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A New Opening for Social Transformation?

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Madison.

An improbably cool Saturday for July, with a Farmers Market crowd numbering in the thousands filling the sidewalks. Our crowd, against the catastrophe ongoing in Gaza and for Palestinian human rights, was probably no more than 150 (a third Jewish, by my unreliable count). A happy group basking in the sunshine while we chanted and marched. Apart from the passerby who hissed “Self-Hating Jews!” (a curse that tickles me, as a Gentile) there was little anger and much determination among the mixture of young and My Age.

It reminded me intensely of the first days of the civil rights movement and the first days of the Vietnam antiwar movement, both of these now so long ago but warm in memory. The media ignored us or pissed on us, politicians resolutely stood on the side of the prejudices (or financial contributors) and the day of any kind of turn-around seemed far off, if we would ever reach it at all.

Then, as now, we paused to look outward. Large parts of the world were firmly on our side, often with support movements and demonstrations many times the size of our own. This gave us strength we could not have managed otherwise, I am sure. And also persuaded the most adept of us that even political leaders and corporations might be compelled to come around, mostly when their own interests would be advanced or at least not harmed.

I can look back, at shorter range, at the Wisconsin Uprising that brought up to a quarter million in the streets around the Capitol, just three years ago. Teachers, health workers, government employees—in some sectors, overwhelmingly proud, professional working women—stood strong. We were defeated in the short run, and presumably we face the same opposition now, along with the deceived and the apathetic. We were part of the global anti-austerity movement that has quieted but not sputtered out, and will surely rise again.

And that, I think, is my take-away today. The tens of thousands and hundreds of thousand (90,000 in London alone…ignored by the media) adding up to millions are in the streets, will be in the streets intermittently, as long as the killing continues. My hope is that we can be build a generous, encompassing movement as cheerful and good humored as my fellow demonstrators showed today. There will surely be  ups and downs, nutball sectarians, and ethnic haters every bit as bad (if not so empowered) as Israel’s current leaders. This, too, can be overcome, must be overcome, as we march onward.

Paul Buhle,  Civil Rights Class of 1960, is a retired Senior Lecturer at Brown University. Buhle currently edits comic art book, including RADICAL JESUS (Herald Press). 

Paul Buhle is a retired historian, and co-founder, with Scott Molloy, of an oral history project on blue collar Rhode Islanders.

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