This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee begins meeting to consider whether Judge Neil Gorsuch should be awarded a lifetime appointment to our nation's highest court. While senators should rightfully use this opportunity to uncover more about the nominee and his background, progressives are delivering a clear message to Capitol Hill: Gorsuch must never wear the robes of a Supreme Court justice.
AMY GOODMAN: Many progressives helped to elect Democratic majorities in Congress in 2006 and 2008 and helped Obama win the presidency. But with the Democrats in power, the feeling now among many grassroots activists is that most Democratic lawmakers haven’t acted on behalf of their progressive constituencies.
On Wednesday, Nov. 26, labor leaders stood up at a press conference with environmental and global justice activists and blasted the Miami police force for using repressive tactics against those protesting the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit (FTAA). That same day, Amnesty International called for an independent investigation into the strong-arm tactics utilized by a militarized force of over 40 agencies against the demonstrators.
The stakes in Miami were very high for the Bush administration. Across Latin America, millions of people have expressed their opposition to corporate driven globalization and "free trade." Meanwhile, historic alliances have been forged between various movements inside the U.S. Gone were the messaging disputes between those who advocate "Fair Trade" and supporters of "No Trade" that had characterized previous demonstrations at trade negotiations. This time, unions and street activists shared a clear, common message: "No to FTAA."
Anti-war groups such as United for Peace and Justice joined with the more de-centralized, affinity group-based wing of the global justice movement to organize direct action. Powerful labor groups like the AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers made clear that despite tactical differences, there was solidarity among resistance movements. To emphasize this point, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney visited the mobilization convergence center where art-making, training and planning was underway for un-permitted street actions.
Yet this powerful display of successful solidarity is not what Americans saw on their television or read in their newspapers.
What's Wrong With This Picture?
As veterans of mass mobilizations believe that the debates over top-down corporate globalization are increasingly won and lost in the stories that emerge from both the various trade summits and the demonstrations against them. Social and environmental justice movements have become increasingly adept at producing their own media and utilizing alternative avenues to articulate our experiences to friends and allies. Yet, as progressive activists we still find ourselves wondering whether mainstream outlets witnessed the same events as we did.
As self admitted media junkies, we sat together this past weekend and devoured taped television footage and stacked print coverage of the Miami protests. We sat glued to the TV set, watching anchor after anchor use descriptions that appeared to be completely disconnected to the scenes shown on screen. At one point, an anchor's voice-over described undercover agents being chased behind police lines by protesters, while the film repeatedly showed a small group of demonstrators aiding a friend who appeared to have been attacked by other protestors (undercover agents).
Reporters and commentators repeatedly slipped up and used the phrases that illuminated their bias. In one notable instance, as Channel 7 aired lived footage of armed policemen driving frightened protesters from the downtown area, the commentator enthusiastically declared "So far, we're winning!"
Justifications for pre-emptive police action were plentiful. "[The police are] prepared, have been preparing, are ready for any scenario. When something came up they put it out," one anchor said. "Everything is going according to script," declared another. When none of the chaos that had been promised materialized, the anchors cried triumphantly that this was a result of a "massive, well-prepared police force."
Live coverage was largely comprised of uneventful shots of groups of demonstrators gathered in clumps in parks or wandering down streets, followed at close range by lines of riot cops and armored vehicles. A few repetitive shots of young masked protestors were peppered with hundreds of references by the anchors to "trouble makers", "rabble rousers," "bad seeds," "protestors looking for trouble," and, of course, the never defined but always scary "anarchists."
Controlling the Streets and the Story
The police effort to crack down on protesters in Miami was funded through the $87 billion dollar War on Terror package. The money paid for over-time for the DEA, the ATF, Immigration and Customs, Miami Dade Police Department, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service officers, to name a just a few of those brought in to maintain "order." It also financed the state of the art weaponry on display on the streets of Miami, from de rigeur tear gas and rubber bullets to new and exotic toys such as taser guns, mobile water cannons, and electric shields.
What became clear in the lead up to the FTAA was that the "Miami Model" -- as law enforcement enthusiasts are calling it -- has goals that go way beyond merely keeping the peace. The bigger agenda of the Miami policing operation was to control the public perception of mass protest and grassroots movements. Only days after that FTAA protests on Nov. 23, the New York Times broke a story on the FBI's ongoing policy of infiltrating and spying on the anti-war and global justice movements. Miami was the mainstreaming of overt information warfare against non-violent protest.
Information warfare is defined by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction Number 3210.01 as "actions taken to achieve information superiority by affecting adversary information, information based processes, and information systems."
The relevance of information warfare to social movements and political conflicts have been the subject of study of Rand Corporation researchers John J. Arquilla and David F. Ronfeldt. Over the past decade, they have written extensively about an aspect of information warfare they call "netwar," which they define as: "trying to disrupt or damage what a target population knows or thinks it knows about itself and the world around it...It may involve public diplomacy measures, propaganda and psychological campaigns, political and cultural subversion, deception of or interference with local media."
One of Miami Police Chief John Timoney's first acts in controlling the story was to "embed" the media in the police operations. Appearing on camera in their special issue flack jackets and riot helmets, embedded TV correspondents helped reinforce the perception of the protests as a massive threat to public safety. The story was already defined as "protesters versus police," masking the reality that demonstrators included people from all walks of life. The Miami Herald's embedded reporter uncritically regurgitated Timoney's description of protesters as "punks," "trouble makers" and "knuckleheads," and the chief's vow to "hunt them like a hawk picking mice off a field."
The police propaganda efforts were clearly designed to disrupt the newly forming alliances. Starting with his first interview on Nov.20, Timoney attempted to create artificial dichotomies between the "credible" labor movement and the "suspect" direct action community. As he praised the labor groups for planning an orderly, non-violent march, Timoney described participants in the unpermitted events as "violent trouble makers" with no message. Police spokespeople used their tight relationship with the embedded media to spread rumors about schisms between the labor march and the other street actions.
Despite the repeated stories in the media pitting the "good protestors" against the "bad protestors," the reality on the ground was quite different. Not only was there clear solidarity among labor, community and direct action activists, but the police action against the labor march was just as harsh as against the activists. People trying to join the permitted rally and march were pepper sprayed, harassed, and, in the case of over a dozen buses, prevented from reaching downtown. One story that did find its way into the mainstream media was that of Bentley Killmon, a 71-year old retired union member who was among a number of people arrested while trying to leave downtown after the march and held for hours without bail or food. Mr. Killmon's experience was telling proof of the chasm between police speak and reality.
It also seemed to be more than coincidence that there were a rash of armed robberies against independent videographers in Miami. At least five independent journalists reported their cameras and footage taken from them at gun and knife point. Brandon Jourdan, of the New York IMC described his experience as follows: "After shooting over 90 minutes of unprovoked police violence against demonstrators, I went to take my footage to a safe location. On the way, I was robbed by two clean cut men who were carrying stun guns. Eyewitnesses from the local community reported they had never seen these individuals before and that they were observed leaving the neighborhood with my camera."
Lessons of Miami and Beyond
Now that the tear gas has cleared from the streets of Miami, the battle for the long-term meaning of the demonstrations is under way. Both demonstrators and police are examining how the lessons of Miami will play out in future mass demonstrations.
The Bush administration is rapidly turning America into an Orwellian propaganda state. From calling clear-cut public lands a "Healthy Forests Initiative" to weakening air pollution protections with a "Clear Skies Initiative" to lying about their motivation for invading Iraq, the Bush administration is using its weapons of mass deception to manipulate public opinion. The staging of next year's Republican National Convention in New York, timed to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11, is just one more example of this ongoing spin war.
The convention is certain to be one of the next major flash points between the confrontation between the administration and the diverse grassroots movements for change. Judging by the experience in Miami, we can expect more of the same: militarized streets and little respect for First Amendment rights.
The Bush administration will continue its military-style information warfare campaign, as well. It has already tapped one of its most seasoned propagandists, Jim Wilkinson, former Director of Strategic Communications at U.S. Central Command, to head up New York media operations for the RNC. The media will likely be "embedded" again, and Wilkinson has promised other tricks of the trade to leverage the spectacle.
Progressive movements must meet this spin machine with a more sophisticated definition of protest - one that prioritizes contesting power in the broader symbolic, cultural and ideological arenas rather than compete with militarized riot police for control of the street. We must learn to effectively fight the Battle of the Story - the competition to define public interpretation of a mass action, campaign or movement. The Battle of the Story is fought on the airwaves and in the newspapers as well as in the streets.
The New York convention offers a unique opportunity to win the battle if progressive movements can offer Americans a new narrative based on hope, dignity and true economic and political security. Good story telling relies on sympathetic characters clearly articulating the conflict they face. The list of victims of the Bush economy grows longer every day and represents one of the best weapons in the Battle of the Story. Imagine if teachers, steelworkers, disgruntled veterans, fire fighters and working mothers were able to speak to America about the impact of Bush's short-sighted policies on their lives. Imagine if the family members of U.S. soldiers were able to demand answers about the Bush case for war.
One power of mass mobilization is the creation of conflict and drama as any good story demands. Some mass mobilization organizations are calling for a million people to descend on NY to protest the Republican agenda. This type of momentum is certain to attract a lot of sensational coverage. We need to use this opportunity to weave an alternative narrative to the Bush story of fear and dominance, in order to become more than just tabloid television coverage and background noise. We need to continue to use our alternative media outlets to document the real stories that compel change.
Our job is to keep tugging at the threads until the world sees that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes.
Ilyse Hogue and Patrick Reinsborough are co-founders of The smartMeme Project, a strategy and training collective dedicated to combining grassroots movement building with tools to inject new ideas into the culture.
March 20th, the day after the United States began to drop bombs on the Iraqi people, San Francisco was the stage for widespread creative dissent to an illegal and unjustifiable war. A nascent, loosely-knit pro-peace movement in this city and across the world burst onto the scene with a cacophony of voices and tactics that mirror the living, thriving human ecosystems we inhabit.
That day crystallized the willingness of hundreds of thousands to stand with the global majority in opposing this war. The reasons for people's actions are not monolithic, just as the tactics are not. Like an ecosystem, this movement's strength lies in the symbiotic exchange and interweaving of diverse voices raised to inscribe a new cultural narrative upon the American consciousness.
Wandering around San Francisco on the first day of the war, I was exhilarated, moved, and occasionally both tearful and frightened. While there were low points in the day, the overwhelming feeling was one of awe and wonderment at the colors and sounds and smells of resistance.
On one corner, 40 "yogis for peace" silently exhibited perfect yoga positions in front of a line of riot police. Down the street, Tibetan prayers flags flew as I saw a father answer his son's boisterous call to occupy the intersection. At the Federal Building, when the late afternoon winds blew in and the sun ceased to shine on the alley, shivering protestors blocking the doors were infused with new energy by an impromptu dance party when a sound system arrived on a bicycle. There was no knowing what was around the next corner, but whatever it was it was sure to delight the senses and highlight the lengths people were willing to go to oppose the death occurring at that moment in our name. Who were all of these people and where did they come from?
The nonviolent grassroots uprising that occurred in San Francisco in the last two weeks was purely organic. Mix the right ingredients and the outcome is sure to be even more impressive than predicted. This is the model that Direct Action to Stop the War (DASW) counts upon. DASW is not an organization. There is no paid staff, no office, no elected leaders. There is only one requirement for participation -- you must act in accordance with your conscience in opposing this war.
The organizing and the meetings were open and transparent. The goal was clearly articulated: If the government of the United States chose to drop bombs on Iraq, we as citizens of San Francisco and the surrounding cities would unplug the war machine by paralyzing traffic where the government and corporations operate. The DASW network served to set a stage where each individual had the opportunity to cast himself or herself in the unfolding drama dedicated to celebrating life.
2,600 people were arrested in the subsequent 48 hours. Many of them had never protested anything before in their lives. Among the incredible pulsing diversity in the streets, we found common ground in defining positively our collective identity.
We are for the troops coming home safely and we are for stopping the killing of innocent men, women and children. We are people who work each day for positive change in our communities and our world. We are teachers, artists, nurses, business people, students, activists, parents and clergymen and women. Like any functioning ecosystem, this diversity is our strength and among it live the solutions that are necessary for global sustainability.
By listening and talking to people on that day, I gathered more strands of an alternative story -- one that challenges the prevailing narrative playing on CNN and Fox News Tonight, and that speaks of an end to war in communities and abroad. The resistance in the streets in essence creates a future where individuals in communities know each other and work together toward this goal.
Civil Disobedience vs. Civil Obedience
I have seen those next to me in the streets in other places recently. I have seen them marching next to me in the permitted rallies that preceded the war. I have seen them writing to their elected officials; I have seen their names on petitions. I have prayed next to them and attended vigils with them.
Yet these efforts fell on deaf ears.
I have learned that social justice is rarely achieved without willing individuals and groups escalating their voices in the face of overwhelming odds. In fact, in a world where violence reigns, civil disobedience is a dignified response and a moral call. From the Boston Tea Party, this country was born and nonviolent direct action has served to shape its moral compass ever since. Without it women would not vote, and the working people would have no weekends. Basic rights we take for granted were won through nonviolent struggle in the face of overwhelming odds.
These actions give rise to legends that inspire us to achieve moral greatness. The stories of Gandhi and the Great Salt March are told in classrooms round the world. Amid the atrocities of the Holocaust, every Jewish child learns of the nonviolent resistance that saved the lives of Danish Jews while their brothers and sisters were being systematically exterminated through the rest of Europe. Acting against injustice should be done in a way that exemplifies our vision of a just and peaceful world. When it works, the actions of the individual and collective movements have left indelible marks on our historical narrative.
Using mass nonviolent action, the civil rights movement changed the face of the South: The successful Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, sit-ins at lunch counters and other facilities, freedom rides, freedom schools, voting registration drives, jail-ins, and the 1963 March on Washington, which drew 250,000 participants. And on May Day, 1971 in Washington, D.C., 11,000 opponents of the Vietnam War were arrested for blocking traffic.
Protesting in an "Anti-War City"
It is exactly because San Francisco is an anti-war city that these demonstrations were as successful and representative as they were. Silence and passivity in these grave days can be too easily interpreted by our government as consent. Remember, we are all characters in the story unfolding, and it is our imperative to struggle for the soul of this story. Will the prevailing tale be one of war or peace? Complicity or resistance?
Because what exactly does it mean to be from an anti-war city? Does it mean we put stickers on our cars, write letters to the editor, and call it a day? Does it mean we do not hold our elected officials accountable who have done so little to prevent this human catastrophe? Does it mean we do not voice our dissent in our homes and the places in which we work because it is "anti-war" while the war rages around us?
I see so many false dichotomies being put forward in an effort to undermine the credibility of those who have acted on their conscience, such as the idea that civil disobedience costs local governments money at a time when teachers and health workers are being laid off. The only thing that links the two is that both the war and a lack of funds for education and public health are signs of skewed national priorities. In challenging these assumptions, we have the potential to articulate the values crisis that faces our nation and our world. I choose not to choose between speaking my truth and educating the children in my community. I choose the narrative that allows both.
Current estimates are that Californians will pay between $300 and $6,000 a piece in taxes to foot the $100 billion price tag for this war. These funds could be spent to jump-start the ailing economy in California, revive our debilitated school system, or invest in clean energy to get us off imported oil. This speaks nothing of the moral and psychic costs our country will bear. Ultimately, we cannot afford to repress the honest dissent in this country, because the cost to democracy will be too high; it makes as much sense as liberating a people by bombing them.
What's not to Understand?
I spoke to a friend from college yesterday. He called after 12 years because he had seen my name associated with the anti-war protests. He told me he too is anti-war. Further, he is a doctor in the addiction unit at the VA hospital in San Francisco. He treats the American victims of the previous wars for manifestations of their psychic wounds. He told me his funding has been cut. The VA has laid several people off in the last year at the same time as the Bush administration is creating new veterans.
He told me of going downtown on the morning after the bombs started falling, frustrated by his impotence. He wandered with the crowd and wondered what was being accomplished by the chaos and confusion, littered with beautiful and horrific images, and all sorts of people. He left confused and unsure. He says now, two weeks later, that he is no longer unsure of that day. He said he feels as though the war is too easy to ignore and he will be left to pick up the pieces of human beings who souls were shattered by carrying out this awful deed.
I have heard his cry echoed by the Gulf War veterans that have come out against this war in large numbers. They say the best way to support the troops is to bring them home. The Bush Administration sent troops into war the same week they proposed cuts in health and family programs for veterans. Is this a cultural narrative that makes sense? My friend has come to the conclusion that if stopping traffic for a day forces people to examine these questions it should be looked upon as a gift rather than an inconvenience.
Ecology of a Living Revolution
As a trained ecologist, I understand that the most vibrant and vital ecosystems are those that encompass a broad array of life. Individual components assume their place in the cosmic order while quite naturally operating in symbiosis with others around them. Ecosystems are modeled in human culture and activity, with the most highly evolved ones defining aspects of our culture. Think of a symphony, with each musician concentrating on his or her own piece while matching the cadence and rhythm of all the other musicians -- or the brilliant display of resistance that occurred over the last few weeks, around the world.
Many will be tempted to call the pro-peace movement a failure as American troops are taking Baghdad. I answer that to do so would be a misinterpretation of how transformation of culture occurs. The real victory lies in throwing our hat into the ring in the struggle for this cultural narrative. By building a community of resistance, we plant the seeds for this cultural narrative. Through positive identification, we learn how our differences blend to create a thriving ecosystem. My neighbors now have names and their struggles become mine. In essence, we have already won.
Don't misunderstand me; this does not mean I quit. It is too easy to get caught up in running errands, going to work, walking the dog, all while bombs continue to rain on women and children in Iraq. However, it is impossible to predict what comes "next" for the peace movement; only the next meeting or the next action are easy to identify. As long as there is a war, there will be a next act of resistance. As I search the faces of those inquiring, I cannot help but wonder if what they are really asking is the unanswerable question of WHAT COMES NEXT?
The peace movement is as diverse as each individual whose heart propels him or her to take action against this war. Acts of creative resistance continue to spring up around the world on a daily basis as more people are invigorated by understanding their own power to take a stand. It is as impossible to predict how the pro-peace movement around the war will proceed as it is to predict the next evolution of a given ecosystem. What is certain, though, is that the impacts on the global culture of this spontaneous and widespread uprising will alter the cultural narrative as indelibly and profoundly as evolution alters the global ecosystem in which we live.
As you think about what comes next, I leave you with this question: When you look back on this turning point in human history years from now, will you be proud of the action you took to change the course laid out before us? What strand did you weave into the emerging story?
Ilyse Hogue is the Global Finance Campaign Director for Rainforest Action Network and a co-founder of the Smartmeme Project.