Our Power is in the Streets and in Our Hearts
(from a talk at a Burlington, Vermont Town Meeting titled "Can We Vote to End The War?" Feb. 18, 2004)
I have never voted in the general election for a presidential candidate from one of the two major parties. The reason for this isn’t because I don’t believe in electoral politics–in fact, I usually vote for the various other offices on the ballot and make my mark regarding bond issues and so on. No, the reason I haven’t voted for a presidential candidate is because there has never been a mainstream candidate that expresses even half of what I believe in. Unlike the mainstream media, I actually look at the substance of the candidates’ messages, not just the style that they deliver them in.
This year a lot of my friends are in the camp that would vote for Anyone-But-Bush. Because of my deep disgust for Bush and his politics and style, I too am tempted to jump on this bandwagon. After all, as everyone up here must agree, it is essential not only to the country’s future, but to the world’s, that the Bush administration lose their jobs. Their plan for enriching themselves and their supporters through war and more war is not a plan that I can even begin to consider, mush less support. To be honest, I truly think they should be in court defending themselves against the crimes they have committed, but I can live with them being somewhere besides the White House and its environs.
Where do the remaining candidates stand on the war? Both Kerry and Edwards voted for the resolution that sent US troops into Iraq. Hell, John Edwards even helped write the resolution based on Cheney’s lies. Kerry signed on to the one that sent the military into Afghanistan-a war that isn’t about fighting terrorism as much as it is about revenge and empire. Kucinich and Sharpton did not.
Since the war in Iraq was falsely declared over, Kerry has tried to cloud over his support. Yet, if you read his statements around this issue, you will find that his argument isn’t over the rightness or wrongness of the war, but over how the war was waged. Of course, it is quite possible for a candidate to change his mind-they are human after all-but one has to wonder at the timing of Mr. Kerry’s conversion. In fact, the more important part of their position is what they think should be done in Iraq and now and what would they do in the future should a cry for war against another country arise.
John Kerry states in his campaign literature: "We need the rest of the world to be involved in order to reduce America’s carrying all the risks and all the costs, in order to reduce the targeting of American soldiers, and in order to maximize our ability to wage the war on terror in that region and elsewhere." It continues: "Senator Kerry supported legislation authorizing the use of force if necessary to disarm Iraq and remove the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s brutal and aggressive regime, a position he has not waivered from." In short, John Kerry only opposes the current war in Iraq because he believes that Bush’s unilateralist approach will make it more difficult to fight America’s other wars-in Afghanistan, Colombia, and wherever else its corporate interests are threatened.
John Edwards not only co-wrote the resolution that gave George Bush congressional permission to invade Iraq, he continues to wholeheartedly support the effort. Furthermore, he wants a larger military and more covert operations against governments and organizations that oppose the US agenda for the world. That means more Special Forces operations-operations that are often nothing more than cold-blooded murders. In his literature Edwards calls for an expansion of NATO and a renewed US resolve to get rid of the current governments in Cuba, northern Korea, and Middle Eastern countries other than Israel. He calls for actions against those countries that hold political prisoners, while simultaneously demanding greater restrictions on civil liberties in the US and harsher penalties for those convicted under various laws designed to curb dissent.
Kucinich also wants other governments to give up their young people to corporate America’s war in Iraq. He would turn the chore over to the UN-in essence asking them to be the Pentagon’s accomplices in this crime against humanity.
I want a candidate who says the war and occupation are fundamentally wrong, not one who merely wants to change its appearance. I want a candidate who will end the PATRIOT Act, not just bits and pieces of it. I haven’t heard these statements yet from any of them. And, if things continue as they have, I won’t hear it.
All of these men are of the mind that the US should finish what it started. Now, this is not merely foolish, it’s stupid. No matter what John Kerry or any other politician says, there is no right way to do the wrong thing. How many more people will have to die before the United States realizes that it cannot win a war against the world. It can, however, work to make a peace that works towards honestly resolving many of the problems that create the situations that lead it to war. First and foremost, that means that the US must stop thinking that its power is deserved. It isn’t. Just because it is stronger than any of its potential opponents doesn’t mean it deserves to rule the world. Just because it is stronger doesn’t mean it should get its way at the world’s expense.
I want peace and justice in the world. That means that I want there to be a fairer distribution of the world’s wealth. I am appalled that men, women and children die every day from hunger, disease and war. I am even further appalled when I realize that the government in DC and the corporations that it works for are directly responsible for those deaths. And so are we in some way. It’s not that we are bad people-although some in the current regime are definitely not very nice, to say the least-it’s just that the nature of our system and its need to continually take advantage of those who are weaker leads us to make decisions and compromises that lessen and destroy the lives of many who are less powerful. This is why we go to war so often. John Kerry says as much in his new book.
None of the candidates are going to address this. If they did, they would lose their media credibility and perhaps even their life. Besides, it is not in their interest to do so. John Kerry is a member of the Yale secret society known for its connections to the US intelligence community, the corporate world, and several other links to the tower of power in this country. This is the same secret society that Papa and Baby Bush belong to-Skull and Bones. John Edwards is no slouch, either. He is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor. Like Bill Clinton, he may have been born outside of America’s ruling circles, but he is doing whatever it takes to get in to them.
These guys are invested in this system! They share the assumption that if the interests of corporate America are threatened, then the American people are threatened as individuals. This is not usually the case. Even the more left candidates-Kucinich and Sharpton–don’t challenge the fundamental reality of corporate America, believing instead that this system can be humane even though it requires war and empire to survive. To address the basic inequities that this system needs to thrive would be tantamount to calling for a revolution and, in the United States of today, mainstream politicians just don’t do that. After all, it is that very system that keeps them employed, even when they are out of politics.
That is one reason why there are no candidates who are truly opposition candidates. They simply cannot run, much less win, with the way the US system is constructed. If you remember, last year on February 15-a year and three days ago tonight-millions of people around the world marched in the streets of their cities in opposition to the impending war on Iraq. This included over a half a million people in New York City alone, despite the sub-freezing temperatures and the refusal of the city and its police department to issue a permit. This day was the largest expression of antiwar feeling ever in the history of the world. Yet, did it make a bit of a difference to Washington? Hell no. Did it cause some of the Democratic candidates to modify their support for Dubya’s war of lies? Yes, but only for the moment.
I want to remind my friends who plan on voting for the Democratic candidate that democracy is not at the ballot box alone, especially in this country and especially after the 2000 election theft. No, real democracy is in the streets. So, for those of you who are supporting a candidate, please remember this and don’t let yourself be convinced that you have done all you can when Election Day is over. Equally important as after the election is the campaign itself. We who oppose the war and occupation must make it the major issue in this campaign.
To those on the left, let me assure you. I am not becoming a Democrat. But I truly believe that the history of the last fifty years in the US tells us that it is not repression that breeds radical change, but hope. And, in the current political reality of the US, it is the Democrats who bring hope to many of the workers, and most of the poor, the young and the elderly; women and people of color; and all the rest of this nation’s residents who are underrepresented in the halls of power. It always proves to be a mostly misguided hope, for sure, but, like it or not, this is history. If folks are arguing for a candidate, it seems to me that this means they want to change their situation. For us, it means that we should acknowledge this desire by moving the conversation beyond the Democrats and beyond Election Day. The conversation shouldn’t be about elections, but about taking back our country from the crooks and liars in both parties who think it’s there for the benefit of a relative few.
Just for a moment, I would like to revisit the 2000 election. If you recall, George Bush did not win that vote. His opponent did. What happened in the weeks following Election Day 2000 is this: George Bush and his gang stole the election. Plain and simple. And we let it happen. When elections are stolen in most other countries, people protest in the streets. But that didn’t happen here. Why? Because we are trained to think that our system is fair. That anyone can be president. Yet no woman has ever been president. No African-American has ever been president. Nope, nobody but white men has ever been president of the US. Sure, some of them haven’t been okay presidents, but those are the facts. And, in the 20th century, they were all pretty damn rich, besides. Judging from the current crop, that last fact isn’t going to change.
I have this recurring dream-it’s a nightmare, really-that a Democrat wins the election both by popular vote and by electoral college in November, yet on the day after Inauguration Day 2005, George W. Bush is still in the White House and a state of martial law has been declared because Ashcroft has put the nation in a Code Red Terror Alert. And nobody protests.
I hope this scenario is just a paranoid fantasy and that George Bush is back in Texas for good in 2005. But if his gang of thieves steal or otherwise ignore the results of an opponent’s victory, then we must be ready to put democracy back where it truly belongs-in the streets!! And if a Democrat does make it back to the White House, it is up to us to keep him as honest as a politician can be by constantly reminding him that real democracy isn’t in the White House or Congress or Wall Street, but amongst the people.
I can’t say this enough. We must not rest on our laurels.
To put it simply: a Democrat in the White House is not a step forward, but it might very well give us a few months to organize and pull America back from the abyss of war and totalitarianism that George Bush and company have led us into.
Let me leave you all with this thought: The most important thing to remember is that our power is in the streets and in our hearts, not in any candidate’s pocket. Let’s keep it there!
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is being republished by Verso.
He can be reached at: email@example.com