Listening to international news during the Gulf of Tonkin incident and contrasting it with Voice of America and Armed Forces Radio versions made me very concerned. I immediately became more concerned when I got back to the USA and found that the propaganda I had heard from the VOA and AFR were the story being told everywhere and basically the only story. I rose quickly to be leader in the anti-war/civil rights movement and as my friends were beaten by police for expressing their views and as the underground press and other organs became the only source of an opposition view, I became more extreme. It was the Democratic Party we were up against.
Read on below and I'll explain why our extremism was and is fundamentally different from what we see today and why the absence of any real left thinking here has poisoned the well so badly.
What was the nature of our extremism? I attended and then organized workshops on non-violent resistance fashioned after Ghandi and brought to a new point with Martin Luther King's influence on the American left. Were there people who tended towards violence? Of, course. There are some who find it hard to go against the lifetime of being taught that force and violence was necessary to protect us from "enemies". There were also the "Bomb Hanoi" handfuls at any demonstration in public. Then there were the police who were given the go ahead to beat and harm citizens who exercised their constitutional rights.
The big difference was that as a political body, our mongrel movement was of one accord publicly and had its constituents largely in support of non-violence. We were on the outside. The more left we became (and this goes for MLK as well) the more we were painted as "extreme". Well folks, now as I approach 75 in a few months, I guess I have to admit that non-violence is most certainly an extreme position in the USA.
The character of the political landscape has not changed that much. What has changed is the extinction of any resemblance of the movement I am so proud to have been part of and a leader in. Who made that possible? I can only speak from personal experience and back my view with a lot of people who have written recently about the matter. The use of electoral politics in the USA as a way of defusing real protest and channeling people into ineffective squabbles with nuts is amazing!
George Lakoff has contributed much to my understanding of what goes on out there as we play with our sandbox democracy. We allow the corporate oligarchy to pit us against each other, yes to the point of advocating and then having some nut carry out the shooting of the "enemy". Let me say it as simply and as clearly as possible: If you have "enemies" among the American citizenry, then you have become very much alien to anything the country could hope to stand for. And if your thoughts and language buy into the frame that pits American against American in a life and death struggle for power you have already initiated your participation in Civil War.
The history of the American left is a history of violence and struggle. The violence was most often, if not always, an exercise of power by the corporate oligarchy to put people in their place. When possible it was divide and conquer pitting poor and working class whites against African Americans to keep them from ever being a serious threat to their real oppressors. But if necessary, the Pinkerton Cops and the Police and the National Guard would shoot to kill. Better yet if you could frame someone the State did the job "legally".
This past decade has proven that without a left that is willing to non-violently resist and take to the streets the country can move very rapidly towards what has been called "Inverted totalitarianism" by Wolin and "Technopoly" by Postman. Their concepts may not totally define what has been happening, but the documentation in their books is certainly overwhelming.
It is hard to remove oneself from the context in which one is
struggling. Yet without doing that it is virtually impossible to see
that the present scene is a whole. It is not just that it has produced
Fox News, Radio Talk, Blogs, Tea Party and other screamers and hate
mongers. It is that they now dominate the scene rather than occupy
some spot on the periphery. We have gone through a decade of having no
visible voice crying out "enough" as our country was dragged so deeply
into torture, war, financial hanky panky, environmental catastrophe,
abandonment of education, and so much more.
The list goes on and on.
We have plenty of scapegoats out there. That can protect us from self examination if we need such protection. I've been saying it here for a long time and I'll say it again. Without a viable, full time movement at the grass roots that struggles for and educates for the values that a non-violent left has asked for for a very long time, we have no hope. Playing the election game will deflect and squander any decent energy and and any useful resources we have for an increasingly steep uphill struggle for the heart and soul of an idea on its deathbed.
I'm not saying abandon electoral politics. I am saying that
electoral politics of the useful kind will flow naturally out of a
viable, living, growing movement for a decent and civilized society. We
have met the "enemy" and they is us to paraphrase my favorite cartoon
character. Stopping the downward cascade is a more than full time job.
As work becomes unable to sustain life the ability to put time and
effort into struggle vanishes. That's what it all has been about. They
have us scared and for good reason.
They will enslave us if we go on our present course. It is never to late to become human again. You have one power no one can take from you. It is the power to say "no". The power is greater than anything the media and the corporate oligarchy can throw at you. They know it. They hope you never discover it.