‘Don’t Go, Don’t Kill’

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  A ban on gay marriage and the now-repealed policy for gay soldiers are forms of discrimination.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.

America: y ur peeps b so dum?

If you hang out much with thinking people, conversation eventually turns to the serious political and cultural questions of our times. Such as: How can the Americans remain so consistently brain-fucked? Much of the world, including plenty of Americans, asks that question as they watch U.S. culture go down like a thrashing mastodon giving itself up to some Pleistocene tar pit.

This is Joe Bageant in fine form, indeed. But underneath his wondrous Hunter Thompson-style rants (they were friends and from the same background) are serious thoughts about the future of the country and how we all need, in our own ways, to make our stand now.

Some Americans believe we can collectively triumph over the monolith we presently fear and worship. Others believe the best we can do is to find the personal strength to endure and go forward on lonely inner plains of the self.

Doing either will take inner moral, spiritual and intellectual liberation. It all depends on where you choose to fight your battle. Or if you even choose to fight it. But one thing is certain. The only way out is in.

Sorry, Jon Stewart, but I was just way too busy to make it to your rally

As we all know, there was a rally in Washington, DC on Saturday.  It’s gotten tons of attention in the media and had some high profile guests, like The Roots, Jeff Tweedy, the Mythbusters and, of course, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Its aim is…well, nothing.  Just to get together on the national mall, have some laughs, and get the Viacom-sponsored duo some attention.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But my previous enthusiasm for the rally and for the brave master satirists hosting it has been tempered lately.  It seems not to be any kind of beneficial political activity, but, as Irregular Times put it, a promotion of “inactivism.”

The Rally to Restore Sanity was corporate-sponsored, televised, tweeted, and perhaps a strikingly accurate (and sad) reflection of what America is today.

The website Irregular Times has done a good job of writing about this over the past few days.  Here are a few choice cuts:

Fuck you, Kid Rock

“I can’t stop the war, shelter homeless, feed the poor
I can’t walk on water, I can’t save your sons and daughters
Well I can’t change the world to make things fair
The least that I can do is care.”

– Kid Rock, Rally to Restore Sanity

The hell you can’t:

Kid Rock,
who lives in one mansion in Malibu
another mansion in Michigan
and voted for John McCain
to keep his capital gains taxes lower

The man is filthy rich. Kid Rock can do a lot of the things he says he can’t do. He chooses not to. If we work together, we can stop the war, shelter homeless, feed the poor and change the world to make things fair. Will we choose to?

Jon Stewart’s Rally To Help Corporations Outsource American Jobs To Overseas Sweatshop

Unlike a genuine political rally, Jon Stewart’s Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear was full of corporate advertisements. People attending the rally were handed pre-made signs to show whether they stood with Sanity or with Fear… and on the back of every sign was an advertisement for Yahoo.

In another bit of advertising, free hand towels were handed out to people attending the rally, because… well, I have no idea why they were handed out. What do people attending a rally on the National Mall need with a hand towel? The hand towels featured the official logo of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, and the logo of Reese’s, which makes candies with chocolate that’s harvested by child slaves in Africa. The towel itself was manufactured not in the USA, but in India, where textiles factories have a long and consistent history of using child labor, paid pennies a day to work in dangerous sweatshop conditions, if the children are paid at all.

Jon Stewart Fans Go To D.C. To Watch TV And Laugh At Old Jokes

The most surreal moment came before the official start of the rally, when the TV screens were turned on and tuned in to the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Huge crowds of people fell silent, and gazed up at the screens en masse.

Then, the crowds were shown old clips from the Daily Show and Colbert Report. The clips were from the shows in which Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announced that they would hold a rally in the first place. Almost everyone in the crowds had already seen these clips, if not once, many times. Yet, they laughed.

The crowds laughed at jokes they had already heard about a rally that was being planned, but which they were actually attending in the present. The rally was a re-run even before it was over.

That’s when it hit me: These people had all come to Washington D.C., not to participate in any rally for anything, but just to watch television.

Even Jon Stewart’s big final speech that focused on the role of the media was incredibly frustrating.  The lack of depth seen in the media is precisely because of control of corporate conglomerates like Viacom, which sponsored the rally.  And instead of focusing on breaking up the big media companies or something like that, Stewart took a very superficial view of politics, calling only for “moderation,” which is an ambiguously beneficial quality in politics.

I know Stewart said that he wasn’t trying to insult people who are passionate and active in politics.  But that is exactly what he did.  He mocked us and he encouraged people to do anything else before they join our ranks.  His rally – with a rallying cry of “I can’t change the world” – served only to justify servile passivity and guiltless obedience to the ruling order, one which nourishes itself through war profits, oil profits, and sadistic practices like state-sanctioned torture.

And I know it wasn’t supposed to be a political rally!  But that’s beside the point that’s being made here.  Over 200,000 people showed up for what was essentially a big concert.  When I went to the nation’s capital in March to protest against the war, there were, at most, about 10,000 people there.

We have become a corporatized people, and that can perhaps be demonstrated by both this rally and the rally which preceded it.  Glenn Beck’s disgusting perversion of Martin Luther King’s rally was indeed a corporate-sponsored event.  Corporate donors are what fuels the Tea Party, not any kind of grassroots effort, which is mild at its strongest.  The rally this Saturday, on the other hand, was more blatantly passive and corporate-sponsored.

This might sound ridiculous at first, but Stewart’s rally was, in a way, a kind of tea party of the Democratic Party (I would have said “American left” there, but the left is mostly outside of the Democrats and maybe too small to merit a role in Stewart’s rally).  It was a timid gathering of misguided individuals who have legitimate anger toward the status quo (and of course not all of the attendees came because of politics), but are only reinforcing it through their actions.

Even our activism is corporatized these days.  We’re raising money for candidates along with corporations or we’re attending corporate-sponsored rallies or we’re tempering our criticisms so we don’t offend the corporate-sponsored media or we’re buying products “for a cause.”  We’ve been turned off, tuned out, and dropped into a culture of consumerism, and even our activism is now following.

So, yes, I was too busy to go to the rally on Saturday.  I was spending a few hours working for a local Green Party candidate, making my voice heard, not content to merely laugh away the nation’s troubles.

Climate change. Work to elect or get in the streets?


Joe Romm of Climate Change responds to Bill McKibben of 350.org on what the best tactics are for reversing climate change. Should we work to elect candidates who support the cause or get into the streets with mass protests?

Holding rallies about solutions will never replace the need for actually doing the messy business of electing politicians who support tough climate laws and defeating those who oppose them. It will never stop emissions from going straight up.

Rallies certainly helped end the Vietnam War and built huge support for the Civil Rights movements. But they’re a dated and ineffective tactic now. There were huge protests against the Iraq War and nothing changed in D.C. But taking 5,10,20 years to try to elect the right candidates not only takes too long, there’s no guarantee they wouldn’t get co-opted or corrupted by our notoriously venal system.

What we need is a mass change in attitudes and ideas. Then the change will happen. All the armies in the world can not stop an idea whose time has come. How we get there, I don’t know. But working dutifully to elect candidates or protesting in the streets isn’t going to get us there.

We need all of the above tactics and powerful new ideas and approaches too.

What do you think is the best approach?

The climate movement is dead: Long live the climate movement

Click to download their 24 page pamphlet
Detail from the cover

Rising Tide North America on their free publication, which is absolutely worth reading.

“A particular model of dealing with climate change is dying. It is revealing itself before the world as nothing more than a final scramble for the remaining resources of a planet in peril.” –Naomi Klein

CMID:LLCM delivers a timely critique of the failures of this “particular model” as exemplified by the mainstream NGOs who have grown all too cozy with corporations and the political establishment. It explores the ways in which “green” capitalism, electoral politics, and market mechanisms, far from solving the climate crisis, are some of the climate movement’s biggest obstacles.

Not content with mere polemic, CMID:LLCM charts a course that diverges from the dominant discourse of the mainstream climate movement. The essay lays out a strategy of supporting and escalating frontline struggles against dirty energy while building a new global climate movement from the ground up, based around core principles of climate justice, grassroots power, solidarity, and direct action.

The Climate Movement Is Dead: Long Live the Climate Movement is a must-read for anyone left disenchanted by the mainstream climate movement, and all who are ready to step it up and fight for climate justice.

The Guardian has more on recent splits in the climate change movement and the resurgence of its radical wing.