When Jon Stewart was on Larry King's show talking about his Rally to Restore Sanity, he likened himself to Alice in Wonderland and the rally as the Mad Hatter Tea Party. But is Jon Stewart really Alice, trying to find sanity in an upside-down world? Or is he the March Hare, the ultimate "slacktivist" who thinks it's always teatime -- time to sit back and jibberjabber? The 10-30-10 rally on the capital's mall is a looking more and more like a celebration of "slacktivism." Stewart is courting people who do NOT want to open their window and yell, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" As he says in the Rally for Sanity website, he's looking for the people who've been "too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs)." So let's get this straight: people who were so horrified when the U.S. invaded Iraq that they joined millions of others to protest are not sane? We shouldn't speak out against Wall Street bankers whose greed led to millions of Americans losing their jobs and homes? It's irrational to be angry when you see the Gulf of Mexico covered in oil because BP cut corners on safety? Don't get upset when the Supreme Court rules that corporations are people and can pour unlimited funds into our elections? Stewart often roasts the warmakers and corporate fatcats on his show, but he seems to think that his viewers should be content to take out their frustrations with a good belly laugh. When Jon Stewart announced the Rally to Restore Sanity, he included CODEPINK among the "loud folks" getting in the way of civil discourse. He also equated progressives calling George Bush a war criminal with right-wingers calling Obama Hitler. So we started a Facebook page asking Jon Stewart to invite us on the show to set the record straight. Beware of what you ask for. We did, indeed, get a call from the producers but it was not for a live interview with Jon Stewart. No, it was for a taped session with myself, a Tea Party organizer and a tear-gas dodging, anti-globalization anarchist "giving advice" to Daily Show's Samantha Bee about how to organize a good rally. It was clear they wanted to portray us as the crazy folks who should NOT come to their rally for reasonableness. I consulted with my CODEPINK colleagues. Some said, "Don't do it. It's a trap and will only further marginalize us." We'd already been ridiculed several times on the show, like when we stood up to question General Petraeus at a Congressional hearing or when we organized protests at the Marine Recruiting Center in Berkeley. But the majority of my colleagues thought it would be crazy to decline the chance to get an anti-war message out to millions of viewers. The producers told us to come to the New York studio "in costume." The anarchist, Legba Carrefour, was all in black, including a black bandanna covering his face. The Tea Partier, Jeffrey Weingarten, came in patriotic red, white and blue. I decided to "go professional", with a CODEPINK t-shirt and a gray suit. The producers were disappointed. They had wanted me to appear in one of the wild outfits we have worn in Congress -- like a hand-lettered pink slip accessorized with a hot-pink boa and a glittery "no war" tiara. But my attempt to look professional was thwarted by the fourth guest who suddenly appeared and was positioned right behind me: A huge, scary puppet head of Iranian President Ahmadinejad. So there we were, four "crazies" being quizzed by Samantha Bee for over two hours. She started out with softballs -- what did we stand for, what activities did we engage in. Then the questions and the antics got sillier and sillier. By the end we found ourselves spinning a blind-folded Samantha Bee around, then watching her swing a baseball bat at Ahmadinejad's head to see if was really a pinata. I'm sure that with over two hours of tape, there will be plenty of footage to turn into a four minute segment showing us as a bunch of nutcases. After all, it is a comedy show. But it's too bad that Jon Stewart, the liberal comedian, is putting anti-war activists, tea partiers and black bloc anarchists in the same bag. And it's sad that he's telling his audience -- many of whom are young progressive thinkers -- that activism is crazy. An anonymous assistant on the Daily Show's blog chastized CODEPINK on line. "Dipping hands in fake blood or screaming over everyone just makes you look crazy and then the rest of the country ignores you." He said that we should, instead, focus on solutions. CODEPINK has been proposing solutions since the day we started. We risked our lives meeting with UN weapons inspectors in Iraq right before the U.S. invaded to see if war could be avoided. We have repeatedly traveled to Afghanistan to push for reconciliation. For the past eight years we have been posing solutions about how to deal with terrorism, how to extricate ourselves from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, how to make us safer at home. Whether under Bush or Obama, our voices of sanity have been drowned out by a war machine that makes billions selling weapons and hiring mercenaries. Meanwhile, we've witnessed the agony of mothers who have lost their sons in these senseless wars, the unspeakable suffering of our friends in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the lavish spending on war while our schools and hospitals are gutted. It was because of this insanity that we began to interrupt the war criminals during their public appearances, shouting -- yes, shouting -- for an end to the madness. It was because of this insanity that we put fake blood on our hands to represent the hundreds of thousands of innocents who died as result of their lies. In our post-9/11-24/7 news cycle, we learned that the more audacious and outrageous the action, the more likely we were to get our anti-war message into the national conversation. For this the Daily Show calls us crazy! Don't get me wrong. CODEPINK women love to laugh and we try not to take ourselves too seriously. But we do feel thatit's the sane people who protest crazy wars, who cry out against the dangers of global warming, who rail against big money in politics, who implore our politicians to spend our resources rebuilding America, not bombing people overseas. So let's celebrate the people who walk the talk. Slacktivism did not end slavery, activism did. Slacktivism did not get women our rights. Activism did. Slacktivism won't end war or global warming. But activism just might. Jon Stewart says he wants to restore sanity to Washington; so do we. We'll see you out on the mall, Jon.
“Man, those dudes are in La La Land,” a young intern said to me on the way out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Afghanistan on June 14, his eyes rolling. “You can’t win in Afghanistan. Don’t they read history?” It had been hard to sit through hours of Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke’s storytelling about some far-off land he called Afghanistan. In his Afghanistan, there were new gains in agriculture and a reduction on poppy production for opium. We were empowering women and rebuilding everything from the rule of law to the electrical grid. President Karzai was really intent on tackling corruption. There was an exciting soon-to-be-unveiled program to integrate the lower-level Taliban. We were making significant gains in training the Afghan security forces, and we had real commitments from the Pakistani government to crush Al Qaeda. We’ve heard this tall tale for the past eight years, which made some of the Senators a bit skeptical—although not skeptical enough to stop funding the war. The most skeptical were the Republicans, who also happen to be the most anxious to keep fighting there, indefinitely. Senator Bob Corker said that despite more than an hour of testimony by Holbrooke, "I have heard nothing, nothing" about how progress will be measured. "I have no earthly idea what our objectives are on the civilian front.” Ranking Republican Richard Lugar was also confused about our objectives. Sometimes, he said, it seems that we are trying to “remake Afghan economic, political and security culture”, which is “beyond our resources and powers.” Other times it seems the goal is simply to prevent Afghanistan from being a haven for terrorists. Either way, Lugar didn’t think we could accomplish the President’s desire to begin withdrawal by July 2011. Holbrooke, while trying to support the President, admitted that he was leery of setting a date certain for leaving. This is, after all, “not where you would choose to defend the American homeland…It’s the most remote and logistically difficult place the U.S. has ever fought in our history,” Holbrooke said, adding that “Fate and destiny have put us there.” Senator John Kerry, the Committee chair, showed his imperial stripes when he complained that the Afghans weren’t stepping up to the plate. "The problem is that the key element of this strategy is the one over which we have the least control, and that is the willingness and ability of Afghans to assume ownership of the efforts," Kerry lamented. All the billions and our best efforts are irrelevant, he said, if the Afghans continue to be bystanders in what they perceive as a fight between the West and Al Qaeda. Holbrooke chided his predecessors who had trained Afghan security forces for years, at enormous costs, without realizing that we had to also teach them to read and write. Literacy, he assured the senators, is now part of our training. No one asked why the Taliban fighters, who are also illiterate, were outmaneuvering both the Afghan security forces and U.S. military. Referring to the pending U.S. offensive in Kandahar, Kerry admitted that the presence of the U.S. military whips up the insurgency. "Prior to American troops announcing they were going to go in (to Kandahar), there were not assassinations. There was not a level of violence," Kerry said. "The mere announcement has now brought on the process of assassination and intimidation, and I doubt that we are going to have enough troops to be able to pacify the city." Several times during the hearing Holbrooke insisted that Afghanistan was not the unwinnable war of Vietnam, and that we had real security issues in Afghanistan. Ironically, on the very same day of the hearing, Senator Kerry released—for the first time ever—some 1,200 pages of transcripts from private meetings 40 years ago of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the Vietnam War. They showed the Senators expressing the same concerns about not having a reliable partner, getting overly-rosy reports from the administration, wondering how much the war would cost in lives and dollars, and having hard time picturing what victory might look like. “Some of the parallels are almost eerie,'' Kerry said, insisting the lawmakers should learn from the past. But that learning has escaped Kerry himself, who continues to support what has now become Obama’s Vietnam and America’s longest war. The most concrete rationale for staying in Afghanistan emerged when the senators asked about recent reports of enormous mineral wealth such as copper and lithium. Holbrooke said the mineral wealth not a new discovery, but there were now modern techniques that now allowed the minerals to be more easily mined. Holbrooke assured the senators that we are helping Afghans develop their resources and strengthen their economy. Oh yes, he added, we want to make sure that the U.S. has “a level playing field” in getting access to those minerals. Meanwhile, on the ground in Afghanistan, young soldiers are assuring that “level playing field” with their lives. On the day of the hearing, eight soldiers were killed, bringing to 33 the number of American troops killed this month amid the worst bloodshed of the nine-year conflict. The young intern who spoke to me about La La Land has more sense than Obama, Holbrooke or the Congress that continues to fund this disaster. Or maybe he is just less jaded than politicians like Senator Lugar who supports the war but remarked, during the hearing, that the U.S. had become stuck in a “slow-motion caravan to ultimate failure.” La La Land, it seems, is not poor Afghanistan, but Washington DC, where politicians send our youth off to fight and die in an endless war they themselves don't believe in. Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK (www.codepink.org) and Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org).