War, occupation and domestic repression are the only responses to terrorism that the Bush Administration has offered since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. Why War? was initially formed by a handful of students at Swarthmore College, shortly after America attacked Afghanistan, in order to show that war was neither just nor the proper response to “9/11.” We feel that before supporting continued expansion of this and related wars on terrorism, the public must be given the full truth about the Bush Administration’s agenda and its effects. Why War? is an organization that is honestly and rationally attacking pro-war arguments by delivering volumes of information which contradict the Administration’s claims in order to show that the Bush Administration’s true goal is world dominance — not world peace. This gives the meaning to our name: one need only to question the war to become anti-war.
Why War? began with the assumption that once people understood the drastic effects this unjustifiable war has on their lives, from the loss of civil liberties domestically to the invasion and oppression of peoples worldwide, a vocal peace movement would emerge. On Feb. 15, 2003, we were proven correct. Why War? now works to ensure that the movement for peace and justice is actively informed about crucial international developments and effective progressive tactics to counter the increasing domestic repression and global violence.
The following is the text of an interview conducted in mid-2002 with a founding member by Brad Carlton for MetroBEAT, an alternative newspaper in South Carolina.
First, give me some brief biographical background information, including your relationship to the peace movement.
I’m a 20-year-old male, the son of a two activist parents. Prior to 9/11 I was mainly involved in atheist activism, most of my work was with the Campus Freethought Alliance and was centered around opposing the influence of the religious right and creating a space for non-religious students on campus. I am one of the founders of Why War? (why-war.com) a site that we hope will become an important educational resource for the movement.
Weeks after 9/11 the anti-war movement was pronounced dead by many commentators. Many progressive activists and interest groups put a moratorium on criticisms of Bush and his policies, and the IMF/WB protests in September were cancelled. But in the wake of the recent WEF and DC protests, would you say that progressives have been revitalized? If so, by what?
Immediately after 9/11 the Bush administration did two things to silence progressive activists. First they passed the USA-PATRIOT Act, which worked to immediately scare into silence those individuals who understood the full implications of a law that gave our government seemingly limitless new powers of control and monitoring. But Bush did something else as well: he was able to garner the support of many individuals on the left who saw this war as an opportunity to rebuild war-torn nations. The international coalition was heralded as a chance for the entire world to act together to wipe out “evil.”
I think that what we are seeing now, especially at A20 [an anti-war march in Washington on April 20, 2002], is that more people are willing to put themselves in direct opposition to Bush’s politics. This has a lot to do with Bush’s inability since Afghanistan to deal with multifaceted foreign policy. He has been unable to successfully resolve the Israel/Palestine situation and gain international support for an attack on Iraq. Essentially it is becoming undeniable for many people that Bush’s approach is ineffective and detrimental to the world.
Though you are part of why-war.com, you mentioned in your post that “The war needs to be actively interpreted through the eyes of the anti-globalization movement.” Elaborate. Is it partly a matter of labeling, and if so, are the oft-advocated terms “global justice” or “social justice” inclusive enough for both the anti-war and anti-globalization thrust of the movement?
What the anti-globalization movement did successfully was clearly showing how the export of America’s culture, through global corporations, is not only detrimental domestically because it creates individuals whose lives are centered purely around consumption but also internationally because it works to destroy culture and either create areas of sweatshop labor or areas of America-like consumption.
That is why the terms “global justice” and “social justice” are so important: what we are trying to accomplish is a transnational global community that is not based on the superficiality of consumption but on worthwhile life pursuits.
My fear is that people will lose sight of this larger political goal and instead focus on issues that are symptoms, not root causes, of the problems in today’s world. The Israel/Palestine situation, for example, is arguably the result of America’s endless drive to feed our military-industrial complex. We have militarized Israel to such a degree that war is simply inevitable.
Do you think a sense of routine — i.e., protest, march, rally, this city, that city, etc. — began to settle in?
Sort of — I think that it was actually good that the anti-globalization movement followed the various economic meetings around. It forced the movement to be transnational because the enemy was global. Protests that grow in size as they move around the world must surely be the most terrifying thing for governments.
On the other hand, once the community of protestors becomes used to “how a protest should run,” I think the movement begins to lack a feeling of urgency. Protests should be disruptive spectacles that force an emotional response from people. The question is how to do this without turning into a purely violent movement.
Does the movement have to embrace new techniques? If so, what new techniques would you recommend?
The movement must embrace new techniques otherwise it will both alienate individuals who feel extremely strongly about these issues and it will fail to appeal to a new generation of potential activists. I found A20 disheartening in this respect because what it turned into was an extremely large event with several distinct groups (Palestinians, middle-aged adults, anti-globalization people, etc.) but with no real sense of powerful emotion, except within the Palestinians. I have three general suggestions:
1) Now that the movement knows it can attract a sizable amount of people over the age of 30 to events, there needs to be a coordinated effort to spread information. A20 was a lot different than WEF; my suspicion is that most older people showed up because they read about it in the Washington Post. There should have been teams of people writing down contact information that would be shared with every organization that endorsed the march. Someone who shows up at a march should immediately be on the radar of all progressive organizations who want to send them information.
2) Why did the march organizers allow the momentum to be broken after the very energetic march to the mall? Why not make the event serious by leading a march to the capital steps? I find it problematic that the police are able to dictate the protest route. Seeing 40-year-olds being arrested because of their anti-war beliefs sends a very strong message to the world.
3) It’s not all about numbers. I think A20 would have been more powerful if people were able to stay within the community they liked. The marches should have been more separated, I think this would have made people more comfortable.
Some have suggested that an increase in acts of disruptive but nonviolent civil disobedience need to occur to give the movement a greater sense of urgency, visibility, and energy. Do you agree? If so, where should the impetus come from: Organizers? Spontaneous action on the part of the participants? Both?
I agree fully. At the WEF protest in NY the one thing that galvanized me was seeing my friends being arrested after a non-violent, but disruptive action in which I also took part. As a movement we have to be willing to violate the laws because the laws are carefully crafted to silence our dissent to the greatest degree possible. This also seems to be a logical conclusion from the realization that the corporate media really doesn’t want to fully cover our message. It’s very important, however, that people understand that violence is not at all what is needed. Once civil disobedience becomes violent the movement will be demonized, we will lose the sympathies of most people, and we will forcefully be broken up. We are, after all, a movement for peace.
The question of who should be the catalyst for such action is a difficult one. I think it will come down to an agreement among participants that civil disobedience is needed. However, it would be extremely helpful if an organization were willing to also endorse such actions.
Is there an organizational crisis? If so, how does a proudly leaderless movement come to terms with it?
I think there is only an organizational crisis if organizations want to be the sole voice of the movement. The movement is only leaderless to the extent that no single individual, or organization, is followed without question. However, there are clearly organizations with hierarchies that promote ideas that are accepted widely, i.e. Adbusters and Kalle Lasn. What’s important is for there to be a shared vision, a global community not dictated by the whims of corporations, that is worked towards through a multitude of paths. I cannot produce a magazine as beautiful and powerful as Adbusters, but I can work to do what they don’t through Why War?.
You also mentioned that the movement “needs to maintain itself as an intelligent ... movement based on fresh ideas and theory.” How? Which theories? Is there currently an aversion to theory in the movement?
In terms of theory I’ve found the books No Logo, Culture Jam, and McWorld vs. Jihad along with the magazine Adbusters to be excellent guides to the theory of this movement. I don’t sense an aversion to theory in the movement but I do worry that emotional arguments will overshadow deeper critiques of society. We, as a movement, need to work on adapting the anti-globalization’s message into one that is palpable for purely anti-war people. What’s needed is for people to focus their energies on spreading their thoughts about the intersections of these concepts. Fresh ideas come when people are willing to share their own thoughts. Theory is developed when people begin to accept and disregard the thoughts that seem to fit in line.
King was constantly invoked and quoted: does the movement, from your perspective, have any speakers and orators of his stature, capable of galvanizing a broad base of people?
No. There are regional and intramovement speakers but there is no one who has yet been given the role of the voice of the movement to the wider population. The unfortunate thing is that this person will inevitably be chosen by the media, s/he will become a “celebrity” — it is going to be someone who is able to articulate a very systemic critique of America that is palpable to John Doe watching television. The problem is that no one will satisfy everyone, but someone is definitely needed.
I’ve read some reports about the disillusionment of many union activists with progressives because of an “anti-American” tone to post-9/11 globalization protests and because the protest atmosphere seemed, to them, to be dominated by a swirl of alienating radicalisms. Do you think that there is a danger of the movement being splintered by this (i.e., workers vs. revolutionaries, or just-plain-concerned-folks vs. anarchists)?
Well, I think that splintering is inevitable. Someone is always going to think that their ideas are a refinement of someone else’s, and that everyone should come to their “deeper” conclusions. That’s why I think that smaller protests that are geared to specific communities of activists are inevitable. Which is fine as long as we are all working toward a similar vision. Everyone should have their role, and voice, in the movement.
I am troubled, however, that anyone would be disillusioned by protests being anti-American. The simple fact of the matter is that protesting means that you disagree with the way America currently is. You can, and most people are, protesting the way America currently is because it has deviated from the way they think America should be. But if they are disillusioned because they fear we are calling for the end of America, then I don’t really know how to deal with that. America as it is now needs drastic change. We need to stop being a world superpower who exports military aid and sweatshops to every conceivable nation and we need to build a better world. If holding this position alienates people from the movement then I really don’t know what to say.