I recently received a letter from one of the organizers of Portland Peaceful Response Coalitions Nov. 17 march taking me to task for being critical of how the march was conducted. He thought incorrectly I might say that we found fault with the event because it wasnt radical enough and didnt involve civil disobedience. He went on to argue that the large numbers of people who turned out to peacefully march under the banner of No war against Iraq as compared to the few hundred who engaged in direct action and carried a more radical message demonstrated the error of the Alliances thinking on this matter.
We have certainly spent a fair amount of newsprint providing our readers with an analysis of the current peace movement. We have certainly raised serious questions about this movements preference to spend its time delivering narrow messages to downtown middle class shoppers rather than engaging working class people and communities of color in a broader dialogue about what this impending war is really about. If the upcoming march in January unfolds the way it sounds like it will, Alliance readers will most likely see more coverage in upcoming issues and more criticism where it is warranted (as well as kudos where appropriate).
Why should any of this matter? Isnt the current crisis too important to waste time splitting ideological hairs? Shouldnt we be spending our energies in more constructive ways?
The questions raised about the peace movement and activities by other elements of our progressive movement matter because everything we do goes to the heart of what it means to be progressives. If being a progressive and Im going to make a leap here that will most likely generate a fair amount of mail means engaging in a struggle for a just, democratic society in which everyone can lead meaningful and rich lives free of fear or basic wants, then the questions we ask and the criticisms we raise are very important.
Progressives recognize that our current society is far removed from the one we seek. They also recognized, as Frederick Douglas so eloquently stated over a century ago, that if there is no struggle, there is no progress...Power concedes nothing without demand. The current disparity in wealth and power will not go away by our simply asking it to do so. We must be willing to engage that power in a struggle that may last a very long time. Ending the war in Iraq will end one symptom but not the disease. Tomorrow there will be another victim of the powerful. It may be abroad, it may be at home, or as is usually the case, it may be taking place in a multitude of places.
Which is why the second part of being a progressive is so important. We cannot win any struggle ending the war in Iraq or bringing down the whole rotten system unless we build democratic mass movements that draw upon all us who live outside the gated communities and who are expected to spend our lives creating wealth for others. And, while the struggle will most likely be a long one, we cant afford to waste time, either.
We need to be reaching out to those who best understand the repressive nature of our current society. We need to do so not just to increase our numbers but to seek out their leadership, too.
We also need to understand that our activities must be about building power or else they are pointless.
Theres no magic bullet here. On the contrary, theres more than enough work for everyone.
We need to be building capacity to win electoral campaigns that will open up more opportunities to organize and to blunt the ability of elites to use our government against us.
We need to be developing programs around which local campaigns can be conducted that will organize communities for the long haul and developo community-based leadership.
We need to be building a more militant labor movement capable of not only protecting workers from attack but going on the offensive through strategic organizing and strikes.
As progressives, we need to be ready to engage in direct action
and other tactics when necessary even though it may dismay some of our fellow
And we also need to be organizing events like the Nov. 17 peace march to provide opportunities to bring people new to the struggle into our movement.
Peace marches are important events so long as we remember they, like all the things we do as progressives, are a means and not an end. We cannot afford to forget that.
Perhaps most important, as we begin a new year filled with challenges, we should remember that even though we may disagree on tactics, all of us who call ourselves progressives are traveling down the same path together.
The Portland Alliance
2807 SE Stark Portland,OR 97214
Last Updated: January 29, 2003