When the Vietnam War became history, and the protest signs and the bullhorns were put away, so too was the serious side of most protestors’ alienation and hostility toward the government. They returned, with minimal resistance, to the restless pursuit of success, and the belief that the choice facing the world was either “capitalist democracy” or “communist dictatorship”. The war had been an aberration, was the implicit verdict, a blemish on an otherwise humane American record. The fear felt by the powers-that-be that society’s fabric was unraveling and that the Republic was hanging by a thread turned out to be little more than media hype; it had been great copy.
I mention this to explain why I’ve been reluctant to jump with both feet on the Occupy bandwagon. I first thought that if nothing else the approaching winter would do them in; if not, it would be the demands of their lives — they have to make some money at some point, attend classes somewhere, lovers and friends and family they have to cater to somewhere; lately I’ve been thinking it’s the police that will do them in, writing finis to their marvelous movement adventure — if you hold the system up to a mirror the system can go crazy.
But now I don’t know. Those young people, and the old ones as well, keep surprising me, with their dedication and energy, their camaraderie and courage, their optimism and innovation, their non-violence and their keen awareness of the danger of being co-opted their focusing on the economic institutions more than on the politicians or political parties. There is also their splendid signs and slogans, walking from New York to Washington, and not falling apart following the despicable police destruction of the Occupy Wall Street encampment. They’ve given a million young people other ideas about how to spend the rest of their lives, and commandeered a remarkable amount of media space. The Washington Post on several occasions has devoted full page or near-full page sympathetic coverage. Occupy is being taken increasingly seriously by virtually all media.
Yet, the 1960s and 70s were also a marvelous movement adventure — for me as much as for anyone — but nothing actually changed in US foreign policy as a result of our endless protests, many of which were also innovative. American imperialism has continued to add to its brutal record right up to this very moment. We can’t even claim Vietnam as a victory. Most people believe that the US lost the war. But by destroying Vietnam to its core, by poisoning the earth, the water, the air, and the gene pool for generations, Washington in fact achieved its primary purpose: preventing the rise of what might have been a good development option for Asia, an alternative to the capitalist model.
It has greatly helped Occupy’s growth and survival that they have seldom mentioned foreign policy. That’s much more sensitive ground than corporate abuse. Foreign policy gets into flag-waving, “our brave boys” risking their lives, American exceptionalism, nationalism, patriotism, loyalty, treason, terrorism, “anti-American”, “conspiracy theorist” … all those emotional icons that mainstream America uses to separate a Good American from one who ain’t really one of us.
Foreign policy cannot be ignored permanently of course, if for no other reason than that the nation’s wealth that’s wasted on war could be used to pay for anything Occupy calls for … or anything anyone calls for.
The education which Occupy has caused to be thrust upon the citizenry — about corporate abuse and criminality, political corruption, inequality, poverty, etc., virtually all unprosecuted — would be highly significant if America were a democracy. But as it is, more and more people can learn more and more about these matters, and get more and more angry, but have nowhere to turn to, to effectuate meaningful change. Money must be removed from the political process. Completely. It is my favorite Latin expression: sine qua non — “without which, nothing”.
The Anti-Empire Report
Photo: Ted Fisher