I'm sitting here scrolling through my backlog of email, and two themes predominate: the illegitimacy and horror of America's New War, and a multitude of voices from the movement I thought I was a part of telling us to pause, to keep quiet, that protest now might jeopardize our cause. And I find myself thinking about Emma Goldman, who, when she took an extremely unpopular position, said that the more people disagreed with her, the more strongly she had to speak out. We need a little more of her spirit in the movement today.
Now is the moment when we need to move forward, not retreat, when we need to step up our activism, not pull back.
The media and the government are trying to construct a reality for us. If we silence ourselves, we play into their hands. If they accuse dissenters of being unpatriotic, and we stifle our dissent in response, we are accepting their view of reality.
If they accuse us of being terrorists, and we hide, we confirm the association in the public mind. And we have no reason to hide, nothing to apologize for, no reason to retreat one inch. We stand for the very values the U.S. is presumably fighting for: democracy, accountability, real security, true justice-and we should be loud and proud about it.
The best way to truly differentiate ourselves from the terrorists is to do what we do, loudly, publicly, and visibly, to continue to speak, to march, to gather publicly, to organize blatantly, and yes, to mount actions that challenge the institutions of corporate control, actions that embody the principles of freedom, direct democracy, respect for diversity and love for life.
If the government passes laws that define dissent as terrorism, they still have to implement those laws, prosecute people under them, defend their position in court. Whether they do so or not will depend on what they perceive will be the political price. If we have a strong, vital movement and strong solidarity, we can make each step costly and difficult.
If we stifle our own dissent out of fear, we've done their work for them. Repression requires compliance. No repressive system, no matter how pervasive and strong, can afford to actually enforce its every decree. Instead, such systems depend on intimidating people so that we police ourselves out of fear.
Fear surrounds us at the moment. It's being wafted to us every night from our T.V. screens; it falls out of the pages of our newspapers, an invisible powder more deadly than anthrax. We can't blame each other for being afraid, but we can lovingly challenge each other to move past the fear to a place of courage: that ability to stare possible losses in the face and act anyway.
For fear does not lead to good decisions. Fear cuts us off from information, from choices, from vision and hope. It inflates the power of the authorities, narrows our possibilities and leaves us easily controlled.
The WTO, the IMF and the World Bank are not pausing for reflection. They are continuing to meet, and are pushing as hard as they possibly can to implement their entire corporate agenda. The Bush Administration isn't thoughtfully slowing down-it's moving full speed ahead with a campaign of gratuitous violence that now threatens millions of Afghanis with starvation.
If we pull back now, we won't later find a more favorable moment to act. Every piece of their agenda that gets locked into place becomes that much harder to dislodge. Every political space we relinquish will become that much harder to regain.
We could act stupidly, and provoke a backlash that we'll be struggling against for decades. We could act timidly, or not act, and lose the political ground we have gained. Or we can act with courage, vision, humor and creativity, and continue to challenge the system with new possibilities, new analyses, new voices. We can be a model for all those whose real feelings are far more complex and ambiguous than the polls show.
Yes, public opinion seems against us. But public opinion was never changed by silence. We don't change opinions by deferring to them, but by challenging them. Challenge does not have to be strident or doctrinaire. New forms of dialogue may be called for. But people are hungry to talk about these issues. If we are willing to listen as well as speechify, our actions can become forums for breakthroughs and openings.
It's likely our actions will be met with a hailstorm of vitriol and name-calling from the Right. What's new about that? The Civil Rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, the feminist and les/bi/trans/gay rights movements and virtually every movement for social justice all faced virulent hatred, and many still do.
All were originally seen as too radical, too provocative, as likely to detract from the achievement of some agenda or another. Yet all of them weathered the storm and went on to make major changes in the public consciousness.
And fear can make our opponents seem much stronger than they are. Since 911, I've been in many, many marches, rallies, and vigils. I've sung the old songs of the sixties with the most peaceful of pacifists; I've listened to angry speeches over bad sound systems; I've been trapped by riot cops in front of the World Bank with the black masked anarchists. At times we've been met by counterdemonstrators, but never more than a handful. At times the police have tried to provoke us or repress us-but they were doing that before 911.
In fact, we received signs of support from most people we passed. Construction workers flashed peace signs, and office workers waved. Passersby joined us. People thanked us for speaking out. If we don't let fear stop us, if we act from vision, we have opportunities immediately ahead of us to build our movement to a new level.
And even if our worst fears are true-no, especially if they are true, if we are witnessing Act II of last year's coup, our best chance of forestalling martial law and overt fascist control is to fill the streets now, again and again, as a visible sign that a strong and growing movement will resist the consolidation of their illegitimate power.
The WTO meets in Qatar November 9-13. Local and regional actions are planned all over the country. They are a chance to take the global issues and ground them in local struggles, to make new alliances and question why, when we claim to be fighting for democracy, we have relinquished control over our our environmental and labor policies to a secret tribunal that can override our laws.
The School of the Americas Watch is organizing mass protests for the same weekend of November 17 and 18. Their nonviolent action demands the closure of America's own terrorist training school, where the death squads and military of Latin America have been taught the finer points of torture and assassination for decades.
The IMF and World Bank have moved their annual meeting to Ottawa on the weekend of November 17 and 18. A mobilization has begun, on very short notice. It is a chance to again contest the policies that create the climate of despair that breeds terrorism, to link the issues of the war with world economic issues, to revitalize the movement for global justice.
If there's any possibility you can come to Ottawa, come! A strong showing there would make a huge difference. And everywhere, peace vigils, marches, rallies, and speak outs continue to be organized. Show up. Bring your friends.
Organize your own. Even a simple act can be powerful. One friend went out with her kids and a simple peace banner two days after 911 and hung it over the freeway. Another went downtown with signs that said simply, "Love One Another." Both were thanked by people who said they had been afraid to speak out because they felt they were alone.
What we do in the next weeks is crucial. If we do nothing, the agenda of corporate control will move further ahead and be harder to challenge. Millions of lives will be lost this winter. If we take action, we still have a chance to preserve our freedoms, change the destructive path laid out for us, and chart a new course.