A Reaction to The New York Times’ Close Guantanamo Now! Ad
By Dennis Loo (6/3/13)
A few days before the May 23, 2013 publication of our full-page advocacy ad in the NYT, I wrote that this ad represents a very significant and new bringing together of individuals and organizations taking the moral high ground in the face of Obama’s carrying forward of the Bush Doctrine under profoundly duplicitous rhetoric:
We aim to create a political situation in which Obama feels that he has no choice but to close Guantanamo and can no longer afford to put its closure off into some indefinite future. For that situation to develop an alternative moral authority has to emerge and contend for the people’s allegiance. The growing number of signatories to the ad and their leadership role in the larger society are a sign that this is coming into nascent being.
Someone on World Can’t Wait’s elist just sent to Debra Sweet, WCW National Director, the following note, describing his reaction to seeing the ad in the Times. His words affirm and reinforce our conviction that this statement was exactly what was called for and a vital part of what is needed:
When I saw the full-page Gitmo ad in The New York Times, I felt tremendous pride at the accomplishment of bringing it off, knowing how much effort had gone into it. There was almost a feeling of euphoria because this tremendous roster of known names had managed to break out of the Obama stupor so many had been trapped in for five years. (I know that's not fair to some of those who had already seen the light long ago, but it was great to see them all coalescing in the face of the shameful outrage of Guantanamo.)
It reminded me of the activism of Vietnam days, and of the period of mass protest in the run-up to Bush's Iraq war in 2003. It was exhilarating -- and I hope not deceptively so -- to think that we may be able to get a movement going again on the issues of Obama's wars and the security state. It was timely too, in view of BHO's big "security speech" a few days later.
It was also, as I said, very well written and laid out. Very in-your-face, virtually leaping off the page.
Hmmm, now that I think about it, did I contribute? Will do so on line.
Hope this is helpful. (Boldfacing added)
As I wrote previously,
[T]he statement they have signed and donated to is not worded in a “safe way,” designed so as not to ruffle any feathers; it doesn’t mince words. It speaks the hard truth and it is giving voice to widespread sentiments because it concentrates what people know to be true and raises it up in a call to action.
There is a pronounced tendency in movement circles to think that because there is not more political activism visible in the streets that this must be because people broadly accept what is going on and that the problem lies with the people’s apathy. While apathy and ignorance are important problems, this is not mainly because the people as a whole are in agreement with what is going on.
What is holding more people back from moving politically into open resistance is mainly the paucity of voices being raised in the fashion of our NYT ad. What this letter writer’s sentiments reflect is what difference it makes to put out a call that concentrates what people know to be true and raises it up higher, linking it to and putting it into the larger context, and inspiring people to act on that basis. That is what leaders do – what they say resonates with those who hear and follow them but what those leaders say also must elevate what people know to a higher level of meaning so that people can rise up themselves and act based on a piercingly true analysis of what they face, why they face it, and what must be done in response through the actions of the people.
This view of how to lead people and of what needs to be done is not the conventional wisdom. The conventional view is that you can mobilize more people and better accomplish your goals by not straying from the lowest common denominator. In the particular case of the effort to close GTMO, some people who are also deeply committed to and extremely active in pursuing that goal argued with us that bringing in the matter of Obama’s use of drones and explicitly pointing to Obama’s personal culpability for the ongoing existence of GTMO and the ongoing torture of prisoners there as we say it in the ad are a mistake. The people who said this were subsequently pleased, however, to find that our statement/ad, as acerbic as it is towards Obama and our insistence that we treat GTMO in the context of larger policies such as drones, drew the breadth and prominent names of signatories and donations that it has. Something that was not there except in embryonic form has been brought into being.
As I wrote in my book in 2011:
Unleashing the actions of the more politically advanced who are, by definition, smaller in number but key to the behavior and attitudes of others since they set the standard for others, is central to bringing about genuine and fundamental change. Even though both matter and neither should be overlooked, conformity matters more than consensus in determining the tenure of a given political system. That is, it is not people’s beliefs that hold systems together as much as the inertial forces of the system itself. People do not trade the status quo for something radically different unless the status quo is no longer the status quo. When the existing authorities are in profound trouble and they can no longer hold things together, and if an alternative leadership with sufficient influence and size (with its roots and influence having been established during the period preceding the full eruption of the crisis) is present and contending in the midst of this crisis, then a fundamental shift can potentially occur.
The neoliberals with their neoliberal vision are proving themselves unable and unwilling to act as superintendents of this planet. They are wracked by crises, and while they are still in power and in command of huge resources, they face immense contradictions for which they have no real answers. The magnitude of the problems and the absence of a powerful and influential alternative force to that of the existing system are having a paralyzing effect on most people, leading some to various versions of despair, wishful thinking, or false sanctuaries in faith-based movements.
An alternative to the neoliberal nightmare exists. Will humanity take it? At this point that is a decision to be made by a relatively small number of people. Revolutions—as well as fashion and musical trends—begin among a very small group of people and spread to another relatively small group, in total a mere one percent of the people, equivalent to roughly three million in the US. The popular uprisings in Egypt et al offer gusts of powerfully fresh winds, a dramatic demonstration of how mass actions can be brought into being and what determined masses who will not be denied can accomplish.
While not everyone or even many people are able to become the leaders of such change, many people are capable of becoming a leader, even on a modest level among their friends and family. Moreover, the logic and premises of the dominant forces today are extremely vulnerable to counterarguments and actual facts. Very many people are also capable of providing financial and other forms of support for those who are willing now to step forward as leaders. Even very modest financial support from many different people adds up to a lot of money. Those people and organizations who are committed to revolutionary changes can do a tremendous amount with what are comparatively modest sums relative to the vast sums being spent by the forces who benefit from the existing terribly distorted state of affairs.
To paraphrase Archimedes, give us one percent and we can lift this country and this world. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, pp. 352-3)