QUESTIONS for the coming debates

September 30, 2016

Here are a few questions Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were not asked at the first debate. Help me grow the list—think of it as a public service to future moderators.

~~Would you pardon Edward Snowden? Would you give him the Presidential Medal of Freedom?

~~Who else would you pardon (or award the Presidential Medal of Freedom)? Oscar Lopez? Leonard Peltier?

~~Will you commit to closing all US foreign military bases during your first term?

~~Will you immediately end the drone killing program?

~~Will you stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia?

~~Will you stop arms sales to Israel, as well as all aid until Israel terminates the settlements and ends the occupation?

~~Do you believe that the Palestinian people should enjoy the basic human rights as outlined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights? If so, do you support the Gandhi-style BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement pressing Israel to end the occupation?

~~Is public education a human right or a product to be sold at the market place? Similarly, is health and health care a product or a right?

~~What are five steps you would advocate for ending mass incarceration? For demilitarizing the police forces?

~~What is your plan to support labor organizing and unions?

~~Would you fight to preserve the US Postal Service?

~~How would your administration repair and then build a public transportation system?

~~Would you immediately raise the minimum wage to $15?

~~Would you stop deportations of undocumented workers?

~~How do you propose repairing the damage inflicted on folks during the Great Recession when over $16 trillion worth of household wealth was destroyed by the zombie capitalists?

~~Would you support an effort to cancel student debt? How?

I’ve got more. How about you?

Demand the impossible!

Demand the Impossible! (excerpt # 4)

September 24, 2016

A pervasive and frantically promoted proposition that runs loose in the land is that being a military powerhouse makes the United States (and people everywhere) safe, protects freedoms, and is a force for peace and democracy in a threatening, dangerous, and hostile world. It’s not true—not even close—but it has a huge and sticky hold on our imaginations.

When a random US politician tells antiwar protestors picketing a town hall meeting, “It’s because of the sacrifices our troops are making in [fill in the blank: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya, the “Middle East,” Korea, Panama, or wherever turns out to be next] that you have the freedom to stand here and speak out,” s/he is tapping into that stuttering cliché. [My brother, a veteran himself, always responds: “We don’t owe the vets our gratitude, we owe them an apology for sending them into the furnaces of war on a lie.”] When a retired general speaks confidently at a televised congressional hearing, explaining to the credulous audience that the “enemy can be defeated” if only the Pentagon would be granted more funds to purchase more weapons, and then given greater leeway in their deployment and use, he’s issuing the same unexamined and banal truism. When a talking head tells us it’s unfortunate that US economic strength rides on oil, a resource that “happens to come from a nasty neighborhood,” but it’s “a blessing” we have the power to police that part of the world, s/he’s doing the same thing. And when folks across the political spectrum express public gratitude and support for “our fighting men and women overseas,” while refusing to send their own children into those same wars or harboring serious private doubts about the wisdom, purpose, and execution of whatever US adventure is currently in play, they too are situated in that wide open field of received wisdom and diminishing options.

What if we challenged these instances of hypocrisy and defensive dogma, and insisted that there are more honest and straightforward ways to support US military men and women? What if we demanded their immediate decommission and return home, and insisted that they be provided excellent medical and psychological care, good jobs, affordable housing, and the best available educational opportunities—the things every human being deserves? What if we spoke up in the face of that woolly politician and asked him to draw a straight line between free speech and the specific invasion he’s now supporting and explicitly (or at least implicitly) defending? What if we locked arms as we built a growing wave of peace advocates, anticipating and opposing the next aggression, and the next?..

Hope and fierce collective determination are choices; confidence is a politics. We don’t want to minimize the horror, but neither do we want to be sucked into its thrall. Hope is our best collective antidote to cynicism and despair; it’s the capacity to notice or invent alternatives; it’s nourishing the precious sense that standing directly against the world as such is a world that could be, or should be. Whatever is the case stands side by side with what could be or should be the case. Without that vital sense of possibility, doors close, curtains drop, and we become stuck: we cannot adequately oppose injustice; we cannot act freely; we cannot inhabit the most vigorous moral spaces. We are never freer, all of us and each of us, than when we refuse the situations before us as settled and certain and determined—the absolute end of the matter—and break the chains that entangle us, launching ourselves toward the imaginable.

Demand the Impossible! (excerpt 3)

September 17, 2016

In our pursuit of a world powered by love and reaching toward joy and justice, imagination is our most formidable and unyielding ally—the people’s common asset, an endowment to each one and the indispensable weapon of the powerless. Yes, they control the massive military-industrial complex, the sophisticated surveillance systems, the prison cells, and the organized propaganda—and these are on constant display as if to remind us every minute that there is no hope of a world without the instruments of death and oppression—and we have only our minds, our desires, and our dreams—and each other And, yes, in a fixed war or a traditional conflict we are finished before we start. But it’s also true that there’s no power on earth stronger than the imagination unleashed and the collective human soul on fire. In irregular combat or a guerrilla struggle that pits our free imaginations against the stillborn and stunted imaginations of the war-makers and the mercenaries, we will win.

When we choose life, we leap into the whirlwind with courage and hope. Hope is a choice, after all, and confidence a politics—our collective antidote to cynicism and despair. It’s the capacity to notice or invent alternatives, and then to do something about it, to get busy in projects of repair. I have a T-shirt that reads: “Depressed? Maybe it’s political.”

The future is entirely unknown and unknowable; optimism, then, is simply idle dreaming, while pessimism is no more than a dreary turn of mind—they are twins, two sides of the same deterministic coin. Both optimists and pessimists delude themselves into thinking they know for sure what’s coming. They don’t; no one does. The day before Rosa Parks sat down on that bus, Jim Crow was immutable; the day after, the Third American Revolution was unstoppable. The day before John Brown’s assault on Harpers Ferry, the end of slavery was impossible; the day after, abolition was inevitable. The day before the Zapatistas declared a state of war against Mexico from its small base in Chiapas, the idea of a peasant and indigenous-led civil resistance was unthinkable; now it is a model for actions across the globe. And had I been asked my advice on the day before Occupy Wall Street set up those tents, I’d have said it won’t be effective; on the day after I dived in headfirst…

Choosing hopefulness is holding out the possibility of change. It’s living with one foot in the mud and muck of the world as it is, while another foot strides forward toward a world that could be. Hope is never a matter of sitting down and waiting patiently; hope is nourished in action, and it assumes that we are—each and all of us—incomplete as human beings. We have things to do, mountains to climb, problems to solve, injuries to heal. We can choose to see life as infused with the capacity to cherish happiness, to respect evidence and argument and reason, to uphold integrity, and to imagine a world more loving, more peaceful, more joyous and more just than the one we were given—and we should. Of course we live in dark times, and some of us inhabit even darker places, and, yes, we act mostly in the dark. But we are never freer as teachers and students, citizens, residents, activists and organizers, and artists and thinkers than when we shake ourselves free and refuse to see the situation or the world before us as the absolute end of the matter…

Turn out all the lights and ignite a small candle in any corner of the room. That little light held aloft anywhere challenges the darkness everywhere. One candle. We can always do something, and something is where we begin. The tools are everywhere—humor and art, protest and spectacle, the quiet, patient intervention and the angry and urgent thrust—and the rhythm of and recipe for activism is always the same: we open our eyes and look unblinkingly at the immense and dynamic world we find before us; we allow ourselves to be astonished by the beauty and horrified at the suffering all around us; we organize ourselves, link hands with others, dive in, speak up, and act out; we doubt that our efforts have made the important difference we’d hoped for, and so we rethink, recalibrate, look again, and dive in once more.

Pay attention; be astonished; act; doubt. Repeat, and repeat.

Demand the Impossible! (excerpt # 2)

September 11, 2016

My latest book, Demand the Impossible! A Radical Manifesto, will be released this month from Haymarket Books in Chicago (, and I will post a paragraph (or more) from the book at the start of each week for the next few months. Please read along and spread the word, and order a book (or two!) from Haymarket if at all possible.

Here is the second brief excerpt from Demand the Impossible! 

What if? That simple, humble question might be the single spark that can ignite a massive prairie fire, provoking us to leap beyond personal speculation and into the vortex of political struggle and social action. This is how it’s always been; this is the world as we’ve always known it. But why is it so? Who benefits and who suffers? How did we get here and where do we want to go? What if we took a radically different angle of regard and questioned the insistent dogma of common sense? What if we unleashed our wildest imaginations? The “what if” question might then blow open the spectrum of acceptable possibilities and take us down a rabbit hole or up into orbit—onto one of life’s restless and relentless journeys, exploring and experimenting, orbiting and spinning, inventing and adapting, struggling toward knowledge and enlightenment, freedom and liberation, fighting to know more in order to do more…

“All’s well,” says the town crier making rounds through the village and lighting lamps for the night. Perhaps it’s simply a reassuring thought for the townspeople, or perhaps there’s a more malevolent message, the toxic propaganda that the status quo is inevitable and that there is no alternative to the way things are. The dissident, the artist, the agitator, the dreamer, and the activist respond, “No, all is not well.” The current moment is neither immutable nor inescapable, and its imperfections are cause for general alarm—for the exploited and the oppressed the status quo is itself an ongoing act of violence.

Activists announce through their lives and their work that a new world is in the making. We can create a community of agitators and transform this corner of the world into a place that we want to inhabit. We can identify ourselves as citizens of a country that does not yet exist and has no map, and become that new nation’s pioneers and cartographers—and through our common actions bring a more assertive and vibrant public into being.

Each of us is immersed in what is, the world as such. In order to link arms and rise up we need a combination of somethings: seeds, surely; desire, perhaps; a vision of community and possibility; necessity and even, at times, desperation; willful enthusiasm and an acceptance that there are no guarantees whatsoever.

Imagination is indispensable in these efforts and pursuits be- cause it “ignites the slow fuse of possibility,” as Emily Dickinson wrote. More process than product, more stance than conclusion, engaging the imagination involves the dynamic work of igniting that fuse, mapping the world as it really is, and then purposely stepping outside and leaning toward a possible world.

DEMAND the IMPOSSIBLE! (an excerpt)

September 6, 2016


My latest book, Demand the Impossible! A Radical Manifesto, will be released this month from Haymarket Books in Chicago (, and I plan to post here a paragraph (or more) from the book at the start of each week for the next few months. Please read along and spread the word, and order a book (or two!) from Haymarket if at all possible.

Here is the first brief excerpt from Demand the Impossible! 

“We need to make a distinction here between personal virtues—be honest, do your work, show up on time—and social or community ethics. Personal virtue is surely good, but we would be hard pressed to say that a slave owner who paid the bills on time and was loyal or kind to the children was an ethical person—the blithe indifference to the larger social context allows the rotten system itself to thrive. We need to think about how we act customarily and collectively, how our society functions, how the contexts of politics and culture and economics, for example, interact with what we hold to be good, and how an ethical society allows more of us more of the time to act ethically. Most of us, after all, mostly follow the prevailing conventions of our time and place—most Spartans acted like Spartans; most Athenians, like Athenians; and most North Americans, even those in quite different economic and social circumstances, and for better and for worse, act most often like North Americans. To be an ethical actor and a person of moral character in an unjust social order requires something more: to work in common to change that society, to rewrite its rules and its narrative, to come together with others in order to rise up and resist. It requires activists and agitators and artists and dissidents willing to take risks on behalf of something better. It’s obvious now (even if it was obscure to many people then) that the good people and the moral actors in the days of American slavery were the runaways who exercised their agency in courageous and surprising acts of self-liberation, and the abolitionists who joined the cause. When the system of slavery was legally abolished, a new moral norm was established, and everyone, acting normally, was freed to discover the better angels of themselves.

“What if we took another leap forward, and agreed that predation and exploitation were unacceptable? What if the vast majority of people mobilized to abolish the system of private profit and wage slavery altogether? What if the horizon of our moral universe stretched that far? What could we imagine then, and what might we build together?

“Human beings are driven by a long and continuous “I don’t know, and I’d like to find out.” It’s not the known that propels us out of bed and out the door, it’s not the status quo that prods us up the next hill or onto the next challenge, nor is it “received wisdom” that pushes and pulls us along. Rather, the deep motivation at the core of our humanity, the powerful force pushing toward enlightenment and liberation is the hope that we will once again create and invent, plant and build, challenge and overcome.

“This is a call to resist the insistent pull of tradition or dogma, the easy acquiescence to the orthodox opinion of the moment. It’s an argument against the cynical shrug that says, “That’s just the way things are,” and the world-weary sigh that implies that nothing can be done about it. This is a manifesto against passivity and defeat, and in favor of action as an antidote to despair. This is an invitation to gather together in an expanding public square, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, in order to fight for something radically different and dramatically better.

“History has surprised us before, and history can surely surprise us once again.”


“We don’t owe the troops thanks for preserving our freedoms; we owe them an apology…”

September 4, 2016

May I weigh in with one little observation on the Colin Kaepernick kerfuffle? As a former G.I. organizer and as a peace activist, I must object to the cliché that everyone, on both sides, mouths mindlessly. It is that we must honor our troops “who have been fighting and dying for our freedom.” Even plenty of G.I.s, active duty and vets, smirk at the hypocrisy of such statements.

Now, I have no problem with recognizing the suffering American troops have and continue to endure (and let’s not forget the suffering that has been visited on the people the US has invaded). But we really must parse this claim of fighting and dying for our freedom.

Has there been any, even one, military intervention overseas since World War II that did anything for “our freedom?” Travel to Saigon, travel to Fallujah. Check out how all that killing worked out. Many young people have gone into the military out of economic necessity and many also hoped to do something good for the country.

But if I could prove to you (and I could, obviously) that every intervention in the Middle East has amplified the hatred of the West, that the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and now Yemen and Syria have only increased the number of outraged young people willing to wage war against the West, then what? What if you thought you were fighting for freedom but it turns out your fighting made things worse, led to the creation of Isis, to the blowback terrorist attacks on Europe and the US?

Perhaps it’s time for all the tin-pot patriots, soft-shell politicians, and knee-jerk flag-saluters to examine the words they use and look behind them to see if there is any truth lurking there. Don’t try to sugarcoat these disasters with sanctimonious rhetoric. We don’t owe the troops thanks for preserving our freedoms; we owe them an apology, a huge apology, for tricking them into wars that were not in their interests or the country’s.

Why do we allow the pentagon and the war addicts to use popular sporting events as a place to glorify colonial wars, to recruit the next generation of cannon fodder? Colin Kaepernick is trying to make the simplest statement, against hatred and against ignorance. It’s time for the yahoos to pipe down. And maybe, just maybe, his actions will lead us to more thoughtful reflections about who we are and where we want to be gong in the world.