Cindy Sheehan’s Lesson

One of the most astonishing and demoralizing comments I ever heard was in response to Cindy Sheehan’s August, 2005, anti-war demonstrations outside George W. Bush’s Prarie Chapel Ranch (near Crawford, Texas).  A commentator declared that, by protesting in so public and defiant a fashion, Sheehan had, in fact, “embarrassed” herself.

Sheehan’s son, Casey, joined the U.S. Marines because he was a patriot, because he wanted to do something meaningful in response to 9-11, because he believed the White House’s accounts of WMD and Saddam Hussein’s role in the attack, and because he believed that by enlisting in the military he’d be helping the fight against terrorism.  He got sent to Iraq and, on April 4, 2004, was killed.

After his death, Sheehan learned that WMD didn’t exist, that Saddam Hussein had no role in 9-11 (and that the White House knew he didn’t), that post-Saddam Iraq is a country defined by duplicity, confusion, blood feuds and corruption, and that, as American soldiers continued to die and American taxpayers continued to foot the bill, the contractors, private security firms and military ordnance corporations continued to rake in their blood money, hand over fist.

Feeling betrayed and angry, Sheehan attempted to draw attention to the debacle by doing more than simply writing letters to the editor or starting her own vanity blog.  She put herself on the line.  And for this—for a mother’s loss of a son and a woman’s courage to defy authority—people looked at her askance and accused her of embarrassing herself?  Sweet Baby Jesus…..how cynical and distracted have we become?

Unfortunately, a similar sense of “embarrassment” infects America’s working class.  A century ago, workers weren’t ashamed to hit the streets and take on those who ran the country’s industry and financial institutions.  We don’t do that today because workers don’t recognize the fundamental tension between the privileged rich and the lower class and the rapidly dwindling middle-class, and because workers have a negative self-image.

Given that sports’ metaphors have permeated virtually every aspect of our society, we now see things only in terms of winners and losers.  As a consequence, working people have come to regard themselves as “losers.”  Who among them is willing to engage in civil disobedience?  Who wants to publicly identify himself—to draw attention to himself by marching in the streets or occupying a building—as a loser?

As the old adage goes, no parent hopes that their babies grow up to be forklift drivers.  Broad generalization or not, it’s a valid observation.  Even if driving a forklift is a vocation you wind up doing your entire working life, it’s still a “job,” and not a “career.”  Realistically, it’s something you fall into, not something you plan for or actively pursue from childhood.

But the difference between the working class a century ago and workers today, is that the former hadn’t yet been “domesticated.”  They hadn’t yet been co-opted by the Establishment.  They were still filled with a working man’s piss and vinegar.  Indeed, they believed you could bring self-respect to any task, even a mundane one, and that any job—no matter how crude or “low”—could be performed with pride and dignity.

Accordingly, their socio-economic antennae were a mile long and hyper sensitive.  Having not yet been brainwashed into denying the existence of class warfare, these workers had a healthy resentment for the fat cats—the ones who controlled the work, manipulated the system, reaped the profits, and were committed to keeping the workers down.  But unlike the bulk of today’s workers, they were willing to push back.

Instead of seeing themselves as “losers,” they saw themselves as “takers.”  Not only were they not embarrassed to hit the streets and demand their fair share, they were proud of it; they flaunted it, they rejoiced in it.  They regarded the streets as their turf and themselves as the economy’s foot soldiers—the one segment of society with the de facto power to equalize what needed equalizing.  And they reveled in it.  Losers?  Never!

And guess what happened when these people poured into the streets, stopped traffic, shut down businesses, and mixed it up with the police?  They found that by making a goddamn bloody nuisance of themselves they got what they wanted.  Only by “embarrassing” themselves were they reckoned with.

Of course, those in authority will always tell you that ugly demonstrations don’t work.  They’ll tell you that demonstrations are, in fact, counterproductive, that the only tactics that can be relied upon to get the dirty job done are rational discourse and the free but orderly exchange of ideas.

This is a myth.  The authorities tell workers that because they want to control them.  They want workers to believe it because the bosses have no fear of rational discourse, and no dread of the free exchange of ideas.  What they do fear are massive protests.  What they do dread are ugly demonstrations.  Which is why they work.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor” (available at Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc.) He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net




More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone