Sunday, August 24, at the Cleo Parker Robinson Theater in Denver, 300 people gathered to hear speeches by prominent representatives of the movements against the war, repression, and torture of the Bush regime. The following is an edited transcript of a talk given by Sunsara Taylor at this Evening of Conscience.
I want to start by giving everyone who came out and protested today a shout out. People had to go up against a lot and this needs to be appreciated. There was the "freedom cages"- with barbed wire that the police built for the protesters, the storm troopers in the streets, there was all the media hype about protesters being dangerous. And then there is all the Obama hype (the Obama "hope"-) that is being built up and that people are being sucked into. To go out in the face of that and to stand true to principle, against the war, against theocracy, against everything this Bush program has brought, and everything that Obama is not challenging, is very courageous and very heroic and very precious.
At the same time, our numbers were smaller than they need to be, than they should have been and than many of us were hoping they'd be. I want to talk bluntly and honestly about this and what we should make of this. I write for Revolution newspaper and this is something I've been writing about. I did an article recently, "The Dangerous Logic of Blocking Protests in the Name of Getting Obama Elected."- This has been going on. People maybe have heard some of the groups talk about having an "inside/outside strategy."- As World Can't Wait was working to help build these protests we talked to a lot of people who said, "Oh yeah, we're glad you're organizing street protests against a new war on Iran, against the war in Iraq. We'll be there too""and we'll be doing our inside strategy."- That is, trying to influence the Democratic Party from within the convention and by appealing to delegates.
But in reality what's been happening is that a lot of these so-called "anti-war"- groups and "anti-war"- leaders have been demobilizing protest. They have been working on their "inside strategy"- but they have done nothing to mobilize protests out in the streets to oppose this direction that can be seen by the world.
I know Recreate '68 had to go up against this. I'm going to be really blunt because it matters. United for Peace and Justice, Leslie Cagan, she said maybe we should call off the protest today and advocated instead that we should mingle with the delegates. I'm all for going and talking to delegates"-in order to get them to join us in the streets, okay? But Code Pink, Progressive Democrats of America, where were they today?
A lot of people are deeply angered and are getting disaffected with Barack Obama. Why? Like Jeremy [Scahill] just said, Obama is not an anti-war candidate. He wants to send ten thousand more troops to Afghanistan. He threatened nuclear weapons against Iran repeatedly. He threatened to go unilaterally into Pakistan. That's not an anti-war candidate. He voted for Bush's FISA bill to legalize massive spying on the American population and render retroactive immunity to everybody who broke the law in the Bush administration and in the telecom industry so that people will never know how far that crime went. This is a man who has come out and said that he wants to expand Bush's Faith-Based programs. We have a move toward theocracy in this country, and he wants to expand the Faith-Based program. We have a fascist assault on women's reproductive rights""the right to abortion, the right to birth control""and he's saying what? "We have to reduce abortions. We have to seek common ground."- He's featuring Bob Casey, a fanatical anti-abortion candidate, to speak at the DNC. These are the reasons people are growing disaffected with Barack Obama. Frankly it's a good thing, but it's not enough.
I want to say something else, because this has had a real impact. We have to confront this. The Nation came out with an open letter to Barack Obama. And a lot of very courageous people who have rightfully earned the respect of the people for their stands against the war and the Bush program signed this letter and this was a mistake and it's done harm. This letter says, among other things, that there are many, many people who gave grown alienated from politics-as-usual who have found hope again in Barack Obama, and the letter casts this as a good thing. This is not a good thing. People are right to get disaffected. The question is not how do we get people to believe and how do we use our anti-war credentials to make Barack Obama more palatable. The question is, how do we go out to people and tell them the truth about what it's really going to take to stop all the things that made them alienated in the first place.
Including the fact that Obama is not going to stop this program. Sure, he's different in some flavors or varieties than McCain. I'm not contesting that. But those differences are about how to run an empire, that's what he's auditioning to do. And it's time for people to confront this reality. We do not bridge this gap by going with the grain, appealing to the false hope that he's capturing people in. We deal with this by going against the grain, by telling people the truth that they need to hear: that Obama doesn't represent the change you need, he represents the change that the system will allow you to believe in.
We have to be out there in the streets. This is why I think it's so important what people did today and why we need to persevere in this. There is nobody up in the halls of power listening. There is no referee up there. There is nobody saying, "What does the public really want; let me give that expression."- This is the dictatorship of a ruling class of a capitalist system. And the only people who are going to stop this program are people who are going to go in the face of that, who are going to work outside of official politics, who are going to go outside of the mainstream, who are going to go into the streets, who are going to shut down their campuses, who are going to blow the whistle in defiance of the halls of power, who are going to risk all the things they are bringing down on journalists now who report the truth, who are going to pass resolutions in their professional organizations that they won't participate in torture, that they won't go along with spying and covering up--people who are going to risk something.
I know a lot of people got demoralized. They think protest doesn't work, that maybe this is unrealistic. But look, there is nothing less realistic than thinking that somebody in one of these two parties or in this whole framework is going to listen.
It is on us.
Yes, this is harder. It is riskier. Yes, it's uncomfortable to confront this. But, frankly, it's uncomfortable to have your home raided, to have your sons dragged out in Iraq, to have them rounded up and disappeared, to have five million people displaced. Nobody asked them, O.K.? Nobody asked the people in New Orleans if they were going to be displaced while they are standing on rooftops and George Bush is making jokes. And they take troops off on rescue missions and send them in with orders to shoot to kill. That's what this government did.
And if you want this to stop, you have to take it upon yourself, we have to take it upon ourselves, and, yes, there is risk involved.
But if you look back in history and you look at what happened in Nazi Germany, how people went along with one outrage after another and they got cowed and intimidated. Pastor Martin Niemoeller came out after that. He's the one who said, "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak up"- Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up"- and by the time they came for me there was no one left."- That's his most famous quote and I think it's very relevant now. But he also said something else which I think is worth upholding. He said, look, if we had stood up when it was still early enough, while we still had our convictions, while we still had the ability to do so, perhaps 30,000 people would have been rounded up or killed, but think about what we would have stopped.
I'm not going to prettify this. We are in the belly of an empire. It is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. They have legalized torture and both parties, the whole system, is involved in that. History is going to judge us by how we act.