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23 December 2006

GOING LOCAL

Adrian Kuzminski

If the antiwar movement is to to enjoy lasting success, it must fundamentally change America. It must offer a new vision of America.

Up to now, the principal point of the movement has been to claim that the war has been in violation of international law (including the UN charter, the International Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Accords, and various other treaty obligations of the US), as well as the US Constitution. Perhaps the most dramatic point the antiwar movement has made is that Bush and leading administration figures are subject to indictment as war criminals for launching unprovoked wars of aggression against other nations. For doing exactly that, the Nazi leaders were hanged at Nuremburg.

True as all that may be, it's not enough. Most Americans have not bought the legal/moral arguments advanced against the war, at least not taken them seriously enough. Although the invasion of Iraq is a particularly egregious case, Americans continue, as in the past, more or less to accept military adventures outside US borders; this attitude goes back to the Mexican War and has continued with the Spanish American War and subsequent interventions in Cuba, Columbia, Haiti, Grenada, Panama, and the Phillipines, among many other countries. These were tolerated as long as these were thought to bring some benefits, or at least do no noticible harm, to average Americans.

During the Cold War, the US militarily intervened widely across the world, including the Middle East. Some of these interventions had a veneer of justification, but as their victims can testify, they served primarily to secure US and Western hegemony over global resources while exploiting local populations. Again, Americans went along.

The result has been an American empire. Although its benefits have gone disproportionately to the rich, enough crumbs have fallen from the table, at least until recently, to support a middle class 'American way of life,' which much of the world envied. Today that envy is gone, and most Americans know, as never before, that cheap oil and the American military lie at the basis of their prosperity. So they close their eyes to immoral and illegal wars of aggression abroad in hopes of continuing that prosperity, seeing no alternative. Americans voted against Bush and the Iraq war in large part because the US was losing rather than winning it.

The Republican and Democratic leadership know that sentiment better than the antiwar movement, and they will rely on it to continue to try to win the war. They will scare Americans about the consequences of losing the war to the point where the public will tolerate even a draft. Our leadership may even relish revisiting conflicts which are sure to arise over the draft, as these will give them a chance to crackdown domestically on the opposition. They want very much to replay Vietnam, only with a different ending, and they think they can do it. This will be, they believe, and insane as it may seem, their final revenge against the counterculture and the left for their rejection of American imperialism in the 1960s.

This is the reality the antiwar movement must confront. It must offer in response a comprehensive vision of another, better America. In the sixties the elements of such a vision emerged, but were unable to coalesce. Today for the antiwar movement to suceed it must show Americans why the US has to abandon its overseas empire of over 700 mililary basis in over 150 countries. It must show that Americans would be better off and more secure by not trying to establish control over the resources of the world, but concentrating instead on living within our own means within our own borders.

It's a tall order, and I'm not sure it can be done. One hope is the ecocrisis, including global warming. As the consciousness grows that we must develop a sustainable economic system to survive, beginning at the local level, as sustainability must, the idea of plundering the globe to loot recources begins to look self-defeating, even stupid. The degradation of the environment is now apparent to nearly all, and it may be sufficient to discredit the destructive foreign and domestic policies we have endured.

In the process of building its empire, America has lost the political and economic freedoms it once took for granted. Our state and federal governments are hopelessly corrupted by big money and corporate power. Personal economic independence, once a hallmark of an America of farmers and artisans and independent producers, has been transformed into debt peonage for the bulk of the population (mortgages, car loans, educations loans, credit card loans, etc.). Most Americans no longer rule themselves, nor to they work for themselves.

To regain their freedom, Americans need to emancipate themselves from the larger political and economic structures -- big government and big business -- which are now exploiting rather than benefiting them.

Americans need to go local. They need to recapture their local political institutions, democratize them, and use them to make the fundamental changes needed to make state and federals governments accountable to the people. They need to recapture as well their local economies by developing locally owned farms and factories. This can be done by making available credit locally and personally at reasonable rates of interest. We need grassroots democracy and grassroots economics so that we can once more have grassroots communities.

Only when grassroots communities are stronger than they are now, much stronger, can such political and economic changes be made. In the meantime, our unaccountable federal government likely will remain beyond the reach of normal citizen action (voting, writing letters to your congressman, volunteering for campaigns, etc.). Only widespread public demonstrations and events are likely to influence public opinion and the government to make fundamental change, but even they may not be enough.

The antiwar movement must show the American people that political and economic power can be devolved to the local level, that sustainability is impossible without political democracy and freedom from economic dependency. They must show the American people that such developments are desirable. This goes back to the old American populist tradition of Jeffersonian democracy, with its insistence on local self-determination in town meetings and accountably representative bodies (as in Jefferson's vision of 'ward republics'). The other essential pillar of the Jeffersonian program as its insistence on widespread access to capital and credit, and its distrust of what was called in the nineteenth century 'the money power.'

Until the victory of corporate capitalism in the 1890s, Americans fought for cheap or easy money, that is, for the widespread availablity of credit on fair or non-usurous terms. Some steps were taken in this direction, most notably the issuance of Greenbacks during the Civil War. These were a form of public credit put in public circulation, and opposed bitterly by the banking interests of the day. The latter eventually reasserted financial control by reimposing the gold standard, making credit scarce and available only on usurous bankers' terms. Our current system, under the Federal Reserve, only perpetuates bankers' control, making meaningful credit unavailable to most citizens.

The notion of accountable democratic government would likely require constitutional changes, while widespread access to capital on a non-usurous basis would likely require a new monetary system. These are subjects for further exploration. My point is that local democracy and local access to resources are the keys to sustainability, and to a new, alternative America. Unless something like them can emerge as tangible possibilities, the status quo likely will remain in power by default.

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Adrian Kuzminski, a political activist in upstate New York and a Research Scholar in Philosophy at Hartwick College, can be reached at: adrian@oecblue.com

 

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Adrian Kuzminski is a local activist in upstate New York, and Research Scholar in Philosophy at Hartwick College. He is the author of FIXING THE SYSTEM: A HISTORY OF POPULISM, ANCIENT & MODERN (Continuum Books).

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