Revolution #97, July 29, 2007
The Declare It Now! Campaign--Wear Orange Against the Bush Regime
Dr. Dennis Loo is Associate Professor, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, co-editor of Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney (Seven Stories Press, 2006), and member of the World Can’t Wait--Drive Out the Bush Regime National Steering Committee. The following has been excerpted from a full version of the article available online at worldcantwait.org.
Bringing Forth a Competing, Legitimate Authority
“It is up to the rest of us to rouse ourselves and rouse others, to bring forth from the grassroots new social movement leaders to constitute an alternative and powerful counter-force that fundamentally alters the overall political atmosphere, providing a competing legitimate authority to the bankrupt and illegitimate authority now leading this country. The existing establishment has left us no other choice.”--Preface, Impeach the President
When I wrote the above I meant it literally. We need to create a counter, legitimate leadership. This is key to getting people to move in more determined and larger ways. And it is key to driving Bush and Cheney from office and creating a very different political atmosphere overall.
There are three main dimensions to this that the Declare It Now! campaign is designed to help us address. All three have to do with pitting our particular strengths against our adversary’s weaknesses. The first has to do with a particular approach to mobilizing the people. The second has to do with morality and ideology. The third has to do with bringing forth models. All three are designed to wrest the people away from the influence of the existing leadership.
As to the first leg: DIN! is based on the fact that a majority of people already want to see Bush and Cheney impeached.* This is a strategic factor very much in our favor. 58% said they wanted to see Bush and Cheney “gone already” in a January 2007 Newsweek poll. In Newsweek ’s October 2006 poll, 51% said they wanted to see Bush and Cheney impeached (Revealingly, this isn’t how Newsweek presented the figures. They couldn’t bring themselves to add the percent who wanted impeachment to be the new Democratic majority’s top priority to the percent of those who wanted it to be a priority but not the top priority). The October and January polls are consistent with what pollsters have recorded since June of 2005.
We have a majority despite the fact that most people don’t know but a fraction of what Bush and Cheney have been doing and despite the determined, implacable, continuous opposition of the political leadership and opinion-makers.
How is that even possible? How can there be such a huge gap between where the public is at and where the political and opinion-leaders are? It’s possible because what Bush and Cheney have been doing is so egregious, so blatant and so drastic that it’s impossible to cover it up entirely.
What Bush and Cheney represent is not an aberration but the cutting edge of a rupture from the historic social compact in the U.S. The dominant forces in the government are building a new compact in a fascist-like state. Fascism, it should be recalled, as Sinclair Lewis put it in 1935, “will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a bible” when it comes to America. The government as a whole is headed in this direction. Things have come an exceedingly long way at a breathtakingly rate. What was unthinkable several months ago is now an accomplished fact.
The rationale for martial rule (the “global war on terror”), the requisite laws (the Warner Act, NSPD-51), the propaganda machine (especially Fox News, Limbaugh, etc.) and the “soldiers in their army of God” are all in place. The only element lacking now is a precipitating incident/pretext such as another, more devastating 9/11: a nuclear device being set off in a major American city, an avian flu epidemic, or Iran retaliating after a military attack upon it by Israel or the U.S. All of these scenarios are not only possible: they are likely. Michael Scheuer, former top CIA analyst in charge of hunting down Osama bin Laden and author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, told 60 Minutes in 2004 that another 9/11 attack is virtually a certainty.1
Bush and Cheney’s huge unpopularity now would be rendered moot overnight after another major 9/11-type incident. Moreover, OBL wants the neocons in power, profits from it, and would likely time an attack to have maximum impact on the next presidential election and thereby assist Bush and Cheney and the forces they represent. He has done this before--e.g., his message on the eve of the 2004 election the CIA concluded was designed to help Bush. We have no assurance that an election in 2008 will even be held.
The Voiceless Need to Find Their Voice
The people need to find their voice. The invisible needs to become visible. Too much is at stake not to find a way to resolve this conundrum and barrier. We in this country have a profound responsibility to the country and the world. What we do or fail to do over the next several months and year or so will have enormous repercussions.
We might compare our situation to that of a group of people who are struggling to prevent a levee from collapsing by rising floodwaters and heavy, thunderstorm rains. Our group has set up a line moving sandbags hand-to-hand to the levee, but because the numbers in the rescue group are very small, we are not going to be able to succeed unless a whole lot of other people join our line and participate. Those others need to join the rescue effort and if they do the levees will hold. But the time is growing short and the water is rising rapidly.
The orange everywhere (ribbons, bandanas, T-shirts, etc.) theme of DIN! is designed to make the invisible a visible, material force. If only 2% of the 58%+ who want to see Bush and Cheney gone were to wear orange we would literally have millions demonstrating their opposition to this regime. Tens of millions, at least, would see all around them the color of mass sentiment and then it wouldn’t matter if the media covered us or not! People would be seeing it live and in person.
Demonstrations and rallies, while they are important, are not going to suddenly or incrementally grow to the magnitude that we need. Even if we got say 500,000 to come to DC, and even if we got 1,000 to stay camped out indefinitely--I’m not saying these aren’t worthwhile things to do, but even if we did this, what kind of media coverage could we realistically expect? The same kind of jaundiced media coverage we’ve gotten in the past. Tactics that depend for their success on media attention need to be supplemented by tactics that don’t rely heavily for their success on media attention.
It’s important to recognize the level of unanimity that is at work within the government today and the stakes involved. To illustrate: the New York Times had the same or even more information as did the anti-war movement about how fraudulent the arguments and “facts” were that were being bandied about prior to the Iraq invasion. The Times refused, however, to oppose the war and in fact played an extremely important role in legitimizing that war. Likewise, the Times and other papers had access to the reports that were available about the exit polls and other glaring facts proving that the 2004 election was stolen. Yet they refused to take these data seriously and in fact the Times never once mentioned exit polls in their reports and commentary on the election results. Instead they spread the false notion that the so-called “moral values” voters turned the tide in Bush’s favor.
A dramatic shift has been underway (which is analyzed more in Impeach the President overall but especially in the Preface, the second half of Chapter 2, in Chapter 5, 6 and 14). The neocons represented by Bush and Cheney have the decisive upper hand. The opposition to this (e.g., embodied in Gore’s The Assault on Reason ) is by comparison feeble and, even more importantly, unwilling to unleash the masses because it would possibly spell their own demise as elites and also because they can’t think outside the parameters of imperialism and the U.S. as the “leader” and unrivaled superpower. The only way to really take on the radical right, of course, is to unleash the people.
The government is making an historic and decisive move to restructure the fundamental bases of unity in the U.S. and to rupture with key provisions of the Constitution (due process, habeas corpus, innocent until proven guilty…) and international law and institutions (Geneva Conventions, the UN, et al). This presents us with extraordinary danger as well as an extraordinary opportunity. They are in the midst of what I would describe as analogous to what happens when a crab is shedding its old shell. Its new shell is still soft and the crab is vulnerable to attack. The rupture that they are engaging in is shocking to the conscience of anyone who isn’t completely jaded and who is not blinded by right-wing faith. Our leaders are in deep trouble in Iraq. They are, as a result of doing what they’ve been doing, and the difficulties that they are encountering because of resistance (by Iraqis, for instance), more and more unpopular. They are, after all, taking us in a dramatically different direction.
This is a truly radical move on their part. They haven’t yet consolidated their new terms of rule and we’re in a transition period fraught with danger, for them and for us. (What we are seeing in terms of the weaknesses among the people in terms of their arousal level and willingness to come out into the streets in protest is in part due to the fact that this country’s never really been all that much of a democracy and in part due to the fact that Americans are, compared to the citizens of other countries, politically unsophisticated.)
Because the right still commands the heights of power institutionally and because of the influence and clout of their right-wing media empire, the co-operation, cowardice and narrowness of the mainstream media and the Democratic Party, Bush and Cheney are being shielded from the people’s wrath. How do we overcome this problem?
This is where the Declare It Now! campaign idea comes in. Ordinarily, in political governance (and also in movements) the relationship between leaders and the led is one in which the leaders overall have the initiative and the led cannot move further than where the leaders are able and willing to take them. The “pull” that this country’s current political leadership is moving things in is of course away from impeachment and down the wretched, ugly road of more horrors. What we need to do is curry a “push” from below that helps to give heart to the people who feel so frustrated and disheartened today and that creates the conditions within which a competing leadership can emerge.
The people cannot move absent leadership. This applies as much to political systems as it does to movements. We in the movement have not yet become the kind of competing legitimate authority/leadership that the broad sections of people would look to and follow against the existing leadership. The fact that the government is solidly against impeachment and solidly against (and/or afraid of) real thoroughgoing exposures of the despicable moves underway (torture et al) has created a situation in which the people feel confused, suffocated and unable to act. Obviously some people have broken with this confusion and paralysis--and this is all to the good. But if we expect millions to do so then we have to realize that it is more than our exposures, analyses and exhortations that will be necessary. We aren’t going to get there by calling for that next big demonstration. We just aren’t going to tilt the balance of forces this way--not at this time and under these conditions. It’s a huge leap for people in large numbers--in the millions--to step forward and act as leaders.
We do not have a repeat so far of the crucial elements that were present in the 1960s in which the level of social upheaval we need is occurring and reverberating back and forth: international-domestic, domestic-international. To name just a few of those elements: there aren’t national liberation struggles breaking out all over the world; there isn’t a section of the Democratic Party and media that is being supportive to some degree of the social insurgency (at least to try to conciliate it); and there isn’t a civil rights movement. In order to do what we must do we have to accomplish a kind of raising ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Doing so will not only change conditions within the U.S. It will alter conditions worldwide. Imagine the electric effect this could have internationally when people in other countries see people in this country in the millions standing up against tyranny!
We have to arm people broadly with an understanding of what our strategy is so that they can act within that strategy, contribute to it, and be catalyzed into enthusiastic action because they recognize that our strategy CAN WORK. A major obstacle today is that while many, many people want to see Bush and Cheney gone, they don’t see any way to make headway against a stubbornly resistant Democratic Party and corporate media. DIN! can help us overcome both the problem of the government and opinion-leaders’ suppression of the people and the fact that we have the majority, but that majority is unorganized and disoriented. If this majority sentiment is expressed then we can do an end-run around the media’s hostility and attack our adversary’s soft underbelly. Their horrible acts are extremely vulnerable to being exposed precisely because their acts are so despicable.
DIN! isn’t the same thing as a traditional demonstration/rally. Some people have raised objections to it on that basis. It’s important that we not underestimate what DIN! means in terms of mass participation and independent action. We are asking people to declare themselves, to take a visible, out there, public, in the streets, stand. This IS a mass mobilization we’re talking about. People will be “in the streets” with it, anywhere and everywhere else they go. The fact that it doesn’t require the same level of commitment as attending a demonstration doesn’t make it less significant. If this works, we will have people everywhere showing off their true colors. DIN! has a very potent ideological component to it. This leads to the second leg of DIN!
The Moral High Ground
The second leg of DIN!: One of the ways that small forces and non-elite forces can overcome their disadvantaged position and challenge elites for leadership and influence is by seizing the moral high ground. To the extent that the existing leadership class is exposed as morally bankrupt, we can wrest sections of the populace away from their enthrallment by the existing political elites. In order to accomplish their aims and this historic move, our leaders are making de facto practices into de jure practices: torture, unprovoked aggression on blameless countries, indefinite detentions, warrantless spying, et al. They cannot accomplish their wild ambitions otherwise.
But as they do this, they are rather openly doing horrific things before the eyes of the world. They are only getting away with this because they haven’t been properly called on the carpet for it. Our leaders (the whole establishment) are extremely vulnerable to this exposure. We need to draw the lines of morality very sharply and unsparingly. The question needs to be put to people as a stated in WCW’s slogan: Torture + Silence = Complicity. You must choose. Which side are you on? Are you for torture, war crimes, and tyranny? Or are you against it? Are you for the ripping away of a woman’s right to abortion? For a theocracy? And so on. To the extent we win people to speaking out/showing off against our leaders’ immorality, we can overcome to a significant extent the disadvantages we face today. As Henry Kissinger points out in his biography, there was a period in the 1960s when small forces (SDS) exercised very broad influence, way beyond their actual numbers, because very broadly throughout society people came to see that what the government was saying was a lie.
Bringing Forth Models
The third leg: We need to pay special attention to bringing forth models among the unknown (youth who step forward to stir other youth to follow their example) and among the famous--celebrities/leaders in entertainment, sports, arts, literature, academia, armed forces, Nobel Prize winners, etc. These people are leaders and people will follow them. They can play an extremely important role in making this campaign happen and develop legs. These are people who command respect now and whose public stands (being photographed wearing orange and making a statement about why) can help us unhinge the people from the mystique of the existing political leadership. One of the key factors in the righteous action at UC Santa Barbara when 2,000 people walked out and blocked the highway was the fact that numerous professors cancelled classes for that day and called for students to participate. This is the kind of thing we need to broaden.
On Implementing This Campaign
We are only just starting this campaign and undoubtedly there will be much to sum up and adjust as we acquire more experience. What appears to be the experience so far is that some people when told of the campaign react with great enthusiasm. Barbara Olshansky, for example, reacted by saying “What an excellent idea!” and put on a big orange ribbon immediately.2 Activists who’ve been wearing ribbons or bandanas report having strangers and co-workers ask them what the orange is all about. Passing out orange ribbons, if they’re already pre-made, is relatively easy on the streets. It is also apparent, however, that making this campaign a success will require persistence and substantial effort. People out there don’t mostly immediately recognize the potential for this campaign and what difference it will make if they themselves wear orange. DIN! isn’t just some gimmick. We need to bring this campaign to them with verve and conviction, win them to understanding the strategy and press people to do it. It will not happen spontaneously. Youth and famous people will have to be especially focused on as central to turning this campaign viral. We must also do our best to win the rest of the movement organizations to adopting the orange campaign. We have, after all, a responsibility to the whole movement. If we do these things, then our chances of success will be multiplied several fold.
* The campaign was formerly called Declare Yourself! [back]
1. 60 Minutes interview November 14, 2004, available at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/11/12/60minutes/printable655407.shtml [back]
2. Here is how a political organizer (not of WCW) put it in describing it to his fellow organizers:
“Breakout sessions comments:
“#1 idea presented --As discussed in the Authors' session -- Small Orange ribbons worn on lapel or pocket as direct appeal to resist, and not allow American people to be made prisoners in our own country
“Dr. Dennis Loo, WCW and others propose that we use this method to get people to ‘declare yourself’ and it’s something people can wear all day long, at work, and running errands, etc, where they interact with the largest quantities of people.
“This is one very simple way of taking the control away from politicians and media and putting it back into our hands to show our numbers. No one can stop enough individuals from doing this to slow it down. If enough people do this we can have our own Orange Revolution. When asked what it stands for, I say -- it’s about restoring our constitution, returning our rights -- Habeas Corpus, Free Speech, the end of Torture agenda and Guantanamo. (or the short form--‘This is where Dick Cheney shot me’)
“I raided some of the Michael’s craft stores here for orange ribbon, they have 1/8 in thin orange ribbon for 50 cents a ten yard roll and ½ inch wide in basket outside the store for $1, so with every book sold at 26 June event, we were giving away a roll of orange ribbon and an envelope of about 20 safety pins.” [back]
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