- "Regime Change" in the United States Will Occur Not Through Kerry's Election but When and If New Policies Change the Country's Direction...
- After November 2nd, the Burden Will Remain on We, the People, to Utilize the New Spaces Opened by the Defeat of Bush to Create, from Below, a New Context with which a Kerry Administration Will Have to Act...
- The Discussion of What We Will Do, if Kerry Wins, Begins Now...
The strong showing in Miami at the first presidential debate by Democratic nominee John Kerry - besting George W. Bush on his own turf of foreign policy - confirms all my beliefs of earlier this year: that if anyone in the United States can beat Bush on November 2nd it is Kerry.
Like many folks - certainly like most Americans living abroad (and whose only tenuous claims to residency in my own country are in the "safe" blue states of Massachusetts and New York) - I feel mostly powerless to determine the outcome of that vote. But after a long, boring, content-less summer campaign, I'm waking up to the political process underway North of the Border again with a glimmer in my eye that maybe, just maybe, the un-elected tyrant Bush will fall... and fall hard.
It's show time for Kerry: the hour when, in his past campaigns, he has come from behind to slash the tires of his opponent, squeak past him, and cross the finish line first. (Against as dirty a fighter as Bush, Kerry should feel no moral hesitation at all in playing even dirtier to win.) I'm betting - as I did last December and January in the Democratic primaries - that Kerry takes the November election decisively.
If that occurs, we will greet November 3rd bleary-eyed with a new swathe of possibilities both for hope and for disappointment. What will a President Kerry do about Iraq? The drug war? Latin America? Will a President Kerry be able to adapt to the world's fast-changing economic landscape in which nations with small and mid-sized economies are throwing the imposition of unfair "free" trade deals back in the faces of Washington and Wall Street?
The imposed sameness on all economies was still pronounced as inevitable just five years ago. But now it has, on a trajectory from Seattle 1999 to Cancun 2003 to Caracas 2004, crashed on the rocks of reality. Democracy and "free" markets are not Siamese twins: they are, rather, in a permanent and messy rivalry. There will surely be cases, over the next four years, in which a President Kerry, if he means his pro-democracy rhetoric, will have to reject the Clinton-Bush economic fundamentalism of recent years and choose democracy...
The Media, as the single-largest beneficiary of an electoral system dependent on obscene amounts of cash for candidates, parties and causes to purchase advertising in order to "reach" the public, is the king of the special interests. Its preeminence in American daily life has led to a situation by which our "democracy" sells, on every front, to the high bidders, forcing government officials to answer mainly to the imperatives of those on the economic top.
But what can a president do about such things in a time when nation-states, including the Empire based in Washington, have become mere rent-a-cops for capital and its self-appointed corporate owners?
Seven years ago this month, from "somewhere in the Mexican Southeast," I wrote an open letter to my old friend John Kerry (and also to his wife, Teresa Heinz) and published it in The Boston Phoenix. Amid the speculation that he might run for president in 2000, I said to him:
"But if on January 20, 2001, you find yourself on the Capitol steps, raising your right hand, taking an oath --- well, then you will learn just how powerless even presidents and kings have become in the shadow of the global empire of money and media."
For there is an additional specter over the U.S. elections next month that must be feared as much as a victory by the so-far un-elected George W. Bush. It is the possibility that Kerry wins and good people sigh with relief on November 3rd, saying, "Thank God. Now, with a Democrat in power, I can stop fighting against tyranny," and we go back to sleep for four or eight more years. That is what happened under Clinton - the daily management of the nation, its human and natural resources, and its foreign policy, was handed over to "the professionals" (that is to say, the bureaucratic classes in the revolving door between public and private sectors) and look at the mess we're in now.
The Clinton years, in retrospect, merely gave the forces of reaction a breather to regroup, to gain significant ground to co-opt and stop any fundamental change during his tenure, and to come back in the year 2000 with a bigger sledgehammer to pound us all.
A Kerry victory must not become another national sleeping pill, but, rather, a turning up of the volume on the American alarm clock so that it rings daily at the hours set from every home, farm, workplace, school and neighborhood: may the horns of revelry blow, and may we wake each day into battle to reclaim our country and, with our fellow and sister humans abroad, our world.
Kerry, presuming he will take his oath of office on January 20, 2005, will be - from my perspective as one who knows him - an essentially good man in an essentially bad situation. Not even from the official apex of the Empire can he, alone, change the course of history or pull back from wars. The task will not be only his, but also ours, not merely to push him according to traditional political tactics (lobbying, letter-writing, petitions, forming organizations, and the rest of those ineffective choices offered by Power's menu), but also to create, from below, the societal conditions under which he can - indeed, must - act against entrenched and mega-powerful interests, which, for Lieutenant Kerry, can only mean mobilizing the multitudes to awaken and fight.
To deepen my explanation of acting "from below," I turn to Subcomandante Marcos, spokesman for the indigenous rebel Zapatista movement in the Mexican state of Chiapas. In a communiqué published last weekend, Marcos wrote about Mexican presidential politics in words that reflect my own view towards those in the United States:
"In the Mexico of today, all politicians - even those who are leading in the opinion polls, in the front pages of the news stories or in the number of demonstrators, regardless of the color of the rhetoric they brandish or the sign of their party organization - can count on the sullen mistrust of us, the Zapatistas, with our skepticism and incredulity. Based solely on their words, promises, intentions, figures, opinion studies, they will absolutely not receive anything good from us. Nothing, not even the benefit of the doubt. Like the chief of the Liberation Army of the South, General Emiliano Zapata in front of [Mexico's post-revolutionary president] Francisco I. Madero, our hostility towards the politicians of the center will be an invariable rule: and, like Emiliano Zapata in front of the presidential chair, we shall continue turning our backs on the National Palace and on those who aspire to take that seat. And the same thing goes for the self-styled 'Congress of the Union' and the circus Judicial Branch of the Federation."
Why, then, have I, so skeptical about the unfair rules of the money-soaked electoral system in my homeland, taken such an interest on this BigLeftOutside blog and elsewhere for the past 16 months in the U.S. presidential race, in general, and the candidacy of Kerry, in particular?
Let me quote Marcos from the same communiqué:
"Elections pass, governments pass. The resistance remains as it is, one more alternative for humanity and against neoliberalism. Nothing more, but nothing less.
"However, consistent with the aversion we profess for dogmas, we will always admit that we could be wrong, and it could be, in effect, as the fashionable hacks are now predicting, necessary, urgent, essential, to deliver ourselves up unconditionally into the arms of those who, from above, are promoting changes which can only be achieved from below.
"We could be wrong. When we realize it because stupid reality gets in the way of our path, we will be the first to recognize that mistake in front of everyone, those who are with us and those who are opposed. It will be that way because we believe, among other things, that honesty in front of the mirror is necessary for all of those who, in word or in fact, are committed to the building of a new world."
I am among the ranks of those who Marcos describes as being unwilling to "deliver ourselves up unconditionally into the arms of those who, from above, are promoting changes which can only be achieved from below." John Kerry is not the answer to all our prayers. So far, he only provides an answer to one: that of Getting Bush out of there.
A Bush victory would bring certain doom to the dying dream of authentic democracy whereas a Kerry victory would bring continued uncertainty: I choose uncertainty over certain doom. And I choose what Howard Zinn called last summer "the small ledge to stand on" that a Kerry presidency would bring to social movements. We must occupy that ledge and expand that tiny space into multiple spaces, platforms, and gardens that retake a whole damn country, a planet, and a human race that craves change in a different direction than that which the current economic and other fundamentalisms foist upon us.
There is, indeed, a path to create the conditions by which a President Kerry can get U.S. troops out of Iraq, can pull back from a destructive and senseless drug war, can take the boot off the neck of Authentic Democracy in Latin America and elsewhere (including inside the United States) and can make progress (rather than wallow in reaction) on all the many splendored fronts for human dignity, freedom, and self-determination.
That said: It is overly simplistic to blame our current predicament on the attacks of September 11, 2001 or on the Bush administration's cynical exploitation of the fears they wrought. Even before that date, social movements and change agents in the United States had become soft under Clinton and had already been placed on the defensive by Bush. Too often, I see activists behaving like chickens with their heads cut off, running blindly around in panicked circles, repeating past mistakes by trying to relive past glories, getting caught up in bureaucracy and outmoded ideas of pressure politics and identity politics, and, of course, engaging in what I have oft-described here as the beautiful losers syndrome: the sad story of those who fear victory.
The beautiful losers would rather keep losing in order to remain "pure" and "right" (and, in some of the saddest cases, hang on to their activist bureaucrat paying gigs and sinecures) than to win and accept the duties that come with victory to be partners in constructing a better world. (A friend just asked me to provide an example of a "beautiful loser." I can answer that in two words relevant to this election: Ralph Nader.)
I choose not to wait until November 2nd to begin a national and international discussion from below of how to seize the potential opportunities of a Kerry presidency (and, of course, how to avoid the certain disappointments that will come if social movements, change agents, and authentic journalists remain on "auto pilot" without clicking "refresh" on our own strategies and tactics).
I pose five questions to BigLeftOutside readers, to begin:
- How to create the societal conditions where a President Kerry could, most rapidly, get U.S. troops out of Iraq?
- How to create the societal conditions where a President Kerry could begin to pull national policy back from a destructive prohibitionist drug war policy that has turned America into the most imprisoned state on earth?
- How to create the societal conditions where a President Kerry could take the boot of U.S. imposition off of Latin America (and elsewhere) and create the space in which authentic democracy can thrive from below?
- What to do about the 800-pound gorilla in the way of all social progress on those fronts and others: An un-elected and anti-democratic Commercial Media?
- Where do the activist movements, especially that largest one often described badly as the "anti-globalization" movement, go from here? Just as a President Kerry will have to adapt to new realities, so must we.
This essay, with your opportunity to comment, originally appeared at: