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ACE Interview: Mark Rudd October 23, 2010 Campus Issues, Interviews 2 Comments on ACE Interview: Mark Rudd

Penn Political Review has joined with other college political publications to form the Alliance of Collegiate Editors (ACE), hoping to generate cross-campus dialogue on political issues. We’ve interviewed Mark Rudd, a former member of the Weather Underground and current activist. From his website: “Since the summer of 2003 I’ve crisscrossed the country speaking at colleges and theaters and bookstores, first with The Weather Underground documentary and, starting in March of this year, with my book Underground:  My Life with SDS and the Weathermen (William Morrow, 2009).”

Penn Political Review

1. Considering your very high regard for Cuba as a political and social entity, as discussed on your website, what do you have to say about Fidel Castro’s recent comment that “the Cuban model doesn’t even work for [Cuba] anymore”?

There’s too much to say about Cuba.  I’m not a fan of a one-party state.  I do not support political repression.  On the other hand, the Cuban revolution has been successfully giving the finger to Uncle Sam for over fifty years, a terrific accomplishment.    And if you had to be at the lowest position in society in any Latin American country, the one in which your kids would have the best chance for nutrition, medical care, education, housing, and social advancement would be Cuba.  Don’t be so hasty to jump on the American bandwagon.   American policy has no concern for social justice.  It reinforces violence, brutality, poverty, and inequality throughout the world and especially in Latin America.  As for socialism in Cuba, it’s been obvious for years that it doesn’t work.  Nor does capitalism in Nicaragua, for example.

2. Do you think that comparisons between the Iraq War and the Vietnam War are justified? What are the biggest parallels and what are the biggest misconceived similarities?

The fact that both were wars of choice, actually occupations of third world countries, makes them quite similar.  The U.S. is not good at fighting and winning wars of occupation of ancient civilizations that don’t want us.  We’d need to murder many more people than we already do to completely defeat Iraq.  Actually we murdered millions in Vietnam, but we still weren’t successful.  They weren’t going anywhere and the Afghans today aren’t going anywhere.  In both cases our hubris over our great weapons brought us to tragedy.  In both cases, almost no US soldiers knew anything at all about the language and the culture of the people they’re murdering.

Historical analogies are always imperfect.  In this case, the culture of Iraq is much different than the culture of Vietnam, and the nature of the fight is different.  Vietnam was basically united against first French and then American colonialism, and for socialism.  Iraq is riven with factions, one of which is very pro-US (the Kurds), while we can play others against each other.  On the American side, the military has learned many lessons from Vietnam, not so much in how to win, but how to keep the US public from knowing about the war of occupation.  Images are highly censored, reporters are “embedded.”  Soldiers are not drafted, so they don’t bring anti-war sentiment with them.  The lack of a draft also means that people in the society at large don’t need to pay attention to the war.  Whole units go over together and come home together, which did not happen in Vietnam, they used individual replacements.  It was like a factory.  Only that undermined unit loyalty.  In effect, there’s now a permanent military caste, which sees war-fighting as its job.  If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

It’s necessary to look at things fresh.  We live in an Orwellian age, when defense means aggression, peace means war.  I advise young people to study history deeply and accept no conventional explanations.  Are you familiar with the story of Temple Grandin?  Because of her autism, she understood nothing at all about human relationships, but she looked at animals with a completely unbiased, fresh eye.  As a result she was able to ask fundamental questions which no one else did, such as why the animals in a slaughterhouse feedlot were making so much noise?  She revolutionized the way we treat animals.

Berkeley Political Review

1. Public education in California is coming apart at the seams. Among young campus leaders, there are often fundamental disagreements as to the best path to forcing Sacramento to prioritize affordable public higher education. What role do you believe movement-oriented organizing should play in this struggle? In California’s broader struggle to balance public and private interests?

I’m not in California or in touch with activists who are confronting the crisis of public higher education, so I can’t begin to evaluate the various competing strategies.  However, it does seem to me that the problem stems from the larger impoverishment of the state of California, a result of the ideological and idiotic Prop 13, which cut taxes over thirty years ago.  Having defined the state and taxes as the problem, the conservatives then eviscerated all public functions such as education, public health, transportation that depend on public funds.  It’s insane to deny that social needs exist:  is education a benefit to society or is it not?  Put another way, do we want to maintain our underclass, putting our resources into police, courts, and prisons (which is what California is now doing)?

Students should be organizing around the slogan that education is a human right and a social good.

2. Many California students that participated in last year’s walkouts in support of access to public education will not do so again this fall because they feel their actions had no impact–”nothing has changed,” you hear them say. Do you find that today’s youth are more impatient than were their counterparts in the ’60s and ’70s?

It’s very easy to become demoralized because entrenched interests rarely yield when they’re hit once.  Most people lack the models of long-term movement building that the civil rights and labor movements gave us.  Of course the powers in charge of the UC system will just ignore protest until it goes away.  Same thing happened in 2003, when the largest demonstrations in world history opposed the run-up to the Iraq war:  no response from the Bush administration, which merely ignored the protests.  So people got demoralized and went home.  Again, they didn’t realize that the problem was how to build a movement.  Again, the model had been lost.  Both the anti-war demos in 2003 and the UC demos of last year were spontaneous outpourings, but they weren’t tied to a long term movement building conception in most students’ heads.

3. Looking back at your time with Weather Underground, what are you most proud of? What, if anything, do you most regret?

I’m proud of very little having to do with the Weather Underground.  It was completely misguided.  On the other hand, I feel privileged and proud to have been a part of the larger anti-war movement, one of millions who helped stop our country’s military aggression.  When you think about it, that was a phenomenal historical achievement, a testament to this country’s democratic possibilities.

Brown Spectator

1. Why did you decide to pursue a violent disobedience despite the remarkable success of the non-violence protest that had taken place in the 60’s, such as the civil rights movement?

My friends and I were entranced by the heroism of Che Guevara and the Vietnamese and the Black Panthers and various people around the world who had taken up the gun to fight for freedom.  We wanted to be like them.  It was a losing strategy, in retrospect, but when you’re twenty years old you often choose wrong strategies, especially attractive heroic ones.  As for nonviolent strategy, you’re right, it is one of the great contributions of the twentieth century to world history, and yet we underrated its achievements.  “Black Power,” for example, as espoused by Malcolm X and others, seemed more radical in its tactics as well as its analysis than nonviolent integration.  To us, nonviolence was “wimpy,” while “picking up the gun” had a virile, macho cache’.  Twenty year old boys need to prove themselves.  (so did a few young women needed).

Vanguardism was also a way to avoid the long hard work of mass political organizing.  I used to say in my public speeches, “organizing is another word for going slow.”  What I forgot is that there’s no other way, you’ve got to “do the work.”

2. How much did collateral damage and the safety of innocents concern you when you decided to pursue a militant form of protest?

I think there’s a distinction between militancy and violence, but I’ll let that slide for a second.

We saw ourselves as soldiers, and all soldiers consider the costs of war to be necessary.  The justification for revolutionary wars is to stop a larger violence, the violence of the system.  In Vietnam, our government was murdering millions of people (3-5 million, according to the American Friends Service Committee).  When you’re in despair, as I was, it’s not easy to know what the exact right thing to do is to stop such a slaughter.  Of course I’ve come to believe that nonviolence as a political strategy is much more powerful than violent governmental repression.  However, it takes a militant nonviolent.

I would suggest that you ask this same question about collateral damage and the safety of innocents to the war planners and generals in Washington DC who are murdering thousands of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as we talk.  The French writer Jean Genet once said, when asked about the Weathermen, “The Weathermen have little bombs, the U.S. has big bombs.”

3. How would you recommend students in today’s universities go about protesting government actions?

First, study and figure out a power analysis.  Who’s in charge, whose interests are being served, what should be the main lines of protest and targets?   Then do mass educational work, build a base.  Figure out what people’s moral and material self-interest are.  From that study, strategy and tactics will flow.  I should add that it’s quite worthwhile to also study successful social and political movements of the twentieth century in this country (and abroad).

At some point, as I’ve indicated above, there has to be a political movement that puts forward a program for the future.  It will of necessity challenge the entrenched interests such as corporations, banks, military.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if students abandoned en masse the business schools to prepare for careers as community organizers?  Studying the history and methods of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi, 1961-1965, might be a lot more interesting and socially valuable than one more course in financial instruments.

Columbia Political Review

1. Do you believe that the climate crisis needs a Vietnam-like collegiate coalition to engender a sense of urgency within society to act?

Absolutely.  If the survival of life on the planet doesn’t produce a sense of urgency, then nothing will.  We need a mass political movement to demand sane energy policy.  Our current policy of full-speed ahead on oil consumption is suicidal.  I doubt whether young people want to commit suicide.

2. One of the biggest problems with drawing parallels between the Vietnam war and the climate crisis is that the current crisis is not as visceral as the Vietnam war was for collegiate students (via the draft issue). How can we make the collegiate community feel like it has a stake in the issue?

I often wonder about this myself.  I don’t know how to raise moral issues to the point that people feel compelled to act on them.  I suspect it will take years of work and energy and agitation on the part of self-conscious organizers to mobilize a critical mass that can draw in people who are now essentially apolitical or in despair.

You’ve asked what is for me the question of the moment, how do we develop the strategy to build a mass movement?

3. Do you believe that there is any one issue in society today around which such a visceral feeling could coalesce, around which a radical reaction could foment? If no, why not? If so, what is it and why?

Having participated in several historical mass movements, and lived through others, I believe as an act of faith that such popular movements will arise again.  They may take different forms, but they’ll be back.  People haven’t changed all that much, they still have moral and altruistic feelings no matter how much we’re subjected to forces that try to beat them out of us.  People are still rational.   I don’t know if it will be working against global warming or constant war and the preparation for war, or worrying about our neighbors’ poverty, or reforming the educational system so all kids have a chance, or treating immigrants as human beings, but people are going to snap sooner or later.  There’s still a survival instinct.

All of these current crises represent the triumph of small elite interests over popular interests.  The problem then is how to organize for mass progressive political power.  The right-wing elites are currently doing better, since they’re co-opting people’s discontent (and racism) to build a mass movement.  Have you read Jane Mayer’s recent article in the New Yorker exposing the Koch brothers, who finance the Tea-party and other pseudo-populist right wing institutions?  They are oil billionaires whose hidden agenda is, among other things, attacking government environmental regulation.

The Gothic Guardian at Duke University

1. Your participation in the Weather Underground came during a time of diverse movement politics and a certain brand of kick-ass liberals. Today, movement politics seem to have disappeared at the same time that liberalism is becoming increasingly tied to international pacifism. Where did the movement go? In your opinion, what’s different about the way college kids are learning leftist politics, and how can we bring the ass-kicking back?

We never considered ourselves kick-ass liberals.  “Liberals” was a bad word, the people who gave us the Vietnam War and refused to effectively oppose racism and segregation.  “Liberal” meant “hypocrite.”  But your question seems to be more about being “kick ass.”  Maybe that has to do with how serious and committed and willing people are to work for peace, economic justice, and to save the planet.  Today there are thousands of young people who fit this category and are working; they only become apparent to the media when a mass movement develops.  For the most part they’re still under the radar.  Check out the latest issue of YES! magazine (print and online) if you want to see examples of young people working in a kick-ass way to develop resilient sustainable economics.  The biggest job now is to figure out how to organize all the energy into a political program to complement this work, to gain the public resources of the society.

As for “international pacifism,” I believe that opposition to American wars is absolutely essential to the survival of the planet.  We are the principle proponents of the global system of war.  There are many much more rational means of achieving security and “defense.”  The most pernicious aspect of our country’s militarism is that war becomes the default solution to what are essential internal problems such as the looting of the economy by bankers and the rape of the environment by corporations.

2. One question plaguing leftist politics today concerns the state’s efficacy as a tool for enacting positive change — to many, the state is too intertwined with (racial, gender, sexual) oppression to be a viable tool for legislating change. Years after your time with the Weather Underground, where do you stand on this issue? Have you lost faith in the power of the people, so to speak? How would you go about enacting political change today?

I can’t see any alternative to building a movement or movements for political power.  No matter what the conservatives say, there’s still such a thing as the Social Contract.  We join together in order to live better:  the state should become, if it’s not already, the embodiment of the collective will of society.  It is obviously now controlled by elite interests, but there needs to be a struggle for power.  What’s at stake is the type of lives my children and grandchildren will live, your lives, as well as the ultimate survival of life on the planet.  If we don’t struggle for power and just ignore the state, than the result will be war, the default solution to all problems in our society.

Many young people, as I mentioned above, are choosing to work in sustainable agriculture, which offers a positive model for the future, and tries to disregard the state.  They know, quite accurately, that farmers’ markets selling organic food are much more beneficial than agricultural subsidies to corn syrup producers, which result in the crap people eat from the supermarket.  That’s great, and the food is better.  We’ll need to relearn how to grow food locally when the oil runs out.  However, it’s more than likely that long before the current system of food production and distribution based on oil winds down, there’ll be more wars to capture whatever oil still exists.  The reason is that war is what the U.S. state is set up for.  So we have to work on political power, too.  Another example is the movement for sustainable green energy.  It can happen much faster if the vast resources of the government, which are, after all, the society’s collective resources, are used to stimulate the green economy.  We should have been doing this since the Seventies, when the problem of global warming first was recognized and coincidentally oil first became high-priced.  But the oil interests controlled government policy, and still do.  So there’s got to be a battle for policy.

As for the power of the people, I still believe that we need to mobilize people to use the democratic mechanisms such as voting which still exist. Getting people to act in their interests is tough for a myriad of reasons, however.  They’re too distracted by entertainment, too insecure to think they understand the issues, too cynical, too drunk, too beat up, too messed up to take a political stand.  The political class in this country is infinitesimal in size.  But that will change, as you young people get smart and start figuring out how you want to live your lives.

American Foreign Policy at Princeton University

1. Do you think that the Weather Underground movement was harmed by its affiliation with socialism and communism, potentially tainting its anti-war message?

By the time the Weather Underground emerged, we had already rejected “merely” the anti-war position in favor of the “revolutionary” position:  we didn’t want to stop one war, we wanted to stop the system that gave us successive wars.  In doing so, we harmed the more realistic, practical, and appropriate anti-war movement, by splitting it into two camps, one for nonviolence and ending the war, one for violent revolution.  We did the work of the FBI for them.

We thought the alternative to militaristic capitalism was communism, a case of believing the fallacy that the enemy of our enemy is our friend.  Of course our ultra-radical position diminished any chances we had of building a mass political base among normal people.  It was merely self-expression, not strategic politics.

Vanderbilt Political Review

1. The Weather Underground was opposed to United States military involvement in Vietnam on the grounds that it constituted an imperialistic advance into Southeast Asia.  The current conflict in Iraq has been criticized for similar offenses, and lately the Obama administration has come under fire, both for failing to fulfill a campaign promise to end the war and then for mishandling the withdrawal.  Do you feel that these concerns, both about the administration and the similarities to Vietnam’s precedent, are justified, and if not, what do you feel were the forces behind the United States’ invasion of Iraq?  Should we be as concerned about what this war indicates about the American mentality as you were about Vietnam?

Absolutely, we have to be concerned about our country’s militarism.  There are many other ways to solve problems in the world, including the development of international law.  The Europeans have been dealing with terrorism for years as a criminal matter, handled by police agencies.  They don’t declare “war on terror” and invade countries, they go after the criminals.  But our country’s foreign policy is based on the use of force.  War is not only the means, it’s the goal.  For decades, Noam Chomsky used to say that the goal of the United States is global domination.  In the last decade he’s changed the formulation, now he says that the goal is global domination through the use of violence.

(I could go on at length about this question because it’s probably my main motivation for the organizing work I do, having come of age during Vietnam and seen the absolute immorality and waste of our wars.  I’ll just make two points, and then move on).

First, our economy is oriented toward the production of weapons and war-making capability.  Oil, a major component of the economy, is a military necessity, incidentally.  The largest part of the federal budget, 48%, goes to “defense,” including intelligence and nuclear weapons and paying for past wars.  (Source:  War Resisters League,  So the military and the defense industry are supremely powerful.  Huge weapons systems costing billions are split up to subcontractors in every single congressional district.  In our debates over the cost of domestic human and social needs, such as health and education, the obvious solution would be to take money from the bloated and corrupt defense industry, yet the media never raises this point for discussion and politicians don’t dare.  (Dennis Kucinich, one who does break the silence, is completely isolated, a pariah in Congress).  One purpose of our periodic wars is to prove to the American people the need for this completely wasteful and unnecessary sacrifice, the “defense” budget.  The goal of war is war.  No wonder the American people are confused.

Second, there is a potential alternative to this war system which we’re seemingly trapped in:  international law.  Europe has processed the last two centuries of their miserable history to the point that they’re breaking down borders and establishing the legal framework to avoid war.  The U.S. has gone in the opposite direction since 1945, seeking out wars.  Most American people have never heard of the possibility of international law.  A great source for this discussion is Jonathan Schell, “The Unconquerable World.”  He believes, and I concur, that international law is the great challenge of the 21st century, your century.  It can be used not only to avoid war and the waste entailed, but also to solve our environmental crises, such as global warming.

The simple fact that there’s so little debate and discussion in this country, especially in the media, concerning militarism and its alternatives, does indicate a problem with our “mentality,” as you suggest.  We’re in complete denial, a totally irrational situation.

Concerning the current administration’s continuation of the wars, even before the election, President Obama and his advisors made a political decision not to challenge the power of the military and the corporations behind them, no matter what the desire of the American people for peace.  (That desire does not have any organized political way to express itself).  I like to believe that President Obama wants peace, unlike any of his predecessors, judging by his brilliant memoir, “Dreams from My Father,”  but he’s trapped within this war system that controls the government and the media at every level.  Unfortunately, he’s not only retained major officials from Bush’s neo-con interventionist administration, such as Secretary of Defense Gates, but he’s excluded all non-militarists from his advisors.  Things would have been different had our anti-war movement been larger and more politically significant, but it’s not.  Politics matters ultimately.  It’s up to us to build such a movement.  It’s a good learning experience, though:  many of us were naive in believing that a president can change policy.  Only a political mass movement can force such a thing.  In short, power has not shifted since there’s no organized peace party.

2. Political lethargy has always been a barrier to activists, especially among younger people (the voting rate of college students is the lowest of any voting-eligible age demographic).  However, the recent election demonstrated how powerful the involvement of American youth can be.  Do you feel that this generation of college students is as politically engaged as your generation was?  Is it as effectively engaged, and how does it need to grow?  In what ways has your generation developed its approach to advocacy and activism, and do you expect the current youth to follow a similar trajectory as they age?  Why or why not?

I’ve been pondering these questions concerning generational differences for years.  There are many possible explanations for the lack of a youth movement now and the presence of one forty years ago, but I’ll try to be brief in my reply.

Young people often tell me that nothing anyone does can make a difference.  So why bother educating oneself on social issues or engaging in activism if the outcome will be nothing?  Better to maximize one’s personal entertainment, which appears to be the point of life anyway, judging by advertising and the actual culture young people are immersed in.  The irony is that I never once heard anyone say such a thing when I was in college, 1965-1968. It would have been obviously false, since we had the immediate example of the civil rights movement in the South, which resulted in a complete revolution in laws and mores, the over-turning of legal segregation.  What individuals did, when they joined with others in a movement, was transforming the world.  It was of supreme importance to us, too, that the shock-troops of the organizing and agitation in the South were all young (e.g., Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)  in Mississippi).

Another thing which the civil rights movement taught us white kids in the north was how to organize.  The same methods they used in the South–building one to one relations among people, developing new leadership, an emphasis on internal education, the use of both mobilizations, nonviolent civil disobedience, and political organizing–were adopted by the anti-Vietnam war movement and subsequently by the women’s, gay-rights, and environmental movements.  My organization, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), named “participatory democracy”  as our goal and our method.  The term originated with SNCC.

Much of this organizing model also came from the labor movement, which in the Sixties was still vibrant as a result of thirty years of success.  Alas, there’s been a forty year break and young people now don’t have these powerful models for organizing, as we did, and so don’t know how to build a long term movement for power.  So it’s predictable that people sink back into despair:  they don’t have a clue about what can be done or what has been done in the past.

I’ll briefly mention a few other important cultural and material differences between then and now:  the lack of a draft, which means that people don’t have to pay attention to wars if they don’t want to; the vastly more expensive cost of higher education (not even the poorest kid at Columbia University during my years graduated with anything like the level of debt that you are burdened with now); the cultural shift from civic responsibility to individual ambition; the multiplicity of forms of entertainment and the dominance of the entertainment industry in people’s lives; the lack of a single unifying moral example such as World War II, which woke many of us up to the need to oppose state immorality especially in the forms of militarism and racism.  On the last point, the term “Good German” was a universally understood metaphor when I was growing up: it meant someone who conveniently ignored or denied the reality of oppression and injustice around them.  NO ONE WANTED TO BE A GOOD GERMAN.

There’s a second part to your question:  how to break through the lethargy (which I prefer to call resignation and despair)?  You’re absolutely right that in 2008 young people demonstrated their capability to mobilize themselves politically.  But the whole Obama movement, which I joined, too, proved to be built on hopes for change that were much too vague and ambiguous:  Obama himself chose to return to the Clinton conservative Democratic Party program which should rightly be called “Republican lite.”  No fundamental challenge to the corporate, financial, and military interests in charge.  To do that will take an entire political realignment, one in which progressives offer a way out of the current crises:  real governmental regulation of the financial industry, public refinancing of education, housing, medical care, subsidies for the development of clean energy and local agriculture.  All of this can be paid for very easily by cutting back on the military.

Such a program can only happen if people like yourselves lead it.  My generation is way too busy dying.  It has to be framed and branded in a way that’s significant to young people, that speaks of the kind of future you want–meaningful work, peace, clean environment, tolerance, moral stance in the world.  Important organizational decisions need to be made:  can such a progressive, positive future program be carried by a reformed, rebuilt Democratic Party, or is that party so corrupt and compromised and bought by corporate power that it has to be rejected for a third party?  (I have some thoughts on this matter).  A realignment like this is not going to be simple or fast:  this is the work of the rest of your lives.  College is a good time to prepare for this lifelong struggle.

3. How was radicalism helpful and harmful to your cause as an organization?  What strategies have you noticed emerging in this latest election cycle that could easily backfire, and why?  Which strategies do you feel will work?  And lastly, do you feel that radicalism as it existed in the 1960s and ’70s has a place in the modern political arena, or has it run its course?

I assume that what you mean by radicalism is a thorough-going critique of society, down to the roots of our problems.  “Radical” = roots.  How could such a thing be bad?  Our big discovery, speaking of those white kids in the New Left, was that the war in Vietnam was not just a mistake made by well-meaning governmental officials.  That was the liberal view.  The radical view was that war and racism are central to US aims in the world.  That explained continual intervention in the Third World as well as the Cold War itself.  The same radical critique was made of the presence of racism as a structural component of our society.  Ultimately the radical critique goes to the nature of class society, the dominance of money.  (Just look at Congress and both political parties).  Since the radical critique happens to be true, it doesn’t seem like a very good idea to throw it out.

However, your question on strategy does point to a real problem:  those of us who went out into the streets demanding the complete overthrow of this system became  isolated from our base, other students, and from the society at large, and were easily smashed.  Part of Weatherman’s problems was that we thought the country was ready for revolution.  It wasn’t, far from it.  (Incidentally, I want to make clear that Weatherman was only a tiny portion of the much larger anti-war movement.  At our height, Weatherman as a faction of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), were at best 500 people.  Out of an organization of perhaps 100,000 members.  And the larger anti-war and anti-racism movements involved many millions.  So let’s not exaggerate Weatherman’s importance, or that of the subsequent Weather Underground, which involved at most 100-200 people.  Weatherman was more of an outlier, an oddity, than representative of the mass movement).

Weatherman did represent a widespread tendency in the New Left movement to be “up front” with our politics, to not hide our radical critique.  We had analyzed that as part of the problem with the Old Left.  In my own history, I  moved from a base-building model of organizing (e.g., Columbia University SDS to the big rebellion of the spring of 1968), to a self-expression model, which was Weatherman and the Weather Underground.  Self-expression alone cannot possibly build a movement, only strategic organizing can.  I could say a lot more about this difference, but let me emphasize one point:  organizing is figuring out how to grow a movement, and that usually means hard work of relationship building and education and leadership development (ie., democracy) over a long period of time.  The process is not short-circuited by people proclaiming they have the truth and expecting others to follow, ie., self-expression.  It doesn’t work that way.

I don’t know what’s a viable successful strategy at the moment.  (No one does).  I suspect it will begin with opposition to the great moral wrongs of our time–for example, the obscene gap between rich and poor, the destruction of life on the planet through global warming–and will end with a bid for political power.  Which moral wrong among so many that exist will mobilize the most people, I don’t know, and how to build that movement for power I don’t know either.  That’s the work of the next decades.  I suspect that the Republican and conservative trope “Government bad!” has to be countered with a progressive message like, “Government should represent the collective will of society; it’s the responsibility of the government to care for the well-being of the people and the planet.”  Maybe that’s a little too long compared to “Government bad,” but “Government good” alone obviously wouldn’t work.  Whatever it is, it’ll involve a vision of the future based on how you young people want to live.  Perhaps I should turn the question back on you, since you’re closer to young people than I:  what do you think motivates youth today?

4. You discuss how President Obama failed to challenge the power of the military and the corporations behind them because of a lack of an organized political anti-war movement. What do you believe hindered the anti-war movement from becoming larger and more politically active before, during, and after the 2008 election?

Many things.  The worst was the U.S. people’s confusion about the wars based on the fact that we were attacked on September 11, 2001.  What does a good Texas sheriff do when a crime is committed in his town?  He shoots the bad guys.  That’s the level of American’s understanding of the justification for war.

The lesson of Vietnam, that you can’t trust the government when they’re trying to whip up support for a war, has been forgotten over the last thirty-plus years.  It even had a name, “Vietnam Syndrome,” and the war planners have crowed since 1991 that the disease has been conquered.

Within this context, the anti-war movement itself could never break out of talking to itself.  Our strategy and tactics, mostly involving mass mobilizations, seemed old and tired after the initial flurry of the spring of 2003, when millions of people marched in the streets.  The fact that we never figured out how to talk with people who are not like us may be a reflection of the fact that our society is much more polarized by class and race than it was forty years ago.  It’s like we live in our own guarded towers (gated communities?).  This latter point is reflected in the extreme polarization in Congress and the lack of communication and cooperation.

I’ve already mentioned that the skills involved in organizing a mass movement have been lost, and many people think that merely expressing their feelings will do the trick.  It doesn’t.

5. Do you think that it would still be possible today to live ”underground” and hidden from the government for seven and a half years given today’s technology and the new search tactics permitted under the Patriot Act?

They say that thirteen million “illegal immigrants” plus two million more people in trouble with the law live underground in this country.  But this question is irrelevant:  what we need is a legal movement that uses existing civil liberties such as the right to assemble and the right to speak.  This has nothing to do with an underground guerilla strategy.  If the government suspends all rights by declaring social movements “terrorist,” then there will be so many people affected that the ocean in which these new fugitives swim will be vast.  Let’s build the movement first.

Photo Credit: Thomas Good / NLN under GDFL License

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  1. bobf October 31, 2010 at 5:07 am

    Sounds like you forgot to ask Mark to indicate what he’s been doing lately to support the demand for amnesty for all U.S. political prisoners–including the still-imprisoned Leonard Peltier and the still-imprisoned former 1968 Columbia Student Strike Leader and former Weather Underground Activist David Gilbert–in 2010?

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