Friday, March 07, 2008

As the war drags on...what did you expect?

Noble hearts...but does it matter?
Peace activist, writer, and care-giver Shusli Baseler-Johnson (also known as Rhonda Baseler) recently published an article on her blog, entitled The Great White Hope for Peace, excoriating the peace movement for its ineffectiveness in bringing about an end to the Iraq war. The article also appeared on the Portland Indy Media website. Shusli, a dedicated and fervent activist for peace, expressed her extreme frustration at the lack of success of the peace movement, generally, and in particular of the sincerity and effectiveness of the "conflict resolution" program at Portland State University. She argues that the peace movement has become so tame, so careful to operate within the "acceptable" framework imposed by the larger society, that it is of little consequence.

Shusli's article was met with much outrage and indignant breast-beating from various quarters of the activist community (and also with some messages of support). But, you know, the criticism she received seemed shrill and defensive and, frankly, pathetic to me. I mean, the war is still on, people, and there's no end in sight. What did you expect?

I don't doubt the sincerity of peace protesters. But, 5 years into this war, I have to agree with Shusli that the demonstrations have not been effective in changing US foreign policy. For a while, shortly after the Democrats crushed the GOP in the 2006 election, I hoped that the message had finally gotten through. But what has since become apparent is that the powers-that-be are long on mouthing placations and short on taking tough stands.

(Regarding the criticism of Portland State, my own experience is that certain departments at PSU are (not totally, but largely) staffed by self-important nobodies who lack the competence to take positions at any prestigious schools.)

Peace demonstrations do serve in one important way, though. They afford people who feel isolated and alone an opportunity to see that there are others who feel as they do. That is, they provide a feel-good opportunity for all of us lefties who thought we were losing our minds as the Bush crime family ran rampant.

But, to bring about real change, the peace movement (to that extent that such still exists) is probably going to have to stretch out a little bit. That is, maybe the demonstrations are going to have to really disrupt things. Maybe Monday morning commuters need to be prevented from getting to work because the demonstrators have filled the streets. Or maybe the bridge authorities have to close down river traffic on the Willamette because the demonstrators will not allow them to raise the bridge.

I'm of the opinion that the reason this war has dragged on so long, indeed, the reason it even came into being, is because the general, and generally apathetic American public is not/was not inconvenienced by it. As long as American Idol aired on time and everybody had his microwave popcorn, it didn't much matter what was happening in Iraq.

Well, now, with gas prices climbing toward $4/gallon, American casualties mounting, and our country's fiscal health destroyed, maybe everyone is paying attention. Now might be the time for the peace movement to take the next step.


Shus li said...

Well said, much more so than my "grudge" pieces from last week.

If I was not working this weekend, I would surely find a march or demo somewhere to continue protesting the U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Marches/demos DO afford one the opportunity to see that others care enough to hit the streets. But they also provide the opportunity to go on record publicly as AGAINST the U.S. aggression.

There is a small group of individuals who "plan" the now annual peace march. This group was aghast when some of us presented the notion of nonviolent civil disobedience that would be concurrent with the march. They want the march to be "family-friendly" (the same reason they don't support or even tolerate the actions of the "Black Bloc", who tends to actually be resistant.) We carried out our CD on a Monday, just as you suggest here, Dade, with no notice from anyone.

Things need to get shut down on a regular basis. The situation does not merit allowing "business as usual." Five years ago, the day the bombings increased in Iraq, lots of us hit the streets with a strong sense of outrage and shut down bridges and highways (my daughter and I sat on I-84 with a group of people and closed it down for a short time). The result? Irritated motorists and a real crack-down on activists by the Portland Police.

Boycotting would also help, maybe.

Definition of insanity: Trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Be well Dade.

Anonymous said...

I think that both of you are missing the mark. The relative ineffectiveness of modern protest attempts compared with previous (e.g. Vietnam-era) protests does not owe to the lack of inconvenience to the masses. Rather, look to the jaded and compromised mainstream media.

Large public displays of civil disobedience in the 60s were useful because access to the media through traditional means - e.g. advertising or network spokesmanship - was not available to the peace/civil rights movement(s). Taking to the streets was a form of massive street theater which commanded coverage by the network news. Along with that coverage came an opportunity to put the movement's message into the national discourse.

These days, however, the media is both controlled by the same forces pulling the strings of the Bush administration and also more savvy regarding the motives of the progressive movement. Street protests are largely ignored by the media, and when they ARE covered no attention is paid to the reasons WHY the protest was staged. The coverage devolves into a 5-minute "look at the weirdo hippies" before throwing up the celebrity gossip/missing blond girl/American Idol scandal montage that passes for news.

Protests, as conceived in the 60s, have ceased to be an effective method of shaping public opinion precisely because they rely on the mainstream media to carry the message to the masses. The media has (wisely, from their skewed point of view) declined to play ball.