Evidence Of Things Unseen: The Rise of a New Movement

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following piece is adapted from a speech Tom Hayden gave at the Bioneers Conference on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2003.

The chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, has said that “Intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean something is true. That’s not what intelligence is.”

Keep that in mind as I discuss what James Baldwin called the “evidence of things unseen.”

A few weeks ago in Cancun, I watched at the barricades as a South Korean farmer appeared to shake his fist in militant anger at the dispossession of his people. I did not see that he was committing ritual suicide with a knife. As far as I know, neither did anyone else. Hours later, the WTO issued a press release stating its “regret” at what it called the “self-inflicted” wound that resulted in the farm leader’s death. I began to wonder how many other deaths we see but do not see. Farmers in India poisoning themselves with pesticides. Farmers in America quietly committing suicide. A rise in suicides among American soldiers in Iraq.

These unseen deaths should be seen as signs of the times. They are birth pangs as well. For example, in the past three weeks some 80 Bolivians have given their lives — hardly the first time in their 500-year-long struggle — but these cocoleros, these sweatshop workers, these indios, have overthrown the government over globalization issues and sent their mine-owning, American-trained president packing.

The evidence of things unseen. There is rising a new movement in the world. It is bigger than the movement of the 1960s. Yet it is barely seen by the experts and analysts. They look only at the behavior of institutions and politicians, not the underlying forces that eventually burst into visibility.

The first strand of this new movement is the global opposition to the war in Iraq and to an American empire.

One year ago this month, when over 100,000 demonstrators hit the streets in Washington DC, the New York Times reported that surprisingly few attended the anti-war march, perhaps out of fear of the sniper. National Public Radio repeated the story. How could they not see the 100,000? Apparently because such protests were not supposed to happen anymore. Both the Times and NPR were forced to apologize a few days later and report the huge turnout. Then, in another correction, the Times announced in February that there was a “second superpower” in the world in addition to the White House, which was world public opinion. By then 10 million people were demonstrating globally; two million in Rome, one million in London, 200,000 in Montreal in 20-degrees-below weather — even a brave few in McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

The second strand is the global justice movement, which began with the Zapatistas on the day NAFTA took effect, then surfaced in Seattle in 1999. Those were called isolated events. Then came Genoa, Quebec City, Quito, Cancun, the world social forums in Porto Allegre. Far from isolated events, these were the historic battlegrounds of a new history being born.

Together these movements mount a challenge to an entire worldview. We are experiencing an enlargement of dignity, an enlargement of what we consider sacred and therefore off the table, not negotiable. The purported Masters of the Universe are becoming as obsolete as those who once claimed the divine right of kings. The earth and its people are not for sale; the environment is not just a storehouse of materials for utilitarian exploitation; and cultural identities can’t be replaced as if they were commodities, whether the treasures of Babylon or the rainforests of the Amazon. This movement is saying that diversity will not be looted.

Why is this happening? No one really knows. Movements arise in mystery at the margins, eventually change the mainstream, are repressed or co-opted, and return to the oblivion we call official history.

One explanation is that the globalization of US military and economic power is globalizing an opposition. It’s a dialectic and, as it swirls and intensifies it can even bring down George Bush.

This new globalization arises, some say, in response to a power vacuum after the Cold War which the US filled. But contrary to the end-of-history theorists, the failure and fall of communism did not mean the dialectic was dead and that the wretched of the earth would quietly go away.

But globalization was emerging long before the 90s, before NAFTA and the WTO, the World Bank and IMF. The settling of America itself was an act of colonization and “development.” Then came Manifest Destiny, the defeat of the Indian tribes, the annexation of the western lands, the wars with Mexico, the seizure of Hawaii and the Philippines.

For indigenous people the Conquest is not over. Most of our foreign aid programs and social policies are only efforts to reform the Conquest, not end its invisible structure of power relations.

For Muslims, the Crusades are not over. We should ask if the Crusades are over for President Bush. There was the alleged slip of the tongue when he described the war on terrorism as a crusade. There was his Inaugural, blessed by Rev. Franklin Graham, who denounced Muslims and proudly presided over the quadrupling of missionaries in Iraq since the first Gulf War. This week there is the revelation of another Christian crusader at the pinnacle of the Pentagon, Gen. William Boykin.

To globalize and militarize are the two strategies of the US will to empire, driving our movements toward a unified opposition.

The National Security Strategy of September 2002, which announced the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war, also included the free market, free trade and the FTAA as principles the Pentagon is bound to advance and protect. So our official national security policy is about more than terrorism, nuclear proliferation or legitimate military threats; it is about defending what the document proclaims is a “single sustainable model for national success.”

Or as Thomas Friedman, globalization’s leading defender, puts it: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonalds cannot flourish without McDonnell-Douglas.”

Take the example of Iraq today, the complete stripping and privatization of the public sector (with only oil exempted so far). L. Paul Bremer, the man who dresses in pinstripe suits and combat boots, who represents Henry Kissinger’s invisible corporate clients, is very clear that his mission is to replace sovereign Iraqi control of its economy with a free-market model controlled by absentee foreign owners primarily from the US. Helping ourselves to the spoils of war is part of our national security strategy.

While there is growing opposition in this country to the American death toll and budgetary costs of the Iraqi quagmire, there is virtually no debate about our assault on the Iraqi public sector by the writ of Bremer. Only a deeper joining of the global justice movement with the peace movement can begin to expose and protest these policies.

Of course these are not new developments. Halliburton is connected to Kellogg, Brown and Root, the Texas corporation that funded Lyndon Johnson’s rise to power. It also built the airstrips in Vietnam, which became the corrugated metal fences at the US-Mexico border, and which is today reincarnated as a virtual Dick Cheney subsidiary on the battlefields of Iraq.

Similarly, the author of the so-called “clash of civilizations” thesis, Samuel Huntington, is the same policy advisor who invented the doctrine of “forced urbanization” for South Vietnam, deliberately turning a 90-percent peasant culture into an urban “Honda culture” in a decade.

What’s new is the audacity of the drive for an American-dominated planet. “Empire is coming out of the closet” writes Charles Krautheimer. “What’s wrong with dominance?” asks William Kristol. And Max Boot calls for a return to British-style imperialism complete with “enlightened administrators in jodhpurs and pith helmets.”

All this international expansion is seamlessly tied to the homefront. It not only justifies the curtailment of civil liberties and the revival of arrogant patriotism among the corporate media, but also unprecedented increases in military spending, tax cuts and deficits. These are not overreactions to September 11, or isolated policy excesses, but part of a pattern of diminishing democratic rights and defunding democratic government. They are a backdoor assault on the achievements of the Great Society, the New Deal and before that the Progressive movement that regulated capitalism at the turn of the last century. The Republican agenda is to return to a society in which market values eclipse and replace the role of the public sector in the economy.

Take for example Grover Norquist, who fancies himself a generalissimo in the conservative revolution. Under the innocuous banner of “tax reform,” Norquist hopes that enough tax breaks and budget cuts will “drown the baby in the bathtub.”

He’s talking about defunding child care, health care, public schools, public investment in the inner city, public investment in a restored environment. He sees government, the public sector, as a failure to be eradicated, not instead of an institution to protect us from the failures of the market.

Or take Niall Ferguson, a major advocate of empire and contributor of many influential articles in the New York Times, who has extolled the Protestant Ethic as the major difference between America and Europe. Let me take you through his clever argument on behalf of a WASP America. First, he notes that Americans attend church services in far greater numbers than Europeans, evidence that Max Weber’s “protestant ethic” is alive and well here. As a result, Americans are inspired to work harder and longer than the Germans, the French, the Dutch and Norwegians who are “astonishingly idle,” “work-shy” and, of course, “Godless.” He says the Protestant Ethic is being replaced in Europe by “the spirit of secularized sloth.”

Ferguson is complaining that German workers are on the job just 1,535 hours a year in comparison with virtuous Americans grinding away at 1,976 hours. That difference of over 400 hours worked is the equivalent of 62 days a year. Ferguson — and corporate globalization defenders in general — want to stop Europeans from taking long vacations with their families and retiring earlier to enjoy the quality of life. They want to roll back — they call it reform — labor gains of the whole past century.

Well, I tell you, if Americans learn to read between the lines and understand what the conflict with the Europeans is about, they will reject the scapegoating and bashing that comes out of this Administration.

Instead of looking down our noses at the Europeans, we should be Europeanizing our approach to work, vacations and leisure time — and for that matter, Canadianizing our approach to health care. How’s that for a progressive platform — longer vacations for all!

Instead, because of cultural brainwashing, a recent survey showed that 19 percent of Americans thought they already were in the top 1 percent income bracket, and another 20 percent believed they would be eventually. That’s what watching too much television in the center of empire can do to your head, and why the struggle is a cultural one, not simply political or economic, but a battle over how images and demons and fantasies are produced and wired into our consciousness.

But there are unseen resources in our history that can fortify us for this struggle. Thankfully, historians like Howard Zinn have shown us a “people’s history” that is just as important to restore as our cultural and environmental resources.

There were those who opposed the original aggression and broken treaties against the indigenous on these lands. We honor their example. There were Americans who opposed slavery, who opposed annexation, who opposed the wars with Cuba and Mexico, who opposed the subordination of women. We honor them in our lives today. The Sierra Club was founded here, the Abolitionists, the NAACP, the Suffragettes, the Populists, the emigrant workers of Lowell who marched for bread and roses, they are present here today. We have deep roots in movements against monoliths, monocultures, monomaniacs and mammon.

Today the converging movements are in sync with the larger body of public opinion, and spilling over into the mainstream. We see this in the phenomenal growth of MoveOn.org, the grassroots support for Howard Dean, for Dennis Kucinich, in the growing fear and loathing of the Pentagon, the White House and Fox News.

Despite the spin, despite the play on our patriotic feelings, despite the legitimate worries about terror, a majority of Americans — and a strong majority of Democrats — are questioning the purpose of Iraq, the credibility of the administration, the needless deaths, the unexpected costs, and sacrifice of our domestic needs on the altar of empire. Dissent has even appeared among military families and GIs on the battlefield, angry about the callous manipulation of the body count to justify the President’s pledge that the military mission is “accomplished.” Dissent within the military is a sign that the end is beginning.

Because public opinion is moving, the Democratic presidential candidates are changing their themes in a positive direction. Just last year, the corporate centrists of the Democratic Party were counseling the candidates to support the President’s war, to divorce themselves from any allegiances to the 60s, to wait for the Iraq war to end amidst cheering in Baghdad, and then somehow defeat the president on incremental issues like prescription drugs for the elderly. Talk about out of touch.

Now, in response to the public protests and plain questions of grassroots Democrats, all the Democratic candidates are questioning the president on Iraq, his trade agreements and jobs. Think of them as opportunists if you will, but I think of them as a huge speakers’ bureau carrying our questions and themes to millions of middle Americans.

Each of us may decide to back an individual candidate, and that can expand our movement. But let’s not let ourselves be swallowed in any single campaign. When the candidates ask for our time and money, let’s also ask them to join our movement around a new vision of what America can be.

As the global forums have insisted, “Another world is possible,” words embraced by the French foreign minister when the US war was rebuffed at the UN. The vision of another world already is becoming manifest in local struggles:

  • A reform of the global trade system with enforceable standards to protect sweatshop workers and rainforests, not simply investors in video cassettes and privatizers of water.
  • The re-regulation of crony capitalism, from Enron abuses to public financing of elections.
  • A shift from being the world’s leading arms supplier to greater investment in the UN’s anti-poverty programs. In JFK’s time we spent one percent of our gross domestic product on fighting poverty; today it is 0.13 percent, little more than zero.
  • Resisting the oil, chemical and utility conglomerates from Cheney’s task force to the Bolivian pipelines, towards energy conservation and renewables.
  • Promoting grassroots participatory democracy in decisions that affect people’s lives, as a vital ingredient in governing.

George Bush can be defeated; even the polls confirm it. But who knows if the Democratic Party can defeat him? Who knows if we can bridge the differences between the Democrats, the Greens and Ralph Nader? Politics is a power struggle, not an exact reflection of public opinion. But the fear and loathing are out there, building, and with enough dedication in 2004 we can remove this cloud over our future.

We owe it to ourselves, to our progressive traditions, and perhaps most of all to the world, to prevent a second term for this president. The way to assure a democratic future politically is to prevent what the conservatives conceive as a Second Coming. So I ask your righteous suspicions about electoral politics, set aside your attachments to any single candidate, and see this as a powerful convergence of many campaigns to defeat George Bush. The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

If we do not succeed, we at least will have reached millions more people with our message and networking, and we will need that public support in the years ahead. Even if our best efforts fall short, remember than even those who have the power can be forced to make big concessions.

SDS burned out and McGovern lost, but Nixon had to retreat from Vietnam and recognize China. There came the vote for 18-year-olds, the end of the draft, the creation of the EPA, OSHA, the Clean Air and Water acts.

Bush won the presidency with the help of his Supreme Court, but the same Court ruled in favor of the gay-lesbian community against sodomy laws after 40 years of struggle that began with riots in Greenwich Village. The recent Court decisions on medical marijuana show the formidable power of public opinion on the move.

It comes down to recognizing the dignity in all things. Dignity has intrinsic value, it cannot be violated without a resistance. It cannot be defeated. Wherever there is life, dignity resists suffocation and oblivion. That’s the world we want. That’s the world the world wants. Not an empire, not even a world of great powers, but a world of democracies based on dignity.

Tom Hayden is a progressive activist, author and former California elected official. His most recent book is Irish on the Inside.

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.org

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