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April 9, 2003

Chris McConnell writes: I read

Daniel Radosh

Chris McConnell writes:

I read your blog entry about how you don't know if you "stand FOR anything that can be achieved by marching right now." For what its worth, one of the reasons I still march is to remind others abroad that not all Americans support this war or support the adminstration's foreign policy. My sister is studying in Berlin right now, and she'll show her classmates photos I take of actions in Austin to show there are people in this vast state and nation that aren't bloodthirsty racists, etc. I worry that the tendency to tar all Americans with the same brush abroad is only aggravated by the actions of the Bush adminstration.

A second reason I march is simply because I think that this war is symptomatic of crappy US foreign policy that's gone on since before Vietnam, and, since my country's actions abroad have the attention of most media-consuming Americans, its an ideal time to publicly sound off on the way my country behaves. I do think people should be reminded of the
ways we propped up evil-doers like Pinochet, Noriega, and Saddam Hussein and call into question the hows and whys of our international actions, whether or not I'm received well.

Finally, I worry about things like civil liberties and social disapproval of dissent, and I tend to think I need to exercise my civil liberties in order to keep them. And I show up to marches, not just to air my views, but to also lend support and give positive feedback to others who are more active in challenging policy.

Chris -- a blogger whom I crossed paths with back in the days of something called The Transom (it was going to be the GenX AOL) -- makes some excellent points. It may sound half-assed, but I like seeing protests, and I support the people who choose to go out there and get shot with non-lethal weapons. I'm more on the side of protesters than not. But I reiterate that what I want to see accomplished now is not something that can be accomplished by marching. To take Chris' points in reverse order:

Showing support for people who are doing the hard work: This is the most convincing one to me. There are people doing real hands-on work, and if public marches give them energy, that's good. Still, that's pretty second-hand.

Civil liberties: When there's a real march for civil liberties, I'll join it. But let's face it, while domestic issues get tacked on to these protests, they're really about the war through and through. A handful of signs about John Ashcroft doesn't take the focus off Iraq.

Imperialism: Who isn't anti-imperialist? (Don't answer that). But that fits squarely in my definition of things to march AGAINST not FOR. Acknowledging America's history is important, and marching against imperialism in general has its time and place, but there's real work that can be done now to create a non-imperialist post-Iraq. However, it requires the kind of proactive agenda I mentioned in my original post (citing Gomes). Blocking traffic won't accomplish that. Indeed, I think the continued "stop the war" protests -- even as it's been clear that the war will be over very quickly -- has made it more difficult for the Left to claim a spot in the postwar discussion. To quote today's Times, as a reliable measure of conventional wisdom: "The antiwar forces, who have had to contend from the start with the widespread belief that their position is unpatriotic and unsupportive of American troops engaged in deadly combat, must now bear the additional burden of arguing with success."

Had we been saying from the start, "of course the US military will accomplish its goals, and of course Iraq will be better off without Saddam, even though this isn't how we would have chosen to get rid of him, so let's be sure that what comes next is genuine independence and liberty, not a puppet regime" it would be more likely that people would listen when we said, as we will inevitably have to, "the US is installing a puppet regime." Now they'll just say, "if it were up to you, Saddam would still be in power." I know lots of people I love and respect on the left argue that we shouldn't tailor our message based on what other people are going to say. But many of them never talk to anyone who doesn't agree with them, and I think don't know how easy it would be to win over the vast middle if we just acknowledged that we're not totally out of touch with what other people think.

Showing other countries that not all Americans support Bush: First of all, I think they know that. Secondly, fighting for a just postwar Iraq rather than holding endless "stop the war" marches would send a similar message, if a quieter one.

But big thanks to Chris for sharing his thoughts, and helping me hone mine.

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