Open letter from Tom Hayden

Open letter from Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden, of course, has been an activist and organizer since the early 60’s. This open letter has many useful insights. It’s long – and worth reading. Emphasis added. 

“With the mainstream media already questioning the administration’s false optimism, it’s hard to make predictions as to where this crisis is going. A hollow victory seems likely – turning iraq into our own gaza strip and west bank. Who knows? we nonetheless need a strategy into which our tactics blend, so these are notes intended to provoke discussion.

*Marching with 10,000 in LA the other day, reading about the 25,000-plus in Boston, I felt that the tide of street protests still runs strong. It’s crucial since it’s building a movement, signaling to the powers that we’re not going away, and virtually the only mechanism we have to make the corporate media recognize our existence.

Every peace and justice activist has to credit the organizations who have made these mass demonstrations happen since last fall.

Criticism of civil disobedience and street blockades in San Francisco has to be done constructively and carefully. We shouldn’t play into the NY Times attempt to separate the “civil” from the “wild” activist communities. The Bay Area people are brave brothers and sisters, thousands have gone to jail, they are putting the heat on Bechtel, and the world knows it.

My feeling is that if tying up traffic is counter-productive, activists will adapt and modify. They don’t need to be lectured or marginalized. It doesn’t work anyway.

*It seems to me also that the campaign focus against the military invasion of the corporate media is rapidly growing, both at organizational and grass-roots levels. We may obtain a few media opportunities as a result, but the main thing is to assure that the desk editors keep assigning reporters to our actions. Move.on and others doing a good job.

* the emphases on stopping the war, peace is patriotic and support our troops/bring them home are being noted, and lesser internal disputes need to be respectfully submerged.

* Our pre-war polling numbers are likely to come back. We are the iceberg and Bush is the Titanic.

* we must remain optimistic, flexible and creative. Targets for action (such as war profiteers) will keep appearing and multiplying as the days go on. The nature of a war is that it pushes things to the surface.

* very soon the battle for Baghdad will loom and the wheels of diplomacy can be expected to turn. Jeremy Brecher is on top of efforts to move the UN General Assembly into action. Certainly there will be an initiative to create a cease-fire, prisoner releases, and a new UN formula – perhaps too late.

* We must keep the momentum and increase our effectiveness. Repeating the same tactics can bring stagnation. Our numbers in the streets will not keep growing if we call demonstrations on a weekly basis. Time is needed for larger demonstrations to be staged, and those possibilities will be enhanced if people feel the plans are smart, strategic, effective.

* which brings me to this observation. As I marched along the empty streets of downtown LA, I wondered what if we marched in multiple columns through neighborhoods where people reside and gather? What if everyone of our 10,000 marchers had 50 leaflets to give out before the day’s work was done? 500, 000 leaflets left behind! What if the leaflets had the following messages:

(a) we want your support for our right to protest, it’s an American thing to do;
(b) we want you to understand why we are against this war and want to bring the troops home now;
(c) we want you to know the voting record of your congressperson or senator, and how to get hold of their staff.

In pursuing such an approach, we would satisfy several needs:

(a) the need to keep marching
(b) the need to explain and educate to a broader base
(c)the need to deepen the grass-roots base of the movement
(d) perhaps most important, the need to build effective political pressure while also strengthening the grassroots movement.

As a veteran of many campaigns, I can tell you that incumbent politicians are impacted, whether they admit it or not, by credible grassroots organizers going door to door in their districts telling voters that they stink (more appropriate terminology to be inserted here). This is especially true of Democratic incumbents who already know they are selling out their souls and their voters, and of any incumbent in a marginal district. And it’s even more likely to get a response if they think their might be a primary challenge.

Out of this process might come a “peace politics” strategy in the Democratic Party with an emphasis on holding the presidential candidates’ accountable in states (like Iowa) which already have a large anti-war voting constituency. The “peace politics” strategy might circulate a platform proposal to hand to candidates as they finesse their way through house parties and fundraisers, with the strong implication that voters and activist groups might hold back their endorsements and resources until the candidate’s positions are clarified fully.

Of course, the peace candidates already in the race should be and will be supported by many people who feel, correctly, that those candidates reach a wider public. In addition, the peace candidates already are a collective thorn in the side of the “major” (that is, compromised) candidates. At some point, the Democratic Party and its presidential nominee will have to attract millions of peace-minded Democrats back to the voting booth – with more than silky words. The Democratic Party will need every one of those votes.

The Green Party represents a parallel challenge. Hopefully its strategists are encouraging Ralph Nader to speak out nationally against the Iraq War on behalf of all those who voted for him or wished him well. At state and congressional levels, the Greens can be a major factor for wavering Democratic politicians. The Democratic party (and frankly, none of us) can defeat Bush in 2004 without respecting and building bridges to the Green Party and its constituents. It is not inevitable that the past be repeated if we start the dialogue now.

This memo is more political in content than most, but it is not intended to divert the movement into an electoral framework (as if anyone could). The point is that this movement needs to define pressure points in the system that can be targeted to help end this war, future wars and imperial ventures, and the Bush presidency – and keep building another and better world, beyond the present system’s boundaries, for the future.

At a recent discussion of Iraq between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Code Pink activists, the good Senator’s position was so disappointing that Jodi Evans handed her a “pink slip” she was wearing. The Senator walked out. Bridges were certainly burned. I might be so cautious that I would not have done it myself. But I have a feeling that the Senator’s outrage was connected to her inner knowledge of betrayal of all she once stood for. And I have a feeling that one day she will need the peace constituency she has abandoned”