As the world waits with bated breath to hear what Obama will announce tonight, the usual organizations, ANSWER and others, are putting out alerts to citizens to join them in demonstrations in numerous cities against any increase in US troops. I've been joining them faithfully for many years, from the Iraq invasion to the Iraq surge, many other smaller actions in between, and at this point I've got to ask: Did it ever make a damned bit of difference?
I remember my feet feeling tired and being spent at the end of the day and feeling good because I thought I did something, but day after day, afterwards, the news reports kept coming in, kids torn to shreds, new escalations and new wars. So now I'll keep marching. But I'm damned if that's ALL I'm going to do. F that.
The eyes of many onlookers, as I recall, vary from hostility (though not much anymore) to sympathy and raised fists (lots of those) to an emotion I am getting a little sensitive to: pity. Here are these people yelling their hearts out in the streets. Do they really believe they are being heard by the people who make the decisions? Have they ever been heard?
The track record is not good.
If Obama announces a massive escalation of troops into Afghanistan tonight, then the peace movement's record of failure in stopping anything the military-industrial complex (MIC) wants will be perfect, going all the way back to Gulf War I.
With the 2006 Democratic majority elected to stop Bush in Iraq, then giving us a surge instead, with Obama elected to pull us out of Iraq (among other things) and it not happening yet, and with Obama now floating a massive surge into Afghanistan, with 6 out of 10 Americans now against any more troops there, the MIC is looking like a steamroller which will get what it wants no matter how we feel or who we vote for. President Dwight Eisenhower, of all the themes he might have struck in his Farewell Speech, looked far down the road and gave special prominence to one: To beware of the military-industrial complex.
"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex." - Eisenhower
What is little known is that in his initial draft of the speech Eisenhower used the term military-industrial-congressional complex, recognizing Congress's role in continuing wars through the critical power of the purse, which is exclusively a congressional prerogative.
I am not here to belittle the efforts of my brethren and sistren in the peace movement who call for us to take to the streets. The answer is, yes, it is necessary. But all by itself it is ineffective.
Times have changed since Vietnam, when we didn't have the Internet, but on the other hand we had a real press which would publish explosive documents like the Pentagon Papers despite threats of prosecution. We had a TV medium which brought the ugly side of war into our living rooms, rather than heavily-censored footage from embedded reporters. But now we do have the Internet, and it's up to the peace movement to harness it creatively to make up for what we have lost.
The fact is, congress makes its decisions within insulated bubbles. They could often care less about how many people are waving signs outside their windows in the Rayburn and Longfellow buildings. They don't care what kind of silly answers they have their staff members give to you individually over the phone, because they know few people will ever hear them. What they do still care about is being asked pointed questions about their support for war funding in public venues, like district meetings, because these get into the local papers. The potential for embarrassment is high. Embarrassment, and being caught flat-footed, is the swine flu of politics, to be feared and avoided at all costs. That's how other ambitious smart-alecks get the idea that this guy, or woman, might be worth taking on in a primary challenge.
And the public venue that can strip the insulation from a congressman faster than anything now is Youtube. If we are going to march, let's include in those marches contingents to district congressional offices,or their offices in DC, with camcorders to make them explain themselves to all the folks out there in the district, be it the congressmember or the staff member designated to convey that member's positions. A good start, if you are against a troop escalation, and against the wars, would be:
- Will you become a co-sponsor of Rep. Barbara Lee's HR 3699, prohibiting funding for any troop escalation in Afghanistan? If not, why not? (Bill and current cosponsors)
- Will you vote against any further funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the budget appropriations cycle next year, and instead direct similar funding toward American jobs programs? If not, why not?
- Will you support an alternative civilian solution in Afghanistan, directed at the poorest of Afghans and managed by Afghans, for Afghans, which would bring stability at a cost of one-tenth of what we spend on military operations in one year?
Jim Morrison said, "They have the guns, but we have the numbers." An update to that may be, "They have the campaign war chests and the powers of incumbency, but we have citizens' creativity and the Internet." The marches in the streets, alone, will change nothing. We need to get in their faces and stay there. The best is, one citizen with a camcorder, or even using just a cellphone camcorder, can do this. If the member refuses a recorded interview (unlikely, they are used to this) then you record the brass nameplate and those gorgeous mahogany doors and explain how they are afraid to answer basic questions from citizens.
These places are posh. In one of the Senate cafeterias, I could make a whole salad with the crisp, fresh garnishes they put out for themselves for free, to put on their burgers (very reasonably priced.) Lots of men in beautiful suits, I mean really beautiful, chowing down. You should visit. We must not allow them to keep making these life-and-death decisions within insulated bubbles any longer. Take to the streets, but go inside too. It's YOUR HOUSE.
Anyone who doesn't know how to put something on Youtube can contact me directly, ralphlopez2002-AT-hotmail.com. It's friggin easy.