Volume , Number 0
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Lee Siu hin
Herbert P. Bix
Eleanor J. Bader
William e. Alberts
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I remember when I met Dave Dellinger. It was May 1971—a few weeks after hundreds of antiwar actions around the country, including the militant Mayday civil disobedience in Washington, DC and an unprecedented, more traditional, all day sit-in of 5,000 at the federal building in Boston, Massachusetts.
I had been active for about a year as a staff member of the Boston People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice (BPCPJ), which organized the Boston sit-in. Three of us were chosen to represent BPCPJ at a national steering committee meeting in Washington. Because PCPJ was a multi-issue coalition to “end the war and address human needs in the U.S.,” it included antiwar, religious, welfare rights, the Communist Party, and the Weatherpeople. Needless to say, national meetings could be cantankerous affairs with ideologies and personalities determining preferred tactics, which could be miles apart.
New to the movement, I thought it was all about stopping a war; as well as a chance to feel good about myself because I was doing something positive. But it seemed there were these different ideologies and something called “having an analysis.” Nobody would tell me what that was or why this analysis was needed, but I interpreted it to mean don’t speak up if you haven’t got it.
Dellinger was there, in the middle of this, enjoying the debate, respectful of all, but firm in his convictions, which seemed based less on ideology and more on humane principles—peace, justice, compassion, community, and solidarity. Actually, he was what I thought someone in the movement for peace and justice would be like—a nice human being, sensitive to hypocrisy, with a sense of humor, not judgmental, never confusing style with substance, keeping an eye on principles and not getting bogged down in tactics, behavior, or personalities. Dellinger seemed to radiate what activist Lee Siu Hin writes about in this issue—“love and hope.”
His attitude was partly why I stayed active. Eventually, I got an “analysis” of sorts, but for me it still came down to finding opportunities—however fleeting—where I could bring some humanity into the world. More than that, it meant finding a place where I could express the best part of me: love, not hate; solidarity, not stepping on people; action, not passive indifference; commitment, not apathy; community, not isolation. I guess that’s why I never identified with one special issue over another (feminism, classism, racism, etc.). They all seemed connected and part of the humanity that Dellinger was able to maintain throughout his long life.
Looking back, there have been many reasons to give up. Even with recent hopeful signs from the World Social Forums, as well as the anti-corporate globalization movement, it is difficult to hold on to our principles and humanity when the world is falling apart all around us.
All these years of organizing and we get Bush and company, war without end, and the USA PATRIOT Act.
Recently, on the evening news, the co-anchor cheerily told Bostonians that they could expect something new on the subway: random searches. She could have been giving the weather report; the tone was the same.
Then there was the nauseating coverage of a week of “mourning” for Ronald Reagan, scripted like one of his badly acted movies. Even when reporters and commentators actually mentioned some of the more venal things that happened during his Administration, they managed to chuckle fondly over Reagan’s “humanity.” Here was one of the least popular (contrary to the media spin) and most morally reprehensible presidents in U.S. history (which is saying a lot), and he is celebrated in death like no other president since Kennedy was assassinated—maybe since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Watching TV pundits blather on about the beauty of Reagan’s “America” (mixing images of religious crosses with monuments to “democracy”) was almost too much to take, especially when compared with Dellinger’s life and work.
Through the years there have been more personal disappointments. How do we keep going when our humanity gets lost in analysis debates, compromises, attacks on our personalities, humiliations, manipulations, co-optations, and other day-to-day indignities? How do we watch much of the left either replicate the same corporate hierarchies it once criticized or get bogged down in competing hierarchies of oppressions or focus on a single issue while losing sight of others—or all of the above?
April I attended the March for Women’s Lives. On the one hand,
it was an incredible event. Its size alone made it successful—over
a million people—a kind of tribute to the early women’s
movement that fought valiantly for reproductive rights. The size,
in part, reflected what a handful of organizations with large, dues
paying memberships and years of hard work can do. The main message
was presented clearly: “Bush’s policies continue to be
a threat to women’s reproductive rights and his re-election
would put him in position to pick at least one Supreme Court justice,
if not more.” The website was easy to follow and helpful. There
was exemplary diversity among the speakers and the organizing groups,
if not in the crowd, which was mostly white, mostly women, mostly
middle class; with little visible presence from people of color
or from labor.
On the other hand, to me the March reflected a continuing “professionalizing” and packaging of one part of a once broad, even socialist feminist, movement against patriarchy, imperialism, and oppressions of class, gender, and race.
The Women’s March was a reminder, too, of a recurring movement dilemma: how do we continue to reach more and more people and stay true to our principles in the process? The answer has often been: dilute and repackage the message. But if the message is so diluted as to have little effect on the goal, then what’s the point? More importantly, if we stay true to our principles, how can a March for Women’s Lives feature speakers who have participated in or who praise past Administrations that have decimated women’s lives—the very cause we were marching for?
It was painful, then, to listen to Madeleine Albright, a featured speaker who—along with Hillary Clinton—praised Bill Clinton’s administration and roused the crowd to vote for Democrats in the November elections.
Even more appalling, in the run up to the March, Ms. Magazine ran a Robin Morgan interview with Albright in which Morgan, a radical feminist, praises Albright for the war in Kosovo (dubbed Madeleine’s War). Morgan fails to point out the imperial politics of that war and U.S. involvement in it. Likewise, she never mentions the infamous response to Leslie Stahl who asked Albright: “We have heard that a half a million children have died [because of sanctions against Iraq]. I mean that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright’s response: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.” Well, there’s a new twist to being pro-choice, demonstrating how meaningless that slogan can be.
Everyone I talk to these days —radical or not—tells me how sickened they are by the current repressive political environment and agenda. I can’t help but dream of what might have been. If we had carried the “analysis” we developed over the years since the Vietnam War to a larger and larger group of people—without diluting it; if we had combined that message with long-term membership-based, dues paying, non-hierarchical institutions with broad progressive politics and overarching humane principles…. But we didn’t and I fear we might never prevail over these horrors without end.
Then I remember Dellinger. Love and hope. Thanks.
Lydia Sargent is co-founder of South End Press and Z Magazine . She has been a staff member of Z since 1988.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.