TALKING TO THE WRONG PEOPLE:
LESSONS OF THE DNC
By Dave Stratman
August 26, 2004
The DNC showed that the present path of the organized antiwar movement cannot lead to success.
The antiwar movement within the Democratic Party was utterly defeated. It placed its hopes in John Kerry, in spite of Kerry's call for greater military power for the US, in spite of his call for 40,000 more troops, in spite of his continued endorsement of the war. Kucinich backers surrendered to the Democratic Platform Committee with barely a whimper and got nothing for their efforts. The Democratic antiwar forces are now led by a politician who says that he would still have voted for the war, even knowing that the official rationale for war was a lie.
Outside the DNC, protesters stayed away from Boston in droves, some no doubt because they were intimidated or saw nothing to be gained by confronting heavily-armed police, and some -- perhaps most -- because they see George Bush as the real enemy and had no wish to confront or undermine the Democratic candidate.
The great majority of Americans are opposed to this war and want our troops home, yet the antiwar movement both inside and outside the DNC appeared to be pitifully weak. The profound weakness of the organized movement stems from its liberal beliefs and its distrust of people who are against the war but not in favor of the liberal agenda. How else explain its focus on just the tiny, "progressive" segment of the vast range of antiwar sentiment? To find new strength, the movement needs new confidence in ordinary people -- not just in college students or aging activists, but in mechanics and nurses, auto workers and farmers and teachers, secretaries and cooks, cashiers and waitresses. These are the people whose labor creates the wealth of society. These are the people whose values of fair play and commitment to others inspirit the best in our communities. These are the people who in their millions and their role in society have the power to change it.
We need a new approach to building the anti-Empire movement, one that breaks out of the narrow focus on progressives and makes a much broader range of people feel welcome. We should turn away from confronting or beseeching the political elite and turn towards the people. We should organize with the central premise that most Americans reject the terrifying path on which the war-makers are taking us, but that they have been without a voice. Our task is to reach out, organize, mobilize this overwhelming majority to exert their power not on the enemy's turf but in their communities and workplaces, their churches and schools and universities: wherever people can be mobilized to refuse to cooperate with Empire.
When the war-makers ignored the massive demonstrations against the war before it commenced and invaded Iraq anyway, it left people feeling without power and without hope. More demonstrations are not going to turn that around. Our strategy should be to engage in coordinated action in our communities, so that people from different walks of life can discover their shared hopes and fears for their families and our country and discover the sense of power and hope that comes from finding they are not alone.
New Democracy (newdemocracyworld.org) has launched a campaign for MassRefusal/2004 (massrefusal.org), a call for people to refuse to vote in this presidential election, as one step toward building coordinated community actions that involve millions of people. Refusing to vote in the presidential election makes a powerful political statement -- "We don't live in a democracy" -- at little risk to the individual. It is something anyone can do and can encourage their friends and family to do and tell the world why they are doing it. It is not a statement addressed to the rulers but to each other; it says, "We don't in fact have a democracy, and we have to figure out how to get one. It is the first of escalating refusals to cooperate with Empire. (Recently Korean airline workers in two unions refused to load or fly Korean troops or weapons to Iraq, in a dramatic refusal to do the work of Empire.) It is the voiceless finding their voice. If millions engaged publicly in MassRefusal this November, it would mark a new beginning for the anti-Empire movement.
We have an opportunity to change the direction of the antiwar movement right now. Protest organizers for the Republican National Convention are predicting one million protesters to gather in New York City to confront the police and the RNC. No good can come from this. The sharper the confrontation, the more it will build the illusion that our problem is George Bush rather than the military-industrial system. At the same time, violence between protesters and cops, even if initiated by the police, will strengthen the hand of the growing police state in America.
Rather than confronting the Republicans in a futile and misleading gesture, antiwar organizations should call on all antiwar activists to help build a mass boycott of the 2004 presidential election. Kerry and Bush are both war-makers. They are colluding to insure that there is no public discussion of ending the war in Iraq or the war on terror. They are two faces of the same enemy.
Antiwar organizers should go to their communities armed with the truth about the war on terror and the truth about how the Democratic and Republican parties work together to attack and control the American people. Organizers should listen to the people of their communities, learn about their values, their struggles, their ideas, their vision for what America should be. Find out people's ideas about how to mobilize, find out what can be done to build our power. Find out that we are not alone -- that most of the American people are with us and that we can win.
Dave Stratman is editor of newdemocracyworld.org and author of We CAN ChaWe CAN Change The Worldnge The World: The Real Meaning Of Everyday Life (New Democracy Books, 1991). He can be reached at email@example.com.
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