Saturday, 28 May 2005

Engage or Provoke?

People who mostly agree about what is wrong and what should be done to fix it, often disagree about the approach to use in effecting change. My personal preference for engagement over provocation doesn't mean I believe there's no time for provocation, or that those who prefer a provocative course cannot be quite effective. Indeed, often they are more effective, certainly in garnering more attention, but over the long haul BOTH approaches are essential when the forces of dominion have no scruples about how they enforce their will.

I have just added two links to my sidebar, one from each approach. The Conversation Cafe which is slowly spreading from my home state of Washington where it was started, is strictly about engagement, and carefully honors a diversity of opinion. In fact it is incorrect to categorize it as an agent of any particular change other than a return to civility.
The graphic on the front page of the Project for the Old American Century (at time of writing), in contrast is very provocative, and I'd probably not be comfortable wearing it on a t-shirt. Nonetheless, it makes a point, is an attention-getter, and comes far closer to the mark than most Americans want to believe.
I tend to be cautious in what I'm willing to accuse our leaders of, when it is clear to me that even when exercising such caution it is painfully obvious they need to be ousted from power. We somehow missed our opportunity (or perhaps it was stolen
from us) last November, so with Bush as a lame duck there is a legitimate question as to whether simply replacing him next time around with a less offensive administration can heal the deep wounds which have been inflicted on us and the world. More on that later.

My preference for engagement comes in large measure because I am keenly aware that plenty of decent people, whether they voted for Bush or Kerry or someone else, are very worth reaching out to, and are alienated by such provocation. Do I believe that Bush and Cheney and Rove and Rumsfeld and DeLay and Frist are liars motivated variously by vanity, greed, power lust, convenience, and meanness? Well frankly, I do believe that. But I certainly don't believe it of all Republicans or all conservatives. And I stop short of calling the aforementioned politicians 'evil', because I agree with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties, either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.
How can we expect those good-hearted individuals of a conservative bent not to dismiss all those who disagree as irrelevant and even mean if they are so dismissed by most of those of a liberal bent? Without bridges, no change will happen; for a small minority screaming foul against a monied powerful minority will be squashed, unless it makes important alliances.

But let's return to the conundrum of the majority of the American voters having (ostensibly) returned to power the very administration whose hubris and militarism has alienated much of the civilized world, with no apparent opportunity to finally vote them out. I'm serious when I state that I think we would be better off right now if Bush could and would run again in 2008. With the current makeup of Congress, impeachment seems far-fetched, but that's the tonic recommended by former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan, Paul Craig Roberts, in his recent article America's Reputation in Tatters, which begins:
George W. Bush and his gang of neocon warmongers have destroyed America's reputation. It is likely to stay destroyed, because at this point the only way to restore America's reputation would be to impeach and convict President Bush for intentionally deceiving Congress and the American people in order to start a war of aggression against a country that posed no threat to the U.S. America can redeem itself only by holding Bush accountable.
He continues in scathing fashion, and I can only marvel at the irony that someone associated with the last Presidency which took me to the local federal building in protest against ill-conceived military intervention in Central America, is more provocative than I am in lambasting the current administration.


JEFF MOORE 206 842 9487 said...

Is it wrong to think that Bush has motivated you to write to ask if we should engage or provoke?
Bush has indeed upped the ante. But let's review "the opposition": In the mid 90's they (the Dems) had the presidency and a majority in Congress. With that advantage: 1. They destroyed welfare. 2. Started the other big war (in Colombia purely using mercenary U.S. corporations). 3. Deregulated energy for Enron. 4. Sold off the public airwaves. 5. Passed NAFTA (when Bush #1 couldn't do it). 6. Tripled the number of blacks in prison. 7. Attacked Somolia, and Yugoslavia creating a D.U. and environmental hell.
I could go on for a long while but a few specific attacks of the Dems on life on earth should be sufficient for my point about confrontation. The list of what they didn't do is just as long.

Are we to young or are just to forgetful, or are we trained not to see the way power is arranged?
Kerry voted against Kyoto, wanted to send 40,000 more to Iraq, said he would consider a draft (when Bush said "No"), and was worse on Palestine than the proto fascists that I suspect have renewed your political interest and the interest of millions around the world.

It isn't that things will get worse faster under Bush, and that's "good". Rather its that things are run by corporations and not through voting and we are on their way to hell: except for one factor.

The mojority of people on this planet want real democracy, and see their own governments (and others) as corrupt and of no progressive merit, and probably brutal as well.

History and the future have two possibilities as pertains to power. Either we move to everyone sharing it or we accept the status quo for the last 200 years where fewer and fewer people create policy.
In one direction - fascism-chaos. In the other socialism and democratically organized economy (local and worldwide).
If you see a third way let me know. I'm not trying to dictate terms of debate, just thinking that that there really is a shape to our social and political reality.

The movements of South America (S.A.) are shoving reluctant leaders (Chavez, Lula, Morales) into nationalizing industry, arming the indigenous and or poor populace, and in general forcing their reluctant leftist leaders to yeilding policy matters to neighborhood, union, women's, and farmers "Bolivarian" councils.
This isn't corruption, Stalinism, guerrilla-ism, or anything except proto-democracy. The real thing at its beginning. They are not alone in S.A.
All the OAS states, (U.S. firmly excluded) just conducted trade talks with all the leaders (yes mostly U.S. sponsored dictators) in the Middle East.
But those dictators are all riding the fence between U.S. policy dictates and U.S. support and the positively anti neo-liberal and usually pro-democracy demands of their people.

Our (American) interests, as humans who happen to reside in the belly of the beast, and the interests of people around the world coincide nicely.
Bush-Kerry are firmly for the people who fund them, give them the scripts they read, and who currently control the levers of power: Corporations.
My point about the question "engage - provoke" is this.
Bush-Kerry-Gore-Rove and company simply aren't going to make any policy you and I and Iraqi's can live with. They are going to use force to implement policies we don't like! On top of that, they are only representatives of the vast store of wealth and power in few hands. They are not representing "us" (we who live on planet earth, working for a living or trying just to stay alive).
In this world, neither engagment nor provocation are the first order of business. To engage, or porovoke the "right wing" in order to get them to vote for the other corporate party is not going to work strategically or tactically. The democrats serve power differently but not less. Bush's bombastic manner simply confirms the reality of a system of economics that demands that the individual confront every other individual in a battle for wealth, security, status, and "opportunity". Bush is the better representative of this reality: The reality of 200 years of business leadership of our means of producing the goods and services that constitute our material existence.

Rather than engage or provoke "them", we must behave and believe that the majority of the residents of earth ore on "our" side.
Organizing ourselves and confronting corporate power is the way to show the way forward. Only by confronting corporate power is the nature of things made plain enough that even "we" can see what's happening.
The Venezuelan, Nigerian, and Bolivian masses; the barely organized but unified poor and indigenous are giving us (and the corporations) an objective lesson in confrontation and tactics.
The WTO protests were the same thing, though considerably more limited in positive or proactive demands.

Bush, without knowing why, is right! Your either with us or against us. Either you side with those who beleive in planet earth as a shared community or those who see it as something that can only be dominated.
Americans must get over their fear of a democracy, particularly an economic democracy, taking power. The power to heal the planet while feeding everyone is hardly a recipe for limited or timid power. In fact it will require more but democratic power in every sense of the word, including the power to defend these infant democracies as they arise. We must match Bushes boldness not just with opposite aims but with a similiar determination not to fail.

At the end of his life MLK and SCLC was calling directly for a "radical redistribution of wealth and power", to be begun with the poor People's March. They were to "confront" Congress, and keep confronting power until it yeilded. King had learned that his previous limited demands on behalf of "the Southern Negro" were insufficient and tactically questionable.
As corporations and their junior partners (governments) take the gloves off and move in to completely dominate life on earth, it is exactly this polarizing quality that awakens people to the question of an alternative.
The question begins to answer itself as you look around you in a protest. The fact that your marching down the street, confronting police, and with very like minded people who have as little to gain financially as you but are organized for exactly "all the other" reasons than $. These things are "what democracy looks like" in its infancy. The leaders (of the protest) only barely lead (in the sense of having much power. The power is diffused in the thousands of people.

And it is power too. The anti-war movement delayed it by 8 months, and lessened the level of barbarity of "Shock and Awe". The Dems didn't acheive this, they were forced to ask questions and "observe some process" before voting for the war.
Yeah, we didn't stop the war. You want it to be easy? You get your policy with one or ten protests? We shook the world - some. Billions of people noticed and took heart. It was the world's first joint protest! Italians, Turks, Japanese, and Americans united in opposition! Engage? Provoke? Organize and confront! "Jobs and Education, Not War". "Down with Corporate Power". "The World Says NO".
We should neither overestimate our immediate possibilities nor underestimate our actual effect and the potential of further organizing.
We should also responsibly accept the limitations and divisive power of electoral politics. Voting for the other pro-war, anti Kyoto candidate is hardly confronting anything. The coporations have "defined" America and Bush fits the definition. Kerry is just confusing if you beleive him at all. The "right wing" didn't beleive for good reason!

Expecting voters to forget what the Dems have done "for" us, and helping them invest in the all or nothing illusion of elections in a one party (policy wise) state is debilitating. Let's give the "voters" the benefit of the doubt. Asking them to vote for a clearly pretendind "left" candidate who in fact is trying to out Bush the President is not really engaging or provoking anything.

The fact is, the anti-war movement was sucked into the Democratic Party as planned. When 70% of the delegates at the convention are anti-war, 15% for Kucinich, and not one word is changed in the a tactically meaningless platform, you are suffering an illusion. A huge and very commonly shared illusion at that. The Venezuelans face a media like ours. They are constantly lied to, provoked, demeaned, and in the face of that media they have only Bolivarian circles, neighborhood councils to try to hash through what's happening to them. They elected a moderate leftist, defeated a coup de etat with mass action, for the first time in history, and made further demands on the leader whose bacon they saved. They are not socialists, they are just poor, but conditions are driving them to find their own socialism which they call "Bolivarian". It just so happens they are beginning to control their own destiny which is tied to 20% of the U.S. supply of oil. Leverage. The Nigerians are in an identical strategic point but haven't shaken off their brutal government yet. But again, another 20% of U.S. oil.

Tactically, the thrust (at this moment in the U.S.) seems to be to delegitimize miltary recruitment. Get the High School kids involved. Let's get to work, keeping the big picture (of who around us in the world is on our side) in veiw.

If "it" was simple, "this" would be shorter!

Jeff Moore

Walker said...

"It"'s never simple, is it. Thanks, Jeff, for your thoughtful comments - way more than I can address at one sitting. I certainly didn't intend to exclude organizing and confronting. Indeed action is more valuable than talk. I do think concurrent engagement is absolutely an essential part of what brings long term change, but it is not enough by itself. MLK & Gandhi remain as good models as any. Personally I think we need to find particular corporate executives who see the need for fundamental change and push them hard to follow their conscience. Again that's only part of it.