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Yuppies and the Peace Movement

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message David Swanson       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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The single biggest reason that the peace movement is not larger and more aggressive is that people with one foot in it are focused on trying to be respectable in the eyes of the corporate media, for their own sake and – in their misguided view – for the sake of the movement.

As an example, take the meeting I went to in Washington, D.C., this evening. About 40 people, mostly in their thirties, mostly doing all right financially, about 37 of them white, gathered at a restaurant to vote on whether their little organization would endorse the September 24th march against the war.

They ran a very well disciplined meeting and made very articulate arguments on both sides. Those in favor argued that people are dying and that it needs to be stopped, that movements must be large and inclusive to succeed, that you can't build an opposition political party without wholeheartedly opposing the illegal and immoral war with which the party in power is identified, etc.

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Of those opposed, only one person spoke against ending the war. The others spoke against the war, and all or almost all of them in support of participating in the march, but against endorsing it as an organization. In fact, more than one rose to take time to speak against endorsement using the argument that the endorsement debate was taking time away from actually participating in the march (although the meeting to hold the endorsement debate had turned out a much larger than typical crowd for this organization). Mostly, though, they argued that the media would call them leftists if they participated in an event that included some of the groups already participating.

Seriously, it was a room full of amateur PR agents. They wanted to maintain "political credibility" for their little organization. They wanted to focus on lobbying and electing officials (this in the colony of DC, which has no voting representation in Congress and no US senators!). They wanted to be "credible," they kept saying. One woman was afraid she'd not receive government clearance for a job she was applying for if she marched in an event that "communists" would be marching in. Another man said he would prefer a silent march without signs or speeches. Another preferred the candlelight vigils held around the country recently for Cindy Sheehan. Another had read an article by Todd Gitlin and actually taken it seriously. It was a bizarre room. But it was representative, I suspect, of a lot of people.

It's interesting, though, that they mostly wanted to march as individuals. They simply wanted to protect their organization from the stain of officially endorsing the march. (Kind of makes it hard to organize more people if your movement has to advance without organizations!)

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Many of the speakers referred to their fear of mistreatment by the media. But most of these viewed the media as what the media has told them it is. They imagine that the media gives better coverage to respectable moderates, whereas in reality the media always gives better coverage to those who are most confrontational and often gives the worst coverage to those who are inconsistent.

One of those who spoke in support of endorsing said that she didn't want to be part of the Kerry wing of the Democratic party ("I was for it before I was against it"), and instead chose to be part of the Dean wing. (Of course, Dean is a good example of the media's attraction to combativeness – as are those candlelight vigils, which could not have happened had a woman not gone to Bush's ranch and tried to get herself arrested – but Dean is supporting the war.) Still, one of those who spoke against endorsing argued against being dismissed as a bunch of crazy leftist Dean supporters. (It simply does not matter that Dean himself is afraid of the same thing and is supporting the war, because the media has not told people that.) This same speaker argued for "being progressive, but being careful about it, in order to maintain political credibility in the media."

One woman supporting endorsement pointed out that the Washington Post had today attacked as a bunch of communist wackos. But, I suspect that many in the room missed the irony. MoveOn is, of course, a very careful and conservative group, but if you consume too much news media, you'll believe otherwise, and trying to argue with you will be entirely pointless, it will be impossible to persuade you that MoveOn is not a bunch of radicals or that Howard Dean does not favor bringing the troops home. Disagreeing with these "facts" will be seen as some sort of logical fallacy.

Guilt by association attacks are part of the territory in progressive politics, no matter how NASCAR-Dad you go. You can't avoid them, and you may be more likely to find them if you try to avoid them. This is because the media likes to talk about the more moderate groups as being radical, as a means of shutting actually radical opinions out of the public debate entirely – even majority opinions like this one: "End the war!" If even the "radical leftist" groups can be quoted as saying that the war's not all that bad and we shouldn't rush recklessly into peace, the limits of the debate are narrowed substantially. Groups that stand more strongly for peace are more likely to receive no coverage than to receive critical coverage, but they will receive coverage if they are large enough and stand strongly together.

If we can start to see around the media, it becomes clear that no organization can be "politically credible" if it refuses to fully and consistently oppose this war.

If we want the groups we dislike to have a proportionately larger presence at the march, then we should stay home. If we want our polite and well-spelled signs, and our suits and ties to be seen, then we have to put them on and get out there in the streets.

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The meeting tonight voted 21 to 20 in favor of endorsing. But endorsement required a two-thirds majority; the rules said so. So, members of this organization will march, and they've even started organizing in a haphazard way how to march together. But they won't put serious organized effort behind it, and if some reporter does interview one of them on the street, the first words out of their mouths will be "I'm not here with those other crazies, but…."


Crazies? Cindy Sheehan's camp was attacked by a newspaper article today as a "Theater of the Absurd," at which people smoked pot because Joan Baez was there. Well, Joan was there, but nobody that I saw smoked pot. Even (legal) alcohol was banned. But who the hell cares? The public doesn’t take this stuff seriously. Look at the polls. They're not done very well, but they still tell a powerful tale of MAINSTREAM war opposition.

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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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