Freedom and Feudalism

Today’s conservative is someone who confuses freedom with feudalism. Or, put another way, he is someone who wears a “liberty or death” T-shirt while marching in support of oligarchy.

Michael Lind points out in “Why Do Conservatives Hate Freedom?” that historically conservatives have always opposed individual liberty and supported authority. Yet today’s conservatives have adopted the conceit that they are the ones who favor “freedom” while liberals — historically, the champions of individual liberty — are cast as quasi-totalitarian “statists.” The meanings of words are turned on their heads.

If you look deeper, though, you see that the iconic imagery and language of the American Revolution represents something profoundly reactionary to today’s conservatives. These icons speak to the mythic origins of American national identity, developed in 19th century textbooks and handed down in popular fiction and Disney movies. That the myths bear only superficial resemblance to what actually happened doesn’t register with them.

American mythos congeals into a kind of tribal identity in the rightie mind. It is this tribal identity that prevents them from seeing anyone who doesn’t look and think like them as “real Americans.” The protection and preservation of the tribe is the beating heart of today’s American right.

To a wingnut, “freedom” doesn’t mean “slavery,” exactly. But it does represent a kind of unquestioning allegiance to the 21st-century version of feudal lords — the Koch Brothers, Christian institutions, corporations and the wealthy generally. These are their tribal elders, after all.

The reactionary Right has not only claimed exclusive rights to patriotic icons like the flag and tri-corner hats; they also have adopted the language of the Left about rights. But “rights” to a rightie are not about standard civil liberties, but about their childish desires  to deny equal rights to “others” who are different from them. So they call for the “right” to discriminate as they see fit.

Righties also favor the rights of institutions and authorities over those of individuals. For example, they champion the “rights” of pharmacists to not fill birth control prescriptions. They want employers to have the right to deny birth control coverage to employees. All in the name of liberty.

This takes us to the libertarian fallacy. Libertarians have been allied with conservatives for decades now. On the surface, this makes no sense. However, modern libertarianism began mostly as a backlash against Brown v. Board of Education and court-imposed school desegregation orders. So, again, it comes back to a “right” to not be compelled to do anything you don’t want to do, including respecting the individual liberties of others.

Libertarianism actually is anti-democratic, because government of the people, by the people, and for the people can become coercive. We, the People, can use government to make coal mine owners install expensive ventilation systems to protect the miners, for example. That’s coercive. Nine times out of ten, libertarians will take the side of ruthless mine owners over miners. After all, if a mine is unsafe, the miners can just quit, right?

So, while libertarians and liberals do converge on some issues — warrant-less surveillance, mass arrests, etc. — any liberal who assumes libertarians care about civil rights is a fool.

Michael Lind writes,

What would America look like, if conservatives had won their battles against American liberty in the last half-century? Formal racial segregation might still exist at the state and local level in the South. In some states, it would be illegal to obtain abortions or even for married couples to use contraception. In much of the United States, gays and lesbians would still be treated as criminals. Government would dictate to Americans with whom and how they can have sex. Unions would have been completely annihilated in the public as well as the private sector. Wages and hours laws would be abolished, so that employers could pay third-world wages to Americans working seven days a week, 12 hours a day, as many did before the New Deal. There would be far more executions and far fewer procedural safeguards to ensure that the lives of innocent Americans are not ended mistakenly by the state.

But to a rightie, that’s what “freedom” looks like.

Repeat After Me: It’s Not the Sixties Any More

Last week I wrote a post called “Remembering Our History” that recalls the way young liberal activists of the 1960s and 1970s — the New Left — kicked apart the New Deal Coalition and thereby helped make the Democratic Party the lame and spineless thing it has been in recent years. I don’t want to repeat that entire argument, so if you want to disagree with that premise, please read the earlier post first.

Today some west coast OWSers are planning to shut down some ports, temporarily blocking commerce to punish some of the 1 percent. But other OWSers, and unions that have been supportive of OWS, are saying this would punish a lot of working people, too. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

And some occupation activists are labeling it as too confrontational, with the protest’s potential for violence detracting from Occupy’s stated intention of narrowing the chasm between rich and poor.

“Support is one thing,” Robert McEllrath, president of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union, wrote to his members last week. “Outside groups attempting to co-opt our struggle in order to advance a broader agenda is quite another and one that is destructive to our democratic process.”

Not the 1 percent

The Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council’s secretary-treasurer, Andreas Cluver, said many of his union’s workers were recently hired at port building projects after long stretches on unemployment. Given that, a port shutdown aimed at punishing the 1 percent “makes no sense,” he said.

He said no union at the port supports the shutdown.

“We’re extremely supportive of the message of Occupy Oakland, and we did come out to support the Nov. 2 general strike, but we’re not behind this one,” Cluver said. “When working people aren’t involved in the decision on whether to shut down their jobs at the port, that’s problematic. And we weren’t consulted. Losing a day of wages is hard.”

He added: “The port is a public entity. It’s really not the 1 percent. Go shut down a country club – that’s the 1 percent.”

Together, the unions represent more than 1,400 workers at the port. Other unions that have refused to endorse the shutdown, including the California Nurses Association, declined to comment – all apparently not wanting to antagonize protest organizers.

However, at FDL, hotflashcarol is calling bullshit. And she’s doing this by recalling her personal memories of the 1960s counterculture — which is kind of pathetic, considering she was only 8 years old during the Summer of Love, although she did get to Haight Ashbury then while 17-year-old me was stuck in the Ozarks. But to counter the opposition of the unions to the port shutdown, she trots out speeches from the 1960s New Left. This includes speeches by Mario Salvo (1942-1996) who was a key member of the Berkeley Free Speech movement.

Mario Savio included “organized labor” in his list of those running the odious machine, the machine that we must not stop passively, but must stop by putting our bodies upon the gears:

be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone!

After he gave that famous speech, Mario was arrested, along with 800 others, and sentenced to 120 days in Santa Rita Jail – the very same place some of us may find ourselves occupying tomorrow. I have never been arrested and I’d like to keep it that way. But I am willing to march with heroes like Scott Olsen and all the others who have been arrested and brutalized. I am willing to take that risk, especially to support the people who man the front lines and push through the police barricades and refuse to allow the state to have every single ounce of the power. Without them, who among us would have had the guts to be the first one to sit at that lunch counter or stand up on top of that police car and demand our right to free speech?

Historically, labor activists have put their bodies on the line — sometimes at the cost of their lives — a whole lot more than the counterculture ever did, but let’s go on … One of my points in the earlier post was that in the 1960s, the unions were run by a bunch of old white guys who were standing in the way of progress for racial minorities and women, and some among them were pretty corrupt, and there was good reason to stand up to the unions then.

But that was 40 bleeping years ago. The unions today ain’t your granddaddy’s unions, child. Our current state of economic injustice is very much linked to the decline of the unions, and re-empowering workers through union organizing is one of the keys to turning things around.

Hotflashcarol goes on to post a video of Angela Davis ca. 1970 discussing the violence she grew up with as a black child in North Carolina. Hotflashcarol seems to be implying that what Angela Davis and her family went through in the 1950s and 1960s South justifies whatever confrontations OWS wants to mount today.

But what blacks experienced in the South back then is in a different ball park from what the mostly white and mostly middle-class OWSers have faced even on their worst days. Back then, a few wrong words or even a hint of attitude could get a black person killed, and any white could murder any African American with impunity, because no all-white jury would convict him even if the all-white police force arrested him, or the all-white public prosecutors decided to try him. That’s what Angela Davis experienced.

Like I said, what OWS has been through isn’t anywhere in the same ball park. Nay, the same galaxy. Yes, there are free speech and public assembly issues to be addressed, but these need to be taken through the court system before any counter-violence is justified.

Repeat after me: It’s not the sixties any more. Many things have changed.

Oh, and there’s another video at hotflashcarol’s post from about 1968 that’s supposed to make some kind of point, although it’s not clear to me what.

Hotflashcarol strikes me as a relatively privileged person who has romantic fantasies of being a rebel. She refers to herself as a blond at one point, so I assume she is white. Reliving one’s youth can be fun, although I take it my youth was a lot less fun than hers. But the world is a very different place now, and like it or not, activists like Mario Savio helped bring about the rise of Reaganism and the stagnation of the working class we’re seeing today. (Again, if you don’t understand how that happened, read my earlier post.)

The absolutely last thing any lefty activist ought to be doing TODAY is dissing unions and causing working people to lose a day’s pay so that the activist can have lots of fun playing at being a revolutionary and maybe getting on YouTube. If OWS is not actively trying to gain the sympathy and support of working people, on behalf of working people, then what is its purpose?

If you are a Boomer itching to relive your youth, go light some patchouli incense and listen to Jimi Hendrix for awhile. And then get over the past and ask yourself what you can do TODAY for the working people being screwed by the system TODAY. The 1960s are OVER, people.

Update: This via ShakesvilleReuters writes,

But union workers were largely expected to stay on the job, and were contractually barred from joining such a strike. The protest will focus in part on truck drivers who earn low wages and cannot join unions because they are classified as independent truck drivers, and must provide their own trucks.

“It’s a group that encapsulates basically everything that is wrong with society,” [Mike King, a graduate student who acts as a media liaison for Occupy Oakland] said.

So, part of the stated purpose of the port shut-down is to support low-wage workers who can’t unionize. Somebody needs to explain that to hotflashcarol. The problem with a lot of big, messy, unfocused demonstrating is that while their original purpose may have been perfectly righteous, once the vocational protesters show up everybody forgets what that was.

See also Laura Clawson for Daily Kos

It’s true that there are some terribly exploitative conditions at ports, especially for short haul truckers. But doing something in the name of workers without consulting the workers involved, and despite opposition even from a very militant union, is disrespectful of workers at best.

Is Truth Losing Its Liberal Bias?

Two weeks after the debunking of the rumor that the Department of Homeland Security co-ordinated the attacks on OWS encampments, Naomi Wolf publishes an article at The Guardian claiming that DHS was behind the attacks on OWS encampments. And no, she has no new evidence. She’s just pretending the old evidence wasn’t fabricated.

Via Angry Black Lady, please see Karoli, “How Bullshit Magically Turns Into Fact.”

Basically, Karoli documents that elements of the Left have gotten just as bad as most of the Right at taking hearsay, unsourced claims, quotes taken out of context, etc. etc., and spinning them into some reason why the Obama Administration Has Betrayed Us. And once these rumors are accepted on the Left as Revealed Truth, there’s not a dadblamed thing you can say or document to change people’s minds.

And this matters, Karoli says, because it the end, when people like Naomi Wolf, Jane Hamsher, Michael Moore (as much as I like him, he’s very fast and loose with facts sometimes), etc. etc., push this nonsense, the only people who benefit are the dreaded 1 percent.

We tend to exalt people who say things we want to hear, or who we know have been right about some things in the past, or who share our general outlook, so when such a person with a big public megaphone makes claims contrary to any provable fact we may overlook the lack of sourcing and accept what we’re told. But we’ve got to resist doing that, folks, because it’s hurting us more than helping us.

Next Steps

A consensus is growing in many quarters that Mayor Bloomberg et al. may have done OWS a favor, in the long run, by evicting OWSers from camps. But of course, a lot depends on what the OWSers choose to do next. A few reflections.

I know many of them wouldn’t agree with this, but at first OWS got remarkably positive media coverage from the centrist press, far better than what I would have thought possible. Fox News and the New York Post were crusading against it from the get-go, of course, but many voices speaking from other media, including the New York Times and even the Washington Post, were mostly casting it in a favorable light.

Of course, the Right got nastier and more hysterical and eventually overcame the favorable voices, and in the past few days polls have showed a sharp decline in public approval of OWS. Again, I’m not sure how many of the OWSers realize this, but public support is their only possible power source. Broad approval brings with it broad leverage. If they’ve lost that, then it’s time to do something else, anyway.

Steve M writes that OWSers seem to suffer the same media tone-deafness of many Democrats —

Yes, there are differences: Insider Democrats think the centrist press is far more influential than it actually is. These Democrats also believe that, in terms of influence, MSNBC cancels out Fox and talk radio. The average OWSer, by contrast, seems to believe that the media is reprehensible across the board, in a uniform way, but that vivid, in-your-face protests can go over the heads of the media and speak directly to the people.

The reality is that the media still decides what we think, and the far-right media works much, much harder at driving that consensus than the centrist press does. The centrist press keeps the coverage bland, and then the Murdoch/talk radio axis declares its fatwas, and those decide what we think.

The Occupy movement, like the Democratic Party, doesn’t grasp that it needs to do everything it can to minimize the damage from right-wing-media demonization. Both groups think they can just be heard above the noise from the right-wing noise machine — neither group realizes the utter necessity of throwing sand in the gears of that machine.

Come on, Occupy. You have to do better than Democrats, dammit.

Steve M has numbers from Public Policy Polling showing that OWS has lost significant support, especially among independents. It is now less popular than the Tea Party. The controversies and hysterical news coverage have completely swamped the message.

And yes, it was all very unfair. If the country were “fair,” we wouldn’t need OWS, would we?

And I take no pleasure in saying this, but … toldja so. Listen to me next time.

So, what’s next? Todd Gitlin advises that “Liberty Park can be anywhere,” and says that the activist functions of the OWS movement do not have to depend on urban tent cities. He suggests maintaining some token encampment somewhere in lower Manhattan, but says the real problems OWS is trying to address will not be solved by occupying turf. Indeed, it appeared that the day-to-day problems of maintaining the tent communities were eating a lot of time and energy and becoming something of a fetish.

And, you know, there’s that Internet thing that wasn’t around when Gitlin was organizing protests against the Vietnam War. You could do a lot with that, I bet.

Naomi Wolf suggests that OWS get more involved in electoral politics.

I have argued that the organizers need to become a major electoral block and make the case that they will get out the vote for leaders who support citizens’ rights to First Amendment expression (especially during those critical congressional elections) and will call for the defeat of city leaders who brutalize and suppress citizens. They could even lead a recall drive for abusive mayors. Dozens of city and state leaders, like California’s Gray Davis, have been successfully recalled by voters since 1911. New York State does not have a legislative recall mechanism, but Occupy can put it on the ballot through a referendum. And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo can recall Bloomberg by presenting charges. So Occupy Wall Street has to put pressure on Cuomo by showing that it will organize to get out the vote for or against him based on thousands of registered voters.

Occupy has an ill-advised resistance in some quarters to engaging with the voter-registration process, but that may be changing. They are terribly vulnerable now without electoral organization and can expect only further violence and aggression. But if they register voters in recall drives and start to field their own candidates, they will send a powerful message to cities’ leaders across the country that suppressing constitutional rights is a political death knell. The next place to Occupy? The voting booth.

Hmm, I disagree. Right now OWS doesn’t have the popular support to swing elections. They’d just be another Green Party, some political fringe everyone ignores. I’d say they’d be more effective by focusing like a laser beam on economic injustice issues, trying to bring these issues to public attention to change the public dialogue. They’ve made a good start on this.

But they also absolutely have to learn how to finesse the media. The media are not “reprehensible across the board, in a uniform way.” Some parts of it will be an intractable enemy, but other parts of it can be worked with to get a message out. The OWSers must get more sophisticated about this. I should hope some of them have, already.

Update: See Angry Black Lady about the rumors that the DHS coordinated the clean-outs of OWS encampments. She traced all the sourcing for this back to one article in the Examiner. It looks like there is more sourcing because people all over the Web are citing each other, but if you trace all the links and all the citations back to the beginning, she says, that’s it. One article in the Examiner.

Zuccotti Park Cleared (Updated)

In the dead of night the NYPD came, evicting everyone in Zuccotti Park and destroying what infrastructure had been cobbled together there.

Juan Cole has written an eloquent argument about First Amendment rights; worth reading.

The obvious question — what’s next? This development could be an opportunity, not a defeat, for OWS. It was probably about time to move on to a new phase, anyway. Earlier this week the founder of Adbusters — the magazine/organization that originally called for the occupation — had suggested it might be time to declare victory and scale back the occupations.

The founder of Adbusters, Kalle Lasn, raised the idea that it might be time for a tactical retreat earlier this month, telling CBC Radio, ”Now that winter is approaching, I can see this first wild, messy, crazy occupation phase kind of slowly winding down.”

Last week, Mr. Lasn added, in an interview with The Guardian, that he was concerned that “The other side is owning the narrative right now. People are talking about drugs and criminals at OWS.” To change that, Mr. Lasn said, it might be time for “a grand gesture.”

Lasn’s idea was a weekend of big global demonstrations followed by cleanup and evacuation of the encampments. I’m thinking that frequent, smart, coordinated, and nonviolent “guerrilla” demonstrations — something like raves — could serve to keep OWS alive.

Prairie Weather has a good roundup of news and comments. See also comments by the Talking Dog and Steve M.

Update: See the Maddow Blog for photographs and links to videos.

Update: Mayor Bloomberg is served with a temporary restraining order requiring the park to be re-opened to protesters. I understand there is to be a hearing. Whether BLoomberg is abiding by the order, I do not know.

Near Enemies, Far Enemies

I learned about “near enemies” and “far enemies” from Buddhism, although I see that Muslim jihadists have developed a similar theory under the same name. What I’m going to talk about is closer to the Buddhist version.

For purposes of this discussion, a “far enemy” is someone who flat-out opposes you. The far enemy thwarts your efforts and tries to do you injury. The far enemy’s interests are the opposite of your interests. Far enemies are easy to spot.

“Near enemies” are harder to spot, and more insidious. Near enemies may appear to be friends and allies. Their goals appear to be your goals. But they are really “enemies” because they can’t be trusted to help you, and if you aren’t careful they will hurt you.

Note that when I talk about “near enemies” I am not talking about provocateurs or infiltrators. Those are far enemies in disguise. More often the “near enemy” is someone who identifies his far enemies as your far enemies. You may even share some of the same goals and ideals. But he’s still your “enemy,” because if you aren’t careful he will undermine everything you are trying to accomplish.

An example from Buddhism is that the “far enemy” of love is hate, and the “near enemy” of love is neurotic or selfish possessiveness. The near enemy is something that you mistake for a virtue or a benefit, but really isn’t. As I understand it, the jihadi version is about geography; “near enemies” are governments in the Middle East they want to bring down, whereas “far enemies” are governments further away they want to bring down. A whole ‘nother thing.

Applied to progressivism — Far enemy = Paul Ryan. Near enemy = Raph Nader.

See how it works? Of course, you can’t always draw clear, bright lines. Nader isn’t always wrong, for example. But there’s a kind of logical fallacy among the naive that if someone (like Nader, or Ron Paul) is right about something (political corruption; the war in Iraq), then that person is right about everything. That fallacy is a kind of near enemy.

Most of the time, in politics, the “near enemy” is someone who really is on “your side” in a broad sense, but his motivations are contaminated by ego, greed, immaturity, hotheadedness (excessive anger combined with a sense of righteous entitlement and poor impulse control), or plain ol’ stupidity. For example, a progressive who is stupid enough to brag about voting for Ralph Nader is a near enemy. Count on it.

(I found a classic example in this very recent Salon article. A guy planning some demonstrations in Iowa not only brags about voting for Nader; he also wants to know why Larry Summers hasn’t been kicked out of the Obama Administration yet. Summers left the administration in January. This guy obviously doesn’t care about anything but marching around with a megaphone. Such people are near enemies)

With that in mind — Ian Welsh has written some posts about OWS with which I mostly agree. Here’s one

These folks would not believe those of us who told them that simple peaceful protest would not accomplish anything. Only the police, and a Democratic mayor whose resume is that of a DFH, could convince them of that.

I have said little about OWS, because there is little to say. OWS is necessary. People needed to try for peaceful redress, to make an attempt to convince elites to do the right thing, and see the response of the elites. The response was foreordained, but you can’t tell anyone anything, so they have to learn at the end of a nightstick, or while suffering from tear gas or pepper spray, or while being forced away from helping a critically injured man.

I agree, but I also think that what they are learning (or, at least, I hope they are learning) is a little more complex than that. From the beginning I didn’t think the OWS efforts were sustainable, and not just because of the NYPD. I didn’t think they were sustainable because — on the Left, anyway — as soon as you start demonstrating, the near enemies show up and ruin it. You can count on that as sure as the sun comes up in the morning.

And if you don’t have a plan in place to nip the nonsense in the bud as soon as it starts, it will destroy everything you are trying to do. These tired old eyes have seen it happen too many times.

For example, Ian writes in another post,

At the current time, one ideological fight is over absolute non-violence, and an attempt is being made by many in the Oakland/SF area to drive the anarchists completely out of the movement. Problem being that since non-violence is the rule, they have to rely on the police to remove the anarchists and the police aren’t cooperating any more.

What do you want to bet a lot of the Oakland OWSers already are thinking, next time, we’re going to have to do things differently …

Regarding OWS, one of their near enemies has been the OWSers inflated notions of their own power. They have none. Nor have they posed a genuine threat or even a mild challenge to the status quo. The political/economic landscape has not yet been changed. There is more open talk of income inequality than there was before, but so far, it’s just talk.

The only surprise to me is that the financial/power establishment reacted as forcibly as it did. This overreaction is the establishment’s near enemy, and no doubt comes from a deep fear that OWS — or somebody — might grow into a genuine threat someday. Sort of like the way antebellum plantation owners lived in terror of slave rebellions, even though there were remarkably few slave rebellions.

Police brutality gave OWS a veneer of credibility and a sense of importance that it hadn’t yet earned. As Ian says elsewhere, power does not give in to demands until there is an “or else.” OWS doesn’t have an “or else” that the establishment is bound to take seriously. And, rather famously, the OWSers have no agreed-upon demands.

As has been said earlier, for OWS to succeed on its own terms would require millions of people in the streets and a financial threat that would require the establishment to either negotiate or declare martial law. OWSers have been thinking way too small to put something like that in effect.

Outreach, bringing people from across the political spectrum together in the common cause of getting financial corruption out of politics — that would be a glorious thing. It would be a real coalition of the 99 percent. And it could put real pressure on the status quo. But a movement like that will not come out of some horizontal, consensus-based process. It will come out of very clear, and smart, messaging and leadership.

This will continue to play out, as it must. It is necessary and insufficient, but it will produce the cadre of radicals who will go on to the next steps.

This could be true, and it may be that, 20 years from now, people will say that the revolution was born in Zuccotti Park. But I don’t know if we need “radicals” in the ideological sense as much as we need strong, committed, and smart people to grow something that really does threaten the status quo. That something may come up with a radical approach and methodology, of course. And it may be that among the OWSers will come people who will lead that something.

Ian links to an article he says jives with what he’s heard elsewhere. If this article is to be believed, the crew at Zuccotti Park already has broken up into factions at odds with each other. I hope they are learning that organizational structures have a purpose.

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right …

Laugh or cry? A group of protesters — not all from Occupy DC — tried to push past security to enter the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. They wanted to protest the use of unmanned drones in overseas war.

Here’s the part to laugh at — one of the protesters was an infiltrator from the Right, the wingnut editor of the far-Right American Spectator. This loser claims he was the only one to make it into the museum, in fact. He simultaneously derides the danger and lawlessness of the group while calling them cowardly for stopping short of violence.

The loser also was much taken with the number of attractive 20-year-old girls among the protesters. Charles Johnson:

Just imagine the reaction from the right wing if a left wing protester infiltrated a Tea Party demonstration as an agent provocateur.

Of course, there are no “attractive 20-year old girls” at Tea Party demonstrations, so there isn’t the same motivation.

Heh. However …

This is exactly the kind of crap that prevents the Left from building any kind of effective movement to accomplish anything. Since several of you don’t seem to understand what I’m complaining about, let’s go back to September 2005.

There were huge antiwar rallies September 24 in Washington and other cities. I went to the Washington DC march around the White House. It was one of the better ones, really big, with people of all ages and ethnicities joining in.

As usual, Code Pink tried to steal the show by holding a separate rally and march a few blocks away. I remember reading that some of them were arrested. In any event, none of the pinksters came anywhere close to the advertised rally and march.

Also meanwhile, as most people marched around the White House, International A.N.S.W.E.R. — one of the sponsors — held its own event on the Ellipse, covered by CSPAN. After the march I got back to my hotel, logged on the Web, and read Steve Gilliard’s review

You know, it’s time for the campus radicals to go home and take ANSWER with them.

I watched an hour or so of the rally and I wanted to smash my screen.

Why can’t they have adults who can speak in words, not slogans.

Here’s a hint, Palestine is really unpopular in the US, even among liberals. You do not gain support for the Palestinians by having some campus clown talk about the injustices of the Palestinian people. You know, why not have a real Palestinian from Palestine who doesn’t speak in slogans. You know, but a human face on it. And leave the support of terrorists like FARC at home, after all, you can’t call Israelis terrorists when you’re praising drug dealing terrorists.

This is serious shit and I had to listen to someone say he was a communist. Now what in the fuck does that have to do with Iraq? Too many people on the left glom on to any protest and use it as their hobby horse. You know, the only people I wanted to express solidarity with were the families of the soldiers, the soldiers and the people of Iraq suffering from US occupation. It may be cute to have diversity, but it takes away from the seriousness. You have a rally where only soldiers and their families speak, with a few pols, and even Bush couldn’t ignore that.

One of the most effective protests of the Vietnam War was the Winter Soldier Hearings in Detroit. They talked about the war and their role in it. That is something people need to see more than once a week on FX.

As long as you prattle on about anti-imperialism and other college campus radical causes, you don’t get taken seriously. ANSWER in their own way is as bad as the Chickenhawks. Both are amazingly selfish. The chickenhawks refuse to serve, the ANSWER crowd uses people like Cindy Sheehan to promote their own agenda. Mumia’s ass is in jail, and you couldn’t more than 10 minutes on black radio about him. And that’s a cause?

I just want to see a protest where there is only one topic, Iraq, the only speakers are talking about Iraq and all the signs are about Iraq. That anyone who mentions some nonsense like the “Popular Front” is shoved off the stage with a flying tackle. Talk about Iraq. But leave the other causes at home. I don’t really care about what a Israeli refusenik has to say if the topic isn’t Iraq.

Some of A.N.S.W.E.R.’s long list of speakers were from antiwar organizations, but they also had speakers from groups like the Women’s Anti-Imperialist League and the Socialist Front of Puerto Rico.

The A.N.S.W.E.R. program got more publicity than the march. I had no idea this was even going on until I got back to my hotel, and I can’t tell you how disgusted I was. It was the last demonstration I bothered to attend. There are less expensive ways to waste time.

There had been a number of demonstrations on the East Coast co-sponsored by United for Peace and Justice and International A.N.S.W.E.R. I have nothing bad to say about UfPJ, but it let IA push it around to get their sponsorship money, and those compromises reduced the effectiveness of the rallies. After this one I believe UfPJ had nothing more to do with IA, finally, but there were no more really big rallies on the East Coast after that. Smaller ones, yes. I wasn’t the only one who decided to sit the rest of them out.

A lot of us, including me, beginning in 2003 wrote many warnings about not allowing International A.N.S.W.E.R. to be the face of the antiwar movement, and I caught a lot of grief for it. But I was right.

Now, the Occupy Wall Street activists are on the edge of building a movement centered on economic populist issues that polls say most Americans support. And the slogan “we are the 99 percent” could be very effective IF most Americans come to understand it in the context of kitchen-table economic issues.

A broad swatch of Americans feel Washington pays no attention to their problems and caters instead to the rich and Wall Street. Big nationwide marches filled with middle-class, working people could actually get the attention of politicians in Washington. This would be a good thing.

But most of that broad swatch will not join in if they whiff a bunch of leftish issues they are not ready to embrace, and I suspect unmanned drones on foreign soil is one of those issues. And if the “movement” never goes beyond the usual vocational protesters, it’s pissing in the wind.

Update: See also “The Inkblot Protests

Get Off My Lawn

#occupywallstreet — a discussion has broken out among leftie bloggers about whether Occupy Wall Street is really deserving of that much respect. And this does touch on one of my long-time pet peeves, about the difference between stupid protesting and smart protesting.

Compare/contrast Occupy Wall Street with last winter’s protest in Madison, Wisconsin. Now, y’all know I found the Madison protests thrilling. What I loved about it is that the people who participated really were there for the cause, not just to draw attention to themselves. And the cause was not just some amorphous sense that, y’know, stuff is bad and we’re angry about it. There was a specific focus, a particular message, that everyone came together to deliver. And they’ve been following it up with good old-fashioned shoes-on-the-pavement, door-to-door political activism that resulted in the recall of two state senators.

This is how it’s done.

Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, reeks of the usual crowd of juvenile attention-seekers who protest for the sake of protesting. Their “demands” (which, they are careful to say, are not really demands, just ideas) are a grocery list of feel-good sentiments, not a call to action.

During some of the Iraq War demonstrations I got the impression many of these exhibitionists really don’t understand what they’re protesting; they just like to hog megaphones. They and groups like International A.N.S.W.E.R. who wanted to piggyback their own agendas onto the antiwar marches pretty much killed any chance of forming a genuine antiwar movement.

Occupy Wall Street doesn’t actually have an official agenda, other than how they want to formulate an agenda. I’m serious. They plan to hold “people’s assemblies” someday to decide what they want to demand.

I cannot tell you how weary I am of this kind of pretentious shit. I’ve seen it at too many liberal/progressive gatherings over the years. Somebody comes up with some too-precious gimmick that’s going to change the world, and they whip up a little enthusiasm for it for about ten minutes, and then everyone loses focus and goes home.

Truly, the only thing Occupy Wall Street has going for it is that they are getting beaten up by cops, and by all means let’s focus on the cops and the pepper spray and the orange netting, because that’s wrong. But the larger mystery to me is why the NYPD even bothered. Just ignoring them would have been more effective.

Someone at Firedoglake wrote a post titled “Why Establishment Media & the Power Elite Loathe Occupy Wall Street.”

They don’t loathe you, dear. You probably don’t even interest them much. You are no threat to them. If major media aren’t covering you, it’s because there’s nothing to cover but some rowdy people hanging out in a park pretending to have a purpose.

The Bigger Asshole rule always applies.

Update: Really excellent blog post about how to stage effective protests in the 21st century. Recommended reading.

Update: I think Glenn is right when he says this,

That’s just the nature of protests that take place outside approved channels, an inevitable by-product of disruptive dissent: those who are most vested in safeguarding and legitimizing establishment prerogatives (which, by definition, includes establishment media outlets) are going to be hostile to those challenges.

However, I think he’s totally wrong here–

A significant aspect of this progressive disdain is grounded in the belief that the only valid form of political activism is support for Democratic Party candidates, and a corresponding desire to undermine anything that distracts from that goal.

You see that attitude among the bobbleheads in television; not to much the blogosphere. I don’t personally give a hoo-haw whether the Democratic Party supports a particular protest. I care if the protest is smart and has a chance of having some effect.

Glenn goes on to describe how awful Wall Street has been. Yes, Glenn they are very awful. Lots of people think so. Even a lot of the teabaggers think so. But Wall Street is also very , very powerful, which is why carrying a cardboard sign around saying “bleep Wall Street” really isn’t helping anyone.

Political activism isn’t political activism unless there is a specific goal in mind, whether freeing India from the British empire or getting voting rights for African Americans or recalling Wisconsin state senators. Just expressing dislike of someone or something is not political activism. And what is happening in and around Zuccotti Park is not political activism, it’s political masturbation.

And a collection of self-indulgent dilettantes who want to feel good about themselves and play out some fantasy of being big bad revolutionaries is not a movement. A movement has direction. It has goals. It has a clear purpose.

If you don’t have a clear message attached to an actual call to action, then it’s just protest theater. The dilettantes will make some noise for a while and go home, and nothing will change.

Of course it’s true the establishment overlooks genuine grassroots populist activism, far preferring the astroturf variety that is being directed by someone with ties to the establishment, albeit standing behind a curtain. But that doesn’t mean I have to genuflect every time somebody writes “war is bad” on a piece of cardboard and marches down the street. I’ve seen with my own eyes too many times that stupid protesting is counterproductive.

Ralphing Ralph

I saw a headline this morning that said “Ralph Nader praises Sarah Palin,” and I was going to link to it under a headline that said “Ralph Bleeping Nader, Will You Please Go Now?” But there is more to the story.

Apparently Ralph and fellow geniuses such as Cornell West and Gore Vidal have declared that President Obama should be primaried. They apparently think this is an original idea, which tells us they don’t read blogs much. They also don’t have a specific candidate in mind, but acknowledge that filing deadlines are fast approaching. Maybe Ralph will decide he’s the only available choice on short notice.

In other words, they aren’t pushing to oust Obama because they have somebody better in mind. They just want to punish Obama for not being progressive enough.

At Balloon Juice, Dennis G. writes,

This Nader/West effort to marginalize the left is just another example of the progressive death wish. This recent editorial from The Nation is another. I’m 56 years old. I’ve watched the so called leaders of the Left do this dance of self-destruction over and over and over again. The results have never been good.

Humphrey had to pay a price for LBJ. They had to “punish” Carter to teach him a lesson, even if it gave us Reagan. Gore had to be disciplined for the sins of Clinton and these fools claimed there was no difference between Al and Bush. Kerry never “excited” them and also required election year chastisement. Now it is President Obama who is the target of these strategic geniuses.

Nader, West and these other fools always function as the reliable Left flank of wingnutopia. Without these useful idiots the GOP and their ideas would always be defeated. With them to serve as comic foils, vote sponges, and advocates of apathy, the GOP can get close enough to steal any election.

Ralph argues that a primary challenge will actually be good for Obama. We might remember that Ralph’s political instincts are nearly as sharp as Mark Penn‘s. Going back several years, the only incumbents who have lost the White House faced tough primary challenges. Those incumbents who enjoyed unified party support won, usually easily.

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes,

As ABL notes, there are some unfortunate consistencies here. Nader began the Obama presidency by wondering if Obama would be an “Uncle Tom for the corporations..” He now joins forces with West who derides his “dear brother Barack Obama” as a “black mascot for Wall Street interests” with a “fear of free black men.” Perhaps Michael Moore shall join them and we can hear these three explain to us why Obama is actually a white president.

And the moral is, sometimes people need to learn when to shut up. Even former Naderite James Fallows thinks so.

But since Nader is too oblivious to reality to know when to shut up, I propose that any progressive who says he will vote for Nader be crowned with a dunce hat labeled “Florida 2000” and made to sit in the corner.

Update: BTW, if you aren’t already overdosed on stupid, David Brooks’s column will do the job.

Hanging by a Hair

Nate Silver is saying Coakley has only a 25 percent chance of winning the Massachusetts senate election today, which, he reminds us, is not the same as zero. But I’m telling myself not to hope.

Meanwhile, the Peking Duck writes the post I had planned to write today, which saves me a lot of time. See also Bob Cesca and John Cole.

Update: See also Kevin Drum:

The striking thing to me, though, is how fast the left has turned on [Obama]. Conservatives gave Bush five or six years before they really turned on him, and even then they revolted more against the Republican establishment than against Bush himself. But the left? It took about ten months. And the depth of the revolt against Obama has been striking too. As near as I can tell, there’s a small but significant minority who are so enraged that they’d be perfectly happy to see his presidency destroyed as a kind of warning to future Democrats. It’s extraordinarily self-destructive behavior — and typically liberal, unfortunately. Just ask LBJ, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. And then ask them whether liberal revolt, in the end, strengthened liberalism or conservatism.

That last sentence is a point I keep trying to make. Maybe it’s because I’m old enough to remember the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s better than others, but the rage from the left against Obama and the Dems is so much like the rage from the left against LBJ and then the Dems and then party politics generally that went on back then, and the eventual result — beyond electing Richard Nixon twice — was to give the nation over to Ronald Reagan and lock progressivism into a dungeon, from which it has not yet entirely emerged.