In the past few weeks a series of reforms have been passed which some are saying justify President Obama’s, the Democratic Party’s, and American liberals’ extreme moderation and corporatism (or, in some cases, a mere subservience to, if not an outright embrace of, this horribly corrupt form of capitalism).
However, I would advise you to consider these words which Malcolm X uttered in another terribly corrupt and unequal world which, as the US continues its decline as an empire and omnipotent economic presence, even many liberals and radicals are starting to get nostalgic for:
You don’t stick a knife into a man’s back nine inches, pull it out six inches, and call it progress.
That is, if you ignore the context in which these mild reforms are taking place, you are ignoring the fundamental problems which need to be solved. This is particularly apparent in the case of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
The social critic Fran Lebowitz received a decent amount of criticism for her remarks on the gay rights movement, but – and as much as they are said tongue in cheek – they provoke a reaction, I think, because there is a degree of truth in them:
I was, of course, surprised that gay people want to get married or go into the Army because those things are so, I don’t know, dull. They’re so confining. The two most confining institutions are probably marriage and the military. I would pay to get out of either one.
Of course, the reason for these goals is understood. A ban on gay marriage and the now-repealed policy for gay soldiers are forms of discrimination. It is in no way a bad thing that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is no longer the way things work.
However, the benefits of it are really very questionable, as well as expending so much energy on a goal which, in the end, will just allow more people to play their part in oppressing others. Cindy Sheehan writes in a piece on Al Jazeera English called “Don’t Go, Don’t Kill,”
It is hard to separate this issue from the activities of the military…
…Face it, gays are now and have been in the military since before Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.
The only difference being one can now admit their orientation without fear of official recrimination – a major boon for the equal rights movement! The capacity for increased carnage should not be celebrated as a victory!
I cannot help but think about those that are on the receiving end of US military aggression. So a minor change has occurred at the input juncture of the war machine, but the output remains the same: we dismantle systems of indigenous governance, support disingenuous often criminal overlords, commit endless acts of brutality, and worst of all leave entire nations rudderless, spiraling downwards into the same abyss that engulfs the US military’s lack of accountability.
I wonder what the response towards don’t ask, don’t will be overseas? I wonder if mothers across the Swat Valley in Northern Pakistan are cheering the repeal of the act (most likely not), gathering in the streets to celebrate a victory in the global pursuit of human equality, only to be forced to take cover as yet another hellfire-laden drone appears on the horizon…
Don’t equal human rights extend to those that the Empire has mislabeled as the “enemy”? Or do we now have to ignore the fact that innocent people are being slaughtered by the thousands…
I can see how one could view the repeal as a step forward, framed in the context dictated by the political elites of the Washington beltway. I can imagine much displeasure amongst the military brass – but I cannot reiterate enough how this is not a progressive moment in the social history of the United States.
The US military is not a human rights organisation and nowhere near a healthy place to earn a living or raise a family. My email box is filled with stories of mostly straight soldiers and their families who were deeply harmed by life in the military.
Add to this the fact that a lot of activist energy was directed toward this repeal, and the question of, “Was it worth it?” emerges. That is a hard question to answer, though, and the process of answering it would probably create more division than the answer is worth. After all, there is now less discrimination against gays in the world – the activism is done, that specific goal has been reached.
There is a solution to this conundrum of what to do with our energy, how to make ourselves most effective and to work toward goals that are unquestionably worth our energy. Laura Flanders of GRITtv has this one:
Manning may have acted alone, but he’s not alone. Militant action helped change Don’t Ask Don’t Tell—and militant action is needed to get him out of solitary. And then, it’s time to take a tip from those LGBT service members. As they came out for their rights openly to serve in our wars, are wars’ opponents as willing to come out, loud and proud—leaving no-one to stand alone—against our nation’s waging of them?
And Sheehan’s frequent ally Medea Benjamin has a complementary perspective in her piece “To the Gay Community: Now That You Can Join the Military, Please Don’t:”
We know that the military is one of the only ways many young people can afford a college education these days and that the financial crisis severely limits this generation’s career options. But we still encourage young men and women to look for other opportunities that don’t involved killing or being killed in wars we shouldn’t be fighting.
It might seem contradictory, then, that CODEPINK was an enthusiastic supporter of the rights for gays and lesbians to join and serve openly in the military…
We understand that allowing gay soldiers to openly serve in the military is a crack in the armor of bigotry…
We also understand the potential for a powerful alliance between the gay and anti-war communities. We can work together to help young people — gay and straight — find careers that won’t kill them, maim them, destroy them psychologically, or cause them to do harm to others. We can jointly reach out to those already in the military to speak out against the violations of the rights of peoples whose land we occupy. We can ask gay veterans to join groups like Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War. And we can work together to turn our military from an aggressive force to one that truly defends us here at home.
The knife has been pulled out six inches. Now, let’s work together on the difficult task of pulling it out completely, getting the patient to the emergency room, treating the wound, and stitching it up. Stopping the military industrial complex’s steamrolling of this nation, and many other nations, means no one of any sexual orientation would have to die for wars that serve no purpose but to save face for politicians and increase corporate profits.