In the wreckage of the once vibrant American anti-war movement lies a hodge-podge of activists ranging from anarchists to paleo-conservatives, wondering “What the hell do we do now!?”
To be an anti-war activist at this moment in American history is to be at an all time low. Never did genuine activists for non-violence have it so bad. Never has a progressive movement ever neutered itself so thoroughly, severed its own fuel source, and engineered its own irrelevance as much as the American anti-war movement between 2003 and now.
The success of the movement in early 2003 seemed destined to significantly alter the course of history. Bush and the neo-con puppeteers faced certain domestic turmoil in the “other superpower”: the dynamic grassroots movements whose lineage ran through Seattle and Chiapas, and now descended upon New York, Chicago and small towns throughout the heartland. Meanwhile, we had Lula in Brazil (before Lula became synonymous with traitor), Chavez in Venezuela, and millions of people emptying out into the streets throughout the world. American social movements were uniting with international grassroots forces to upend the heinous American Empire.
Or so I thought as I finished my undergrad at the University of Illinois-Urbana in 2003. Upon graduation I warily took a position at Peace Action as a “Field Outreach Coordinator” (if you have never worked at a non-profit before, the name of your position means practically nothing). My duties included, among other things, delegitimizing the genuine grassroots elements of the anti-war movement in favor of a bureaucratic, compromised, legislative/electoral approach to “fighting the man.” While Peace Action takes more principled stands than, say, Moveon.org, it is governed by the same logic that sank the whole ship in 2004.
However, most of the blame needs to be placed squarely on two men, whose “movements” completely demobilized this nation’s last great grassroots movement: John Kerry and Barack Obama.
The ascent of these two overlapped. Obama rose from his position in an obscure state congressional seat to become U.S. Senator at the same time that Mr. Kerry swift-boated the anti-war movement into oblivion.
Obama was young, articulate, handsome, well-composed, charming: all of those things we aren’t accustomed to in Chicago. Meanwhile, the rest of the country was equally overwhelmed. We had grown so used to our male specimen being overweight slobs that just the site of Obama made us believe that yes, we could join the civilized world.
Unfortunately, the route to the Promised Land doth not lie through the ballot box. I am not entirely negating the importance of casting a vote, but merely stating that genuinely progressive candidates don’t just pop out of the ether and get elected. Instead, they spring forth from grassroots movements and thus represent the collective consciousness.
In 2004 and 2008, the American liberal left repeated the same mistake by going the easy route of standing on the sidelines and “hoping.” This was an incredible phenomenon: a people, which are willing to be slave-driven in the workplace more so than any other in the Western World, lazed out on their civic responsibility. Instead of maintaining the requisite pressure and momentum, the American progressive fizzled out into irrelevance.
Even in its darkest hour, the American conservative doesn’t dare fizzle. They stick to their guns. So what is wrong with the American progressive?
My answer is that the baby boomers still control too much of the movement. I repeat: the progressive left is STILL organized and orchestrated by cliche P.C., baby booming liberals. They are the enablers of defeatism in American progressivism: those that seek to compromise war with peace, commercialism with socialism, liberty with tyranny. Their over-arching logic is that the status quo is too ingrained to budge. They enter the negotiation process under the precept that victory is unfeasible, and compromise is inevitable. As such, mainstream progressives believe that we must begin with a compromise, and continue to perpetually, until our vaunted “change” is even worse than the status quo.
I am on a few health care reform (single-payer) lists where people have been arguing over whether we should advocate defeat of the current bill in the Congress. I am unable to see how there is any question that we should. People are so steeped in the defeatist logic of unending compromises that they can’t see this ploy for what it is: a bailout of the insurance companies masquerading as “health care reform.” All of this comes after the President and several high ranking congresspersons admitted “Single Payer is probably the best solution, but …” But what!? We Americans are so used to failure, we may as well just keep failing!? Why be as good as the rest of the civilized world!? Let’s just continue to suck ass!
And to keep American minds off of the fact that our shitty health system will continue unabated and freshly charged, Obama announced his long-held plans to deepen our imperial adventure in Afghanistan. Progressives responded with mighty protests: in Chicago, a whole 150 people showed up last Wednesday to stick it to the commander-in-chief. Another rally was held on Saturday, which fared slightly better: that one may have attracted around 200.
And it is the same damn 150-200 people that show up to everything. The rest of the city is still hanging out in the trenches, “hoping” for something to go right. I am sure this is repeated verbatim throughout the country. The anti-war movement is down to its nuts and bolts: just the hard -core activists.
So how do we energize the grassroots again? How do we turn the clock back to 2003, while this country is so devastated and demoralized?
My answer is that the focus needs to shift to the banks: those insidious institutions of avidity and fraud that created our economic recession and then ran away with trillions of dollars in bailout guarantees. The big, corporate banks finance wars and war-makers, steal from working communities, prey on vulnerable members of the working and middle-classes, and have no sense of social responsibility or civic duty.
Socialism for the rich, Capitalism for the poor. The CEO’s get their bonuses, the working people get ATM fees and overdraft fees. The billionaire swindlers get TARP funds, the working men and women get bad mortgages, a dissolution of their retirement portfolios, decreasing medical coverage and increasing education costs.
Meanwhile, my generation, the baby boomers’ children of 30 years or younger, have seen their unemployment rate rise to nearly 25%. This rate is much higher if you count those who have ceased looking for work, or those that are partially employed or perpetually stuck in a temp agency.
I had the latter problem while in Seattle last year. I was hired by Nintendo of America as a French Customer Service rep through an intermediary known as Parker Services. These are the same bastards that run the “temp agency” racket at Microsoft, down the street in Redmond (suburb of Seattle). The idea is that you will never work directly for the company you pretend to represent on the phone, unless you gleefully slave away under precarious conditions for a few years with no benefits, leave time or health insurance. I couldn’t even realistically take a sick day without putting my job in jeopardy, and eventually stormed out in an angry rampage when told that I had to work with a 102 degree fever.
A majority of under 30 year olds are living in a state of utter despair: the baby boomers left us no health care, no decent employment, no living wage, no comprehensive system of free higher education, no ethic of brotherhood and sisterhood: a country in absolute ruin. Our older siblings and cousins were labeled “Generation X,” us “Generation Y” or “Generation ADHD,” but it may as well be “Generation Screwed.”
Socialism for the rich, Capitalism for the poor. Handouts, big trillion dollar handouts for the criminal business elite, and savage, barbaric Capitalism for the rest of us. We battle over scarce resources, and play trivial, insipid games so as to obtain frivolous employment, with no guarantees of security and health coverage. Our grandparents had good union jobs, and provided our parents with high quality education and health care at an affordable rate. We were never so lucky.
The war in the Middle East is the external manifestation of the war on young adults here at home. The relationship between the baby boomers and their children has always been antagonistic. The former has never wanted to grow up, while the latter has strived to mature. To quote the late George Carlin, the baby boomers “went from cocaine to Rogaine,” refusing ever to age and seriously confront the great responsibility of running a country. Their record, across the political spectrum, has been disastrous. From right wing zealots to imperialists posing as “peoples’ candidates” to left-wing movements weighted down by the baggage of “cultural revolution.” In the baby boomers world, “left” and “right” became inane cultural points of reference, as political discourse made like an Amtrak and de-railed.
This unraveled as our presidents and congress-people drifted steadily rightward. There once was smattering of populists in the Congress, and the occasional bone thrown at progressives by even Republican presidents. However, our posture gradually descended to the point that “we” have the White House, “60 seats in the Senate,” and a strong majority in the Congress, and right wing America still runs the damn country!
This dire state is unsustainable. As such, I ask fellow members of Generation Screwed to join me in taking charge of the despair before us. Let us reconstruct an America that is built on the principles of brotherhood and sisterhood: an understanding that we have a debt to our fellow American. The creation of these monolithic criminal banks and their corporate doppelgangers is entirely the doing of the baby boomers, who supported the Reagans and Clintons that deregulated like mad animals. They took any progressive tendency in this country and demeaned and disparaged it, leaving us with Kennedys, Kerrys, and, at best, Kucinichs. We can do much better.
We, the members of Generation Screwed, have no room for compromise. Our life depends on great progressive victory and it begins with taking the banks head on.