Friday, September 16, 2005

To March Or Not To March--The New Liberal Division

So. The ongoing debate continues: to march or not to march in D.C. this September 24. The question to be answered is whether ANSWER, an organization rooted in the World Workers' Party, will so dilute the anti-Iraq War message with other agendas, and so trivialize/delegitimize the exercise by the injection of nutcase fringe elements, that participation will necessarily be a waste of time, or worse, an opportunity for the Right to twist the whole demonstration into a joke and pull its sting.

I understand why some people feel this way. I don't care anymore. I posted the following at The American Street on September 13:

Over at Corrente, brand-new blog member chicago dyke is ruminating on the dust-up that occurred on 9/4 in comments at John Aravosis' AmericaBlog, over whether the participation of ANSWER in the upcoming anti-war mobilization in D.C. renders the entire thing illegitimate. As she notes, people are opting out to avoid being tarred with all those uncomfortable labels we hated so much in the 60's and 70's, and for fear it will neuter the protest by atomizing into many irrelevant sub-issues. And as she also notes, issues like Haiti, which are being raised by ANSWER, are issues that matter to a lot of people who most of us recognize as fairly sane and respectable.

I've thought a lot about this issue, and my friends and political aquaintances have discussed it, too. I know it can be troubling. But here's my thing: I'm going to D.C. and make my voice heard against the war, and fuck all the rest. Lots of people from many walks of life will be doing the same, and just because we may agree on this one issue doesn't mean we'll agree with everything, or that we have to.

Some of them may be embarassing to me. Oh, well. If fucking Whitley Strieber wants to show up and lay it all on alien abductions, oh, well. The more people who want to make a serious statement against the war opt out, for fear of being labelled "nuts", the more the real nuts will make up the demographics of the protest, and the more likely it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And since when did the enormous size of the lunatic fringe that makes up the Right in this country ever deter moderate conservatives from aligning themselves with issues and with their party when they felt it was the right thing to do? Hell, they don't even bother to disavow the nuts in their groups.

If we want to make changes in this nation, we need to stop worrying about how we're perceived everytime we want to take a stand. What happened to all that internal autonomy and inner-directed independent thinking we used to pride ourselves on being so typical of the Left? Liberals have bent over backward to accommodate the rest of the spectrum and tone down our message for decades, and has it done us any good so far? No, all it's done is get us a wingnut reactionary government and given us a reputation for being mealy-mouthed and unable to stand up for anything.

So screw all that. No matter what we do they'll be able to turn it on its head. Christ, they even managed to demonize a grieving mother whose son died in their fabulous goddamn war. They'll call us nuts and pinkos and traitors and extremists even if we show up with nothing but a bunch of 70-year old ladies in wheelchairs waving little flags. So just step up and speak out.

Let the nuts take care of themselves.
The debate continued. I even heard about it in the halls of my office. Then eRobin of Fact-esque posted her reasons for participation in the march:
"because the war is a crime against not only our Constitution and our military service people but also against humanity.

because what’s happening in Haiti is a war and because the people in Haiti cannot march for themselves.

because the only way to preserve a right is to exercise it.

I’m going to march because I’m tired of this this threat from Henry Kissinger being the de facto motto of this country: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people.”

I’m going to march for myself so that I can:

get energized for the struggle ahead.

meet people who believe what I believe and learn from them."
There's more; go read it. I begin to understand why the Right has been so determined to hide their dirty laundry, and keep everyone united on the appropriate talking points to avoid the appearance of fractiousness. But aren't we supposed to be better than that? Shouldn't the essential and most basic messages of our philospohy--tolerance, compassion, truth, and progress--be able to stand fast against such dissension without our retreating to the peer-pressure tactics of high school? So I responded in comments there:

I, for one, will be very pleased that you'll be there, Robin, and as for the Stockholm liberals, what can you do? Change doesn't come only from punching out polemics on a keyboard. Somebody has to be willing to get up and out into the real world, and stand up and be seen. The Vietnam War ended when the country could no longer ignore the massive demonstrations that appeared month after month till the last evacuation. We watched in amazement when the Ukranians marched in the street and wrested a new government from the old, but that was the key...they DID go into the streets. They organized, and talked to their neighbors. Their fellow citizens saw them take a stand in the public arena, and it gave them hope and resolve. Humans are creatures of community. They learn by example, and are willing to follow the lead of others if someone is willing to lead; it's our downfall and our saving grace. No matter how eloquent we are on the internet, or how great our readership grows, that goes only so far toward inspiring others to take action. And I don't mean just clicking on a link to a petition, or sending an e-mail to a legislator. It's the difference between sending money to a charity and getting out and staffing the shelters.

Personally, I'd look forward to a day when I wouldn't have to keep bitching about the status quo. But the Stockholm liberals, like elements of so many oppressed peoples, may have a stake in seeing things stay the same, and maintaining their identities as contrarians and victims. Or maybe their fear of banishment from the opposition frat house is greater than their fear of a future deformed by the life-hating beasts of the Right.

Either way, I'll take my chances with the folks in D.C.

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