In the wake of his furious denunciations precipitated by his pastor’s suggestion that the U.S. is anything other than a victim of terrorist violence, it should now be clear to even his most starry eyed acolytes that under an Obama administration the US. will remain the “leading purveyor of violence in the world today” as much as when Dr. King characterized it as such forty years ago.
That means, most notably, the U.S. Army will remain in Iraq doing what armies do: blowing up buildings, killing scores of people and getting killed themselves-financed by ever more extravagant deficit spending from the treasury.
They will continue to do so whether Senator “120,000 new troops”, Senator “obliterate Iran” or Senator “hundred years war” is installed in January 2009.
What this means for the sixty five percent of the population committed to ending the three trillion dollar genocidal fiasco is that whoever takes office will scale back and end U.S. occupation only under duress. He or she will need to be dragged kicking and screaming-by us.
Given this reality, the question for the movement remains what it has been since the failure of the huge antiwar demonstrations of 2003 and after. How do we communicate that we mean business? That when we say “no war” we mean no war.
The Language of Force
The best answer was delivered appropriately enough, on Mayday by the ILWU which effectively shut down all shipping on the West Coast, not for a fattened paycheck, but in their words, “to demand an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U. S. troops from the Middle East.”
The ILWU understands from its illustrious radical history what the peace movement has yet to learn. Namely what forces power to concede is red ink on the balance sheets of the corporations who effectively own and operate the political system. Accessing this lever of power is talking to the bosses in the only language they understand, and for this reason is the ne plus ultra of protest.
The language which the peace movement needs to learn to speak is the language of economic force.
It needs to begin preparing to do so next Mayday. Friday May 1, 2009 should be a day without work, without shopping, neither producing for the system or consuming what it offers up. Corporate balance sheets, the EKGs of economic health, should go flat.
Those monitoring it for signs of life will be obliged to declare it comatose, reviving only on the next business day.
Can we do it?
We shouldn’t kid ourselves as to what it would require to make this work-which is the participation of a significant fraction of the total workforce, amounting to numbers in the eight figure range. Probably somewhere around 20 million workers need to stay off the job for the message to be conveyed.
And given that it is unlikely that a single day work stoppage no matter how disruptive will be sufficient to send the message, we will need to commit ourselves to systematically upping the ante with additional work stoppages. These could occur on election day 2009, followed by one week strikes beginning on May 1 and Election Day 2010.
Should troops remains in Iraq in 2011, and hundreds of billions of dollars devoted to continuing the occupation be approved, the entire months of May and November 2011 should be targeted for zeroing out.
While it is surely ambitious, it is not unrealistic that the movement can assemble the kinds of numbers necessary to induce a near death experience among the high priced bean counters who manage policy in the interests of the investor class.
It should not be forgotten that while the past five years of antiwar demonstrations are by now largely viewed as futile exercises in feel good boomer nostalgia, this was not due to low participation. Millions marched in demonstrations around the country beginning with the enormous mass action of Feb 15, 2003.
It is not wishful thinking that a Mayday work stoppage could easily involve numbers an order of magnitude higher.
For every person actively involved in a previous demonstration, one or two more will have to commit in doing nothing. No one will have to get on a bus, arrange childcare for your kids, prepare a bag lunch, call your cousin in D.C. to move the books off the living room couch for you to crash on that night. The effectiveness of a strike is a consequence not of action but of inaction, not from showing up, but from sitting it out.
What Will It Take?
Assembling these numbers will require, first and foremost, for the word to get out-repeatedly and from multiple sources- and with the internet, we now have the means to do this.
Top rated left websites such as the Huffington Post receive millions of hits. Uncompromisingly left sites like Counterpunch and Dissident Voice attract substantial and articulate activist bases. Among the traditional media, Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! airs on hundreds of stations likely reaching millions. The Nation‘s circulation is in the hundreds of thousands, and reaches many more second hand. Even right-wing media have granted access to reliable leftists like Barbara Ehrenreich, published in Time, and Thomas Frank now featured on the Wall Street Journal opinion page.
It is not lack of access which has accounted for the failure the peace movement so far but rather what the left has communicated to itself. In particular, the high profile figures who define left discourse need to go beyond their obsession with what have become increasingly garden variety “powerful indictments” or “devastating critiques” of the bipartisan corporate consensus. The history of the past five years should have shown us that the widespread assumption that these will magically bring an effective mass movement into existence is a delusion.
Once the left jettisons its juvenile obsession with critiquing the system and begins discussing seriously the strategy required to combat it, and its most malignant expression in the form of the three trillion dollar war, what the ILWU did last week will begin to be seen for the major step forward which it should represent.
It is the ball which the rest of us need to pick up and run with.