The Question of Relevance in Our Fracked-up World

Codepink, Leftist Blues, Political Theater, "Annoying" Cops, and Cyber Wars

Jack Random is a fine writer whose works pay handsome dividends to those investing a bit of time and energy in their perusal.

That said, I note that a recent Web article of his, “The Struggle for Relevance: Obama, McCain, and Medea Benjamin,” especially piqued my interest, and even more so after its opening paragraph: “There is no shortage of rhetoric in American politics but as for real world consequences it begins to resemble the Bard’s immortal lament: ‘Sound and fury, signifying nothing.’

Now, I can readily understand characterizing Obama’s and McCain’s “rhetoric” in terms of Macbeth’s doleful cri de coeur, but how to include Medea Benjamin in such a “weird sisters” coven?

I read on. …

Mr. Random centers his argument on Obama’s May 24th speech about his wish/intention to end the Global War On Terror (or, as I prefer, the guttural, stuck-in-the-stick-in-the-mud-of-the-throat, GWOT!). Mr. Random avers: “President Obama’s declaration is significant but only if it can be believed. Within a week of his speech, promising a shift in policy on targeted assassinations, a CIA directed drone strike killed a Taliban leader in Pakistan.”

Now, I don’t know about Mr. Random, but, frankly, Obama’s hypocrisy doesn’t surprise me! I didn’t vote for him, and, frankly again, I haven’t voted for a Dem or Repugnant since I voted for one of the last true-blue Dems—Cynthia McKinney—for Senator from Georgia. Obama is too cucumber-cool for me; too polished, too smiley, too accommodating to whatever special interest group is pulling his string at the moment.

But… Medea Benjamin? How did she fit in? I read on. …

If O’s hypocrisy on the matter of drones shines through his bicuspids, “What then,” Mr. Random sagely suggests, “can we expect of his promise to restore civil liberties sacrificed in the name of the War on Terror? What then can we expect of his renewed intent to close the abomination that is Guantanamo Bay?”

Well, now we’re cooking! What, indeed, about sacrificed civil liberties during GWOT and that “abomination” called Guantanamo? As he sums up his views on O, I’m wishing I could put it so succinctly, and so well. I quote liberally, while cheering:

“We begin to wonder if the CIA has gone rogue. We begin to wonder if the president and commander-in-chief is truly in charge of the nation’s foreign policy.

“Any impartial observer of American history cannot doubt that our intelligence community has at times betrayed our elected government. Beyond the assassinations that turned the nation’s course on its head, there are the curious affair of the botched Iranian hostage rescue under Jimmy Carter and the subsequent arms for hostages deal that played a critical role in bringing Ronald Reagan to power.

“Is it so farfetched to believe that the CIA would have its own agenda? … If these musings are correct, how would we know? Would any American president be willing to announce publicly that the CIA is out of control?”

Pretty good “musings.” And, might I, with some fear and trembling, suggest that the last president to openly question the power of that roguish agency was JFK—our bonnie prince of Camelot, the official narrative of whose assassination I have nary believed nigh on 50 years!

Leg two of Mr. Random’s piece addresses the machinations of that more ostensible villain, John “bomb-bomb-Iran” McCain. Random writes: “Senator John McCain engaged in his own struggle for relevance by starring in a little political theater for the cause of war in beleaguered Syria.” It seems that McCanine had introduced a photo-op with “Rebel Commander #9.” Problem is, “One of the men chosen for the senator’s photo op was quickly identified as the photographer for a terrorist group that kidnapped a dozen Lebanese pilgrims.” (I wonder: Shades of that Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter who claimed she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers taking babies out of incubators and bashing their heads against the floor? Reminds me, too, of that quiz show where Johnny Carson started honing his act: “Who Do You Trust?”) More to the point, Random gets his leg up on McCain: “Why anyone would still listen to a man who has been wrong on every issue of any importance for the last twenty years is beyond understanding.”

Bravo! If only he had left well enough alone right there! But, here’s the rub:

“Rounding out our featured trio in the fight for relevance is veteran activist and worthy heroine of the left, co-founder of CODEPINK, Medea Benjamin.” (I’m not positive, but I think the “politically-correct” term these days is “hero”—“heroine” having been consigned to spunky, educated ladies in Jane Austen novels, as welcome to the lips and ears of lady activists as, shall we say, “lady activists” or “actresses.”)

Undaunted, Mr. Random proceeds: “I have long admired Benjamin and CODEPINK for their constant presence and principled actions on the streets of protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…” [Me, too!] “…but when Benamin chose to heckle the president at the moment when his message was most allied with hers, it looked a little too staged, a little too desperate, as if all that mattered was getting on the nightly news.

“Political theater has its time and place but in my humble judgment this was neither.”

In my own humble judgment, I’m always a little suspicious of people who profess their humility in public! (Yes, that includes moi!)

Here’s the Free Online Dictionary definition of the word “heckle”:

1. To try to embarrass and annoy (someone speaking or performing in public) by questions, gibes, or objections; badger. 2. To comb (flax or hemp) with a hatchel.

I have not recently been combing any hemp with a hatchel, and I suspect few others have, so let’s concentrate on Definition 1. But first let’s recall that some of our brightest literary and philosophical lights—including Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, Thoreau and Socrates were gosh-darn good hecklers! Twain said that there was no permanent criminal class in America… except the U.S. Congress! And something like this: that a government, a tyranny, a malicious authority could accept and manage any kind of criticism except for ridicule! (Which is close enough to “gibes” for me!). H.L. Mencken observed: “Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem—which is neat, plausible, and wrong.”

I believe that Mr. Random’s assertion that “Benjamin chose to heckle the president at the moment when his message was most allied with hers” and that “it looked a little too staged, a little too desperate, as if all that mattered was getting on the nightly news” is, bluntly, “neat, plausible, and wrong.”

I might also call it part of the current malaise of the Left—perfectly understandable, regrettable, and to be overcome! This ain’t no time to be singin’ the Blues! A little before Mr. Random’s article appeared, we were deluged with news of our unworthy IRS banditoes (I mean, “officials”) taking a lavish Vulcan holiday from reason at the schlimazel honest taxpayer’s expense! A little after Mr. Random’s piece, we’re further inundated with news of a massive NSA surveillance operation (I mean, “spying”) against the whole-shebang US population! Is it not past time to “embarrass” and “annoy”—even to “badger”—our dunces and expostulators “performing in public”?

Mr. Random persists: “Obama did not announce that CIA control of the drone program would immediately stop or questionable assassinations would immediately cease and that too was cause for dissatisfaction [for Medea]. To believe that the president could affect these changes immediately is more naivety than I am willing to believe Medea Benjamin possesses. … In the end, as much as I wanted to be with her and to support her action, the most I could muster was empathy.”

First of all, the question of immediacy: Obama was promising to close Gitmo during his first Presidential campaign! Enough already!

Further, I believe the word that Mr. Random means to “muster” is not so much “empathy” as “condescension” or “patronization.” From Psychology Today I gather: “Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling.” Had Mr. Random felt what Medea was feeling, he would not have taken her to task!

And now we approach Mr. Random’s coup de gras: “It is no secret that the left is in decline. Since the gradual and perhaps inevitable disappearance of the Occupy Movement, the culture of principled protest has suffered.”

I am not at all sure what that means. Just today, as I am writing this article, the whistle-blower on the NSA spying scandal has stepped forward and identified himself. Isn’t he an incarnation of “principled protest”? Aren’t Medea Benjamin, Bradley Manning, Lynne Stewart, Julian Assange, Cindy Sheehan, Kathy Kelly, Sibel Edmonds, Cynthia McKinney, Adam Kokesh and millions of others speaking out, acting out, agitating, heckling all over this hurting globe? This ain’t no time to be singin’ the Blues!

Rather, it’s a time to accept diversity of views and approaches. Not just our rapacious Empire, but our dear little speck-of-dust planet appears to be dying before our eyes. The rich get richer and the complacent and complaisant exchange places.

“Sadly,” Mr. Random writes, “we are not building a movement at the moment; we are struggling for relevance and ill-timed gestures with an uncertain message will not help.”

Au contraire, mon frere! We are building a “movement” and it is happening before our pollution-fogged eyes—even now—with every word we write, every “gesture” (“ill-timed” and otherwise). It is a global movement against the tyrannies of the 1 percenters and the 1 percent of the 1 percenters; against the rape of the Earth and the slaughter, deracination and torture of its sentient beings. There are bound to be fits and starts! There are bound to be wrong turns, detours, divarications. We don’t have a lot of time to get things right, to turn this ship around. We’ve had our Great Collapse and one might call this age now, the Great Wrenching.

And here’s Mr. Random’s coup de gras: “I believe it is critical for the left to mobilize its resources to engage the system directly.” [Good!] He continues: “That means finding candidates to run for office, finding congressional races that are winnable, and supporting campaigns with time, organization and money.” [Now we’re not only singin’ the Blues, we’re singin’ Stephen Foster and old-timey folk-songs! (“Camptown Races” anyone?)] And now the blood: “If we cannot do this, if the best we can do is staged disruption, then we will fall even further into the pit of political irrelevance and the anarchists are right: Tune out, get off the grid, and refuse to participate.”

I’m not sure the gentleman has the right slant on “anarchists,” but I am sure that he’s wrong about “staged disruption” leading to “political irrelevance.” Perhaps he has not heard of The Boston Tea Party? (I mean, the original one!)

In this Great Wrenching, the assault on conscience and consciousness is taking place on all fronts, on all levels, at, literally, break-neck speed. We can have the Shavian Fabians sit around in their smoking jackets planning their ineluctable scenarios, but we had better have a lot of political theater, too. Good political theater! And great theater a la O’Neil, Odets, Brecht, Ibsen, Lorca, Arthur Miller, Hansbury. Our awakening, our evolution as a species is ongoing, challenging, frustrating, fortifying and exhausting. And we definitely need those who “annoy” and “badger.”

We’re up against this (from Russia Today): On June 6, 2013, “The New York State Senate passed a controversial bill… that aims to classify ‘aggravated harassment of a police officer’ as a crime. … Bill S. 2402 would make it a felony to ‘harass, annoy, or threaten a police officer while on duty.”

State Senator Joe Griffo, who sponsored the bill, declared: “Police officers who risk their lives every day in our cities and on our highways deserve every possible protection, and those who treat them with disrespect, harass them and create situations that can lead to injuries deserve to pay a price for their actions.”

Griffo said that New York police require extra safeguards because “too many people in our society have lost the respect they need to have for a police officer…. We need to make it very clear that when a police officer is performing his duty, every citizen needs to comply and that refusal to comply carries a penalty.”

The wording of the actual bill is even more foreboding. To wit: “A person is guilty of aggravated harassment of a police officer or peace officer when, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm a person whom he or she knows or reasonably should know to be a police officer or peace officer engaged in the course of performing his or her official duties, he or she strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects such person to physical contact. … Aggravated harassment of a police officer or peace officer is a Class E Felony.

“This Act shall take effect on the first of November next succeeding the date on which it shall have become a law.”

All of which evokes a few questions: Like, what exactly is a “Peace Officer?” When Cindy Sheehan protested against our murderous and insane War on Iraq, was she a Peace Officer? Where can I apply for that job?

Also, exactly what does “annoy” mean here? If I say to the kindly Police (or Peace?) Officer who is twisting my arm off and pepper-spraying me, “Sir, why are you twisting my arm off and pepper-spraying me?”—am I “annoying” him, and can I be charged with a felony?

And, what exactly is meant by “physical contact.” If I happen to breathe my mint-freshened breath upon a “Peace Officer” beating his truncheon, have I made inadvertent “physical contact”?

For that matter, what exactly does “reasonably should know” mean? Isn’t that a rather elastic concept? (No doubt skull-pyramiding Genghis Khan behaved “reasonably” according to his way of thinking!)

We’re also up against this (as of today’s news):

“President Barack Obama ordered national security leaders to compile a list of potential overseas “adversaries” for US cyber-attacks which could be targeted with “little or no warning,” a top secret document reveals.” (–from Russia Today)

Didn’t there used to be something called The Constitution which arrogated the power to declare war—any kind of war–to Congress—acting on behalf of “We the People”?

Willy-nilly, like it or not, squirm as we may, we are in a protracted life-and-death, twilight struggle—not with some chimerical Soviet “Evil Empire,” nor an “Axis of Evil”—but, with ourselves, and we just may, we just may “have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

Ain’t no time for singin’ the Blues! Ain’t no time for one-way, only-way, not even “best-way,” solutions! We need all hands on deck, pulling the oars, each one contributing as he or she can magnificently impact the whole.

“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution,” Emma Goldman said.

Our challenge has never been greater.

Poet-playwright-journalist-fictionist-editor-professor, Dr. Gary Corseri has published work in Dissident Voice, The New York Times, Village Voice, CommonDreams and hundreds of other publications and websites worldwide. His dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta, and he has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library. Gary can be reached at Read other articles by Gary.