The current issue of the UTNE Reader (May–June ’07) carried a short but sensibly provocative article protesting the stagnation and the cul-de-sac nature of street protests that involve nonviolent civil disobedience.
Joseph Hart, the author, asks why the current antiwar movement is so impotent, despite “a staggering 67 percent disapproval of President Bush’s handling of the war–a level that matches public sentiment at the tail end of the Vietnam War, when street protests, rallies, and student strikes were daily occurrences.”
He believes it is because, quoting Jack DuVall, president of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, that “a street demonstration is only one form of protest and protest is only one tactic that can be used in a campaign. If it’s not a part of a dedicated strategy to change policy, or to change power, protest is only a form of political exhibitionism.”
Both gentlemen are being incomplete. Even without a military draft in place to arouse a larger public, the protestors against the Iraq war have affected the 2006 elections, performed sit-ins in Congressional offices, filed lawsuits against Bush’s violations of people’s civil liberties, brought Iraqi spokespeople to meet with influential Americans, worked with Iraq veterans against the war as well as with numerous former high ranking military, diplomatic and intelligence officials now retired from service in both Republican and Democratic Administrations who openly opposed the invasion at the outset.
Clearly all this has not been enough to move the Democrats to decisive action.
The obstinate, messianic militarist in the White House remains unmoved. With his ignorance of history itself becoming historic, this latter day obsessively compulsed, King George thinks he’s a 21st century Winston Churchill.
Through the wide arc of his persistent lawlessness, Mr. Bush has done the country much damage here and abroad. But he has also demonstrated how variously the rule of law can be swept aside with impunity. He is both outside and above the Constitution, federal statutes, international treaties to which the U.S. is solemn signatory, and the restraints of the Congress and the federal courts.
A major restructuring of our laws to embrace the outlaw Presidency under Mr. Bush, or any like-minded successors, now has a solid empirical basis from which to move forward. Presidential outlawry did not start with Mr. Bush. It has been building up for a long time going from the episodic to institutionalized forms.
For example, it is now routine for the courts to opt out of giving any citizen, group or member of Congress legal standing on matters of foreign and military policy even to plead their cases against the President. Here the courtroom door is closed.
For Mr. Bush, what would be repeated criminal negligence by anyone else, there has been immunity from lawsuits by families of soldiers–and there were hundreds of them–who died because they were not provided with body and Humvee armor over three years of more in Iraq. Immunity even from equitable lawsuits seeking a mandamus for obligated action ignored by the President.
The Bush officials had the funds with which to procure these shields but somehow the Halliburtons got more of their urgent attention.
Clearly, the diverse opposition to Bush’s war needs to move to higher levels. More meticulous lobbying in Congressional Districts, more pressure to initiate impeachment hearings, more exposure to what the Iraqi people, suffering so terribly, want, much more organized focus by the retired, established military and civilian officials whose previous courage and experience give them great credibility today.
The number of active duty soldiers petitioning their member of Congress to end the war now exceeds twelve hundred. Since 72% of the soldiers in Iraq wanted the U.S. out within six to twelve months in a Zogby poll released very early in 2006, there is more potential from this source of actual military theatre experience.
The timid, anti-war members of Congress require more than all this opposition. Apparently they are looking for intensity, for more people having the war on their minds, demanding that the huge monies for this overseas destruction be turned into providing necessities for their communities.
These lawmakers seem to need to be buttonholed whenever they return to their Districts. In Washington, they keep saying things like, “Yeah, I know the polls but Americans are more interested in American Idol and their iPods.”
So, Americans, start the buttonhole movement–at their Congress members’ town meetings, at the clambakes they attend this summer, at the local parades where they strut, over at their local office (see the yellow pages listing under U.S. Government for the addresses and phone numbers) and through letters and telephone calls. You count when you make them count you.
Log onto www.democracyrising.us to keep current with what’s going on during this most unpopular war in U.S. history madly driven by arguably the most unpopular President in the last century. Democracy Rising director Kevin Zeese has many opportunities for you to get involved back home.
RALPH NADER is the author of The Seventeen Traditions