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
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
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
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.
Bohne teaches film and literature at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. She
can be reached at email@example.com.