The New Republic magazine–a pro-war Democratic Party rag – thought it would be provocative to muse about killing and torturing anti-war activists. New Republic writer T.A. Frank found it cheeky to sit in and mock an anti-war panel sponsored by the DC Anti-War Network, the DC ISO and others. He thought it would make his colleagues chuckle to wish for “John Ashcroft to come busting through the wall with a submachine gun to round everyone up for an immediate trip to Gitmo, with Charles Graner on hand for interrogation.” The New Republic thought they would score points with their puffy beltway buddies by printing a call for someone to “take a bunker buster to [internationally known anti-war author] Arundhati Roy.” The New Republic also thought they”d get away with it. They were wrong.
On Friday, about fifty-plus anti-war and global justice activists picketed their shabby Washington DC offices [tough times for TNR]. We were loud and proud demanding both print-space to rebut Frank”s psychotic rant as well as a formal apology. As we chanted gems like “Stop the Threats, Stop the Lies; New Republic Apologize” and “New Republic YOU can go Kill and Die for Texaco,” their quivering editorial team remained holed upstairs, refusing to address our demands, defend Frank”s rant, or even leave the office. While their staff shook in the newly christened “New Republic Panic Room,” we handed out hundreds of leaflets to passers-by outlining their nasty dirge.
Our “Fight the New Republic[ans]” campaign began when we posted a response to Frank on the CounterPunch website. The reaction was staggering with TNR receiving hundreds of e-mails and phone calls. It was incredible, as letters poured in from around the world, from anti-war vets to unionists in India. Despite the diversity of responders, the message was quite unified: if you want to get to Arundhati Roy, you have to go through us first.
The ferocity and confidence of the response inspired us to call our demonstration. This was no easy decision, as the Left in Washington DC has seen better days. But once again we were surprised that groups ranging from the DC Anti-War Network, the Mobilization or Global Justice and the Washington Peace Center enthusiastically supported our call. Then, because we took the step to not just fulminate and blog but act, our demo plans were written up in Alexander Cockburn”s brilliant ëMinority Report” column in The Nation magazine.
Cockburn and his editorial partner Jeffrey St. Clair further stepped up by linking our call to action to the masthead on the Counterpunch website. All of this injected a tremendous confidence going into the Friday picket. It showed us that when we have the courage to initiate a fight, we would not walk alone. It also demonstrated that these right wingers are no better than your typical school yard bully: if you stand up to them with politics that are confident and clear, they wither like Donald Rumsfeld in a room of GIs.
Our demo did not transpire without debate. Some argued we were advocating “censorship” by holding a picket. This is dead wrong. The violators of free speech here are the laptop thugs at the New Republic, calling for the heads of those whose views they despise. We were defending our right to voice dissent without being threatened by violence. By demanding print space in their magazine, we are challenging them to expand the parameters of speech around the occupation of Iraq. Far from censoring, we have made it clear that we will debate T.A. Frank and his ilk anytime, anywhere.
Now that we have raised hell at their office doors, TNR wants our campaign to just go away. They won”t be so lucky. We are calling on everyone to keep up the pressure. E-mail The New Republic at email@example.com. Call them up at 202/508-4444. Ask them if the official position of the magazine is to torture and kill people they disagree with–they love that. Also on March 3, my union, the National Writers Union”s DC chapter, is going to take up The New Republic”s efforts to intimidate writers as a point of action for the foreseeable future.
The New Republic is a magazine trying to stake out territory on the right wing of the Democratic Party. The New Republic believed it could earn street-cred among the DLC hacks upon whose buttocks their lips are permanently attached. The New Republic thought they could do this on the backs of our movement. They miscalculated, because unlike them, we have a spine.
DAVE ZIRIN’s new book “What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States will be in stores in June 2005. You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com.