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The Moral Imperative of "Activism"

By       Message Ray McGovern       (Page 1 of 4 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   2 comments

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Editor's Note: On Sept. 18, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern gave a talk about "activism" to a conference in Charlottesville, Virginia, focused on the need to confront the military industrial complex. Now, as the occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington gets under way, his words take on a special resonance...

The past 50 years have shown that President Dwight Eisenhower was spot on about the Military Industrial Complex and what to expect if Americans were not vigilant, which, of course, we have not been -- until maybe now.

An endless train of outrages and indignities can be traced to the inordinate influence of the M.I.C. And a truly formidable challenge awaits those of us determined not to let our democracy be taken away from us by the greed of a small minority. But the view from where I stand at this podium evokes a powerful feeling of enthusiastic anticipation. The challenges presented by the M.I.C. seem not so daunting as I look out on all you activists.

I'll confess, it took me a while to become comfortable with the sobriquet commonly used these days to introduce me: "intelligence analyst turned activist." In the circles in which I moved for 30 years, the epithet "activist" was usually hurled in a condescending tone. As in what can activists accomplish?

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But, there was the Vietnam War, no? Often it takes a while, but activists do change things.

In an interview several months ago, former President George W. Bush referred sneeringly to "activists." Like you all, I have become accustomed to the customary sneers and smears. And that's precisely why standing here is so important to me. For those given the privilege of looking out at so many gutsy "activists" for Justice, the sneers, smears, and spears lose all their sting.

Hope is reborn, because you give flesh to that hope.

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What I think has been especially great is that, over the past days, so many of you have also had the opportunity to be encouraged, fortified by the view from this podium. Perhaps you, too, have found the experience an effective inoculation against despair and a fillip to action.

Paying the Rent

No one has put it better than a precious new friend I met on a "cruise" in the eastern Mediterranean -- author and poet Alice Walker, who put it this way: "Activism is my rent for living on this planet." As some of you know, that attitude found her a passenger on "The Audacity of Hope" -- the U.S. Boat to Gaza -- this past summer.

On July 1, we made an activist break for the open sea and Gaza but were able to sail only nine nautical miles out of Athens before the Greek government, under extreme pressure from the White House, ordered its Coast Guard to intercept us, threaten to board us, and eventually to impound our boat.

It turned out not so bad. We raised a lot of interest, calling attention to the huge open-air prison called Gaza, in which the Likud government of Israel, supported by the taxes we pay, seal off 1.6 million Gazans.

And, for those who care to look, we exposed our President kow-towing, for the umpteenth time, to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Barack Obama could not get him to agree not to shoot up our boat, as the Israeli Navy did the Mavi Marmora in May of last year. So the White House decided to take the easy way out and bully Greece into issuing an edict that no boats could leave Greek ports for Gaza.

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You learn a lot, and often you expose a lot, when you accept the challenge of being an "activist"!

Unreasoned Patience?

I find that people often are conflicted about whether or not to allow themselves to be angry. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote a lot about virtue, got quite angry when he realized there was no word in Latin for just the right amount of anger -- for the virtue of anger.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)

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