To the editors:
As a longtime participant in social-change movements, I read Harold Henderson’s article [“Picking Up the Peace Movement,” August 9] with interest. I think we who struggle for social justice have lost sight of some important facts:
1. Mainstream people resent a tone of moral superiority;
2. Mainstream people like to win, and can be mobilized successfully against a common enemy, to fight for their self-interest, not necessarily to satisfy anyone’s existential notions of right and wrong (they can go to church for that).
I’d like to elaborate a bit:
Moral Superiority. The “peace” movement is permeated with it. A common complaint in the movement press during the Iraqi debacle was, “Why aren’t these ignorant, self-centered Americans concerned about Iraqi lives and welfare?” Well, in the most perfect of all worlds, your average Joe and Jane would be overflowing with compassion for all humanity, but we don’t live in that world. J. and J. know little about Iraqis, Palestinians, Asians, or anyone else from “other” parts of the world, except what they’ve absorbed from TV infotainment and an occasional perusal of the jingoistic mainstream press. They’ve been told that “those” people are the enemy, that Islam is a religion of butchery and hate–and they mostly believe it. We have to find a way to include J. and J. in the movement as they are now, replete with all the baggage of Western imperialist culture. We don’t have time to wait.
Another example: A Chicago activist was quoted as saying that a driving force behind the Iraqi war, and militarism in general, is the “masculinization” of American culture. I know what she meant, Harold Henderson knows what she meant, but J. and J., not having attended graduate workshops on feminist theory, hear that and think, “There they go again–trying to cut the balls off our men and neuter our American way of life.”
Such statements also let the dominant culture get away with defining words like “masculine” in a way that most of us disagree with. Let’s take back the language! How about putting it this way: “This war, and militarism in general, is fueled by a poisonous definition of ‘masculinity’ equating it with hostility and aggression–it’s obsolete, oppressive, and dangerous.” Same point–but good ol’ average J. and J. may be less alienated.
People like to win, and can be mobilized against a common enemy for their own self-interest. J. and J. know that their economy and community are going to hell–they see industry leaving the city, the school system and the local hospital in rigor mortis, the “For Sale” signs going up, the workingmen’s tavern on the corner being transformed into Duffy O’Flannagan’s Fern Bar, pink neon and macrame sprouting all over lofts that used to be factories that actually employed people, taxes going up, services going down. They’re told that the enemy is “liberals” spending their tax money to assist people who want to take over their neighborhood; the real takeover, however, is corporate and it’s happening right now.
It’s time to say loudly that the same corporate economic forces pushing J. and J. out and decimating their economy are squandering billions of needed dollars in overseas military adventure. It’s time to say loudly that regardless of what J. and J. think of Iraqis or Iranians, Saddam & Co. aren’t the ones causing local factories and businesses to pull out and move to the Sunbelt or the Third World, taking tax dollars and resources with them and leaving the old neighborhood either a wasteland or a playground for empty-nesting urban pioneers and transient artsy-fartsies. The enemy, as usual, is at home, and needs defeating.
Unfortunately, we’ve let the right take over the notion that political action results in the satisfaction of winning, of defeating an enemy. We’re so hung up on an idealistic vision of “peace” that we forget what Nikki Giovanni, I believe it was, wrote years ago (and I paraphrase here): “We kill to bring about a world in which Martin Luther King could have lived to preach peace.”
No, I don’t advocate killing; I simply suggest that we’ve got to live in the world as it is, working with people as they are. We can’t wait for the Aquarian Conspiracy to kick in. And anyway, where did this notion come from that “antiwar” is the same as “peace”? There are a whole lot of people out there–rapists and abusers of women and children, slum landlords, abusive cops, gay bashers and vigilantes, the list goes on–that I personally would love to see with their throats slashed and their balls cut off. The anger, energy, and militance of many of our best and bravest young women and men are being wasted overseas, when there’s a whole lot of fighting that needs to be done at home.
It’s time to get back to work, and stop kidding.
David G. Whiteis