January 30, 2007

To Change the World

I'm in the middle of writing a couple of new essays. In the meantime, I've gotten drawn (again) into a comment thread over at IOZ's Club for Radical Recreation and Enlightenment. The comments follow this post; I've addressed many of the same issues in my Dominion Over the World series (and in other articles), and will be exploring them in still more detail shortly.

But I think the following comments are worth reprinting here. My original title for this post was, "What the Democrats Can and Should Do Right Now," but then I decided to broaden my focus somewhat. First, here is what I said at IOZ's place:
[Another commenter] wants some specifics. Good, so do I. The Democrats could start with the program set forth here. Note Lindorff's conclusion:

"One thing is certain: If the Democrats, having control of both House and Senate, fail to act on these three critical issues - ending the war, revoking the president's claim to dictatorial powers, and initiating impeachment proceedings - they will have sealed their fate come 2008 as an anachronism, not a party, and will deserve to be abandoned by all thinking voters."

There *are* significant actions the Democrats could take *right now*. Those three would be a wonderful start. But the Democrats won't lead on any of them. The critical question is: *Why* won't they?

The answer is very simple: they don't want to dismantle the mechanisms of massive government power. They only want to make certain they control those mechanisms *themselves*. That is, of course, another way of saying that the system itself is the problem. And the Democrats, as one of the deeply embedded institutions of power, are part of that system.

More to come on all this in coming days at my place...
If pigs began to fly and the Democrats showed some leadership, there is one other issue they desperately need to address: Iran.

They should rescind the Iraq authorization of force resolution (Lindorff's reference is to the earlier one, passed right after 9/11 -- both should be burned to a crisp), since Bush uses the authorizations to maintain that he already has authority to attack Iran (and anyone else he chooses). And they should pass resolutions stating that, if Bush attacks Iran in the absence of a Congressional Declaration of War (remember those?), that will be grounds for immediate impeachment.

And they should draft articles of impeachment NOW, just in case they need them. And they should publish them in every major newspaper, and read them on television every night.

I have still more specifics, but that should get them going.
Let me add another critical paragraph from the Lindorff piece:
The truth is that Democrats could, if they had any principle and if they honored the wishes of the electorate, bring U.S. involvement in the Iraq War to a screeching halt. How? They could vote to cut off all funding for the Iraq War except for the costs of safely withdrawing all troops from the country. Nobody could accuse them, were they to do this, with putting American troops at risk. But they would have to face those who would accuse them of "cutting and running."
That last point is the one thing the Democrats absolutely refuse to do.

What I wouldn't give for one prominent leader with the profound courage of Robert La Follette. Just one. He or she could save us from what could easily be a catastrophe beyond our worst imaginings.

At the end of his excellent essay, in part explaining why the Democratic Party as currently constituted is a critical part of the immense problem we now face and not a route to salvation, IOZ writes:
The project of altering the fundamental perceptions and premises underlying the American popular consciousness is a long one. Possibly it is futile. But the idea that the American electorate -- the American mind, if such a thing exists -- is currently capable of supporting or sustaining meaningful, essential, fundamental change is a fantasy and nothing more. The nature of our problems and the scope of our wrongdoing is entirely beyond the farthest boundaries of ordinary discussion in America today. The first step toward change is to expand the capacity of Americans to imagine something different. Slow, quixotic, and likely hopeless. But that is the task at hand.
This project, to which I enthusiastically contribute my own humble efforts, may be "likely hopeless." But we don't know that -- and it may not be.

I've just started reading Adam Hochschild's book, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, the story of how slavery was outlawed throughout most of the world within a century. Even though I have only begun it, it is enthralling and inspiring. Here is an excerpt from the book's Introduction, "Twelve Men in a Printing Shop":
Strangely, in a city where it seems that on almost every block a famous event or resident is commemorated by a blue and white glazed plaque, none marks this spot. All you can see today, after you leave the Bank station of the London Underground, walk several blocks, and then take a few steps into a courtyard, are a few low, nondescript office buildings, an ancient pub, and on the site itself, 2 George Yard, a glass and steel high-rise. Nothing remains of the bookstore and printing shop that once stood here, or recalls the spring day more than two hundred years ago when a dozen people -- a somber-looking crew, most of them not removing their high-crowned black hats -- filed through its door and sat down for a meeting. Cities build monuments to kings, prime ministers, and generals, not to citizens with no official position who once gathered in a printing shop. Yet what these citizens began rippled across the world and we feel its aftereffects still. It is no wonder that they won the admiration of the first and greatest student of what we now call civil society. The result of the series of events begun that afternoon in London, wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, was "absolutely without precedent ... If you pore over the histories of all peoples, I doubt that you will find anything more extraordinary."

To understand how momentous was this beginning, we must picture a world in which the vast majority of people are prisoners. Most of them have known no other way of life. They are not free to live or go where they want. They plant, cultivate, and harvest most of the earth's major crops. They earn no money from their labor. Their work often lasts twelve or fourteen hours a day. Many are subject to cruel whippings or other punishments if they do not work hard enough. They die young. They are not chained or bound most of the time, but they are in bondage, part of a global economy based on forced labor. Such a world would, of course, be unthinkable today.

But this was the world -- our world -- just two centuries ago, and to most people then, it was unthinkable that it could ever be otherwise. At the end of the eighteenth century, well over three quarters of all people alive were in bondage of one kind or another, not the captivity of striped prison uniforms, but of various systems of slavery or serfdom.


Looking back today, what is even more astonishing than the pervasiveness of slavery in the late 1700s is how swiftly it died. By the end of the following century, slavery was, at least on paper, outlawed almost everywhere. The antislavery movement had achieved its goal in little more than one lifetime.

This is the story of the first, pioneering wave of that campaign. Every American schoolchild learns how slaves fled Southern plantations, following the North Star on the Underground Railroad. But England is where the story really begins, and for decades it was where American abolitionists looked for inspiration and finally for proof that the colossally difficult task of uprooting slavery could be accomplished. If we were to fix one point when the crusade began, it would be the late afternoon of May 22, 1787, when twelve determined men sat down in the printing shop at 2 George Yard, amid flatbed presses, wooden trays of type, and large sheets of freshly printed book pages, to begin one of the most ambitious and brilliantly organized citizens' movements of all time.
Many additional people joined the movement as it gathered strength, but it began with just twelve men. A very small group of people can change the world. It's happened before -- and it can happen again. In fact, that is how all great changes begin. Let us make what those twelve men began in London so many years ago our guide. Let us work toward our vision of a world of peace and liberty for everyone, everywhere.

We may not live to see that vision fulfilled to any significant degree. Many of us undoubtedly will not. But that is no matter. When we work to make the vision real, we bring it into our lives today. It gives us hope, and it is our spiritual nourishment. It is life itself.

So then, to the future that is our vision. If it does not attain its reality for us, may it do so for those who follow.