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April 21, 2006

Let's Criticize The Peace Movement, From A Primate's Perspective

A few weeks ago, Scott Ritter wrote an article criticizing the anti-Iraq war movement. Now there's a new interview with him in which he says many of the same things:

You’ve offered the anti-war movement a bitter pill to swallow. You’ve said the peaceniks are a poorly organized conglomeration of egos, pet projects and idealism. Can you elaborate?

First of all, what is the peace movement? There is no national peace movement. There’s a conglomeration of organizations, all of which are ego-driven. If you take a look at Peace Action, they have a national Peace Action and they have state Peace Actions around the country. They don’t work well with each other; they don’t get along with each other. They feud. They don’t have a centralized plan...

I am not volunteering myself to be the visionary of the peace movement. All I’m saying is that having attended these meetings and reflecting on what I’ve seen, the peace movement’s getting its butt kicked...There needs to a meeting of the minds, a unified vision statement: What do we agree on? What is our focus of effort? And then once you get this mission statement, let’s put a little bit of fire into this...

But as soon as you mention “structure” to the peace movement, they get all nervous. They think it’s abut imposing military standards on them—an absurdity...It’s about organizing, and making sure you don’t waste resources. That’s what the peace movement needs: organization and to stop wasting resources.

I’m a football fan. At the end of the day, I judge a coach and a team by the score that exists on the scoreboard when the end of the fourth quarter comes. And right now, it’s the pro-war movement 60, the anti-war movement nothing. Someone can’t tell me, “No, no, we’re doing OK.” No, you’re not. You’re getting beat, and you need to recognize you’re getting beat, and you need to figure out why you’re getting beat, and you need to figure out what you need to do to get yourself back on track. And the key thing here is: Bring a sense of focus and organization, which is lacking.

I have a lot of sympathy for Ritter's perspective. Much of what he says is completely right. However, I also think he doesn't recognize the problems stem from something much deeper than individual shortcomings in 2006.

The root of it is the U.S. is an extremely depoliticized society. There are barely any progressive institutions in America, so there's no progressive institutional memory. No one remembers what worked before and what didn't. Everything starts from zero each time. And there's little progressive culture encouraging people to sacrifice for the common good. (This is not something I figured out on my own.)

Fixing this would take decades. But obviously people want to be effective right now.

The normal answer would be for the anti-war movement to become more hierarchical. That's what primate societies under stress naturally do. (This is why leaders love war.) But hierarchy only works in the short-term, and even then it doesn't work too well—particularly when your long-term goal is a less hierarchical society.

Do you have an opinion? If so, I'd be very curious to hear it. I encourage you to criticize everyone and everything, except for me and Scientology.

UPDATE: People have said some genuinely interesting things so far. Please don't hesitate to chip in if you feel like it. Eventually I'll edit things down and send it to Common Dreams or someplace similar.

Posted at April 21, 2006 08:10 AM | TrackBack

I think Scott is largely correct. There's really not a national spokesperson for peace, or group, or whatever. I think Scott has his shit together and doesn't have time to waste with ineffective methods.

I've often wondered why the huge peace marches before the war seemed not to do a bit of good. I've wondered why there seemed to be so little media coverage, why the media coverage that was there seemed mostly dismissive. The Vietnam War peace rallies, which were for the most part significantly smaller, seemed to have a much larger impact on the culture. Why is that? Sure, the media's corporate culture was partly to blame, but the media is essentially lazy (they call it 'efficient') - they want their stories handed to them so they don't have to work, because the less work you put into a story, the less it costs and the more value for dollar you get out of it.

So maybe the failure of the peace marches to make a difference lay as much with the organization as with the media. If the organizers had given the media stories to tell, they might have told them. I don't know.

But I imagine Scott Ritter wouldn't have spoken out as he did unless the problem exists pretty much as he described it.

Posted by: Jeff at April 21, 2006 08:48 AM

>The root of it is the U.S. is an extremely depoliticized society.

Yes. I know many people who believe that even talking about politics is unseemly. And a lot of others for whom politics ends at talking.

This is all elementary, but a movement needs to have a goal and a method. Is it to pressure politicians to vote a certain way? How? Threat of votes? Make cities ungovernable? (mass strike --- imagine!). My guess is the best concrete plan in my region is anti-recruiting efforts. BUT . . . there must be some planning and prediction of an action's actual results.

And I believe there does have to be some organization, perhaps even hierarchy.

Posted by: pulaski at April 21, 2006 08:59 AM

A few weeks ago, the former President, George H.W. Bush was here at the University of Georgia to dedicate the Coverdell Center opening.
There was very little protest, but what there was, a few sign-carriers, was confined to a free-speech zone a few blocks from the event. The media did not see them, no notice was taken, it became a political non-event.
Protest needs to be more like passive resistance. If the protest does not interfere with the smooth operation of the machine of oppression and does not impede the pursuit of profit, power and prestige that seems to drive these guys, then it is 100% ineffectual. If a protest falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, did it make a noise?
I would say that the hallmark of protest must be to disrupt, impede, delay, inconvenience, and aggravate the people who you are protesting.
Silently holding a candle-light vigil two blocks from the focus is a non-event. But a human chain blocking the street, or hundreds of people blowing whistles 400' away might be. Protest has to be noticed if it is to be effective, but it doesn't have to be illegal or destructive. Just resistant. Look at Ghandi! Deny the oppressors your consent, do not participate in their mechanisms of control, force them to take action to deal with you. However, this does require courage, dedication and organization.

Posted by: Euthydemos in Athens, GA at April 21, 2006 09:01 AM

the best person to ask about this is peace movement historian Lawrence (Larry) Wittner
he and I discussed this problem in February

Posted by: Lieutenant Breakfast at April 21, 2006 09:05 AM

I tend to agree with Ritter. I've found more often than not that the peaceniks (the ones holding the meetings at the peace centers) often seemed to be involved more to make themselves feel good and to resolve their white-liberal-guilt than to actually win something.

From the community organizing perspective, it is pointless to talk about idealism and moral highground. At the end of the day any kind of change requires power. Or as Freddy D put it, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will." Power only recognizes power.

Its all Realpolitik, and It does not appear that building real power is yet a goal of the peaceniks. Power is messy, its much more pleasant to sip coffee at Starbucks. I think I may be just as bitter as Ritter. Sometimes I feel that if all us progressives were a basketball team, some our teammates couldnt figure out how to lace up their sneakers, and I dont think the other side has that problem. Forget making it to the championship, we need to figure out how to make it halftime.

Posted by: Jake Lowen at April 21, 2006 09:18 AM

Ritter is essentially correct, but his observations apply more broadly than just to the "peace movement," whatever and whoever that may really be. It applies, and has applied for decades in our society, to the progressive movement and to the Democrat Party. (Will Rogers' joke from some 75 years back: "I don't belong to any organized political party. I'm a Democrat.")

It may be that Republicans simply are better able to define, structure, and carry out their goals than Democrats -- a carry-over skill from corporate business. It's surely the case that big money conservatives have for a long time been investing in enterprises that promote and exalt the political and economic systems which favor themselves, giving us the Cato Institute and American Enterprise, et al. The lesson has also been picked up by militant Christianity -- and to a less obvious extent, militant Judaism -- giving us the Family Research Council, etc.

What's significant is that they have bought, bullied, or blackmailed themselves into recognition as credible institutions. And it is to such institutions that lazy, corrupt, dull-witted, and cowed segments of the media turn for wisdom, analysis, and sound bites.

This contradicts your observations about short-term hierarchy, I know. But what we're looking at is a series of nearly-identical short-term hierarchies which become, in default of a genuine alternative, a long-term hierarchy. And like it or not, organized beats disorganized nearly every time.

Posted by: pj at April 21, 2006 09:19 AM

Before a movement can be radical and effective in its tactics it has to have more dedication to its goals. And it ought to have goals.

The problem with this particular movement is that there's no such thing, really, as the "anti-war" position. This means different things to different people. Quoting MLK, "True peace is not just the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice." Or not, for someone else - peace is when the soldiers leave the other country, period, end of story.

So am I willing to put aside my own ideology for the struggle? This is an easy line to toss around, but it's NOT something that's easy to adopt. Am I willing to work with the Sparticist, or even, god help me, the anti-Semite, whose reasons for opposing the war I vehemently disagree with? Am I willing to take the chance that their message gets mixed with mine, pollutes or ecplises mine? Maybe not.

There's a huge amount of anti-war sentiment in this country waiting to be mobilized, and there's groups salivating to take advantage of that power, to have the microphone when those people are active and open-minded. They simply will not agree to get along. There's too much to lose. Any impetus to agree has to come from below, from that mobilized mob itself.

In Vietnam this was easy - there was a draft. People HAD to act, one way or another. Not so with us. We have to choose to act.

Jon's right - we lack tools and we lack knowledge. We've never done this before, and we're waiting for someone to tell us what to do. That won't work. We have to fucking do it ourselves. This is much harder than before - we have to draft ourselves into it.

I believe that's possible. I've seen a movement begin that way - the anti-globalization movement. But it takes work, hard work from lots and lots of people on the ground. Namely, you. We don't need organization and hierarchy. We need to organize ourselves. This means you and your group of friends doing something. Whatever it is. Stick with it. Don't burn out. And then you build from there.

As to the media, it will never do anything for us. It may even oppose us all the way. No counting on concentrations of power coming over to your side.

Posted by: saurabh at April 21, 2006 09:27 AM

Cynicism aside, the effectiveness of any peace movement in the US is proportional to the collective perception that we're losing the war. This took a long time to build in Vietnam although there was a draft. It'll take even longer this time.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at April 21, 2006 09:27 AM

All governments are set up to make going to war easy; warring is close to being their primary purpose. And the majority of citizens of a government feel most comfortable acceding to what that government is doing at any point in time, since governments have a way of making dissent very uncomfortable.

Thus, most peace movements are unsuccessful, even when they exist at all. So it is not that surprising that the minimal one that we have today is a failure. (On the other hand, the war is quite unpopular in the polls; this apparent paradox should be reflected on.)

Comparing today's movement with the famous '60s movement is not very illuminating in many ways. The force of that movement derived largely from the draft; nearly every male of draft age was threatened by it, as were all of their girlfriends, wives, parents, etc. Since there is no draft today, there is no great impetus to get involved, for most people; therefore, there is no potential for a mass movement.

If there were such an impetus today, there would be a movement, and it would organize itself without a rigid hierarchy (which Ritter with his military-trained mind imagines), just as the '60s movement did.

Posted by: jonj at April 21, 2006 09:31 AM

"The normal answer would be for the anti-war movement to become more hierarchical. That's what primate societies under stress naturally do. (This is why leaders love war.) But hierarchy only works in the short-term, and even then it doesn't work too well—particularly when your long-term goal is a less hierarchical society."

Strict heirarchy, or as the USMC put it while I served, the chain of command from the Commander in Chief down to the rawest boot on the planet, is NOT the only way to organize a group.

In my optimistic days, I hope that progressives will steal (in the artistic sense) Open Source's playbook and start routing around the blockages this disjointed mess some people call a movement. (You want to see a movement, look at good old movement conservatives. Of course, they're about to find out that their power was usurped by the religious and the avaricious, who were then co-opted by the crypto-fascists, and thus we've gone from small government to moral laws and free-to-screw-everyone markets to the omnipotent presidency. Thus they give an object lesson in dancing with the devil that any progressive movement should beware. Ah, if only this parenthetical comment were as nutty as it would have sounded 10 years ago!)
One facet of any burgeoning movement would have to be the clear offering of an alternative to the current crop of politicians. That means that any Dems who have ethical issues (to include ethical issues that are still "legal" but need to be stopped) need to get them out in the open NOW and stop doing the typical candidadte dance hoping no one knows or will find out before election day. Leave that to the GOP. That means pushing the living hell out of people like Paul Hackett instead of favoring "party men (and women)". That means purging our ranks of crypto-republicans like Joe Lieberman. That means not writing off the south or rural america, but coming at them with a plan that hits them in their pocketbooks, their hearts and their pride--without trying to take the idiotic short cut of "appealing" to some phony group (like NASCAR dads). That means being prepared to effectively fight the right wing noise machine and the neutered corporate media.
Good on Jeff, by the way, for noticing that the big media has become lazy and for putting the profit motive next to that. I would add three things:
First, the media is getting entirely too many signals that market pressure isn't going to let them break away; case in point: Knight-Ridder's capitol bureau was almost single-handedly a complete rejoinder to the "everybody said Iraq had WMD" bleating that ass-coverers with slightly more shame than Judy Miller hath have tried to some success; Knight-Ridder, thanks to a single, large, corporate investor, went on the block and sold itself to Media General, which is selling off several of the less profitable, and better journalistically speaking, papers.
Second, the media, even when not in the GOP pocket a la Fox News, often has significant encursions within an outlet. The prime example here is the Wall Street Journal's editorial section, which is analogous to having a section of vile, misogynistic porn in the middle of a solid sex-education and -equality text. Now it appears the Washington Post is trying to vie for the title of "best newspaper with an editorial section that doesn't read its news."
Third, one cannot minimize the success the right has had working not only the ref (media) with it's cries of bias, but working the crowd as well, especially when they seek (often successfully) to have stories equate, say, a blow job with a massive campaign of lies that cost the country thousands of lives, billions of dollars and quite possibly the most goodwill the nation has ever enjoyed. (There are days I think that I'm going to lose it and just head butt the next person, live, on the TV/radio or in the internets, who says that if the republicans were wrong to impeach Clinton, it means Bush can't be impeached. By that argument, the fact that there are johns who don't get convicted excuses mass murderers from arrest.)

Posted by: Pierce Presley at April 21, 2006 09:34 AM

If the peace movement did have a national spokesperson, or institution, you can bet our "liberal" main stream media would merely dismiss them, the way they did when millions upon millions took to the streets in cities all over the world, at the begining of the war. If that didn't work the media, the GOP, would demonize them. It's what they do; it's what they do best.

And yes, from bitter, personal experience, I have learned that Scott Ritter is right. That's why I'm no longer a "joiner", much less an organizer. It's futile and pointless, and it absolutly will take decades to remedy the problem, if it ever gets remedied at all. Not just the peace movement, but the entire left.

Posted by: mudkitty at April 21, 2006 09:36 AM

Since the days of the first civilization, the way to succeed or to compete has always been to co-operate with other people.
In modern days, we often fail to realize just how many people are involved with the status quo. If we want to change things, we need to cooperate with just as many people.
Sure, the peace movement should be organized, but not on the simple no-war in Iraq stance. There should be a concerted effort to write new policy. A political statement should be made the new rules for when we go to war. It should be circulated, and get movements to sign on. Not just different branches of the peace movement, but anywhere that people gather. When all the people of a chess club agree to a political stance, the group can become political.
As to the notion of Hierachy, many people like the final goal of civilization to be a truely egalitarian society. So when someone holds rank, they imagine that there is ultimate un-challengeable power. I think that if we really believed that, there would be no peace movement at all. It's about challenging power, not eliminating it. I'm not sure we can live in a society where no person has power over another, but I'm sure we can live in a society where if powerfull people become corrupt, we kick them out.

Posted by: Shiftymruzik at April 21, 2006 09:37 AM

I've walked on the fringes of a number of peace marches over the past few years and, despite the fact that I consider myself a member of the political left, I felt alienated.

I generally find myself in sympathy with many of the more coherent and broad ideas today's "peace movement" (war should be a last resort, press harder for diplomatic solutions, George Bush has been reckless...) but, as I've experienced it, out of touch with it in a cultural sense.

Unfortunately, while somewhat rational in thought, the contemporary peace movement still seems (to me) wedded to the trite iconography of the 60's- on the harmless side there is still the unkempt hair the tie dies and the ditzy stoner, or angry ex-hippie, demeaor in amongst a significant portion of the participants. More disurbingly to me there is a similar tolerance of radical left-wing politics and a anti-science mindset. The image that best sums this feeling is the one of Cindy Sheehan smiling alongside a warmly accepting Hugo Chavez. I'm no fan of George Bush, but the Chavez is a tyrant.

These visable and risable trappings give the Hannitys and the Scarboroughs of the media swamp something to mock. Cindy Sheehan was a gift to them as she was the perfect embodiment of all that that the imagined the peace movement really stood for: naiivete. She claimed to want to meet with George Bush- Hannity could pipe up, with truth on his side, that she already had.

My recommendations:

I think the peace movement needs better icons. It needs to resisit the support of clearly fringe groups like old communists, Castro supporters, people who believe that Bush caused 9/11 in order to provide an exuse to go to War in Iraq, people who loudly proclaim that the entire endeavour was about "Stealing Iraqi Oil" etc,. It's icons need to have not only the emotional impact of a Sheehan, but also the coherence an intellect of a great public speaker. Finally, it needs to maintain focus. The peace movement only gets bogged down when it is associated with other perhaps worthy causes: the environmental movment, the anti-globalization crowd, vegans etc,. The moment another, non-relevant, message gets glommed onto the peace movment is the moment the movment alienates yet another centrist or sympathetic right-winger.

Posted by: Brad Hoehne at April 21, 2006 10:09 AM

I disagree with having a hierarchy of pacifists: the enemies of the peace movement are specifically geared towards destroying that kind of organization (eg harassment, slander, and arrest of individual leaders). They find it much easier to attack individuals than ideas. I have two suggestions. Before all else, there needs to be a pooling of knowledge, a series of peace conventions to educate pacifists about what works and what doesn't (and possibly to deliver a united message to the press). No noisy demonstration this time... we just rent a hall and get down to business.
Second, I think there needs to be more 60's-style civil disobedience. Given where our democracy is now, our leaders won't listen to good advice unless their hand is forced. Nothing destructive, obviously; something like blockading the head office of an arms manufacturer or attending every funeral for dead soldiers in large numbers.
You'll notice I haven't mentioned the Democrats at all. I don't know what to say. They are essential to progress, but they have disappointed me so many times I can't stand to deal with them.

Posted by: theFisherKing at April 21, 2006 10:24 AM

It's not just that America is depoliticized--one could even say that the country as a whole has historically been UN-political (obviously there have been segments which have been extremely politically active)--but that our entire society has been structured to make this kind of reform-minded activity nearly impossible. The roots of this run very deep in American history--including a lack of a unifying culture which won out in a series of bloody internecine wars, an adherence to ideas over creeds and singular ethnicities--and would take ages to change. They may even be impossible to change without literally throwing out the Constitution or breaking the US into smaller, more governable pieces, both of which would probably be bloody and, thus, neither of which I'm seriously advocating.

So what tools are there? Pretty much just TV and the Internet. The latter has proven very effective at getting large number of people to feel connected, maybe even to agree on certain things. The former is really what drives the national imagination and national conversations. It's also what the powers that be really pay attention to in terms of what Americans think. Obviously we're not going to have a sitcom about Cindy Sheehan (or ARE we?) but for something to have a national impact it HAS to get onto TV.

Let's pretend (I have no one specifically in mind for this fantasy, it's just a possible route of change) that a talk show host goes "crazy" and starts criticizing not only the War, but both parties, the entire political structure, etc. Let's say that the GOP and others in mainstream power demand he get booted off the air. Let's say that the Internet is used to get young people all over the country to watch and boost this person's Nielsens (sp?) into the stratosphere. Let's say this person gets the cover of Time (didn't help Howard Dean, true). Of course, I could be reciting the plot for a remake of "Network." Or even the first year of the French Revolution, and we all know how the next 15 years of that turned out. But maybe, just maybe, some version of MySpace could be used to get various groups to act visibly and keep this on TV so it remains front-and-center in the national consciousness. And then an election cycle comes around, and, who knows . . . ?

It might be crazy. But so was the iPod, I guess. I just think this is the way real, lasting change will happen. Hope so. Gotta go, though, have to watch my TIVO'd "Deal or No Deal." Those models are FINE!!

Posted by: Stinky Flamingo at April 21, 2006 10:27 AM

It seems to me that the leaders are not listening because they're so easily dismissed as "fringe". If you don't look like you vote then they're not going to be as interested.

Posted by: Brad Hoehne at April 21, 2006 10:46 AM

I see the depoliticization of our society as only part of the root cause; the other cause that's ingrained in our society after 50 years of Cold War is the knee-jerk demonization of all things left as "communist" (lately transformed into "terrorist"). While it's true that we have no progressive institutional memory, we did have a huge success of organization: the labor movement of the late-19th/early-20th Centuries. That movement succeeded in giving us child labor laws, weekends and the 40-hour work week, employer-provided health care, etc, etc, despite huge establishment opposition. The establishment's reaction was to whip up the "Red Scare" frenzy to associate that kind of effective organization with something that was repeatedly decried as anti-American, and eventually it worked.

I came of (political) age in the Reagan era, when I saw both the ridiculousness of the Red Scare tactics still being applied, and the effectiveness of Republican organized unity vs the disorganized personal issues of the Democrats (back when they were still at least nominally the "liberal" party). I used to say that the Republicans only strength is that they are willing to follow orders (whether through a lack of diversity or the heirarchical mindset or whatever reason or combination of reasons you want to ascribe it to), while our weakness is that we don't want to follow orders. Of course that's a simplistic generalization: lately I've come to see that the establishment media is also actively working to marginalize and render inneffective any efforts at grassroots organizing, taking advantage of that Red Scare mentality they've been cultivating over the last century along with more sophisticated methodologies. And that establishment bias in the media and the culture is something that any organization efforts on our part are going to have to address.

I'm not sure what organizing tactics would work in the face of this. I'm not sure you're right about your assessment of heirarchical organization, except that it does seem that the "Left" in this country is too diverse for it to be effective. Nor do I think that the Labor Movement organization tactics would work now, though they might if successfully adapted to modern sensibilities and technologies. But as you say, we don't have that institutional memory any more, so I don't even know what it was about the Labor Movement tactics that made them successful. Maybe it does actually require some sort of unifying goal of a sort that individual constituencies see their cause as part of a larger cause -- maybe we're just hard-wired that way, or maybe it's the only effective way to counter the establishment biases.

Add to that the overwhelming nature of our problems as a whole, and our now-institutionalized reaction to shut-down in the face of such overwhelming odds or focus only on small, local issues that we think we have some chance of affecting. There's something to be said for that level of activity, but as we've been discussing, we lose the effectiveness of organized effort on the larger issues, and eventually lose sight of being part of the larger issues at all.

Posted by: GeoCrackr at April 21, 2006 10:58 AM

As a human being, and as an American watching the mayhem from outside (I've been living in Guatemala for the past 2.5 years), I have to say that I agree that people have to become more organized to finally end this.

As an anthropologist, I have to say that the primate stuff is all wrong. Higher primates (including humans) are all naturally hierarchical, and during times of stress they are forced to become egalitarian. Hierarchy and power involves the concentration of surplus, and when there's not enough, people (and apes) are strongly encouraged not to horde. In human societies (like the Q'eqchi' with whom I work), anyone who starts to get ahead of the others is brought down to the same level as the others through one of several means. It's no coincidence that this part of the Q'eqchi' world, which is one of the most screwed over, is also the capital of lynching for Central America.

Society naturally moves towards hierarchy, all of the "witchcraft killings" and lynchings that happen in egalitarian societies are a sort of "internal policing" ensuring that the egalitarianism is maintained. As soon as the society moves beyond a shortage of basic resources, hirearchy always forms and people begin to horde resources to go along with their newfound power, be it beer, corn, shells, or shiny pieces of rock.

Posted by: Brent Woodfill at April 21, 2006 10:59 AM

Let me carry forward the football analogy. We may be losing in the fourth quater of this game but the season is far from over. The republicans came up with a new gimmick for beating us and so far it has worked well. But like any gimmick such as the forward pass, man in motion or the wishbone tee, it can be beat.
Let's not forget that the republicans are their own worst enemy. Just look at the polls!
They may have control of the refs. They may control the loudspeaker. They may even turn off the lights when ever we hike the ball, but we still have more men (and women) on the field and as long as we don't turn on each other we will win "most" of these contests.
Scott is right to criticize us but trying to be like the republicans isn't going to help us. Let's use a strategy that plays to our strength.

Posted by: Gregg Leinweber at April 21, 2006 11:03 AM

my opinion is that what we need is guerilla peace-fare. as in the flash mob phenomenon that is now 'so 2003'. trouble is, our Corporate Capitalist Commander Cobags(TM!!! eat it, CCCC) have us so used to apathy and simultaneously subjected us to a race for our own survival that takes so much of our time that anything else seems like too much work for something that really doesn't benefit us.

There's really not a national spokesperson for peace, or group, or whatever.

hey don't say that. there was that one lady who went to crawford, her son died in iraq or something... seen with michael moore that one time, and she even hugged COMMUNIST chavez... i forget her name... help me out here, folks...

Posted by: almostinfamous at April 21, 2006 11:04 AM

You know what, fuck leaders and leadership. There are no saints waiting to be found. There are no Senators who are going to shine grace upon you. No one is going to save us. There is no Messiah, maschiach, Imam Mahdi, Kalki, King Arthur. We need to give up the idea of icons, not craft new ones.

If there's any lesson to be learned here, it's that media, politicans and other existing institutions of power are not friendly to popular movements. Build from the ground up. Those other idiots, the politicians, the media pundits - they'll figure it out later, when they realize which bandwagon they need to get on.

It's futile and pointless, and it will take decades to remedy the problem? It will take what? What will it take if you've resigned yourself to sitting it out? Decades of inactivity and the problem will rectify itself? In my opinion, inactivity is the problem. Our own flacidity. Let's stop being weak.

Posted by: saurabh at April 21, 2006 11:09 AM

I assume the goals of the peace movment to be:
Stay out or Iran---get out of Iraq and Afganistan.
That's what the Neocons did. OSAMA was the ORIGINAL TARGET. YET we invaded Iraq and will soon invade Iran. It's called BAIT AND SWITCH.
Everyone is pretty much in agreement OSAMA needs to be dealt with, that's how the Neocons BAITED THE WHOLE COUNTRY. SWITCH THE TARGET BACK TO OSAMA.
AMERICA is a military oriented nation, weapons ARE our national product. At least half of this country want to see blood spilled over 911. Only OSAMA'S BLOOD will answer satisfactorly the Hawks and the Doves sense of justice.
Once OSAMA is secured and dealt with, the WAR ON TERROR is technically over and WON. AMERICA can go back to her daily scandals.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 21, 2006 12:29 PM

But he's right about one thing in that interview: the administration's determined to have a war to effect "regime change" in Iran. Their actions and plans have nothing to do with Iranian nuclear weapons other than as handy fear-inducing propaganda.

Sigh. Going to war in Iran is the wrong idea for any number of reasons right now, but calling the threat of Iran's nuclear program "mere propaganda" is a big stretch. Unlike Iraq, Iran probably DOES have a nuclear program and the country is being ruled by a certifiable nutcase who denies the holocaust and wants Iran to be even more theocratic than it already is.

Don't get me wrong, bombing Iran is the last thing we want to do- just as bombing the Soviets during the cold war would have been a really, really bad idea- but implying that there isn't something to the idea that Iran is a problem is just the sort of Naiive "knee-jerk" reacction that paints the peace-movement with a broad brush as a bunch of whackos instead of a group of people with largely reasonable ideas on how the world should work.

Posted by: Brad Hoehne at April 21, 2006 12:40 PM

shit, we've got this far with a certifiable whacko in the white house who probably looks so longingly at the big red button every day, and you're wondering about a country that will have nukes in 5 years and would be committing suicide if they even tried to use it on anyone much less israel???

please repeat after me: ahmednijad is less of a threat to global human extinction than George W. Bush is. let's work down from that.

i may yet eat my words and ahmednijad will bring about the apocalypse, but if that happens it'll at least be by someone competent.

Posted by: almostinfamous at April 21, 2006 08:49 PM

Political change is frequently about forming coalitions. In the current situation, there is an explicit bond between the Violent and the Fearful. The Violent, having been empowered by both the Fearful and those greedy individuals who profit from that empowerment, will always take every opportunity to enrich themselves in the process. They just can't help themselves. The Fearful feel that this situation is tolerable as long as they believe that the Violent can protect them.

The irony, of course, is that this bond is forged by Cowardice. Both the Violent and the Fearful suffer from this affliction. Cowardice, being the ugly thing that it is, facilitates its own demise. Eventually, we have to hope that enough people recognize this cowardice. It is the duty of the Peace Movement to point out the inherent weakness of ideas generated out of the cringing fear that has dominated the Bush administration.

The most important thing that can be done in the short run is to simply speak out and let your neighbors know that it is OK to oppose war in IRAQ, IRAN, or any other nation that we may chose to demolish for political and financial gain. This doesn't require an organized mass movement. It does require us to point out on a near constant basis, that the policies of our Executive Branch are those of a sniveling, rapacious sort of vermin. The acts they have committed and encouraged are not those of honorable men, but those of whimpering cowards.

Remember the words of Franklin Roosevelt - "We have nothing to fear, but fear itself" - and compare that to the Bush Doctrine of 'be afraid, be very afraid'.

They reek of cowardice.

Posted by: Barry Miller at April 21, 2006 09:43 PM

Absolutely no leadership on either side.

Back in the 70s we know there was an oil crisis because there was one.

Today it's the same story, the same rising gas prices, yet there's a Republican in the White House.

When is our government going to divorce itself from big oil? I say remarry something green.

Posted by: matt at April 22, 2006 01:47 AM

why are we sure that the peace movement is a failure?

chomsky frequently points out how long it took to even get people to listen to public criticism of the Vietnam War much less take it seriously.

looked at from that perspective, the current peace movement has cut that time at least in half.

yes, we didn't stop the war. but we may be ending it faster than it would have if Bush had gone unopposed.

bush's approval ratings are lower than ever. most of the public wants the troops out. the peace movement can take some credit for that.

it is probably true that mass citizen involvement won't occur unless there is a draft. however, the peace movement has laid the groundwork for there to be such involvement when the draft is instituted. the arguments, the literature, the community of likeminded people are all in place for the moment that the situation is forced to its crisis. people confronted with that reality will not be facing it alone with only the corporate media to guide them.

moreover, the movement has made the draft, or rather kept the draft, political poison. we've cut down Bush's options.

compared to its goals, the movement is underachieving horrendously. compared to the slaughter that might have been, i believe the movement can be credited with mitigating that slaughter somewhat. which is something.

granted, i could very well be eating my words when the US invades Iran.

Posted by: scats at April 22, 2006 05:43 AM

I suggest progressives do every single thing their enemies do, only in the opposite direction.
Get organized, and start engineering others in the Progressive tradition. We need to breed a new strain of progressivism. Indoctrination has always been against the progressive mentality, but progressives should not be disinterested in it.

Right now, I don't think a less hierarchical society has a chance under the present world economy, it is only going to happen when there's less specialization and less technology. Did you ever think about WHY we have states and empires in the first place? We have these because people stopped doing everything in groups and SPECIALIZED. People found things they were really good at, including those who realized that they were really good at bossing everybody else around.

A less hierarchical society will require:

A population generally of jacks of all trades, where ability is almost universally equal and differences are minor.

Local living and institutions are much more important than national living and institutions.

Plentiful resources and low population count.

Violent impulses and disputes can be channelled into pursuits like sports. (In this case, the Native Americans and their invention of Lacrosse, the "Little Brother of War" pioneered an amazing tool of spiritual conditioning.)

With all these in place, a less hierarchical society will appear.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at April 22, 2006 06:36 AM

I have to say, I'm so tired of activist groups who insist on anti-heirarchy crap. The result is zero leadership, no progress, and a complete waste of what could be a very effective group of energized people.

The only time I've seen an anarchist model work was with a New Orleans relief group called HOPE, and that's because the group spent so much time doing and the talking was primarily about logistics, so completely shared leadership worked.

Other than that one case tho, it ends up being more of an excuse not to step up and be a decision maker, or worse, a cause for people who do take on leadership to have a less legitimate opinion. UGH!

that's my rant. i'm available for questions. have a nice day. :)

Posted by: Liz Schwartz at April 22, 2006 10:45 AM

Back on-topic:

I've spent decades of my life as a full-time activist with national organizations and local ones, with very different approaches (electoral work, lobbying, street protest, material support, human rights alert networks, and always always fundraising).

Maybe that's why I'm simultaneously more hopeful and more realistic than many web commenters I read. Despair is a luxury. It's the flip side of apathy (which is very often not a result of not knowing or not caring, but the fear that if one allows oneself to know and care, one will have to do unfamiliar, uncomfortable things, and risk defeat).

There are huge structural realities of any kind of organizing, for a variety of purposes, that just come with the territory; complaining about them is like complaining that the sun rises. Putting the fault on egos is both naive and defeatist. (If that's the problem, what's the solution for that permanent human condition? And, assuming there is one, is Ritter free enough from the problem to help solve it?)

To take one example Ritter raises: Tension between the central office and local chapters of national organizations? Been there; it's built-in. Requiring/encouraging staff and vols to spend time in the center and in different parts of the periphery helps, but only to a degree. There are just going to be different
interests, and the balance is going to be struck in different ways depending on the organization's goals, formal and informal power structure, constituency, etc.

I feel lucky to have been part of several national networks of progressives over the last twenty-five years; I'm grateful for the training, inspiration, organizational understanding, and friendships acquired through them. I'm using all of those now in local organizing, on local and antiwar issues.

Scott Ritter speaks authoritatively on some kinds of issues. Organizing isn't one of them. The debate provoked by his being given a platform to do so might still be helpful. But the chances of that are much better if it's carried on mostly by activists rather than by pundits.

Posted by: Nell at April 22, 2006 11:47 AM

Scott Ritter is right, you've got no goal. You know it, Scott knows it, MCP's know it, The Republicans know it, and I'll almost bet the WH knows it. We, the nonpolarized working stiff TAXPAYERS, know it too. We don't like the war, but we go along with it because we're used to worrying about our day to day problems, working, our families and their needs, and of course PAYING TAXES. That's pretty much the extent of the restaurant conversation. We send off our friends and neighbors in The Guard and wait and hope for the best and attend the funerals when it's the worst. We listen to the livestock report, we read the local sale paper, we cut out coupons and yes, we shop at Wal Mart. We have our differences on almost everything, but usually no big deal, whose going to win the high school game, the best time to plant or breed your cows, will they pave the road this year, or do you think it will rain. That's us the swing vote. We're the ones you have to mobilize, because WE ARE the backbone. WE ARE the strong muscles. WE CARRY the load. AND WE ALL HATE OSAMA. If by some strange twist of fate YOU are able to figure that out and use to some advantage, then you just might EARN the right to lead.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 22, 2006 01:35 PM

I've a lot of loose thoughts on this topic that I will try to coalesce.

What are we up against? The very machine that our wiser leaders have warned us against from Madison to Eisenhower. They have 2-1/2 branches of government, control of the voting booths and control of the major broadcast media. And, predictably, with this much power they are self-destructing from their own corruption.

Our Mission? Restore Rule by the Constitution and the people before we fall into decline of the sort Rome saw at the end of the Republic or even the 5th century when Rome was sacked (Lord knows, the Christians know the rules to that game...).

Our strength? Dems/the Left has never been good at large machines unless they were very corrupt. We do not want a monolithic machine of the type that our rivals have. We have always been grassroots and we will always be at our best as grassroots.

What does that mean?

We have flexibility and adaptability on our side. Things happen extremely rapidly when they do happen, but it always seems to come late at the time. I think that could be called "The Sleeping Giant Effect."

We do not stand behind a single leader easily and will always have a healthy skepticism regarding a single leader, so when one comes along, they gotta be good. According to "The Glory and the Dream" by William Manchester, FDR was considered by the mainstream media and many politicians as a lightweight and likely not up for the task ahead of him when he was elected in 1932. That impression lasted just exactly up to the moment he gave his inaugural speech ("The only thing we have to fear is fear itself...")

The grassroots, bottom-up strategy has been studied ad infinitum by mathematicians (Chaos and Complexity theories) and by military strategists. Both groups refer to "Swarms." And I hear the rumble of the swarm starting up right now.

Scott Ritter is a valuable ally and can teach us all much about strategy- but he knows the top down variety better. I want to point you to our first breakthrough spokesman, Neil Young. He been here before and he knows what to do. He will break through the wall of media propaganda with the voice of compassion, the voice of reasonableness and the voice of wisdom. He is no radical. Like this essay also featured in Tom Tomorrow's blog, watch how effective he is with this FoxNewSpeak wannabe reporter:

In a couple of weeks, Clear Channel be damned, we are all going to be singing these songs.

Our leaders are among us now.

Posted by: INFOHAZARD at April 22, 2006 03:24 PM

I think that it is necessary for any movement to get a sense of the possible (or their power to influence) in order to maintain and encourage participation. A national day of worker shortages would go a long way towards breaking the Upstairs, Downstairs view of this war culture. Among the police this is known as a day of the BLUE FLU. It is a very good start because all people do is call in sick to work (if you are fortunate to be working) and the statement becomes news as it becomes noticed.
The medium truly can be the message.

Posted by: tim shea at April 22, 2006 03:53 PM

Of course we must always watch the ethics of what we do. It's very clear that we simply cannot afford to continue to 'play nice." That passivity really is weakness when dealing with someone who will take advantage of it. You gotta be willing to get your nose bloodied and then give back the same and better.

Admittedly, as with Just War Theory what is or is not ethical tends to be context dependent. I do, however, think that it's safe to note that this current administration has crossed all boundaries in certain key ways.

But let's us fight the good fight- and fight we must. It's been the basis of every exciting story since time immemorial- the protagonists who don't fight dirty do very poorly at first. It's only as the antagonist reaches for total control of that which they covet do they fail at the hands of the ostensibly weaker protagonist.

There's a reason we all know those stories.

Posted by: INFOHAZARD at April 22, 2006 04:23 PM

I like Ritter. That being said, the "ego" problem with the peace movement is probably a projection of Ritter's own strong ego, which naturally has been helpful in his own personal activism. I'm GLAD Ritter has a strong ego, and it is probably the very strength of his ego that leads to his confusion about the problem with the peace movement.

The problem with the peace movement is not one of ego. It is the need for an overall political superego. An overall political superego would be an active political party, for instance, one with clear goals and an inspired action plan. An active political party needs a parallel support structure such as think tanks and FUNDED organizing and fundraising activities.

The Democratic Party operates nascent-to-adolescent fundraising structures, and we may be seeing the origins of a political organizing structure, but it is still early in its development.

So Ritter and certain others, despite their earned right to a considered opinion, need to actually consider what they're saying before stating the opinion. Without a political superego, all we have is the different groups and individuals, including individual legislators and candidates.

They are the party base and are terrifically shrewd and competent, and inspired and devoted, and they shouldn't be blamed for taking on the work of organizing and WINNING, work that has been pawned off on them by the Democratic Party and its operatives, consultants, and stars. They should be organized, funded, supported, and orchestrated.

That takes leadership. Scott, you're already well-known. Maybe you should take the next step and set your credibility on the first float of the parade.

Posted by: Larry at April 23, 2006 12:00 AM

I suggest that we should state what policy should be and write that down and develop it, then push it forwards, not just criticise what is (or might be) or try to work out the best strategy for influencing the latest round of imposed policy. I think we should be wikipedia as well as blogs, if you see what I mean. I guess that's part of the idea behind the DKosopedia (it mainly seems to be used to coordinate campaigning). If not, we should be using it that way. The progressive groups should thrash out some common ground and work against people telling us what we think and how to think it. Everyone should develop their own version of policy, then consensus should be developed bottom up, not top down, wriggling about until all the demographics fit.

Posted by: me at April 23, 2006 12:52 PM

I've started a simple list on dkosopedia. Feel free to copy and paste, and leave a link to your list.

Posted by: mememe at April 23, 2006 02:56 PM

"attending every funeral for dead soldiers in large numbers?"

Leave them alone. This is just plain offensive, and in most quarters would be unproductive to boot.

It's at least as wrong as when the chickenhawks go on TV and essentially tell everybody that they own the meaning of the soldiers' deaths, and anyone who regards their deaths differently is unpatriotic.

how about a bumper sticker that says:


who say please get me the hell out of here.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at April 23, 2006 06:26 PM

I don't understand this equating anti-war with anti-structure. It doesn't follow.

Posted by: beervolcano at April 24, 2006 12:54 AM

I think he was exagerating. I suspect he's thinking of a single, central structure. It is valid to reject that. In reality, even the political parties are coallitions. It would be far more transparent and healthy if they were openly coallitions of smaller parties that represented all the viewpoints that exist.

Posted by: me at April 24, 2006 02:30 AM

OTOH, perhaps he does mean it literally. In which case I suspect there are people working to create division amongst the groups from within. They succeed because too many people think it's just about them and their experiences.

Posted by: me at April 24, 2006 02:33 AM

"often seemed to be involved more to make themselves feel good and to resolve their white-liberal-guilt than to actually win something"
That'd be the equivalent to resolving white-conservative-guilt, for which one would go to church? This is nonsense. It is projection. People go to such groups because they are pissed off with people dying and being lied to. Because they can see injustice in the here and now, and are not contented with pie-in-the-sky, by-and-by.

Posted by: me at April 24, 2006 08:11 AM

(previously posted on Scott Ritter's blog at
Scott Ritter is, and has been, an energetic and important figure in the resistance to the war/oil/religion complex dominating the US. And I share his frustration with the fragmented and ineffective nature of the current anti-war movement. But much as a "laser-like focus" on the war issue alone and a military command hierarchy might increase the movement's efficiency, I don't believe it's likely, or even desirable.

The militarization of US foreign policy isn't happening in a vacuum--it's central to our entire history as a country, particularly as relates to the bogus "free-market" capitalism advocated by the right. Ending the current wave of US aggressive militarism while allowing the corporate/political power structure behind it to remain in force--even if that were possible--would likely be a short-lived accomplishment. In this sense, a war on War is like a war on Drugs or Terrorism; a fight against a symptom without addressing the underlying disease.

Also, today's pro-war forces don't achieve their ends simply by a laser focus on advocating war. A number of fairly diverse--even conflicting--interests and priorities go into the mix of right-wing power: religious, corporate, nationalist, neo-con, etc., agendas which may actually be less cohesive than those of the various movements opposing war from the standpoint of environmentalism, human rights, anti-corporatism, etc. The advantage for pro-war forces is that a hierarchical, military-style approach is intrinsically more natural and acceptable for those who would trade liberty for security than for those who primarily value freedom, justice and human dignity. I agree with Mr. Ritter that we must get to know and understand our enemy, and that a knowledge of the methods of war may be useful in organizing ourselves effectively, and I look forward to hearing his detailed suggestions on the subject, but a movement “coordinated and controlled by an overall command staff operating from Denver, Colorado” as he envisions it, seems to me both unlikely and not necessarily the best route to real change.

Posted by: DC at April 24, 2006 12:52 PM

It seems to me that the anti-war movement could learn a ton from how the pro-immigration marches were organized. Is anyone going to argue they weren't enourmously successful?

The main problem I've noticed is that anti-war protests and speeches almost inevitably get hijacked by unrelated fringe groups. ie: Socialists/communists, Free Mumia kooks, pro-Palestinians, etc. Their very presense tends to discredit anything that gets said at. If you want a successful march, don't invite them, don't let them march with their banners and don't let them speak. Period. If you don't take the march seriously, don't complain when the media doesn't either.

The next problem is that whatever message that remains gets dispersed and diluted by other groups trying to piggyback their own agenda onto the anti-war one. Ie: Greens, enviros, anti-corporatists, etc. Nothing's particularly wrong with those causes but can we please try to stick to the topic at hand?

Those are the biggest problems to getting a coherent message across.

Posted by: Aexia at April 26, 2006 07:15 PM

I respect Ritter enormously and think he is an important voice but I think he is half wrong on this issue. I think he's mostly right about the problem but wrong about the solution.

I also disagree with people who blame the marginalization of the anti-war movement on the divisiveness of groups like ANSWER and on the focus on hard left issues at the big protests. The fact is, if it wasn't for groups like ANSWER, there would be no anti-war movement.

Look, the speakers at ANSWER-organized demonstrations who, yes, will mention Palestine, Mumia, socialism, etc., dominate these events because hard left groups organized these events. Hard left groups always end up organizing the protests because other groups never do, other groups like, oh, I don't know, or, you know, god forbid, the Democratic Party.

Maybe blog readers skew more liberal than average Democrats but have people who complain about groups like ANSWER et al. listened to prominent Democrats lately? Supporting immediate withdrawal from Iraq is still a fringe position within the Democratic party. Nothing in the anti-war movement is going to change until that fact changes. So, I guess what I'm saying is that if people want to fix the anti-war movement they need to tell people like Hillary Clinton that she's not going to be president without changing her position on Iraq.

It needs to be changed such that the person speaking at the big protest isn't talking about socialism because the person speaking is Barrack Obama or whoever.

Posted by: Joe at April 27, 2006 04:05 PM