An Army of None

O.K. I admit it. Sometimes I watch Dr. Phil, the pop psychologist on TV. There is one episode, if I remember, where Dr. Phil is consoling a battered woman, whose husband beats on her from time to time. The family gets along for a few weeks at a time, but sooner or later, big boss breaks his promise and continues the violence. All her complaints and pleas for change, her efforts to curry favor and appease him, have failed. And after years of disappointment, she wants Dr. Phil to help her. Dr. Phil listens. He takes her hand and asks a simple question:

“You tried to change his mind. How’s that workin’ for you?”

“It isn’t working, Dr. Phil,” she says. “He makes promises, but nothing I say really changes his behavior.”

Dr. Phil looks at her. He pauses and then says: “If you want different you gotta do different.”

Electoral politics are not working in America. We keep going back to Congress. Congress makes promises, yet the violence continues. If the peace movement wants different, it has to do different.

Legislators do not end wars. People do. That’s the theme of a practical new book on counter-recruitment and people power — Army Of None: Strategies to Counter Military Recruitment, End War and Build a Better World. “The anti-war movement needs a new strategy to stop the war and end the occupation,” write Aimee Allison and David Solnit.

I first met the writer-activists at a vibrant rally in Oakland, California. After songs and raps, 300 Black and Latino students shut down the Armed Forces Career Center. Graffiti over the front door read: “A better world is possible.” I remember one of the raps: “Ain’t no power like the power of the people, ’cause the power of the people can’t stop — say what?” As one speaker put it: “We don’t need to rely on intermediaries to make change. We ourselves are agents of peace and democracy.”

Allison and Solnit helped organized the rally. Allison is a popular Green Party activist in Oakland. Solnit was a key organizer of “the battle of Seattle” in 1999. Their hopes, their new concepts of strategy, and their experiences in the counter-recruitment movement are explained in this timely book published by Seven Stories Press, 2007. Army Of None is a direct challenge to the militarization of American youth. It’s not a treatise on non-violence or strategy. It’s a toolkit, a practical how-to manual, for the emerging politics of non-cooperation and direct action. It is addressed to students, newcomers in the movement, practitioners of change, ordinary people who are prepared to end militarism through their own direct efforts.

The Jeff Paterson and David Hanks photos — a Latino march for immigration rights and peace; recruitment centers plastered with anti-war graffiti; war resisters denouncing the military lies of state; Lt. Ehren Watada delivering his historic address to Veterans for Peace; the feisty Harlem Grandmothers Against the War — all convey the humor, the joy, spontaneity, the defiance and sense of empowerment of an emerging force for change.

The Core of People Power Strategy

A short chapter on people power strategy deserves special attention. Strategy is determined by core assumptions about the nature of political power in society. Electoral strategists tend to assume that social change depends primarily on the mindset and good will of power holders. Politics is about changing their minds. Through petitions, letters, on-line fundraising and phone calls, big demonstrations, even creative tactics for which Code Pink is famous, the electoral peace movement seeks to influence the minds of legislators in Washington, D.C.

People power strategy rests on different assumptions about power. For Solnit and Allison, the power of rule is not intrinsic. It comes from outside, from below. Rulers depend on daily, almost unconscious compliance of the people. The rich cannot accumulate their profits without the compliance of the poor. And no military can function without obedient troops.

Allison and Solnit show us that the war in Iraq rests on three pillars — the troops themselves, corporate power, and media propaganda. In conjunction with a growing number of GI resisters, the counter-recruitment movement is directed at the first pillar of war. Counter-recruitment has already reduced the number of soldiers available to the military. And GI resistance is causing a crisis of conscience inside the military itself.

Pillars are the sources of power without which the occupation could not continue. As these pillars come down, the war ends. In and of itself, public opinion does not stop war. Only when public opinion is transformed into a material force does real change take place.

The people power section is all too short. But it is a beginning. Army Of None includes a list of contacts and resources for counter-recruitment; a list of key facts to answer military disinformation campaigns; a short history of psy-war techniques directed at youth; worksheets for preparing local campaigns; and a unit on the power of stories, narratives of struggle, and peace.

Army Of None is published at a pivotal moment in the peace movement. Many hard-working peace activists were stunned when Congress betrayed its mandate, voting to continue house raids, bombing of villages, mass roundups of Iraqi males, collective reprisals, ongoing torture, and all the known brutalities inherent in imperial occupations. Now peace activists, angry and disillusioned throughout the U.S., are rethinking strategy, questioning the view that electoral lobbying is the primary path to peace.

Allison and Solnit are training a new generation of anti-war activists, helping them to “take ownership over the process of change.”

“Nonviolent direct action has been an essential part of every successful social change movement in the United States. The slavery abolition movement, women’s suffrage, campaigns for worker rights, the black civil rights movement, anti-war, environmental justice, human rights, AIDS justice and housing and human needs campaigns all owe much of their success to this kind of activism.”

“When the established channels for change fail, people everywhere assert their democratic right to be involved in the decisions that impact their lives by engaging in direct action.”

After all, if you want different, you gotta do different.

PAUL ROCKWELL is a columnist for In Motion Magazine. He can be reached at: