight and sometimes out of mind. War kills huge numbers of innocent people, ruins nations, devastates the natural environment, drains the economy, breeds hostility, and strips away civil liberties at home no matter how many times we say “freedom.”

This case is not so much philosophical as factual. The most significant cause of war, I believe and argue in the book, is bad information about past wars. A majority in the United States believes Iraq benefitted from the 2003-2011 war that destroyed Iraq. If I believed that, I’d favor launching another one right away. A majority in Iraq believes the war left them even worse off than they were before it. (See, for example, the Zogby poll of December 20, 2011.) Extensive evidence, discussed below, as well as basic common sense, suggests that Iraqis, like anyone else, actually know best what their own situation is. Therefore, I want to prevent a repeat.

I wish I could have written a theoretical case against war, without mentioning any wars. But, everyone would have agreed with it and then made exceptions, like the school board member where I live who said he wanted to support a celebration of peace as long as everyone was clear he wasn’t opposing any wars. As it is, I had to include actual wars, and facts about them. Where I’ve suspected someone will object to a piece of information, I’ve included a source for it right in the text. I discuss in this book the wars launched when George W. Bush was president and the wars launched or escalated since Barack Obama became president, as well as some of the most cherished “good wars” in U.S. culture, such as World War II and the U.S. Civil War. I also recommend reading this book in combination with a previous book of mine called War Is A Lie.

I don’t recommend taking my word for anything. I encourage independent research. And a few other points may help with keeping an open-mind while reading this book: There’s no partisan agenda here. The Democrats and Republicans are partners in war, and I have no loyalty to either of them. There’s no national agenda here. I’m not interested in defending or attacking the U.S. government, or any other government. I’m interested in the facts about war and peace and what we should do about them. There’s no political agenda here on the spectrum from libertarian to socialist. I certainly place myself on the socialist side of that spectrum, but on the question of war it’s not particularly relevant. I think Switzerland has had a pretty good foreign policy. I admire Costa Rica’s elimination of its military. Sure, I think useful and essential things should be done with the money that’s now dumped into war and war preparations, but I’d favor ending war if the money were never collected or even if it were collected and burned.

Disturbing as it is to run into countless people who believe war can’t and/or shouldn’t be ended (including quite a few who say it can’t be ended but should be ended, presumably meaning that they wish it could be ended but are sure it can’t be), I’ve begun running into people who tell me—even more disturbingly—that war is in the process of ending, so there’s nothing to worry about and nothing to be done. The arguments that have set people on this path distort and minimize death counts in recent wars, define large portions of wars as civil wars (and thus not wars), measure casualties in isolated wars against the entire population of the globe, and conflate downward trends in other types of violence with trends in war-making. Part III, therefore, makes the case that war is not, in fact, going away.

Part IV addresses how we should go about causing war to go away. Largely, I believe that we need to take steps to improve our production, distribution, and consumption of information, including by adjusting our worldviews to make ourselves more open to learning and understanding unpleasant facts about the world—and acting on them. More difficult tasks than the abolition of war have been accomplished before. The first step has usually been recognizing that we have a problem.

This article is the Introduction to the new book War No More: The Case for Abolition.

Admit It: Things Are Going Well

6:59 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Photo by ilovememphis

Photo by ilovememphis

When something goes right
Oh, it’s likely to lose me
It’s apt to confuse me
It’s such an unusual sight
—Paul Simon

Larry Summers has proven unacceptable to oversee the continued destruction of the U.S. economy. The U.S. public has successfully rejected proposed missile strikes on Syria. My Congressman was among the majority who listened. Today was beautiful. The Orioles won. The Cowboys lost. The University of Virginia avoided losing by not playing. My family is expecting a new baby. I’ve finished a new book, which Kathy Kelly has written a beautiful foreword for. I have a sense that if the universe were right now campaigning on “hope and change” I might seriously consider voting for it.

I’m also pretty sure that if everything in my personal life were going slightly to hell and Larry Summers were crowned king of Wall Street, and the Dallas Cowboys were to win (darn them!), my sense of this moment in the movement against U.S. militarism would remain essentially the same. A major victory has been won, and we need to claim it and celebrate it.

Imagine the euphoria — or don’t imagine it, just remember it — when this country elects a new president whose main redeeming feature is that he isn’t the previous president. For personality fanatics that’s big stuff. And there are big parties. For policy fanatics — for those of us interested in seeing policies change rather than personalities — that kind of moment is right now. We need some parties, and if spontaneity is beyond us, perhaps we can use the International Day of Peace on September 21st for a combination celebration / discussion during which we explain to ourselves that it really is OK to celebrate.

Yes, many people in this country and around the world are suffering horrible tragedies in their personal lives and as a result of public events.  Yes, the horrors in Syria, as in many other places, continue. Yes, the CIA is arming terrorists in Syria. Yes, the president whose missile strikes we prevented is taking credit for that restraint, just as he would have taken credit for the carnage had we not stopped him — and he’s threatening to bring the missile strikes back. Yes, if we let down our guard for a moment, the president and Congress and the CIA will do their worst. Yes, the danger for Iraq and Libya really loomed large after they had given up nuclear and chemical weapons, not before. Yes, lots of people opposed bombing Syria because they didn’t think Syrians deserved such favors. (No, I’m not making that up.) Yes, the corporate media is pretending that the threat of war brought peace, ignoring the successful insistence on peace by the people of the world.

But that’s why we have to celebrate what really happened. We have to announce it. The point is not to take credit. No one person or group did this.  People espousing a variety of ideologies did it. And they did it over many years. Millions contributed. The point is that war was popularly rejected.

Why does this matter? It’s not a case for optimism, or for pessimism. I continue to have very little use for either bit of self-indulgence. The forces that press for more wars have not gone away. Neither have they been empowered. The point is that those who nonsensically proclaim that stopping wars is impossible cannot get away with saying that anymore.

You know the types. They show up at meetings, wait for the question-and-answer period, and then give a speech on how everything is utterly hopeless. Those speeches should be laughed away within the first five seconds now. And the many, many people who had begun ever so slightly to take that defeatist nonsense seriously can now be relieved of that weight. The danger now is not of being a sucker who proclaimed good news just before a genocide. The danger is of joining in the foolish campaign of the war propagandists by pushing the lie of powerlessness on people just after they prevented a war.

Do we still have to prevent a war again this week? Of course, we do.  o we have to take on the larger task of organizing peace and preventing crises? We do. Do we need to build a movement for the abolition of war that reaches beyond opposition to each immediate war proposal? You’d better believe it. But this is what we wanted in 2001 and 2003. Well, some of us did — that’s the point. We’re larger now, even if it’s not made visible. As long as we went on failing to prevent wars, people could say we’d never prevent them. There’s no science or logic behind such an assertion, but it still has power in it. Or it did, until now. Now we can claim with equal validity that we’ll stop every single war proposed from here on out. Of course we might or we might not, but we know that it’s up to us, that it depends on what we do, that little steps that appear useless at the time can help, and that changes to our culture can outweigh changes to the Pentagon budget, the global climate, crises in capitalism, or any other supposedly unstoppable force.

After World War I, people in the United States understood the need to eliminate war. Again, after Vietnam, many understood it almost that much. They developed the Vietnam Syndrome, a level of healthy resistance to more wars lamented as a disease by Washington. Now we’re moving back in that direction. War resistance is the health of the people. We’re not developing a syndrome. We’re developing an immunity. We’ve been vaccinated against war. We’re not as allergic to the propaganda as we once were. We’re war resistant, and our task is to compel those in power not to lament our syndrome this time, but to share in our contagious good health.

Why Even Failed Activism Succeeds

12:03 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

I enjoy reading histories of past activism, including memoirs by long-time activists, such as Lawrence Wittner’s new book, Working for Peace and Justice.

Lawrence Wittner - Anne Tritschler IPPNW

Lawrence Wittner - Photo by Anne Tritschler / IPPNW

Almost every such account includes belated discoveries of the extent to which a government has been spying on and infiltrating activist groups.

And almost every such account includes belated discoveries of the extent to which government officials were influenced by activist groups even while pretending to ignore popular pressure.

These revelations can be found in the memoirs of the government officials as well, such as in George W. Bush’s recollection of how seriously the Republican Senate Majority Leader was taking public pressure against the war on Iraq in 2006.

Of course, activism that appears ineffectual at the time can succeed in a great many ways, including by influencing others, even young children, who go on to become effective activists — or by influencing firm opponents who begin to change their minds and eventually switch sides.

The beautiful thing about nonviolent activism is that, while risking no harm, it has the potential to do good in ways small and large that ripple out from it in directions we cannot track or measure.

Wittner participated in his first political demonstration in 1961.  The USSR was withdrawing from a moratorium on nuclear testing.  A protest at the White House urged President Kennedy not to follow suit:

Read the rest of this entry →

Bring on the Beautiful Trouble

10:29 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Now here’s a book that’s meant to be used: “Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution” edited by Andrew Boyd and Dave Oswald Mitchell.  The subtitle should be “Try this at home — but innovate!”  Instead it’s “From the people who brought you the Yes Men, Billionaires Against Bush, etc.”

Two of the Yes Men wearing fashionable suits pretend to be Exxon executives.

Yes Men masquerading as Exxon executives. Photo by Tavis Ford.

Beautiful Trouble is a terrific addition to Gene Sharp’s catalog of nonviolent tactics, less comprehensive, more up-to-date, more U.S.-centric, and focused on the artistic and the entertaining. When someone whines about what they can possibly do if it’s really true that voting won’t fix everything, hand them this book.  When someone proposes violence as the only serious option available, hand them this book.

Here is a guide to activism that focuses on the serious moral case for fundamental change and on making it fun as hell.  Here is a sophisticated tool for shaping strategies that are both uncompromising and welcoming of newcomers.

The book is divided into five sections: Tactics, Principles, Theories, Case Studies, and Practitioners.  The section on Tactics is far and away the best, with some of the inspiring tactics further developed in the case studies.  While the book looks like a reference designed to be searched as needed like an encyclopedia (tons of pull quotes and text in cute little boxes, as if laid out for someone with a four-second attention span) it actually reads very well as a book if you focus on the largest font size and just read it straight through.

Long time activists may find more and more of the material to be familiar as the book progresses, but it is a book that practices what it preaches.  It is open to brand new participants in government of, by, and for the people as well as to those who’ve been trying to get it right for many years.  For the most part, even the familiar is so well presented and contextualized that people are likely to find new insights in what they thought they already knew.

Read the rest of this entry →

ICE Director Confronted on Intimidation of Nonviolent Activists

1:44 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

(photo: scoutnurse/flickr)

(photo: scoutnurse/flickr)

John Morton, Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, spoke on Monday at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.  Here’s the University’s report.  Here’s the local newspaper’s. Both report only on what Morton said, without mentioning what he was asked about by members of the audience following his opening remarks.

He could have been asked about record breaking deportations and the recklessness that has deported U.S. citizens.  Perhaps he was. I wasn’t there.  But Erin Rose, who was there, sent this report:

“Last night I got up the nerve to go confront the director of ICE, John Morton, where he was giving a lecture on the duties and achievements of ICE at the University of Virginia Law School. I went with Nancy, who is a very gutsy woman and really inspires me. We listened while the director spent one hour explaining what his department does. Besides undocumented people, they also deal with child abusers. (I didn’t understand that connection.) He told us that since the beginning of his tenure the death rate among ICE prisoners has gone down from dozens a year to less than 10 a year.  (Were we supposed to clap?)  He also said that incarceration has gone up 50% since he got there. They contract with private corporations and the taxpayer pays the bill. He also said the system needs to be entirely redone, revamped. He gave absolutely no indication what would be necessary or even why….

“… When it was time for questions, Nancy stood up and introduced herself as not a lawyer or a child molester, but just a common citizen who would like to know why ICE considers American citizens who are just disagreeing with their government in a open, planned, peaceful, democratic demonstration, their purview? She referred to our protest against Citizens United [held on January 20th in Charlottesville] and told him that many organizers across the country had been intercepted before the event and monitored during the event by special agents of ICE. He answered that he had no knowledge of it, immediately dismissed it, and went on to the next question.

“So I raised my hand, stood up and told him that I was one of those organizers and that I know of many others — dozens — who were contacted and questioned. I asked him how he doesn’t know the functions of his own department? When he continued to deny any knowledge of this, I turned to the gentile and learned audience and told them that even though he is not telling them, they should know that this department, which was ostensibly set up to deal with immigration control of foreigners, is now concerning itself with local American citizens that dare to disagree with their government. And that even more disturbing, they are not admitting to this. I stressed that this concerns them and this is what they need to know from this lecture. I then walked out. I was chased by a strange man who caught me just as I left the building, wanting to know what organization I was from. When I asked him what he was doing there, he was vague. Again, he pressed me for information but I blew him off and left quickly. Nancy, who stayed til the end, later told me that she was also approached by this man, who seemed to want to learn as much as he could about us. I went home feeling sick to my stomach and quite depressed. I had expected an explanation in answer to my question, certainly a justification- but not a complete denial. How do you explain this?” Read the rest of this entry →

Charlottesville, Va., City Council Passes Resolution Against Attacking Iran

6:28 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

(image: thsant, flickr)

(image: thsant, flickr)

The City Council of Charlottesville, Virginia, home of Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and the University of Virginia, passed on Tuesday evening, January 17, 2012, a resolution believed to be a first in the country, opposing the launching of a war on Iran, as well as calling for an end to current ground and drone wars engaged in by the United States and urging Congress and the President of the United States to significantly reduce military spending.  Below is the text of the resolution, followed by an account of how it came to be.  As other towns and cities have been inquiring about how they can do the same, this may prove helpful.

RESOLUTION

Calling on Congress and the President to Redirect Military Spending to Domestic Priorities

WHEREAS, the severity of the ongoing economic crisis has created budget shortfalls at all levels of government and requires us to re-examine our national spending priorities; and

WHEREAS, every dollar spent on the military produces fewer jobs than spending the same dollar on education, healthcare, clean energy, or even tax cuts for household consumption; and

WHEREAS, U.S. military spending has approximately doubled in the past decade, in real dollars and as a percentage of federal discretionary spending, and well over half of federal discretionary spending is now spent on the military, and we are spending more money on the military now than during the Cold War, the Vietnam War, or the Korean War; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. military budget could be cut by 80% and remain the largest in the world; and Read the rest of this entry →

My New Year’s Resolutions

11:38 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

New Year Resolution (photo: alafista/flickr)

New Year Resolution (photo: alafista/flickr)

Exercise.

Lose weight.

Be nicer.

Work with not just this year but many future years and generations and centuries in mind.

Work with an international perspective as much as possible.  Collaborate internationally as much as possible.

Work to turn last year’s Arab Spring into this year’s Worldwide Spring-Summer-Fall-Winter.

Help to create a worldwide movement against plutocracy and violence.

Stop thinking of defeating horrendous proposals as the only kind of “victory” possible.

Within the United States, help to advance the organization of a student loan debtors union large enough and strategic enough to both refuse payment and to build a campaign that will make education free going forward — in the United States and around the world.

Help to advance a nonviolent resistance campaign to halt foreclosures on homes, one by one, and through legislatures and courts.

Work to build a movement against the military industrial complex and for economic conversion, inclusive of libertarians and internationalists, civil libertarians, environmentalists, economists, labor, educators, humanitarians, local governments, state governments, and international allies.

Make U.S. residents aware of local struggles against U.S. bases around the world, and see fewer U.S. troops at fewer bases outside the United States and within the United States by the end of the year.

See reduced military spending in the 2013 U.S. budget.

See fewer drone strikes, fewer bombs, fewer assassinations, fewer prisoners, fewer torture victims, and less talk of a “war on terror” this year than last.

Use Iran war promotion as another opportunity to build resistance to predictable propaganda. Read the rest of this entry →

Try Not to Think of a Newt

8:51 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Don't Think Of A Newt (Photo: randomtruth, flickr)

Don't Think Of A Newt (Photo: randomtruth, flickr)

The current President and Congress are destroying our Constitutional rights, our planet’s climate, and the vestiges of a social safety net, and you are obsessing over a freak show of self-hating homosexuals and anti-intellectual intellectuals jumping through hoops in a corporate media circus with Ringmaster Donald Trump. Is this a good use of your time?

The “Bush tax cuts” are still called that, while Bush has been gone for years. The corporate trade agreements are rolling through at a pace Bush couldn’t have managed. While Social Security was protected by anti-Bush agitation, it now has its neck on a chopping block and the progressive position is that the taxes that pay for it should be cut — rather than expanded to apply equally to large incomes. President Obama has repeatedly blocked serious global efforts to address climate change. And you’re concerned about which Republican buffoon doesn’t know the difference between Iraq and Iran, or which other one thinks the United States has an embassy in Iran. Are you kidding me?

President Obama, the United States Congress, and the Federal Reserve are united in their generosity toward Wall Street and the war machine — both financial generosity and the equally generous provision of immunity from legal prosecution. In the Bush era we were locked in free-speech cages, and we raised hell about it. Now we’re locked in jails, beaten, tear gassed, pepper sprayed, and otherwise brutally assaulted, and . . . wait! Look over there! Is that a presidential candidate who wants to publicly declare his desire to secretly murder Iranians? How outrageous!

For the love of everything decent, the current president is right now murdering Iranians, and it’s not very secret. What in the hell is the matter with you people?

Illegality is over, says Harold Koh (“the good John Yoo”). This is the same guy who claims massive slaughter by bombing of foreign nations is neither war nor an act of hostility as long as no significant number of U.S. citizens die immediately in the process. Read the rest of this entry →

What’s Missing: Non-Electoral Politics

6:27 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Lately, the phrase “public servants” has struck me as ironic, not because government officials fail to serve the public, but because much of the public serves them.  The public is the servants.  Activist groups and individuals devote themselves to bettering the fortunes of political parties or politicians, at the expense of pressuring government officials to represent public demands.

Nobody favors eliminating elections, and nobody favors eliminating activism.  But there are those who cannot see how prioritizing money-marinated, gerrymandered, cable-news-controlled, unverifiable elections will reverse the train wreck in progress.  And there are those who cannot see what it would mean to engage in activism that wasn’t aimed at promoting electoral victories.

Let me try to explain.  Richard Nixon gave us the EPA.  Barack Obama is giving us a tar sands pipeline, lower air standards, and more nuclear power.  George W. Bush took the trouble to lie to Congress when starting wars. Barack Obama goes out of his way to not consult Congress at all.  Richard Nixon was impeached.  George W. Bush was not.  The reasons for these differences have nothing to do with the character or upbringing of the presidents, and everything to do with public pressure, and with the communications and — yes — electoral systems through which public pressure can be brought to bear.  Nixon didn’t care more deeply about future generations than Barack Obama.  Nixon faced public pressure, in the streets, in the suites, in the news, and in the halls of Congress.

But ultimately, the purpose of public pressure must be to threaten electoral defeat, right?

Must it?

When individuals and organizations think this way, they plan protests of bad policies, but only in Republican districts.  If a Democrat is enacting murderous, destructive policies one must not threaten electoral defeat, and so one must not pressure that Democrat for change.  Urging that Democrat to adopt a majority position would harm, rather than help them, and never mind us.  It would harm them by criticizing them publicly and thereby endorsing a Republican to defeat them.  It would fail to help them because we are all totally impotent, activism is just for show, and there’s absolutely no chance that they would alter their behavior in a way that voters would appreciate.  And never mind us because we’re not what matters.  The point is not to halt the murderous, destructive policies but to ensure the Democrat’s reelection.

Here are two problems with this approach:

First, it’s going to kill us all.  We are making the rational choice for the lesser of two evil candidates, and four years later the choices have both grown more evil.  This is a downward slope, no matter how rational our voting decisions.

Second, we cannot elect representatives who will, of their own initiative, reform the electoral system.  They won’t end gerrymandering; they just got gerrymandered into office.  They won’t create public financing or free media or reasonable ballot access rules or scrap the electoral college.  At least they won’t do so simply because someone even more revolting than they are lost to them in the last election.

Note that I am not opposing elections.  I want elections.  I love elections.  We couldn’t live without them.  In fact, we do not currently have them and it is destroying us.  I want the kind of reforms that would make meaningful elections possible.

But what if we had non-electoral politics?  What if we primarily, but not exclusively, engaged in activism that wasn’t electoral?  What if we had events that were not designed to serve as promotions of candidates or parties?  What if labor unions that favored single-payer healthcare didn’t ask the Democrats in Washington what they, the unions, should favor and then ban the mentioning of anything other than “the public option” at their rallies?  What if we treated government officials who enact cruel policies in the same way regardless of what party they belong to?  What if we didn’t denounce everything Obama and his followers are doing but promise to work for their reelection, and instead denounced everything they are doing and committed to nonviolently bringing it to a stop?

“Oh no!  Then you’d just elect Republicans!”

Why in the world would we do that?  We want major increases in taxation of the rich and corporations.  If we bring public pressure to bear on Democrats and Republicans alike with that demand, if we force that demand into the public discourse, if we leave the corporate media no way to avoid reporting it, if we make life miserable for members of our government who are failing to take every step possible to enact those policies, if we make plutocratic policies shameful and reprehensible, do you think more Democrats or more Republicans are going to come around to our position first?  Frankly I don’t give a rat’s ass which it is, and if it’s the Republicans I’ll vote for the Republicans.  But most of you will be quite confident that it will be the Democrats, and that seems most likely to me too.  Perhaps it will be a combination.  The point is that enough pressure on the government and society as a whole will change people’s behavior without changing their identities.  The same politicians will behave better than they used to.  This is a very common phenomenon through the history of this and other countries, even if we haven’t seen it much lately.  When ACORN existed, we used to force George W. Bush to change his positions on things like funding for low-income home energy assistance through nonviolent direct action without every converting him to a different party or unelecting him.  Now Obama cuts the same funding without public pushback.

With enough public pressure, we’ll also see electoral challenges from candidates willing to tax the rich, we’ll see the issue become part of campaign debates, and so forth.  But don’t imagine for a minute that politicians only care about winning elections or landing that million-dollar lobbying job.  They also care about whether they become laughing stocks and figures of public derision and revulsion, or whether they become widely respected as honorable and heroic.  The trouble is that hundreds of them are able to do everything their constituents oppose and still be cheered for and fawned over because they’re in power and because they belong to the Democratic Party.

If we want to end wars and cut military spending, will we accomplish that by changing the faces of the military industrial complex’s representatives in Congress and the White House or by educating the public about the human costs, financial costs, environmental costs, civil liberties and democratic costs, and the endangerment of us all caused by dumping 65 percent of discretionary spending into the war machine?  Will we get further by funding candidates or by using civil resistance to disrupt the work of the makers of war?  We can do both.  We must do both.  But which should we prioritize?  Which should we make subservient?  Do we want a culture passionately demanding peace and compelling all elected officials to work for it, a culture we approached, for example, in 1928?  Or do we want a country in which loyal Democrats denounce Republican war funders, but nobody at all denounces Democratic war funders?

Should we be dumping what resources we’re left after paying our war taxes into electoral campaigns or into independent activism?  I don’t think this is a difficult question.

“Oh no!  If the good people stop funding elections, only Republicans will have money!”

Well, you know, only Republicans do have money; some of them are just called Democrats.  Well-run independent principled organizations working for peace and justice do influence our society right now, but if they had a fraction of the funding routinely dumped into lesser-evil electioneering, this would be a country dominated by a ringing demand for positive change.  There’d be no more need for, and no more time wasted on, hope.  And don’t talk to me about the media; with the kind of money good people dump into elections we could create a new people’s media.

Republicans are pushed in the directions the tea partiers want, not because the tea partiers politely criticize them and swear to work for their reelection no matter what, but because tea partiers often denounce them without any self-censorship and threaten to toss them out of office.  Nobody does that on the left.  There’s a whole industry working to imitate the tea party from the left that completely misses this central point.  An example of this is Van Jones’ October 3, 2011, speech at the Take Back the American Dream conference.

As we watch electoral-political groups swoop in to join Occupy Wall Street, you’ll notice attempts to label this Occupation movement the anti-teaparty, followed in the next breath by attempts to define the duty of the anti-teaparty as electing Democrats.  No matter how well-meaning this may be, if you agree with me that what we desperately lack is non-electoral politics, then you have to see this “support” as an act of betrayal.  If the energy of independent outraged activists too young to have been properly corrupted is redirected, as it was in Wisconsin, into electoral politics, a movement will have been betrayed.

If you want to understand the motivations of this bandwagonism, pay close attention this Thursday when an occupation begins in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C.  Will organizations that jumped on board with protesting wealthy interests on Wall Street who corrupt our government be willing to protest the government itself?  In recent years, the obvious answer would have been “Yes, if the president is a Republican at the time.”  This reflects an obsession with presidents over Congress or cabinet departments, etc., but that’s another story.  The answer now is a definite maybe.

If the results of the democratic process in Freedom Plaza are as I hope and expect they will be, then there will be a rule established to discourage any advocating for any party or candidate in the plaza or as part of the occupation wherever it may take us.  This will, at least in theory, mean that individuals and groups that favor the Democratic Party, or the Green Party, or any other party, should be able to come and participate as long as they leave their electoralism at home.

If the collective decisions again go as I hope and expect, the activities of the Washington Occupation will not include cheering for events or to any great extent demonstrating against events or institutions or individuals.  Rather we will focus on actually nonviolently preventing the ongoing activities of those working against majority positions on these demands:

  • Tax the rich and corporations
  • End the wars, bring the troops home, cut military spending
  • Protect the social safety net, strengthen Social Security and improved Medicare for all
  • End corporate welfare for oil companies and other big business interests
  • Transition to a clean energy economy, reverse environmental degradation
  • Protect worker rights including collective bargaining, create jobs and raise wages
  • Get money out of politics

Bringing these demands as we the people to them the government ought to be as separate from electoralism as from religion or sport or sex.  Elections have their vital place, but this is bigger and far more serious.

The Small Group of Thoughtful, Committed Citizens Has Been Drugged

7:07 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Movements for justice have historically been driven by a small percentage of any population. One percent of Americans nonviolently occupying Washington, D.C., could make Cairo and Madison and Madrid look like warm-up acts. It is certainly true that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens is the only thing that ever has changed the world for the better.

So, what happens if a society picks out a significant slice of its population, one including many thoughtful and committed citizens, and drugs them?

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) held a first-time, one-day, little publicized event last September that allowed people to turn in their extra prescription drugs. The DEA reports collecting 242,000 pounds or 121 tons. A second such day was held in April with 376,593 pounds or 188 tons of pills collected. This is the stuff nobody wants and is willing to hand in to the government. This is not the amount that’s out in circulation. That amount is no doubt in proportion to the roaring flood of television ads for the stuff. “More Americans currently abuse prescription drugs,” says the DEA, “than the number of those using cocaine, hallucinogens, and heroin combined. . . . [I]ndividuals that abuse prescription drugs often obtained them from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.” And that’s just the users said to be abusing.

Ted Rall suggested drugging to me as a possible explanation for the big mystery staring us in the face, namely why Americans sit back and take so much more than other people from their government. The Patriot Act is being put on steroids with hardly a peep of protest. The “Defense Authorization Act” now before Congress would give presidents virtually limitless power to single-handedly make wars or imprison people. This is the biggest formal transfer of power in the U.S. government since the drafting of its Constitution. This undoes the American War for Independence. But perhaps we’d still be 13 colonies if Prozac and Zoloft had come along sooner.

“Like many people,” says Rall, “I have often wondered why so many Americans seem so emotionally flat and politically apathetic in response to a political and economic landscape that cries out for protest, or at least complaint. Could it be that our society’s most angry — justifiably angry — are being medicated into quiescence?” It does seem possible. I don’t mean to discount the fact that the United States imprisons record numbers of people. I’m willing to share some blame with our education system, our so-called news media, our religiosity, the two-party trap, and several other likely factors. But drugs looks like the big one that is nonetheless hardest to see. People don’t usually tell you they’re drugged, but chances are at least one in 10 people you meet is.

Two years ago, a study found that “the number of Americans taking antidepressants doubled to 10.1 percent of the population in 2005 compared with 1996, increasing across income and age groups.” One year earlier, another study had found that close to 10 percent of men and women in America were taking drugs to combat depression, and that 11 percent of women were taking antidepressants.”

Author and clinical psychologist Bruce Levine tells me this may be even worse than it sounds. “If you are around certain populations,” Levine says, “that 10 percent stat seems very low, especially among healthcare professionals and college students.” College students? I can remember them getting pretty thoughtful and committed in times past. “And that 10 percent,” Levine adds, “only includes the ‘official antidepressants’ such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Lexapro, Wellbutrin, Effexor, etc. This stat doesn’t include people using ADHD drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall, etc. to stimulate themselves.”

Adderall, Levine explained, is an amphetamine that affects the same neurotransmitters as cocaine (dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine), “and if one takes the antidepressant Effexor (affects serotonin and norepinephrine) at the same time one is taking the antidepressant Wellbutrin (affects dopamine), one can sense the hypocrisy in labeling certain psychotropics (drugs that affects neurotransmitters) as ‘antidepressants’ and other psychotropics as ‘ADHD psychostimulants.’ Lots of people — especially young people — are popping ‘Addies’ (street name for Adderall) to ‘motivate’ them to get them through their lives, especially during exam time.”

Levine said he’s counseling a young man who is supplementing his income by selling ADHD psychostimulant drugs to his fellow college students. He gets the best price around final exam time. “He told me, ‘Bruce, you’ve got to do better improving the self-esteem of these young kids who you are counseling.’ Why, I ask him, why do you care? ‘Well,’ he says, ‘these little brats who are getting their freebie prescription Addies feel so crappie about themselves that they are giving away their Addies to their older brothers for free just so they will hang out with them, and all those freebie Addies on the market are driving price down for me.”

Levine stresses that Adderall, like nicotine or caffeine or cocaine, provides a buzz that antidepressants do not. In fact, he points out, the so-called antidepressant drugs make people twice as likely to commit suicide. Levine concedes that some people swear antidepressants have saved their lives, but points out that people will say that about a placebo as well. The evidence, Levine says, shows antidepressants working no better than a placebo at lifting people out of depression.

Antidepressants may bear as Orwellian a name as the Patriot Act, but Levine finds the latter easier to talk about with people. “I get less grief,” Levine tells me, “when I talk about something like anarchism and Emma Goldman than when I talk about antidepressants’ effectiveness and [author] Irving Kirsch, as abstract political ideologies are far less threatening than people’s very own drugs.” Political movements may in fact be less threatening to those in power, because of people’s drugs.