W. and his new friends in the leadership of the New York State Republican Party
gathered at a fund raising dinner in mid-town Manhattan October 5th. They were
all there: George W. Bush, George Pataki, Rudolf Giuliani, Al D’Amato and the
rest of the bunch of thugs. About 2,000 people attended the event and raised
over $2 million for the candidate who already has obscene amounts of money in
his campaign chest. It was, in fact, a rather disgusting display of some of this
country’s most dangerous men.
placed across the street by the New York City Police Department, people active
in a number of movements gathered to raise their voices in protest. There must
have been at least three hundred people, which is certainly not bad these days.
Energy was high, lots of chanting, good banners and posters…all the markers of
a good demonstration. And as I moved through the crowd everyone seemed to be
pleased to be there and glad to be part of the protest.
there was a problem, and as I see it, a major problem. This was not a unified
effort articulating our opposition to the policies and practices of the
Republican Party in this state and nationally. Instead, five groups each put
together their own separate protest. In the space of one city block there were
five distinct groups: ACT-UP addressing AIDS polices of both Pataki and Bush;
NYC NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) pointing out Bush’s strong
anti-abortion positions; the Campaign to End the Death Penalty protesting both
the Texas and New York governor; a NYC based group calling for an end to the
State’s draconian Rockefeller drug laws; and two unions of state employees
demanding better contracts from Pataki.
doubt about it…it was good to see that each of these groups could mobilize
folks and put together a public protest on short notice. And yet even with a
"common enemy" our forces were not able to present a unified voice. I
can’t swear on this, but I’ll bet that there was not even an effort to discuss a
more coherent approach to the evening’s protest. Each group did it’s separate
outreach and made their own plans. I know I got email announcements about three
of the planned protests…and none of them made any reference to other folks
coming out at the same time.
I found particularly upsetting was that it seemed as if most of the people at
the demonstrations were feeling fine, happy for the opportunity to raise their
voice on the issue they felt most strongly about, and not concerned about the
separation between the various groups. The difference in the issues being
addressed was highlighted by the Police Department’s creation of separate pens
for each group. To move from one issue to another…and I know I was not the
only person there who actually cares about all of these issues! …people had to
go in and out of a series of police barricades.
is plenty to be upset about when it comes to the ways the police in this city
now handle any public protest. Yet I couldn’t help but feel as if we had given
the police the go-ahead to keep us separated. Indeed, the separations we create
amongst ourselves not only dilutes our message but to some degree make it
possible for the police to take their steps to keep us even further apart.
know each group wants to make sure their issue is heard, that their concerns are
not lost in a protest effort that defines the broad issues without focusing on
the particulars. Well, that’s more than reasonable. But do we always have to
chose one or the other?
may sound hopelessly optimistic, but I cling to the notion that there must be a
way for us to work together, to explain what ties us to one another, to
articulate what we have in common AND call attention to specific struggles.
fact, I see this as one of the greatest challenges facing leftists today. (To
put this very simply, by leftist I mean someone who understands the need for
systemic change in virtually all of the institutions and structures of our
lives, someone who knows the struggles against different oppressions are linked
to one another.) The challenge is this: can we build a unified movement that
focuses on specific problems/struggles/constituencies when that’s needed and at
the same time offers a comprehensive analysis that, among other things, allows
for and encourages a much greater degree of cooperation.
you’ve read some of my previous commentaries you might have noticed a theme
emerging. Yes, I am deeply troubled by the state of the left in this country.
When do we move beyond what keeps us apart? What steps do we need to take to
support each other and, on an even larger scale, to base our decisions about
tactics and issue-focus on a comprehensive analysis?
will keep going to and help organize as many of these protest activities as I
can get to. There is certainly plenty to protest. But if our protests are always
focused on the most narrow definition of our struggles we will never be strong
enough to be heard…let alone to make a difference. And when all is said and
done, isn’t changing things what we really want?
Cagan: Decades long organizer in a board range of peace and social justice
movements, Leslie is presently involved in struggles to defend Open Admissions
at the City University of New York (CUNY). She is a co-chair of the National
Committees of Correspondence and is on the board of the Astraea National
Lesbian Action Foundation. Leslie is also part of the growing effort to
re-invigorate a left/progressive presence in the