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Reclaiming America Last Updated: Jan 4th, 2007 - 01:08:31

Reaffirming democracy
By Luciana Bohne
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Nov 17, 2004, 17:04

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I am sure that we here in northwest Pennsylvania are like many other concerned people in the United States wondering about "what must be done" to reverse the woeful course which our country has been "elected" to continue pursuing.

On this bright, sunny, and beautiful mid-November morning, marred by news of "winning" in Falluja through monstrous destruction and suffering, and forced to wonder what exactly we are "winning" -- beside the condemnation of history and justifiably unforgiving memories in Iraq -- I receive an email from a university colleague, calling for a meeting to discuss organising an opposition to the "elected" regime's policies and aims. He wonders whether we should function as reasonable interlocutors in a dialogue with the power structure or take up arms, so to speak, to expose, witness, and inform about the abuses of power that are and are yet to come.

This is how I respond:

Dear . . . ,

Thank you for framing the questions of what a movement to oppose the present government's policies should be.

I agree with you that "speaking truth to power" is a losing proposition -- not only losing but foolish. To assume that the rulers are somehow misguided in their anti-life programs -- from rapacious privatisation of public wealth to the impoverishment of us all, to the cynical implementing of religious fundamentalism to kill democracy, to illegal wars that appropriate other people's countries and subject them to genocidal campaigns, torture, and planned anarchy, to the despoliation of the environment for obscene profits for the few, to the downright theft of elections through corruption and deployment of homophobia, racism, and sexism, and to the raid on civil liberties through a politics of fear -- is to give them a too generous benefit of doubt. To hope that we can "convert them" by pointing out the truth is tantamount to choosing irrelevance.

Besides, their conscience is not our business. Let us leave them to the God they so assiduously promote and whose idea they so shamelessly abuse.

Our business is upholding democracy and human rights -- as in "restoration of" -- or, more correctly, as in "demanding democracy and human rights." We must organise to fight for something not against, because to fight for something is to become empowered by the strength of our beliefs, but to fight against something is to be knocked down by the force of theirs. We must not allow ourselves to be drawn into a discourse the terms of which they determine and control.

Let us not forget that to fight for something is also to fight against, but the mindset is different -- and, psychologically speaking, attitude matters, at least morally. We must speak with the voice of 48 percent of the people of the United States who declined in the last election to consent to the policies of the last four years. Leaving aside, for the moment the question of fairness in this election, we must not assume that 51 percent of the electorate is our enemy. They are the victims, not the accomplices of the criminal and disastrous course on which our nation is being steered. Nothing would suit the purposes of our misleaders better than to turn American against American, for, as we have been told by a more genuinely patriotic Republican "a house divided cannot stand" -- and is ripe for the plucking by any thieving cabal.

What we call ourselves in our efforts to produce results matters. Let us make sure that the word "for" is included in our moniker. "Citizens for a Democratic Society" (CDS) comes to mind as an example. "Citizens for Life [on the Planet]" is another -- but may have confusing connotations.

We should avoid the inclusion of the word "American" because the term connotes territorial arrogance in the present context -- both with regard to the two continents of the Americas, both of which contain "Americans," and with regard to the triumphalist use of the term by the military-industrial-media-propaganda complex. Among other things, we must earn the right to call ourselves "American" all over again, for that term connotes opposite things to different people all over the globe at the moment. I notice in the foreign press that careful diction identifies us as "United-Staters." It's bit of a mouthful but has the advantage of preciseness.

We should determine a broad, consensual agenda for our actions. These should include what we are for:

1) Support for secular democracy as stipulated by the Constitution

2) Demonstrable, active respect for international law and for the treaties signed in our name because they are "the supreme law of the land" as the Constitution admonishes. These include Geneva Conventions (which include rights and obligations regarding war, occupation, and protection of civilians in occupied territories), United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which include domestic and foreign rights and obligations, including the obligation to respect the human right of people to resist occupation), Conventions against Torture, etc. Resumption of endorsement of the treaty for US inclusion in the International Criminal Court would be a "demonstrable" gesture of such respect.

3) Cultivation in foreign policy of "the good opinion of mankind [sic]," for which our Constitution bids our government to work. This implies rejection of unilateralism and preventive-war doctrines, threats, and practices, as they pit the people of the United States against the people of the world and garner us their bad opinion and fear, currently widespread across the planet.

4) Criminal prosecution of terrorists through domestic and international legal means.

5) Promotion of world peace by rejecting war as a means of settling international disputes, as the United Nations Charter decrees (again, our "supreme law of the land," as signatories of the Charter, according to the Constitution).

6) Endorsement of policies and treaties for environmental responsibility, including the re-signing of the Kyoto Protocol for starters.

7) Support for full civil rights for all people in the US, including for those with non-mainstream gender orientation. This general support entails rejection of PATRIOT Acts I and II and all that might be proposed in the future intending to suspend the full constitutional authority of the Bill of Rights. The evil of Arabophobia must be exposed not only as a moral disfigurement to our conscience but also as an instrument for inciting hatred and fear to part us from our freedoms. As the old saying goes, no one is free until all are free.

8) Support for economic policies that promote economic justice at home and abroad. As Gandhi said, "Poverty is the worst form of violence" -- and poverty is what the "Washington Consensus" on globalisation has disseminated in thirty years of its brutal economic recolonisation of the world, via privatisation and indebtedness of the developing world abroad and de-industrialisation at home -- this last consigning our labor force to a state of virtual internal economic third-world conditions, complete with exploitative low wages, lack of social services, and insecure economic futures.

9) Support for reproductive rights. Period.

10) Solidarity with the people of the planet and respect for their right to self-determination in their cultural, social, economic, religionism and non-religionism choices.

In effect, this agenda would reconfirm the principles of domestic and international social justice on which the United States aspired to be founded and on which it was bid to act in the world. Our efforts would function as a reminder of these principles, which are being abandoned by the current governmental corporate pirates in power. Our government is being hijacked by a minority elite, whose interests should only be a part of our government's concerns -- not the whole focus.

It follows that any actions by the government in contradiction to the stated aims of the Constitution would need to be opposed. As Mark Twain sardonically proclaimed, "Loyalty to the country always; loyalty to the government when it deserves it."

As to actions, by all means let us have a commitment to witnessing and to truth, but, above all, we must build a movement that will claim democracy as a goal. We will need courage and ingenuity, but we must start, because democracy can be measured by this degree: to the extent that the people fear the government, democracy declines; to the extent that the government fears the people, democracy thrives.



Luciana Bohne teaches film and literature at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. She can be reached at

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