I draw your a…

April 29, 2012

I draw your attention to this important petition that I recently signed:

“Edu4: 4 children, 4 the public, 4 social justice, 4 the future”
http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/edu4/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=system&utm_campaign=Send%2Bto%2BFriend

This is an important cause, and I encourage you to add your signature, too. It’s free and takes just a few seconds.

Thanks!


Appeals, Manifestos, and Statements by Bernardine Dohrn

April 27, 2012

 

This article is part of The Port Huron Statement at 50, a forum on the document that sparked a generation of activism. From the Boston Review

As the 1960s dawned, appeals, manifestos, and statements poured from the pens and typewriters of a new generation burning with the need to trumpet a new morning. These writings have in common a wild impatience, a brassiness required to speak out and act up, a fierce vision of human dignity, the daring to address the nation and world with the language of human rights, and the willingness to tear away blindfolds. The Port Huron Statement was neither the first nor the last such declaration, but echoing from and through David Walker’s Appeal, Walt Whitman and Seneca Falls, Ginsberg and Fannie Lou Hamer, it became, in many respects, a keystone of this pamphleteering era.

When four black, adolescent college students sat down at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1960, their defiance ignited similar actions across the South. Their confrontational acts, flouting immoral laws through non-violent direct action, served as a catalyst for similar group rebelliousness in city after city, and spread campus to campus. Just five weeks later, students at Atlanta’s six historically Black colleges (Clark, Morehouse, Morris Brown, and Spelman Colleges, Atlanta University, and the Interdenominational Theological Center) wrote “An Appeal for Human Rights” to explain their planned sit-in campaign:

We do not intend to wait placidly for those which are already legally and morally ours to be meted out to us at a time. Today’s youth will not sit by submissively, while being denied all of the rights, privileges, and joys of life. . . . Every normal human being wants to walk the earth with dignity and abhors any and all proscriptions placed upon him because of race or color. [Emphasis added.]

The statement ran as a paid advertisement in three Atlanta daily newspapers. The Atlanta sit-ins began six days later.

Just weeks later, on April 16–18, Ella Jo Baker, whom I consider the mother of the Port Huron Statement, convened the Southwide Student Leadership Conference for Nonviolent Resistance to Segregation at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, to which 200 participants flocked. In preparation, Miss Baker, who was then working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), prepared a 10-page, handwritten report based on interviews with the first wave of sit-in participants that paid special attention to what we today might call their “horizontal” (non-hierarchical) leadership structure:

This inclination toward group-centered leadership, rather than toward a leader-centered group pattern of organization, was refreshing indeed to those of the older group who bear the scars of the battle, the frustrations and the disillusionment that come when the prophetic leader turns out to have heavy feet of clay.

Those directly involved in the protests exchanged stories, brainstormed, and discussed strategy in the presence of Martin Luther King (then 31 years old), Howard Zinn, and Miss Baker. Southern black students were given the time and space to meet separately and to develop their leadership. By the end of the weekend, the participants established the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as an independent, new organization. Baker soon published her remarks to the gathering within weeks in the Southern Patriot.

In that spring of 1960, white students at the University of Michigan, at the instigation of Al Haber, announced a conference called “Human Rights in the North.” The event spawned picket lines across northern campuses, in solidarity with their Southern peers. After a year of organizing in Ann Arbor and a retreat in the winter of 1961, several University of Michigan students saw the need for a moral and strategic framework.

In 1962, SNCC dispatched two experienced staff organizers, Chuck McDew and Tim Jenkins, to a labor union camp in Michigan called Port Huron, where a group of white students were meeting to write a vision statement for their new organization, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). McDew and Jenkins had already witnessed the murders and beatings of sharecroppers who joined SNCC to organize the black vote in rural Mississippi and Alabama. They came to recruit Northern white students to give SNCC fieldworkers and rural sharecroppers some measure of cover, protection, and national visibility.

The Statement was a clarion call for people to take control of key social institutions and of their own lives.

The pair arrived in Port Huron to find white male students in coats and ties, as well as a handful of female students in dresses, debating and re-writing a draft document by Tom Hayden from dusk until dawn. The participants broke into small groups to discuss the draft section by section and ultimately formed a writing committee that would address the “bones & widgets”—the various drafts and re-writes that required smoothing out and integration. The Northern students favored redistribution of wealth, rejected anti-communist and anti-Cold War rhetoric, and promoted democratic control over public policy. McDew and Jenkins departed two days later without any Port Huron volunteers, although their efforts would later bear fruit during the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer.

The key phrase from the Port Huron Statement, participatory democracy, still resonates, as demonstrated by the global uprisings of 2011. The concept was being used by Michigan Professor Arnold Kaufman to distinguish engaged and direct democracy, on the one hand, from the episodic two-party voting system Americans call democracy, on the other. To the Port Huron participants, it was democracy by activism, an everyday, decentralized affair and a clarion call for people to take control of key social institutions and of their own lives. Some 45 students began with a dozen-page draft and crafted it into a sweeping statement, announcing that

We offer this document of our convictions and analysis: as an effort in understanding and changing the conditions of humanity in the late twentieth century, an effort rooted in the ancient, still unfulfilled conception of man attaining and determining influence over his circumstances of life.

SDS would be a diverse, multi-issue organization united by participatory democracy and direct action. It would target racism, poverty, corporate domination, and the arms race. It viewed existing democracy, which excluded African Americans and did not include economic rights, as a failure, and saw both political parties and labor unions as bureaucratic, Cold War–obsessed, and consumed by their own power.

More manifestos soon followed, announcing the new left and the domestic liberation movements, sounding in various rhythmic chords and trills the intoxicating notes of freedom. They included:

• In August 1962, Reis Tijerina drafted the first plan of the Alianza Federal de Mercedes, an activist group that sought land rights for New Mexican Chicanos. A letter calling for La Alianza de Pueblos y Pobladores (Alliance of Towns and Settlers) followed in October. La Alianza, as it became known, was officially incorporated on February 2, 1963, the 115th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. It sought “to organize and acquaint the heirs of all Spanish land-grants covered by the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty” of their rights, to honor the heritage of the Native New Mexicans, and to command Anglo respect. In June 1963, La Alianza sent letters to the governments of the United States and Mexico reminding them of their obligations under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

• In 1963, James Boggs, a Chrysler auto-plant worker from Marian Junction, Alabama, published The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook. This short volume includes chapters on “The Rise and Fall of the Union,” “The Classless Society,” “Peace and War,” “The Decline of the United States Empire,” and “Rebels with a Cause.” Boggs wrote: “The struggle for black political power is a revolutionary struggle because, unlike the struggle for white power, it is the climax of a ceaseless struggle on the part of Negroes for human rights.”

• The Black Panther Party published its Ten Point Program in October 1966. Like SNCC and SDS before it, the Program appeals to international human rights: “We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace . . . and a United Nations-supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the black colony . . . for the purpose of determining the will of black people as to their national destiny.”

• In 1969, The Redstockings Manifesto was published by radical feminist activists, followed by “The Politics of Housework” (1970) and the launching of the journal Feminist Revolution. Known for their street theatre, Redstockings dramatized the right to abortion and demanded that men give up male supremacy.

• In 1967, Valerie Solanas self-published the Scum Manifesto, which began in 1960 as a list of grievances. The Manifesto sliced open patriarchy with parody, anger, and uncompromising language. The opening declaration, for example, begins: “‘Life’ in this ‘society’ being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civil-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and eliminate the male sex.”

• The Puerto Rican Young Lords Organization in East Harlem, New York drafted a 10-Point Health Program at the end of the decade, calling for an end to discrimination, poverty, and lack of fundamental rights.

The Port Huron Statement was thus one of many manifestos from the era to frame the moment: “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.” The Statement endures, however, not only because it nailed our country’s systemic racism and global military domination, but also because it lit up the ideal of participatory democracy. The Statement’s authors didn’t simply call for participatory democracy; by carefully articulating their reasons and sharing them publicly, they showed what participatory democracy is. Their lasting legacy is the engaged form of democratic politics through direct action, reason, and open discourse that continues to reveal the ever-surprising power of the people.


Comics Conversation

April 27, 2012

http://www.comicsalliance.com/2012/04/25/bill-ayers-teaching-comic-books/?icid=maing-grid7|main5|dl29|sec1_lnk3%26pLid%3D156019


Please sign!!!

April 27, 2012

No to NATO:

 https://www.change.org/petitions/say-no-to-nato


Why we Oppose Nato by Bernardine Dohrn/Bill Ayers

April 24, 2012

The day after the 9/11 attacks the Bush administration took dozens of extreme, transformative actions, including invoking Article 5, the right to collective self-defense, of NATO’s founding charter—a first in NATO’s 50-year history.

 

This marked the fateful expansion of NATO’s mission into new geographical regions (such as Afghanistan) and novel functions, such as the initiation and rationalization of the use of pre-emptive attacks on sovereign states. All of this was codified and consolidated over the next months in support of the US “war on terror:” crimes committed by non-nation state actors were reframed as “acts of war,” and NATO nations were now expected to join together and respond in kind, opening a door onto war without end, world-wide conflict, and the “long war.” This is why groups of citizens in virtually every NATO nation have come together to press their governments to leave this deadly enterprise.

 

NATO has become part of the background noise that over time and with repetition we simply take for granted, an unexamined but passively accepted part of the given world: “NATO forces…” “NATO bombings…” “NATO casualties…” NATO becomes a familiar and entirely opaque presence in our lives. In reality NATO is anything but benign, and exposing the reality behind the mask is an urgent responsibility.

 

NATO is not a mutual self-defense organization; it is now plainly a global military alliance designed to engage in aggressive invasions and pre-emptive wars. A 2004 communiqué declared that “Defense against terrorism may include activities by NATO’s military forces, based on decisions by the North Atlantic Council [not the UN Security Council] to deter, disrupt, defend and protect against terrorist attacks, or threat of attacks, directed from abroad, against populations, territory, infrastructure and forces of any member state, including by acting against these terrorists and those who harbour them.

 

NATO has collaborated with the US CIA in a wide range of illegal activities, including detainee transfer operations called “renditions,” blanket over-flight clearances, and access to airfields for CIA operations—in effect acting as partners in torture, abduction, and indefinite detention. Under cover of NATO, the US has created an entirely unaccountable framework that enables it to evade both national and international law.

 

NATO has refused to address civilian casualties resulting from NATO bombings and drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya. The US continues to dominate NATO military strategy and weaponry, accounting for virtually all of the 7,700 bombs and missiles dropped or fired on Libya.

 

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 prohibits nuclear weapon states from transferring nuclear weapons to non-nuclear states, and conversely prohibits non-nuclear states from receiving nuclear weapons from nuclear states.  All NATO members are parties to the NPT. The five non-nuclear countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey) that maintain US nuclear weapons on their territory, and the US itself, are all in violation of the NPT.

 

The new NATO is a secretive and costly instrument of war and aggression. It makes its own rules and confirms its own authority. As a tool of global intervention NATO undermines democracy and constricts citizen participation on issues of war and peace. It has no place in a democracy, and an authentic democracy should have no business with NATO.

 

 


Classroom Ethics

April 20, 2012

It’s important to make a distinction between personal virtue—be honest, do your work, show up on time—and social or community ethics.  Personal virtue is an undisputed good in almost every society, but we would be hard-pressed to say a slave owner who paid his bills and was kind to his wife was an ethical person.  We need to think about how we behave collectively, how our society behaves, how the contexts of politics and economics, for example, interact with what we hold to be good.  Most of us, after all, most of the time follow the conventions of our cultures—most Spartans act like Spartans, most Athenians like Athenians, most Americans like Americans.  To be a person of moral character in an unjust social order requires us to work to change society, to resist.

 

A young soldier is taken to a VA facility missing both of his legs and his face.  Shall I make a reservation for dinner and a show?  Two more prisoners commit suicide at Guantanamo.  Shall I get that new phone and camera I’d been wanting?  Four million people are refugees or internally displaced because of the U.S. war in Iraq.  Shall I send a contribution to one of the rascals revving up their political ambitions? 

 

 

Classroom ethics is a down-to-earth, practical affair worked out on the ground by ordinary people.  Universals can certainly help—Love Your Neighbor; Don’t Lie or Steal—because universal principles, as Susan Sontag has noted, “invite us to clean up our act… to turn away from compromise, cowardice, blindness.”  Principles might encourage us to look critically at the way things are, which is too often hypocritical, “deficient, inconsistent, inferior.”  Universals can act as our sign posts, even though they can’t settle each and every particular as it emerges.

 

Nourishing a stronger moral imagination—How does the other person feel?—is also a good idea.  But neither universal principle nor vivid imagination is sufficient to settle every possible issue for all time, for moral decision-making always involves fundamental choices in which no system or rule or guru can ever fully deliver the answer.  Nothing and no one can be made into the Court of Last Resort.  Because we are free, our moral reasoning requires that we at least try to see the bigger picture, that we struggle toward wide-awakeness and always new awarenesses, and still our ethical decisions are lonely, often intuitive, filled with despair and, finally, courage.

* * *

 

The British film “Dirty Pretty Things” by Stephen Frears offers a compelling example of ethics-in-action.  Two illegal immigrants, Okway and Shineye, try to live decent, purposeful lives while they negotiate the subterranean worlds of modern London.  Like other poor immigrants, they do the dirty work for the privileged, and they remain in large part anonymous and invisible to their overlords.  They carry with them the weight of dislocation, the scars of all that they have encountered and endured, and they carry, as well, the hope that their uprootedness, their exile, will bear some sweet fruit some day, perhaps in the lives of their children.

 

The story turns on an impossibly complex set of choices Okway and Shineye will each have to make, choices between painful alternatives without any guarantees whatsoever—the law will be broken no matter what they do, people will be wounded one way or another, and each will be changed in some fundamental ways.  This is not a Column A/Column B kind of ethics: Abortion… bad.  Death penalty… good.  Lying… bad.  Rather it is ethical choice—resistant and absorptive, anguished, unsettling, turbulent, and restless—in the swirl and chaos of real life as people must actually live it.  Their eyes are open, they must choose, but for them there will be no easy retreat to the comfortable dining room to enjoy the roast beef at the end of the day. 

 

 

 

Choices can be difficult and ethics is a daunting text any way you look at it—the principles of right and wrong, a discipline dealing with good and evil, a branch of philosophy stretching back to antiquity, a manual for right living, and on and on… Ethics intimidates. 

 

Moreover, to presume to talk of ethics isn’t just abstract, high-minded, and dense, it also implies a rectitude nobody can sustain and very few—certainly not me—want even to aspire to.  It gestures, then, toward self-righteousness.  Is my life so damned exemplary?  Am I in any position to pronounce moralizing judgments, to strike an authoritative pose, to condescend and to scold?  Am I really so good?…  Ethics terrorizes. 

 

Ethics edges as well toward the religious and the political, where it is hotly declaimed and jealously guarded.  Sermons on right living are the purview of preachers and, increasingly, of politicians, most often in the form of one-liners for easy listening.  We feel our eyes getting heavy, our brains being packed up with cotton wool…  Ethics anesthetizes.

 

But teachers must somehow move through that cotton packing, confront the intimidation and overcome it if they are to resist successfully the reduction of teaching to the instrumental, the merely serviceable, which commands so much easy attention.  For at the base of teaching, at its most fundamental, profound, and primitive core, all teaching is indeed ethical work.  Teachers, whether they know it or not, are moral actors, and teaching always demands moral commitment and ethical action.

 

The words “moral” and “ethical” both point to principles of right and wrong, to standards of good and bad behavior.  Some people stipulate one as having to do with rules and duty, the other as more embedded, pointing to normative choices in practice, but I usually don’t.  In everyday conversation the words are interchangeable; to the extent that I make a distinction it will be this: “moral” implies the personal, the question of reason and thought, reflection and commitment; “ethical” gestures toward action within a group or community.

 

Moral decisions involve choosing between alternatives, all equally possible.  Jean-Paul Sartre tells the story of one of his students who had come to him for advice about a decision he was wrestling with—Should I, he asks, stay at home to care for my aged and ill mother, or should I redeem the family honor in light of my collaborationist father by joining the Resistance to Nazi occupation?  He is on difficult ground here, for simply being a conventional young man will no longer do—he can no longer simply feel himself a good person; he must act for the good, whatever that might be.  He is forced into an ethical choice simply because he sees the alternatives and can’t turn away.  After carefully listening to the reasoning of his student, Sartre’s answer was this:  You must decide for yourself.  The student, then, is fully and finally responsible for his decision, without the benefit of blaming or crediting someone else.  His eyes are open, and he must choose.  Something will be lost, and something else gained.  This, of course, feels dreadful—nothing is as clear or clean or absolutely certain as he would like.  Frustrated and in urgent pursuit of higher authority, the student angrily denounces Sartre and says that if the great philosopher won’t help him, he’ll go to a priest for advice.  Very well, replies Sartre, and which priest will you choose?  The choice belongs to the student; he can object and insist and curse his mentor and his predicament, but in the end he will make up his own mind, and with that choice he will dive into the wreckage with all the good and terrible consequences to follow.  Choosing his priest is still choosing, even if it appears noncommittal and neutral. 


From In These Times, May 2012

April 20, 2012

My battered SDS membership card is emblazoned with the lovely opening line from the Port Huron Statement: We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort…looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.

Fifty years on, Port Huron can be read in a thousand ways, but its vitality lies in its self-description—“an agenda for a generation”—taking “generation” at its most generous: production and reproduction, development and genesis. More call-to-arms than manifesto, more a provocation than a program, more opening than point of arrival, Port Huron is an invitation to create.

“The 60’s,” thoroughly commodified now and sold back to us as myth and symbol, has been till recently an annoying brake on activism. It was neither as brilliant and ecstatic as some would have it, nor the devil’s own workshop as others insist. Whatever it was, it remains prelude to the necessary changes and fundamental upheavals just ahead. The self-appointed Board Members of “The Sixties Incorporated,” looking nostalgically at a ship that’s already left the shore, are mostly missing the point. We’re still living, still of this generation.

Enter Occupy!

Once again more labor than delivery, Occupy is a movement-in-the-making, shifting the frame and connecting the issues, expanding the public square, defining a moment, creating hope. Like every movement before it, Occupy was impossible before it happened, and inevitable the next day. Power responded in familiar fashion: they ignored it and then mocked it, they tried to co-opt it and then beat the shit out of it—repeating as necessary.

In this time of rising expectations and new beginnings it’s even more pressing that we embrace the urgency embodied in the last words of the Port Huron Statement: If we appear to seek the unattainable…we do so to avoid the unimaginable.

Occupy the Future!


Free Minds/Free People OCCUPY! After Port Huron

April 20, 2012

 

A note on the 50th Anniversary of the Port Huron Statement, the founding document of Students for a Democratic Society:

As the American-made catastrophe in Viet Nam was reaching full ignition in the mid 60’s, I was arrested with thirty-seven other students and one marvelous professor for occupying the Ann Arbor draft board in a militant, non-violent sit-in. Earlier I’d returned to school from the Merchant Marines and attended the first-ever teach-in against the war; I’d Paul Potter, then president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), end a talk on the necessity of agitation by issuing a challenge that echoes in my head to this day: “Don’t let your life make a mockery of your values.” I was twenty years old, and I signed up on the spot.

I still have my battered membership card emblazoned with the lovely opening line from the Port Huron Statement: We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit. That, too, still seems entirely relevant to me.

Fifty years on, Port Huron can be read in a thousand ways, but for me its vitality lies in its self-description—“an agenda for a generation”—taking “generation” at its broadest and most generous: production and reproduction, development and genesis. In that sense it’s much more a call-to-arms than a manifesto, more provocation than program, more opening than point of arrival. The Port Huron Statement is an invitation to create.

I had it in my pocket when I entered the draft board, my first defiant act of civil disobedience. The draft board was an ordinary office with files and clerks and standard procedures, but to us it was an odious and available target: the placid accomplice to war, issuing its toxic warrants to kill and to die in plain manila envelopes, bit by bit and day by day.

I’d grown up in a place of prosperity and privilege —at least modest comfort—sleeping the deep American sleep of denial, a kind of willful, anesthetized ignorance about anything that might exist beyond our neatly trimmed hedges. But I was housed now at the University of Michigan, the Black Freedom Movement was beckoning, war was looming, and the Port Huron Statement was providing necessary insight and analysis. I blinked my eyes open, and awakened to a world in flames.

The war clarified everything: the US stood on the wrong side of an exploding world revolution; the hopes and dreams of people everywhere—for independence and self-determination, for dignity and justice—were being contested in every corner of every continent, and the US was the command center of the counter-revolution.

“Which side are you on?” began a traditional freedom song. I joined the Movement—I wanted to end a war, and in time the system that made war and racism so inevitable.

When I was arrested that first time, the war was broadly accepted and supported—sampling strategy and tactics from the Civil Rights Movement, we’d raised the banner of refusal, noisily urging all within our reach to join in, and we had the active support of hundreds of other students. But we had opposition from many more: 70% of Americans supported the US invasion then, and even on campus we were massively outnumbered.

So we got busy and invented a thousand different ways to organize and educate. Being arrested and jailed became a commonplace, demonstrations and theatre, but there was more: “Vietnam Summer,” was a concerted effort to knock on every door in working-class neighborhoods across America and meet people face-to-face and engage them in a dialogue about peace. I was in Detroit for two summers, these front door encounters the most difficult and exhilarating thing I’d ever done; the more I tried to teach others, the more I learned—about Viet Nam and white supremacy, about the consequences of war and empire, about politics and possibility, and about myself.  By 1968 a majority of the American people had come to oppose the war, and we were certain that our efforts and our sacrifices had paid off.

Another key to the altered reality was the impact of the Freedom Movement: SNCC had issued a statement saying that “No Black man should go 10,000 miles away and fight for a so-called freedom he doesn’t enjoy in Mississippi,” and Muhammad Ali had resisted the draft, proclaiming, “I won’t fight in the white man’s army.” When Martin Luther King, Jr. deplored the war as illegal and immoral, and with some anguish denounced the government and called on America to get on the right side of the world revolution, the country shook to its core.

The decisive last straw was veterans returning home and telling the plain, unvarnished and recognizable truth about all they had seen and been asked to do, exposing the reality of aggression and officially sanctioned terror. They joined the peace movement in droves, bringing renewed urgency and militancy. When veterans lined up and threw their medals down the Capitol steps, it seemed certain the war would end. The US had been defeated militarily, and the government found itself isolated in the world and in profound conflict with its own people.

President Johnson stepped aside at the end of March, 1968, and we went ecstatic: The war is over! A million deaths, true and terrible, but at last it would end.

We didn’t stay happy for long: five days after Johnson’s announcement, Martin Luther King was assassinated; a couple of months later, Robert Kennedy was murdered; and a few months further along the new administration expanded and extended the war indefinitely. (At an organizing meeting recently for the NATO/G8 protests in Chicago, an older comrade cautioned, “Let’s not make the mistakes of 1968…Remember Tom Hayden and Company got Nixon elected.” Far-fetched, of course, but that easy belief—agitation is the generator of all reaction—is never without friends.)

And so the war did not end: every week six thousand people were murdered in Southeast Asia, and we could not find a way to end it. Every weeksix thousand lives wasted. We had tried everything, nothing was adequate, and there was no end in sight. The political class had no answers to the wide expression of popular will, and we could not stop the war—the crisis of democracy was a disaster for the peace movement as well. The anti-war forces splintered—some people (including one of my brothers) joined the Democratic Party in order to build a peace wing within it; others took off to Europe or Africa; one of my brothers deserted the army and fled; some built rural communes to escape the madness, and others went into the factories in the industrial heartland to build a workers’ party to. I and a few others created a clandestine force that would, we hoped, survive the impending —we were sure—American fascism, and that could fight the war-makers by other means.  None of us can claim much, for none of us ended the war; each choice carried its own contradictions.

Steven Colbert, the faux right wing commentator from Comedy Central, announced during the 2008 presidential race that the “Word” for the evening would be “The Sixties.” The bit began with a clip of Barack Obama at a press conference saying “Can’t we just get over the 60s?” Cut to Colbert scolding angrily, “No Senator, we can’t just get over the 60s. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

“The 60’s,” thoroughly commodified and sold back to us as myth and symbol, has been till now a brake on activists. But no one actually lives by decades—no one said on December 31, 1969, “Oh, shit, it’s almost over!” It was neither as brilliant and ecstatic as some would have it, nor the devil’s own workshop as others insist, and whatever it was, it remains prelude to the necessary changes and fundamental upheavals just ahead. We’re still living, still of this generation, and all the self-appointed Board Members of “The Sixties Inc.” looking nostalgically at a ship that’s already left the shore are missing the point.

Enter Occupy!

Occupy, once again more invitation and opening than point of arrival, is a search for the new by actors becoming self-conscious subjects in history. More than a single campaign, Occupy is a movement-in-the-making. And like every movement before it, Occupy was impossible before it happened, and inevitable the day after it occurred. The response of power followed a well-worn pattern: they ignored it and then mocked it, they tried to co-opt it and they beat the shit out of it—repeating as necessary.

But Occupy has already won: it’s shifted the frame and connected the issues, opened a space and defined a moment, expanded the public square and created new hope based in a simple self-evident truth: the future is unknown and entirely unknowable.  History is always in the making, and we are—each of us—works-in-progress acting largely in the dark with our limited consciousness and our contingent capacities. We may not be able to will a movement into being, but neither can we sit idly by waiting for the movement to spring full-blown, as from the head of Zeus. Occupy agitates for democracy and egalitarianism now, presses for human rights, creates peace and learns to build a new society through self-transformations and limited everyday struggles. No one can predict with any certainty what will come, but surely what we are able to do now matters.

Revolution is possible, democracy and socialism, possible, but barbarism is possible as well. We live leaning forward, pessimists of the head, optimists of the heart; the tools are everywhere—humor and art, protest and spectacle, the quiet, patient intervention and the angry and urgent  thrust—and the rhythm of activism is the same: we open our eyes and look unblinkingly at the world as we find it; we are astonished by the beauty and the suffering all around us; we dive into the wreckage and struggle toward a distant and indistinct shore; we doubt that our efforts make enough difference, and so we rethink, recalibrate, look again, and dive in once more. If we never doubt we get lost in self-righteousness and political narcissism—been there. If we only doubt we are lost in cynicism and despair.

In this time of rising expectations and new beginnings it is even more pressing that we live out the urgency embodied in the closing words of the Port Huron Statement: If we appear to seek the unattainable…we do so to avoid the unimaginable.


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