21st Century American Revolution, Part 3 of a 3-part series
By Michael Hasty
Dec 17, 2004, 16:33
Unity of purpose is
the first rule of revolution. Revolution is a paradigm shift. A paradigm shift
occurs when there is a critical mass of consciousness -- which comes from unity
Since its heyday in
the 1970s (when most of the progressive legislation that George W. Bush is now
so cheerfully eviscerating was passed), the dominant characteristic of the
progressive left has been its fragmentation into single-issue fiefdoms. This is
not to say that there hasn�t been cooperation among groups, and valuable
coalition building. But there hasn�t been the unity of purpose that would tilt
the world into a progressive paradigm shift. And nothing less than a paradigm
shift is adequate to these times.
Just like Iraq,
America is currently occupied territory. A coalition of the fabled
military-industrial complex -- including the defense infrastructure that enforces
America�s imperial edicts; the intelligence octopus that provides deadly covert
tentacles and omnipresent surveillance; the energy industry that powers the
global beast; the banking industry that greases its systems; the media industry
that manufactures psychological operations and public consent; and all fronted
by Wall Street�s smirking puppet prince, living out his grandiose and
psychopathic fantasies -- has captured America�s government, in a silent coup
This goes far
beyond the stolen election of 2004. This coup has been in process even before
Dwight Eisenhower�s farewell address, when he warned that the
military-industrial complex could destroy democracy in America. And as
�Operation Northwoods� (a 1962 Joint Chiefs of Staffs� plan to fabricate
domestic terrorist attacks, to get public support for a war on Cuba)
demonstrated even then, the military-industrial complex -- the military wing of
the Empire -- would go to any lengths to achieve the aims of its ruling class
With the ascendance
of the Bush regime to power, the Empire has reached a state of impunity. Gross
violations of international law receive no consequences, except the rage of the
world�s majority. Stolen elections are ignored. In fact, if any further proof
were needed that, in 2004 America, the interests of corporations and the state
are bound intimately enough together to constitute �fascism,� the studied
indifference of the corporate media to the second outright theft of the US
presidency in a row should well suffice.
Move on, please.
Nothing to see here.
Get over it.
In the first column
in this series, I proposed that the only appropriate response to fascism is
principled resistance and nonviolent revolution, and this is what our situation
calls us to today. I suggested that the revolution be created in a three-step
process found in all creative acts: moving from the �spiritual� dimension, to
�mental� visualization, to the actual �physical� creation of a form.
The next column
followed the �blueprint� for revolution that a spiritual goal of �justice� and
a mental process of �democracy� may produce -- �independent, nonviolent,
holistic, innovative, adaptive, decentralized yet interconnected, and
geography-based� -- and proposed a system for building a revolution based on a
grassroots foundation of �affinity groups,� or 10-member �Cells.�
Following what I
called the �rule of 10,� the Cells then join together in groups of 10
(�Tribes�), and so on, in larger and larger entities. The resulting
political/economic/cultural infrastructure would then be suitable for a
revolution, a provisional government, or the basis for a new constitution -- whatever
I ended the last
column with the recommendation that America�s government return to the
�confederacy� that the nation�s founders originally intended, in Article I of
the Articles of Confederation; and with the historical note that a nonviolent
revolution at this time would, ironically enough, resemble nothing less than
the nonviolent early Christian revolution against the imperial excesses of
first-century Rome. Plenty of war profiteering and colonial plunder there, too.
In this final
column, I will propose goals, a strategy, and tactics for a nonviolent American
The goals of a
21st-century American revolution are not that different from the goals of
18th-century patriots. The goals are �life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness� -- in all their dimensions.
Of course, we bring
a 21st-century understanding and experience to the definition of those goals,
so they are not exactly the same. And the context in which we seek these goals
is also wildly different, and in more critical condition. Industrialism has
produced a global human population and culture that the Earth cannot sustain,
and both ecological and human systems are cracking under the strain. The life
we seek is the very life of the planet.
The liberty we seek
is liberty from corporate tyranny, the tyranny that has created this global
system and imprisoned the world in its grip, squeezing the lifeblood out of all
of Nature�s children and all God�s creatures, in its soulless and endless
thirst for the last penny of profit.
The happiness we
pursue is the peace that comes with justice. Justice for both the innocent and
the guilty. The justice that comes with the universal recognition of the
equality of all humans, in all their civil rights.
So �life, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness� are our spiritual goals. How do we mentally
visualize these goals? How do we create the consciousness that has these goals
as a priority?
Here is where
�unity of purpose� comes into play. We have to recognize that although we may
be split up into single-issue factions, what unites our causes is the political
economy of a global system that oppresses the poor, enriches the wealthy,
drains the middle class, disenfranchises minorities, destroys the environment,
subjugates women, slaughters the innocent, and smothers the spirit.
Very few people
will join a revolution to make John Kerry president. But a vision for the
future that promises a cooperative and truly compassionate democracy, free of
corporate control, and built from the ground up, will ignite passion and change
minds and move us toward a consciousness powerful enough to shift paradigms.
our biggest problem. Most Americans live in �the Matrix.� Like the
technology-generated reality in the film trilogy of that name, �the Matrix� is
the media infoworld that has replaced the American public square. It is
dedicated to reinforcing the consensus worldview of the world�s ruling elite in
the subconscious perceptions of the mass public.
think that The New York Times and Washington Post and major TV networks are
�liberal,� and captive to the opinions of their presumably homosexual,
feminist, and environmentalist reporters. A New Yorker profile of Howard Dean
showed that even �leftist� presidential candidates get their news from The New
York Times -- which may explain why he wasn�t able to see what was happening to
him in the media, long before �the Scream.� The �journalists� with Dean were
like young Dubya with a frog.
revolutionary consciousness will mean educating ourselves and others about the
true nature of the American media. The government didn�t �own� the media in
Nazi Germany. It was �coordinated,� in what Joseph Goebbels called the
�polyform expression of a monoform national will.� Under this system, which
regulated privately-owned media, editors were obliged to �withhold from
publication everything which . . . can weaken the strength of the German people
nationally or internationally, the German nation�s will toward unity, German
defensive capacity, German culture or German business, or may hurt the
religious feelings of others.�
�American� for �German,� this is a fairly accurate description of today�s
corporate media -- with the difference being our neototalitarian safety valve
of timed-release dissent.
We cannot depend on
the psychological operations arm of the Empire to convey a revolutionary
message. There will have to be a specific dedication to creating in alternative
media the same type of mass consciousness that now revolves around the
corporate media. Our goal should be to build a communications counterculture.
There is already a
good foundation, on the Internet, and even on radio and satellite TV. Perhaps
what is most lacking is a daily progressive newspaper, with a USA Today-style
distribution network. Post-Fox, media are no longer required to be �objective�
to be �mainstream.�
We also need more
communications at the grassroots -- word of mouth, telephone trees, local
discussion groups, letters to the editor, interfacing membership lists,
door-to-door canvassing, local newsletters -- whatever we can use to spread our
message in our immediate environment.
Our message is the
�physical� expression of our goals.
Why do we want a
revolution? Because when the presidency can be stolen, twice, and an unelected
war criminal can be president, democracy no longer functions. Because a
constitutional system designed by the Framers for a pre-industrial population
of 3.9 million, has proven inadequate to deliver genuine democracy to a
postindustrial population of 300 million. Because the current global economy,
in which America is the leading actor, is a grotesque offense against morality
and human dignity. Because the present political and economic course is
hurtling us headlong into social and environmental catastrophe.
What form do we
revolve into? An economy that is locally-based and ecological, and provides
meaningful work and a rich community life. A government with equal rights for
all, and a transparent democratic process. A government decentralized yet
What do we want?
Food for the hungry. Health care for the sick. Care for the lonely. Liberty and
justice for all.
A revolution is
always a work in progress.
long-term goals, we then plot a strategy to reach that destination. We ask
ourselves, what short-term goals can be the first steps in the right direction?
The first, as we discussed
above, is to educate ourselves and the public as to the true nature of American
fascism, and how exactly we can envision and build a better world. The second
step should occur simultaneously with the first: to organize. Start making
connections on the local level, and organizing your personal network of friends
into a politically coordinated unit, keeping each other informed about
international issues, and consciously working together on domestic and local
This is where the
establishment left can be of greatest service. National membership
organizations are often reluctant to share their mailing lists, because their
existence depends in large part on member contributions. There are also, of
course, privacy concerns. But the plain fact is that the Republican Party
already knows everything there is to know about all of us, thanks to corporate
record keeping. So we might as well start sharing information at the
neighborhood level, so people with a common enemy and common goals can work
together. Why, for example, aren�t the reproductive rights and medical
marijuana movements coordinating their activities? People need to connect with
their neighbors, and find their common ground.
It is also
strategically important to have political targets. Nikolai Lenin, who despite
his many sins was a brilliant political strategist, recommended attacking on
all fronts. I agree. We can use the diversity of the progressive movement to
divide the attention of the government -- in the courts, in the legislatures,
and in the streets.
At the same time,
we need a focused national campaign to build national progressive unity. I
suggested in September that, whatever the outcome of the 2004 election, it was
important, as a matter of principle, to impeach George W. Bush. I still think
this should happen.
indisputable evidence that Bush conspired to unconstitutionally manipulate the
vote in both the 2000 and 2004 elections. There is incontrovertible evidence
that he knowingly lied to the American public to justify what the Secretary
General of the United Nations has called an �illegal� invasion of another
sovereign nation. It is broad public knowledge that he has given the sanction
of his high office to gross violations of the Geneva Convention on Torture.
that Bush be impeached -- whatever the conclusion of the battle of Ohio. We
cannot ratify, with our inaction, unconstitutional crimes against humanity. It
is our responsibility as Americans to establish justice in our own land.
It will not have
escaped the attention of some readers that I seem to be contradicting myself
here. On the one hand, I say the democratic system is too corrupted to be
functional; yet on the other, I�m encouraging political action within the
electoral system. How can I mean both?
is on its deathbed in the United States, it hasn�t breathed its last gasp yet.
We can still focus consciousness on the process -- which may not be enough to
thwart an imperial decision, but may cast enough doubt on the legitimacy of the
system in the public mind to edge us closer to paradigm shift.
Despite my belief
that the election had long since been rigged for Bush, and that nevertheless, a
Bonesman is a Bonesman, I still volunteered for Kerry. The fact that the
Republicans were forced by Democratic zeal to go to extremes is why they
crossed the line into electoral fraud in Ohio. And now a Zogby poll finds that
42 percent of Americans think the election needs to be investigated. Paradigm
shift, here we come.
serve the same purpose as disputing the election. It is our statement that the
present American government is illegitimate, and that the nation needs to
reestablish the principle of executive adherence to constitutional and
political strategy needs to be aimed at using whatever democratic power is left
in the present system to legally alter the system itself. This means applying
whatever pressure we can to require voter-verified paper ballots; replacing the
Republican Congress with a progressive majority in both House and Senate in
2006; and most important, getting a progressive majority in however many state
legislatures we need to call for a Constitutional Convention.
We will be the
many-legged caterpillar transforming itself into a butterfly, within the
constitutional cocoon -- if all goes well.
A big �if.�
The tactics we
choose to achieve our strategic ends will depend both on the decisions we make
regarding our goals and priorities, and on the reactions we get from the Empire
to our acts of resistance and revolution.
The principles of
nonviolence suggest that, with our first actions, we work within the system -- as
we would in the steps I have just laid out. Any attempt to obstruct our path to
a reformed America should be met with whatever measure is proportionate to the
offense. Whether the tactic is a legal boycott or an illegal act of civil
disobedience, it should be chosen to suit the context, how it fits into the
overall strategy, and how it advances short- or long-term goals. Keep our eyes
on the prize.
A general principle
that should be applied in all tactical choices is what Mahatma Gandhi called
�satyagraha,� a Sanskrit word meaning �truth force.� Just like the early
Christians, we bear witness to a higher truth in a nonviolent revolution: that
humans can organize themselves peacefully, in a way in which each may realize
their full potential, and which meets everyone�s basic needs. �From each
according to their ability; to each according to their needs,� as it says in the
Acts of the Apostles, and was plagiarized in the Book of Marx.
In speaking to
humans� highest selves, �truth� has a transcendent quality that can penetrate
the cognitive dissonance that clouds the minds of so many corporate media
zombies. Truth has a liberating power, and expressing truth in its purest
essence should be a priority in every nonviolent tactic employed.
There are literally
hundreds of tactics available in the nonviolent strategic playbook, ranging
from open public demonstrations, to electoral politics, to organized
non-cooperation, to guerilla non-cooperation, to individual acts of conscience,
to passive resistance and civil disobedience. As I above noted, the choice of
tactics depends on the situation. A multitude of lessons in nonviolent tactics
can be found in the writings of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and theorists of
nonviolence like Gene Sharp.
But let me say a
few words about those tactics familiar to most progressives: demonstrations and
have always been a tool of nonviolent social change, and give individual
participants a unique sense of empowerment, that only being closely surrounded
by tens of thousands of like-minded people can bring. But they have also been
described as �pseudo-events,� staged for the media to reach public
consciousness, and far from the actual roots of the tactic itself -- spontaneous
uprisings of popular protest. In a society of people sitting in big boxes and
communicating through little boxes, uprisings in the streets are rarely
During the 1980s, I
helped to organize several national demonstrations in Washington, DC. It was
always exciting, and always frustrating at the end, when ad hoc coalitions
formed to organize the march or demonstration disappeared. It didn�t make any
sense to me, why coalitions didn�t stay together for the long haul. It seemed
like such a waste of money and energy -- for the payoff. After the successes of
the 1970s, when public demonstrations did get some results, not very many
progressive �demands� voiced at demonstrations have since been met. But that
isn�t the measure of success most demonstrations are judged by. Success is
measured in turnout, enthusiasm and media coverage.
Here, once again,
communications is the problem. Because once the Empire realized that it was
cutting its own throat by publicizing and romanticizing actual dissent -- no
matter how many VW vans it could sell -- it quickly changed course. David
Helvarg�s book, �The War Against the Greens,� offers a detailed look at how corporations
closed ranks after the Clean Air and Endangered Species Acts were passed in the
�70s. And propaganda was the first order of business.
media have outworn the �reminiscent of the �60s� clich� to describe
demonstrations. But a new generation of hippies provides all the tattoos and
piercings a journalist intent on marginalizing a serious political protest
needs. This year�s two biggest demonstrations -- the reproductive rights march,
and the march at the GOP convention -- were large, peaceful and well-organized
enough to draw media respect. But only for a day. The news cycle quickly rolled
on, obliterating both the meaning and the message of two important and
logistically expensive events.
massive amount of energy and money used to organize these temporary media
spectacles be better spent doing permanent organizing in local communities?
Think of all the money that could be saved on buses, plane tickets and hotel
rooms, being applied to local media buys, hiring activists, or building local
progressive economic infrastructures. Or building a regional Bread and Puppet
Theater; or hiring Bread and Puppet to come to your town.
The sad fact is,
the demonstration-as-spectacle has become so commonplace in the public mind, it
has lost much of its impact as a tactic. It would be better to concentrate on
organizing local demonstrations, where people are witnessing to their own
neighbors and saving bundles of money on logistics, and to keep the made-for-TV
spectacles to those rare occasions when they can really move policy and minds.
My views on civil
disobedience are also colored by my own albeit limited experience.
Much to my family�s
surprise, I�ve only been arrested once in my life. It was during the Lenten
season in 1987, when the religious wing of the Central America Solidarity
movement in DC organized a series of demonstrations at the US Capitol to
protest Reagan�s policies in that region. The demonstrations, which were
religious in character, were followed by a smaller group committing acts of
civil disobedience, as a public witness. I was arrested for praying in the
(My conviction in a
jury trial was later overturned by the full DC Court of Appeals, in Hasty v.
United States -- which is now cited as precedent by religious conservatives
defending similar acts of civil disobedience. You just never know.)
There were about a
dozen of us arrested that day, and a few of us decided to continue the witness
by spending the night in the DC jail, rather than immediately posting bail. It
was during that miserable night, when the lights never went completely out and
the bed was hard, and all night you could hear the clanging of cell doors and
the echoing mutter of male voices, that I realized that the true power of civil
disobedience was the willingness to suffer to the point where the oppressor�s
pain in causing your suffering is greater than your own.
That�s a lot of
nights in jail.
We can take it as a
given that the English colonial civilization to which Gandhi appealed, and even
the postwar American society whose conscience Martin Luther King sought to
stir, were less ruthless than the current Bush regime. After Fallujah, is there
any evidence of a conscience in the White House, anywhere? So the traditional
nonviolence goal of winning over the oppressor through empathy seems like a
goal of bearing witness to the larger public through the willingness to suffer
for one�s beliefs, and then using this public pressure to achieve political
aims, is also problematic. In a soulless, capitalist culture with an
inexhaustible supply of innocent victims, the well of compassion often runs
dry. And in a culture as ironic as ours, there is also an inexhaustible supple
of cynics who will remain unimpressed with middle class protesters buying their
way out of jail by paying a small fine.
Once again, there
is also a communications problem. How do you bear witness to the public when it
is highly unlikely the media will ever report your acts, except with
marginalization and ridicule? If a tree falls in the forest and it�s not
covered by The New York Times, does it make a sound? Did it even happen? Until
we have a more direct and effective way of communicating to the public, civil
disobedience should be used judiciously as a tactic.
series of columns outlining my version of a 21st-century American revolution, I
have tried to instill a sense of hope that a new American way of life and
genuine democracy are still possible here. Let me conclude this discussion by
first opening a window on my own personal despair.
We may be too late.
There may not be enough time to turn things around environmentally. The
tumblers that unlock the door to catastrophic global climate change may have
already fallen into place. No one can really say for sure.
Or we may be too
late politically. All the elements necessary for a fascist lockdown of American
democracy may already be in place, through a combination of USA PATRIOT Act
secret police powers, executive orders, shadow governments, FEMA regulations,
and strategically placed psychological operations media teams. Not to mention
I am not comforted
by assurances from fellow progressives that �this is not fascism� and �Bush is
not Hitler.� The signifiers of our culture are not found in America; they�re
found in Iraq. And it is a terrifyingly short step from torture in the colonies
to torture in the homeland. If people are scared enough to vote for Bush, and
we know from surveys that majorities would repeal the Bill of Rights and openly
approve of torture under the right circumstances, we�re already on a well-oiled
slippery slope. We don�t need six million deaths to get the point.
But regardless of
whether either of these possibilities may or may not be true, we are still left
with the imperatives of conscience. There is an Earth to save. There is
injustice that needs to be addressed. History demands that we play the hand
we�ve been dealt. We cannot love Big Brother.
understandable that people shy away from using terms like �fascism� and
�revolution.� Those of us who came of age on the streets in the �60s have been
burned once. Targets of a successful decades-long campaign to rehabilitate
�fascist pigs� into �heroes.� Mind-blown residents of history�s dustbin, where
thoughts of �revolution� are just another acid dream. In a psyops world, it�s
difficult to think of either �fascism� or �revolution� without irony or
But in a world that
spins on an axis, and in a time that moves in cycles, some revolution is
inevitable. And in 2004 America, we�ve reached one of those inevitable turns.
the kingdom of heaven, is like a mustard seed. It starts small, and then before
you know it, it�s spread like the wildly invasive plant it was considered in
ancient Judea, when Jesus of Nazareth first uttered that mysterious metaphor.
It has its own dynamic that starts with planting the seed.
discussion, I have emphasized my agreement with Martin Luther King that a
political revolution, unaccompanied by a spiritual revolution that changes the
way we look at the world, would be an empty gesture. In that light, let me
close this essay with a final biblical reference, paraphrasing a statement of
the human condition from the Book of Deuteronomy.
This day, like
every day, we have set before us a choice between life and death. It is the
same choice we face as a nation and as a people, at this forked moment in
history. We can choose the death of the spirit that comes with the way of the
sword, the path that our nation has heretofore chosen, the path of the
voracious, all-consuming Empire.
Or we can choose
life. Not the �life� of the fundamentalist heretics -- the anti-abortion
codeword for turning women�s bodies into government property. But life,
in all its beauty and harmony and universal bending toward justice; in all its
random mystery and quantum quirkiness and myriad diversity; in all its good and
evil and comedy and tragedy and music and dancing and all-too-human schmaltz;
in all its undying love and passion and juicy carnal tenderness; in all its
still small voices and thunderous awesome glories; in all its aspirations and
inspirations, and all its microcosmic transcendental divinity. Let us choose
Let us choose life.
Let us move forward. Let us revolve.
Hasty is an activist, musician, carpenter and farmer. As a longtime member of
the nonviolence collective at the Washington Peace Center, he helped organize
numerous local and national demonstrations. In the early �90s, he served on the
board of directors of the National Capitol Area chapter of the United Nations
Association, where he co-chaired the Task Force on UN Restructuring. He is
currently vice president of the Hampshire County WV Democratic Club. His book,
�Remodeling America: Toward a New Constitution,� will be published next year.
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