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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/11/11

Harvey Wasserman on How We'll Survive and Win

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HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well, yes and no, you have to go back and look at what he said about nukes. He hedged his bets on nukes. We followed very closely what he said about nuclear power. He attacked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, he made some clear statements about waste, he has sustained the opposition to Yucca Mountain, which is a pretty big deal, actually. If he had turned around and given a green light to Yucca Mountain we'd be in much more difficult shape, actually, than we are. And one thing about Yucca Mountain, by the way, you have to understand that the United States is not the only country that has no solution for handling the nuclear waste problem, there is no country in the world that has a repository, although we refer to them as a "suppository' for high level nuclear waste. He did do that. If you look at his rhetoric on many of these issues, he played a game. Also, there were only two candidates, and unfortunately both of them were, I think the vast majority of people that supported Obama did not want him to escalate the war in Afghanistan. When you hedged it, as our system works, when you are hedged in with two candidates, many people believed he was going to escalate it less than McCain would do, and so that is just the nature of our system -- not to excuse it! But I think if you polled the people that voted for him, most of them would have opposed what he was doing in Afghanistan.

So, yeah, you're right, he did do that but we didn't have a choice. What can I say, it was one from Column A and one from Column B. They both involved white rice, so what can I say?

DAVID SWANSON: A few weeks ago some activists out in California went to an Obama fundraiser where they contributed something like $76,000 to his next campaign for president in order to sing a song protesting his treatment of Bradley Manning for about two minutes, and then politely leave. Do you think that was, that's a rational approach that a year and a half out you're already compelled to this lesser evil choice?

HARVEY WASSERMAN: It's a terrible situation! It's a really bad situation and it's an unfortunate side effect, to use a medical phrase, of the way our system is set up. There are problems with the way our system is set up, and that's a big part of it. Not that the parliamentary systems work all that much better, but we had a choice of McCain and Obama. People did work and people did, for all the right reasons!

DAVID SWANSON: Right, but it's not election day, it's not even election year! There has to be something we do in-between choosing emperors, right?

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Yeah, I gotta say, I agree, entirely! Now, I can see it coming, I'm sure you can see it coming, we're about to enter a phase now where all the people on the left are going to, the airwaves are going to fill with "do we work for Obama, do we vote for Obama, or do we sit it out, or do we have a third party' and everybody's going to yell at the third party candidate, whoever it's going to be, like they did with Ralph, and you know, they're all going to blame" the Republicans who will nominate some ogre, be it Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney, or some lunatic, and Obama's going to start to, you know, he'll do some head fakes to the left, and do a couple of things, he's been reasonably sane on gay marriage which of course the corporations don't care about, and he'll pick a few other issues that the corporations won't care about, and he'll yell about Citizens United and won't do anything, and he'll do all the right moves. The strategy is clear! He's going to raise a billion dollars and he's going to say and do a couple of things that will divide the left and everybody on the left will fill the airwaves with passionate articles of why we should or shouldn't vote for him, and it's going to be incredibly boring and enervating, and then the election will be over and he'll win or lose.

I think he's going to lose, by the way, because there's no way in hell that the Democrats are going to carry Ohio. It's just not going to happen. The voting machines are rigged, they have eliminated more than a million voters, all of them are Democrats in a state with 5.5 million. The only way he carries Ohio is if he gets over 10 points and they can't steal it, or if they figure out a way to get around the registration laws. What Republicans are doing all over the country is eliminating people from the registration rolls. It's hard to say, they've got about a million off the voter rolls here, and they'll do it in all the key mid-western states, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, they all now have Republican governors -- Florida, as well. These guys are not kind of your moderate Republicans, these are serious crazies! I just don't see how the Democrats win, no matter what kind of game they play. The other thing is that, people are going to agonize and probably go into, most will go in, progressives will go in and hold their nose and vote for him, but they won't work for him. People will not come out and work for him like they did in 2008, and I don't think a billion dollars is going to make the difference. You cannot replace activists going out and voting, and they will not be there for him in 2012. So the calculation he's making is, well I'll get the corporate money. But I don't think it works that way. I fully expect him to lose in 2012. What we wind up with, God only knows because the Democrats will probably lose the Senate, too, and so then you'll have Republicans in control of both Houses of Congress, the Court system and the executive, not to mention the media, and then we're really in deep sh*t.

DAVID SWANSON: It seems like an additional argument to drop our obsession with who's the face on the throne and build a movement that gets in the way of whatever individuals are running the machine, and advances our agenda at the local and state levels, and engages in other pursuits than the Presidential competition.

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Yeah, well, that's the argument, and I tend to agree. Like everybody else, like most other people, I was certainly hoping Obama won in 2012, uh, 2008, if for no other reason than the race issue. As a historian, again, it's immensely important that we've had a black president, and it will be immensely important when we have a female president. That's the next line we've got to cross and then we'll have to have a gay president. Although we've already had one, James Buchanan, was pretty clearly gay! Of course, nobody wants to claim James, the gay movement doesn't want to claim James Buchanan because he was such a miserable president and the conservatives don't want to admit that he was gay, but it is pretty obvious. I wrote a piece on it called "Our First Gay President" which went around the internet pretty good"

DAVID SWANSON: Yes, it was a wonderful piece, and I'm with you, and this was the first time Virginia voted for the less racist of the two candidates, and it was a black guy. I get it! But if we go through every iteration, if we go through corporate, militarist goons who are female, gay, Latino, etc. etc. through every possible category of minority and abused group, there will be nothing of the planet left by the time we get through the list! Right at some point "

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well, yes and no, it depends on how much presidential power we cede to the President. As you've mentioned, do we build a movement. Well, we have a movement. The movement is basically focused on, it's an issue-based movement, it's not a unified movement by any stretch of the imagination. The way it tends to work in this country is that people work on the issues that really, about which they're passionate. And it's reasonably effective, I mean, we're still alive, against all odds, and so I happen to fall into the nuclear issue. I've been doing it for 38 years, you know, I'd like to do something else, although I wound up also with the election protection issue and I teach history, so I'm involved in other things too. People who are active tend to gravitate towards the thing that makes them the most passionate, and a lot of people have picked environmental, local environmental issues, and won them. So we have sort of a quilt, a mosaic of people working out on specific issues. I wish people would spend less time agonizing about who is president, but 2008 was a special situation.

And I don't think that 2012, I am not sure people are going to get so wild and crazy about it; I mean, I have to say if the Republicans nominate Newt Gingrich, which seems to be a high likelihood actually, you know, he is not Sarah Palin, and I think Obama may have trouble getting people as passionate about fighting off Newt Gingrich as some of the others weirdly enough, and Obama has really been so abysmal that I think people will not quite agonize as much over the presidential race as they would in other cases and even when people were doing what they did for Obama they didn't abandon their specific causes and so, I am not, let's put it this way, I am an ecologist and an environmentalist and I believe in the organic nature of the survival mechanism.

I believe that our species does react to the stimulus of potential extinction to preserve itself and so, you know, when we fight on these environmental issues we fight our social justice issues. When we fight on issues of race and of sexual preference and financial survivability, these are natural responses to an environment that is trying to kill us, and so, you know, I believe as a species of six or seven billion people operating in concert that we are an intelligent species that does really dumb things and the nature of our system and all these people living together has put forward challenges based on greed and ego and, you know, the violence strain in us that threaten our ability to continue to live here, but we respond to them in that we have managed to survive this long that I think we will continue to have this horrific, you know, agonizing, excruciating process of barely hanging on by our fingernails but that we well, actually, we will continue to do that.

DAVID SWANSON: I wonder what you think the prospects are of some of these movements, peace, financial, environmental in joining forces. Within the peace movement, we're having conversations about early October, which will be the end of the 10th year in Afghanistan and, you know, we're clearly going to do something in Washington, DC, whether it's going to be speechifying and marching around or shutting something down for an hour, and many others are advocating, look, let's go, let's stay, let's not leave, let's do what they did in Cairo, let's shut the city down until they stop the wars and move the money where it should be, and so organizations in the peace movement are asking each other, "Well, can we get any environmental groups, can we get any financial justice groups or do we all have to wait until the president is a Republican and then we can have a really substantive resistance movement."

HARVEY WASSERMAN: So, I think the idea of a mass mobilization in Washington is fine. It sounds great. You know, there's always a tension between continuing to do local work and coming into Washington for a major event that people have to give each other space; you know, since, you know, I get a couple hundred emails a day, like I'm sure you do and a lot of them are based on local campaigns against nearby nuclear plants and for energy stuff and so whenever we have a national mobilization it's a balance between doing that kind of working and going to DC. We do need to end these wars. There is no doubt about it, and this is again, not to be too much of a historian here, but it's a classic end of empire situation where the people in the capitol just can't let go of the idea, the romance, a financial interest in conquering the rest of the world and we saw it in Rome and in Greece and, you know, it's especially tragic in Athens where they had a golden age. All they had to do was just stop f*cking conquering other countries and they couldn't do it, and of course the tragic figure was Pericles who was the great leader of the Athenian golden age by just insisted on going to war with Sparta and ruin everything, including himself, and the wound up dying of the plague that he brought on by his inability to just get out and stop sending the troops overseas; I mean, you know, the Athenian gathered all their resources and send this huge expedition to Syracuse and it disappeared and no one ever knew what happened to these people and that's the situation we're in now. I mean Afghanistan is ridiculous, Iraq, Libya, the whole thing a nightmare and it's a military industrial complex that just can't let go and we have to somehow cut that tie, and how we do it, I don't know, I mean, marching in Washington, that sounds good. I'm sure there'll be endless debate about it and lots of people will go and it'll have its impact, and marches on Washington have had the impact there's no doubt about it. You know, the bonus army, the Hoovervilles. I was at the mobilization against the war in 1967 when we marched on the Pentagon. All that does have a cumulative effect, there's no doubt about it. I think that 99.9% of the people in the environmental movement understand that and support it. We understand that the wars are themselves ecologically catastrophic, and an existential reality and that also they make everything else more difficult, so it sounds like a great idea to me and a lot of people will do it. We will also, of course, there will be satellite marches, people who have jobs will come out in Columbus and Madison and Littlerock and wherever else to make it a global event. Sounds fine, so let's do it.


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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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