A New Kind of Activism

by John Troyer

Last Friday night, a good friend of mine and I were discussing the efficacy of violent property damage as a viable form of civil protest. The discussion began with the trial of Sarah Jane Olsen in Los Angeles and the work of the Symbionese Liberation Army during the 1970s and concluded with an outline for what my friend called “new activism.”

I would not be surprised to learn that in recent history the term “new activism” has been repeatedly used to describe a myriad of programs. More to the point, whenever the term new is used to describe something, I become suspicious only because an idea is rarely without progenitors, although the practice of the concept might be unprecedented. My use of the term “new activism” is the only way into an argument that I believe must be made for the American left to rethink previous, at times nostalgically remembered, protest methods. The importance of dissent, protest and political activism becomes increasingly urgent as the U.S. war on global terrorism begins to bore American audiences.

As an aside, I find few attitudes more malignant than individuals who insist on saying they are sick and tired of hearing about the war. The right to critical mediocrity is, however, a contemporary American pastime _ so to those people, I say agitate instead for new baseball stadiums. I can only imagine the issue’s urgency.

One of the major concerns I have currently is a recognizable nostalgia for previous protest movements among American leftists. I am certainly not advocating forgetting of anything learned in the past, but I firmly believe in adjusting tactics to the present.

In the winter of 1995, I heard Bobby Seale speak at the University about his work in founding the Black Panther Party. Seale was asked if he thought the use of guns was an appropriate form of protest for contemporary African-American activists. He said no. The best weapon to use, Seale suggested, was the video camera to record police brutality. What many, mostly white Americans, forget is it was not guns that made the Panthers inherently dangerous for the FBI. What made the Black Panther Party dangerous for the law enforcement officials was the color of their skin and their unfettered knowledge of the law.

The tools of protest, as Seale suggests, need to change with the times. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in his Sept. 27 New York Times opinions piece, “A New kind of War,” “Even the vocabulary of this war will be different.” Consequently, protest movements in America need to use different language tactics.

The conservative right, emboldened by the Bush administration, relies on predictable methods of protests to patronize: marches, rallies, self-righteous college newspaper columnists, etc. Public displays of discontent are extremely important. I am not suggesting large rallies are ineffectual; rather, the messages need to appear in other locations.

The Bush administration continues to say the war on terrorism will take years _ at least that suggests time exists for planning. The American left needs to start infiltrating television stations, editorial boards, city councils and school boards. Radical steps such as running for political office must begin as soon as possible. If the money can be found to start a satellite TV station for the American left, then use the technology.

Concerned college students need to intern with organizations that support their politics. The same students also need to intern in Washington, D.C., for the House or the Senate, for the White House–anywhere that places a person in the middle of the decision-making system. By learning the intricacies of the system, an opportunity exists to throw a monkey wrench into politics from the inside.

I suggest the term peace activist be changed to critical thinker (everyone must agree to keep that a secret from the right). Teach-ins must become anti-propaganda learning opportunities. The use of loud vocal chants must be reconfigured into a deafening silence. The politics and power of focused, concentrated groups acting in silence will draw more attention than the loudest screams. Chanting in unison does not mean the right has failed to silence dissenting voices. Most importantly, new activists must be ready to disobey by any and all means necessary.

The argument here is not about breaking the law, but simply not following the preordained directions. Acts of disobedience need to be site specific and tailored to a given situation so the right has trouble planning a counterspin. Disobeying the rules of popular opinion does not suggest breaking the law, although the time may come for that contingency. Flowers or bullets make the choices too limited, but sometimes push comes to shove. The Bush administration has made it clear a war is being fought for good against evil. Under that formulation, acting badly seems open to interpretation, so disobey at will.

I will conclude by recounting a recent event that made me think about activism. On Friday, Nov. 2, an altercation took place between two groups in New York City at the location of the decimated World Trade Center towers. One of the groups wanted to give their respects to the dead; the other was trying to keep the area secure. A fight erupted between the groups and arrests were made.

The two groups were comprised of members from the New York City Police Department and the fire department of New York. The firefighters marched into lower Manhattan to protest a decision by Rudy Giuliani’s administration to reduce the number of fire department personnel assisting in body recovery at the site of the former twin towers. The altercation did not last long, but an event causing a fight between police and firefighters is important to note. This event signals what I believe is a change in the numbing unity surrounding Sept. 11.

In years to come, I believe the physical violence between the police and firefighters will be discussed as an early indicator, an underreported situation signaling a change in American sensibilities about the need for new kinds of activism before they became fashionable. CP

John Troyer writes a weekly column for the Daily Minnesotan, the student newspaper at the University of Minnesota. He can be emailed at: troy0005@tc.umn.edu

November 26, 2015
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration