Category Archives: Activism

Peace Should Be Integral to the Women’s March

There is one thing missing from the upcoming Women’s March publicity and philosophy: the urgent need for Peace not War!

The March will speak out against hate, discrimination and exploitation. That’s good.

The March will also speak out strongly in favor of equality, women’s reproductive choice and respect for all people regardless to disability, gender, orientation, etc.. That’s also good.

But the subject of US military aggression and war is essential. We hope that many marchers will include this in their signage and discussions.  Despite many antiwar groups and individuals actively advocating for “peace” to be in the platform/demands of the March, this is the second year peace is being minimized or ignored by the organizers.

For the past century the US has intervened aggressively against governments the Washington establishment does not like. A partial list includes Philippines, Korea, Guatemala, Iran, Cuba, Chile, Vietnam, Angola, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq, Venezuela, Honduras, Libya and Syria!

These acts of “regime change” have killed millions of people including many thousands of our own youth, both women and men. They have resulted in hundreds of thousands returning home injured physically or psychologically. Mothers, wives, sisters, aunts, and other family and friends have been profoundly, permanently, and unnecessarily handed a lifetime of pain and sorrow because of the US war machine.

Shouldn’t it be a priority to change the policies and acts of economic aggression and military intervention that result in violence, war and destruction?

Shouldn’t we address the causes of the refugee crisis as well as the symptom? After all, most refugees never wanted to leave their homelands.

We are sure that most of the women and allies who will be attending the Women’s March agree with us on the need for action and protest against our ongoing wars.

The escalating military budget is driving our country further and further into debt. Meanwhile infrastructure is decaying, health care and housing is diminishing and education is underfunded. College students now graduate with astronomical student debt. Meanwhile there is growing police oppression.

We must include PEACE in our march because unless we can stop the trend, a nuclear war is going to destroy civilization.  There is no such thing as a winnable nuclear war. Resisting the war machine and dismantling ALL nukes should be essential elements in our activism. The continuity of human life on our planet is at stake. These are Womens’ issues.

As we demand a change in tone and behaviour in the White House, we must also demand a change in US international foreign policy away from militarism and aggression.

The demand for peace not war should be integral to the Women’s March.

No Foreign Bases: Challenging the Footprint of US Empire

The United States cannot be a moral or ethical country until it faces up to the realities of US empire and the destruction it causes around the world. The US undermines governments (including democracies), kills millions of people, causes mass migrations of people fleeing their homes, communities and countries and produces vast environmental damage.

A new coalition, The Coalition Against US Foreign Military Bases, held its inaugural event January 12-14, 2018 at the University of Baltimore in Maryland. The meeting was framed by a Unity Statement that brought together numerous peace and justice organizations. The basis for unity was:

U.S. foreign military bases are the principal instruments of imperial global domination and environmental damage through wars of aggression and occupation, and that the closure of U.S. foreign military bases is one of the first necessary steps toward a just, peaceful and sustainable world.

You can endorse the statement here.

US foreign military bases as of 2015. Source: BaseNation.us

Responsibility to End Global Empire of Bases

Ajamu Baraka of the Black Alliance for Peace and the vice presidential candidate for the Green Party in 2016 opened the conference, describing the responsibility of the people of the United States (USians) to protect the world from US aggression. He argued:

The only logical, principled and strategic response to this question is citizens of the empire must reject their imperial privileges and join in opposing ruling elites exploiting labor and plundering the Earth. To do that, however, requires breaking with the intoxicating allure of cross-class, bi-partisan ‘white identity politics.’

This reality conflicts with one of the excuses the US uses to engage in war – so-called ‘humanitarian wars’, which are based on the dubious legal claim that the US has a “responsibility to protect.” The United States is viewed as the “greatest threat to peace in the world today” by people around the world.  Thus, USians need to organize to protect the world from the United States.

US empire is not only a threat to world peace and stability but also a threat to the United States. Chalmers Johnson, who wrote a series of books on empire, warned in his 2004 book, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, that there were four “sorrows” the United States would suffer. In the 14 years since they have all come true:

If present trends continue, four sorrows, it seems to me, are certain to be visited on the United States. Their cumulative impact guarantees that the United States will cease to bear any resemblance to the country once outlined in our Constitution. First, there will be a state of perpetual war, leading to more terrorism against Americans wherever they may be and a growing reliance on weapons of mass destruction among smaller nations as they try to ward off the imperial juggernaut. Second, there will be a loss of democracy and constitutional rights as the presidency fully eclipses Congress and is itself transformed from an “executive branch” of government into something more like a Pentagonized presidency. Third, an already well-shredded principle of truthfulness will increasingly be replaced by a system of propaganda, disinformation, and glorification of war, power, and the military legions. Lastly, there will be bankruptcy, as we pour our economic resources into ever more grandiose military projects and shortchange the education, health, and safety of our fellow citizens.

The footprint of US empire are what Chalmers Johnson called an “empire of bases.” David Vine, the author of Base Nation, put US empire in context by describing 800 US bases in 80 countries and US military personnel in more than 170 countries. Bases range from so-called Lily Pad Bases of hundreds of troops to town-sized bases of tens of thousands of troops and their families. He noted many bases have schools and they do not need to worry about heating or air conditioning, unlike schools in Baltimore where parents bought space heaters to keep children warm and where schools were closed due to lack of heat.

The contrast between Baltimore schools and military base schools is one example of many of the heavy price USians pay for the military. Vine reported that $150 billion is spent annually to keep US troops on bases abroad and that even a Lily Pad base could cost $1 billion. More is spent on foreign military bases than on any agency of the federal government, other than the Pentagon and Veterans Administration.

The Pentagon is not transparent about the number of US foreign bases it manages or their cost. They usually publish a Base Structure Report but have not done so in several years. The Pentagon only reports 701 bases, but researchers have found many, even significant bases, not included in their list of bases.

According to the No Foreign Bases Coalition:

95% of all foreign military bases in the world are US bases. In addition, [there are] 19 Naval air carriers (and 15 more planned), each as part of a Carrier Strike Group, composed of roughly 7,500 personnel, and a carrier air wing of 65 to 70 aircraft — each of which can be considered a floating military base.

The military footprint of the United States shows it is the largest empire in world history. In our interview with historian Alfred McCoy, author of In The Shadows of the American Century, he describes how some of the key characteristics of US empire are secrecy and covert actions. This are some of the reasons why it is rare to ever hear US empire discussed in the corporate media or by politicians. McCoy told us this was true for some other empires too, and that it is often not until the empire begins to falter that their existence becomes part of the political dialogue.

Strategies for Closing US Foreign Military Bases

David Vine described an unprecedented opportunity to close bases abroad, to do so we need to build a bigger movement. We also need to elevate the national dialogue about US Empire and develop a national consensus to end it.

Vine pointed to Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric about pulling back from US involvement abroad and focusing on the necessities at home as indicative of the mood of the country. In fact, a recent survey found that “78 percent of Democrats, 64.5 percent of Republicans, and 68.8 percent of independents supported restraining military action overseas.”

McCoy argued that after the globalization of President Barack Obama, which included the Asian Pivot and  efforts to pass major trade agreements, in particular the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), created a backlash desire to focus on “America First.” Both trade agreements, the TPP and TTIP, failed as a result of a political shift in the country, in part created by grassroots movements.

McCoy describes Obama as one of three “Grandmasters of the Great Game” (the other two being Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Adviser, and Elihu Root, former Secretary of War and Secretary of State at the beginning of the 20th Century) who excelled in being strategic on behalf of US empire. In addition to trade agreements and the Asian Pivot, Obama built on the intelligence apparatus of the George W. Bush era. Even though Obama was a “grandmaster,” he did not slow the weakening of US empire. McCoy sees the inability to account for the unpredictable complexities of US and global political developments as a common weakness of empire strategists.

The conference was divided into regions of the world (with the exception of one session on the impact of  military bases on the environment and health). There will be reports and videos published on each section of the conference on the No Foreign Bases webpage. One common denominator around the world is opposition to US military bases. According to the Unity Statement of the coalition:

Many individual national coalitions — for example, Okinawa, Italy, Jeju Island Korea, Diego Garcia, Cyprus, Greece, and Germany — are demanding closure of bases on their territory. The base that the U.S. has illegally occupied the longest, for over a century, is Guantánamo Bay, whose existence constitutes an imposition of the empire and a violation of International Law. Since 1959 the government and people of Cuba have demanded that the government of the U.S. return the Guantánamo territory to Cuba.

One important strategy for success is for US activists to work in cooperation with people around the world who want US military bases to be closed and for the US military to leave their country. Attendees at the conference had traveled to South Korea, Okinawa and other places to protest in solidarity with US activists.

Another strategy that many in the conference urged was the need for education about US imperialism and to tie US militarism abroad with militarized police at home. Similarly, the reality of the US military focusing on black and brown countries abroad highlights a white supremacy philosophy that  infects foreign policy and domestic policy. Members of the No US Foreign Bases coalition also engage in domestic efforts for racial and environmental justice.

Further, the No Bases Coalition highlights the environmental and health damage caused by foreign and domestic military bases. As the Unity Statement notes, “military bases are the largest users of fossil fuel in the world, heavily contributing to environmental degradation.” Pat Elder and David Swanson described the degradation in and around the Potomac River, writing:

The Pentagon’s impact on the river on whose bank it sits is not simply the diffuse impact of global warming and rising oceans contributed to by the U.S. military’s massive oil consumption. The U.S. military also directly poisons the Potomac River in more ways than almost anyone would imagine.

People can find information about the environmental damage being done by the military in their community on the Bombs in Your Backward web page.  World Beyond War held a conference on War and the Environment in 2017. You can view video and summaries from the conference on their site.

Next Steps

The conference attendees decided on some next steps. A national day of action against foreign military bases is being planned for February 23, the anniversary of the US seizing Guantanamo Bay, Cuba through a “perpetual lease” that began in 1903. Activists are encouraged to plan local actions. If you plan an event, contact gro.ecnatsiserralupopnull@ofni and we’ll post it on the events page. The demands will include closing the base and prison in Guantanamo, returning the land to Cuba and ending the US blockade.

The conference also decided to hold a conference outside of the United States in one of the countries where the US has a foreign military base within the next year. People from some countries were not allowed to attend the inaugural conference this weekend.

And, the coordinating committee will reach out to other peace and justice groups to select a date and place for a national mass action against US wars. This will be organized as quickly as possible because the threat of more wars is high.

This is a key moment for the antiwar movement in the US to make itself more visible and to demand the closure of US foreign bases. In this report on living in a post-primacy world, even the Pentagon recognizes what many commentators are seeing – the US empire is fading. One great risk as the empire ends is more wars as the US tries to hang on to global hegemony. We must oppose war and work for the least damaging end of empire.

Indeed, if the US becomes a cooperative member of the global community, rather than being a dominator, it would be a positive transition. Imagine how much better it would be for everyone in the world if the US collaborated on addressing the climate crisis in a serious way, obeyed international law and invested in positive programs to solve the many crises we face at home and abroad.

During the Baltimore conference, World Beyond War sponsored a billboard nearby that read, “3% of US military spending could end starvation on earth.” Imagine what a peace budget could look like. The US could invest in domestic necessities including rebuilding infrastructure, a cleaner and safer public transportation system, education, housing and health care. The US could provide aid to other countries to repair the damage it has caused. Members of the US military could transition into a civilian jobs program that applies their expertise to programs of social uplift.

It is imperative that as the US Empire falls, we organize for a smooth transition to a world that is better for everyone. The work of the new coalition to end US foreign military bases is a strong start.

Homeless encampment in the foreground of a Baltimore, MD billboard that read, “3% of US military spending could end starvation on earth.” Source World Beyond War.

Silence Is Betrayal: Get Up, Stand Up, Speak Up for Your Rights

We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?

— Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis for participating in the German resistance movement

I’m tired of liars, scoundrels and cheats.

I’m sick of circus politics, sex scandals and partisan hypocrisy.

I’ve reached the limits of my tolerance for individuals who have bartered their morality, consciences, integrity, religious beliefs and liberty for political gain.

Enough already.

This is not a reality show. It is not an experiment in political theories or a contest over who generates the biggest laughs, or the highest ratings, or the best polling numbers.

Enough with the deafening silence in the face of outright corruption, base immorality, denigrating language, demoralizing greed, abject cruelty, derision, cynicism, violence, oppression and tyranny.

The United States of America is run by a cabal of racist, classist, sexist, militaristic, misogynistic, greedy, heartless thugs who are obviously satisfied that their latest CEO—Donald Trump—is doing such a great job of keeping the nation polarized and pole-axed by his reality show antics.

After all, why hire a statesman when you can hire a buffoon who will entertain, enrage and incite a nation to the brink of madness.

They—the powers-that-be, the Deep State, the controllers, the financiers, the war hawks—want us at the brink of madness. They want us in a state of civil unrest. They want the riots and the mob violence and the political discord and the state of panic. They want us to fight each other and be incapable of taking a united stand against tyranny.

They want us silent and subservient.

We have been silent too long. We have been silent for all the wrong reasons.

We have been silent when the universe demanded that we get up, stand up, and speak out.

There comes a time when silence is betrayal, warned Martin Luther King, Jr.

We didn’t listen.

We ignored King’s warning about the triple evils of poverty, racism and militarism, and look where it’s gotten us: mounting national debt, impoverished communities, racial unrest, endless wars abroad and a military industrial complex that has turned its greedy sights on America.

We can no longer afford to ignore the warnings about where this is all leading.

The clock is ticking us down to doomsday.

Remember that dystopian Pentagon training video being used to prepare armed forces to solve future domestic political and social problems? It’s only five minutes long, but the military training video says a lot about the government’s mindset, the way it views the citizenry, and the so-called “problems” that the military must be prepared to address in the near future, which include criminal networks, illicit economies, decentralized syndicates of crime, substandard infrastructure, religious and ethnic tensions, impoverishment, economic inequality, protesters, slums, open landfills, over-burdened sewers, and a “growing mass of unemployed.”

The Pentagon is anticipating that all hell will break loose by 2030. That’s only 12 short years away.

We can no longer afford to pretend that we are just playing a game. The stakes are too high. In this particular game, winners take everything, and losers lose their lives.

This is life in the American people state and it is increasingly becoming desperate, dangerous and heart-breaking for everyone who doesn’t belong to the elite class of corporate/government operatives that are really in charge.

We’re all in this together.

It doesn’t matter what your politics are, where you worship, whom you love, where you live, how much money you make, what language you speak, what color your skin is, whether you’re a high school dropout or a college graduate, what kind of car you drive, or any other “differences” that are used to divide us into opposing factions: what unites us is that we’re all traveling this road together.

Right now, we’re so focused on what divides us that we can’t see the danger looming ahead.

While Congress is debating whether the president is racist for referring to African nations as “shithole countries,” no one is talking about the racist government policies that will ensure that “1 of every 4 African American males born this decade can expect to go to prison in his lifetime.”

Take the criminal justice system, for example—one of the most racist institutions around. It is a fact that crime happens. It happens whether you’re white, black, brown or some shade in between. However, while white Americans make up 76% of the population, African Americans and people of color are the ones who are disproportionately being singled out for police stops, searches, use of force during arrests, prison terms for drugs, and longer jail terms.

America is a racist nation, but the racists are on the government payroll.

While the media swarms all over accusations of sexual misconduct against prominent men in Hollywood, few are addressing the devastating scope of sexual misconduct within the nation’s police forces. According to Newsweek, “At the national level, 990 officers had their licenses revoked between 2009 and 2014 because of rape, sodomy or other sexual misconduct, an Associated Press investigation found. Some of the victims had just been victims of a crime. One-third were juveniles.” That doesn’t include the numbers that go unreported because the victims were scared to speak out.

America is a nation of sexual predators, but the predators are pulling government salaries.

While the government continues to wage its misguided war on drugs, helped along by Jeff Sessions and his gang of militarized, battle-ready SWAT teams that shoot first and ask questions later, not enough is being done to root out those government agents who are padding their pockets by trafficking drugs and sex. For instance, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy was recently charged with selling drugs and offering the protection of other cops to dealers. The Huffington Post reports on a long list of police officers who have been arrested for pimping young girls.

It turns out that America is also a nation of drug and sex traffickers using their government jobs for cover.

Those are just a few examples of the many injustices being perpetrated against the American people by government agents and agencies who don’t care whether “we the people” live or die, whether babies are born into poverty, whether children are dying at the hands of government officials, whether communities are being ripped apart by violence, or whether citizens of all colors, creeds and religions are spending their lives shackled and broken and powerless to do anything to escape the prison cells into which they’ve been thrown.

Remember this the next time you find yourself drawn into a heated debate over the antics of this president and his inhumane policies and his outlandish reality show.

The next time you hear any government shill talk about the need to keep America safe, remember that the people of the United States continue to be robbed, cheated, tasered, stripped, searched, bullied, threatened, jailed, shot and killed by the very government agents entrusted with protecting their rights. As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the U.S. government has become a greater menace to the life, liberty and property of its citizens than any of the so-called dangers from which the government claims to protect us.

So enough with the lies. Enough with the fast-talking, foul-mouthed, slick politicians. Enough with the silence.

The time has come for truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

As George Orwell noted, “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

To Liberate Cambodia

A long-standing French protectorate briefly occupied by Japan during World War II, Cambodia became independent in 1953 as the French finally withdrew from Indochina. Under the leadership of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia remained officially neutral, including during the subsequent US war on Indochina. However, by the mid-1960s, parts of the eastern provinces of Cambodia were bases for North Vietnamese Army and National Liberation Front (NVA/NLF) forces operating against South Vietnam and this resulted in nearly a decade of bombing by the United States from 4 October 1965.

In 1970 Sihanouk was ousted in a US-supported coup led by General Lon Nol. The following few years were characterized by an internal power struggle between Cambodian elites and war involving several foreign countries, but particularly including continuation of the recently commenced ‘carpet bombing’ of Cambodia by the US Air Force.

On 17 April 1975 the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), otherwise known as the Khmer Rouge, took control of Cambodia. Following four years of ruthless rule by the Chinese-supported Khmer Rouge, initially under Pol Pot, they were defeated by the Vietnamese army in 1979 and the Vietnamese occupation authorities established the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), installing Heng Samrin and other pro-Vietnamese Communist politicians as leaders of the new government. Heng was succeeded by Chan Sy as Prime Minister in 1981.

Following the death of Chan Sy, Hun Sen became Prime Minister of Cambodia in 1985 and, despite a facade of democracy, he and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) have been in power ever since. This period has notably included using the army to purge a feared rival in a bloody coup conducted in 1997. Hun Sen’s co-Prime Minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, was ousted and fled to Paris while his supporters were arrested, tortured and some were summarily executed.

The current main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was founded in 2012 by merging the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party. Emblematic of Cambodia’s ‘democratic’ status, more than two dozen opposition members and critics have been locked up in the past year alone and the CNRP leader, Kem Sokha, known for his nonviolent, politically tolerant views, is currently imprisoned at a detention centre in Tboung Khmum Province following his arrest on 3 September 2017 under allegations of treason, espionage and for orchestrating anti-government demonstrations in 2013-2014. These demonstrations were triggered by widespread allegations of electoral fraud during the Cambodian general election of 2013.

On 16 November 2017 the CNRP was dissolved by Cambodia’s highest court and 118 of its members, including Sokha and exiled former leader Sam Rainsy, were banned from politics for five years.

Cambodian Society

Socially, Cambodia is primarily Khmer with ethnic populations of Chinese, Vietnamese, Cham, Thai and Lao. It has a population of 16 million people. The pre-eminent religion is Buddhism. The adult literacy rate is 75%; few Cambodians speak a European language limiting access to western literature. Most students complete 12 years of (low quality public) school but tertiary enrollment is limited. As in all countries, education (reinforced by state propaganda through the media) serves to intimidate and indoctrinate students into obedience of elites. Discussion of national politics in a school class is taboo and such discussions are rare at tertiary level. This manifests in the narrow range of concerns that mobilize student action: personal outcomes such as employment opportunities. Issues such as those in relation to peace, the environment and refugees do not have a significant profile. In short, the student population generally is neither well informed nor politically engaged.

However, many other issues engage at least some Cambodians, with demonstrations, strikes and street blockades being popular tactics, although the lack of strategy means that outcomes are usually limited and, despite commendable nonviolent discipline in many cases, violent repression is not effectively resisted. Issues of concern to workers, particularly low wages in a country with no minimum wage law, galvanize some response. Garment workers are a significant force because their sector is important to the national economy. Land grabbing and lack of housing mobilize many people but usually fail to attract support beyond those effected. Environmental issues, such as deforestation and natural resource depletion, fail to mobilize the support they need to be effective.

Having noted that, however, Cambodian activists require enormous courage to take nonviolent action as the possibility of violent state repression in response to popular mobilization is a real one, as illustrated above and documented in the Amnesty International report “Taking to the streets: Freedom of peaceful assembly in Cambodia” from 2015.

Perhaps understandably, given their circumstances, international issues, such as events in the Middle East, North Korea and the plight of the Rohingya in neighbouring Myanmar are beyond the concern of most Cambodians.

Economically, Cambodians produce traditional goods for small local households with industrial production remaining low in a country that is still industrializing. Building on agriculture (especially rice), tourism and particularly the garment industry, which provided the basis for the Cambodian export sector in recent decades, the dictatorship has been encouraging light manufacturing, such as of electronics and auto-parts, by establishing “special economic zones” that allow cheap Cambodian labour to be exploited. Most of the manufacturers are Japanese and despite poor infrastructure (such as lack of roads and port facilities), poor production management, poor literacy and numeracy among the workers, corruption and unreliable energy supplies, Cambodian factory production is slowly rising to play a part in Japan’s regional supply chain. In addition, Chinese investment in the construction sector has grown enormously in recent years and Cambodia is experiencing the common problem of development being geared to serve elite commercial interests and tourists rather than the needs (such as affordable housing) of ordinary people or the environment.

Environmentally, Cambodia does little to conserve its natural resources. For example, between 1990 and 2010, Cambodia lost 22% of its forest cover, or nearly 3,000,000 hectares, largely to logging. There is no commitment to gauging environmental impact before construction projects begin and the $US800m Lower Sesan 2 Dam, in the northeast of the country, has been widely accused of being constructed with little thought given to local residents (who will be evicted or lose their livelihood when the dam reservoir fills) or the project’s environmental impact.

Beyond deforestation (through both legal and illegal logging) then, environmental destruction in Cambodia occurs as a result of large scale construction and agricultural projects which destroy important wildlife habitats, but also through massive (legal and illegal) sand mining, poaching of endangered and endemic species, with Cambodian businesses and political authorities, as well as foreign criminal syndicates and many transnational corporations from all over the world implicated in the various aspects of this corruptly-approved and executed destruction.

In the words of Cambodian researcher Tay Sovannarun: “The government just keeps doing business as usual while the rich cliques keep extracting natural resources and externalizing the cost to the rest of society.” Moreover, three members of the NGO Mother Nature – Sun Mala, Try Sovikea and Sim Somnang – recently served nearly a year in prison for their efforts to defend the environment and the group was dissolved by the government in September 2017.

Cambodian Politics

Politically, Cambodians are largely naïve with most believing that they live in a ‘democracy’ despite the absence of its most obvious hallmarks such as civil and political rights, the separation of powers including an independent judiciary, free and fair elections, the right of assembly and freedom of the press (with the English-language newspaper The Cambodia Daily recently closed down along with some radio stations). And this is an accurate assessment of most members of the political leadership of the CNRP as well.

Despite a 30-year record of political manipulation by Hun Sen and the CPP, during which “Hun Sen has made it clear that he does not respect the concept of free and fair elections”, which has included obvious corruption of elections through vote-rigging but also an outright coup in 1997 and the imprisonment or exile of opposition leaders since then, most Cambodians and their opposition leaders still participate in the charade that they live in a ‘democracy’ which could result in the defeat of Hun Sen and the CPP at a “free and fair” election. Of course, there are exceptions to this naïveté, as a 2014 article written by Mu Sochua, veteran Cambodian politician and former minister of women’s affairs in a Hun Sen government, demonstrates.

Moreover, as Sovannarun has noted, most Cambodians still think international pressure is effective in keeping the CPP from disrespecting democratic principles which they have violated up until this day. Right now they wait for US and EU sanctions in the hope that the CPP will step back. He asks: “Even assuming it works, when will Cambodians learn to rely on themselves when the ruling party causes the same troubles again? Are they going to ask for external help like this every time and expect their country to be successfully democratized?”

The problem, Sovannarun argues, is that “Cambodians in general do not really understand what democracy is. Their views are very narrow. For them, democracy is just an election. Many news reports refer to people as “voters” but in Khmer, this literally translates as “vote owners” as if people cannot express their rights or power beside voting.”

Fortunately, recent actions by the CPP have led to opposition leaders and some NGOs finally declaring the Hun Sen dictatorship for what it is. But for Sovannarun:

Democratization ended in 1997. The country should be regarded as a dictatorship since then. The party that lost the election in 1993 still controlled the national military, the police and security force, and the public administration, eventually using military force to establish absolute control in 1997. How is Cambodia still a democracy?

However, recent comprehensive research undertaken by Global Witness goes even further. Their report Hostile Takeover “sheds light on a huge network of secret deal-making and corruption that has underpinned Hun Sen’s 30-year dictatorial reign of murder, torture and the imprisonment of his political opponents”.

So what are the prospects of liberating Cambodia from its dictatorship?

To begin, there is little evidence to suggest that leadership for any movement to do so will come from within formal political ranks. Following the court-ordered dissolution of the CNRP on 16 November 2017 at the behest of Hun Sen, “half of their 55 members of parliament fled the country”. And this dissolution was preceded by actions that had effectively neutralized the opposition, with two dozen opposition members (including CNRP leader Kem Sokha) and critics imprisoned in the past year alone, as reported above, and the rapid flight of Opposition Deputy President Mu Sochua on 3 October after allegedly being notified by a senior official that her arrest was imminent. But while Mu Sochua called for a protest gathering after she had fled, understandably, nobody dared to protest: “Who dares to protest if their leader runs for their life?” Sovannarun asks.

Of course, civil society leadership is fraught with danger too. Prominent political commentator and activist Kem Ley, known for his trenchant criticism of the Hun Sen dictatorship, was assassinated on 10 July 2016 in Phnom Penh. Ley was the third notable activist to be killed following the union leader Chea Vichea in 2004 and environmental activist Wutty Chut in 2012. But they are not the only activists to suffer this fate.

In addition, plenty of politicians, journalists and activists have been viciously assaulted by the security forces and members of Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit and/or imprisoned by the dictatorship. In fact, Radio Free Asia keeps a record of “Cambodian Opposition Politicians and Activists Behind Bars” for activities that the dictatorship does not like, including defending human rights, land rights and the natural environment.

Moreover, in another recent measure of the blatant brutality of the dictatorship, Hun Sen publicly suggested that opposition politicians Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha “would already be dead” had he known they were promising to “organise a new government” in the aftermath of the highly disputed 2013 national election result. He also used a government-produced video to link the CNRP with US groups in fomenting a “colour revolution” in Cambodia.

In one response to Hun Sen’s “would already be dead” statement, British human rights lawyer Richard Rogers, who had filed a complaint asking the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the Cambodian ruling elite for widespread human rights violations in 2014, commented that it was simply more evidence of the government’s willingness to persecute political dissidents. “It shows that he is willing to order the murder of his own people if they challenge his rule”. Moreover: “These are not the words of a modern leader who claims to lead a democracy.” Whether Hun Sen is even sane is a question that no-one asks.

So what can Cambodians do? Fortunately, there is a long history of repressive regimes being overthrown by nonviolent grassroots movements. And nonviolent action has proven powerfully effective in Cambodia as the Buddhist monk Maha Gosananda, and his supporters demonstrated on their 19-day peace walk from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh through war ravaged Khmer Rouge territory in Cambodia in May 1993, defying the expectations of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) coordinators at the time that they would be killed by the Khmer Rouge. However, for the Hun Sen dictatorship to be removed, Cambodians will be well served by a thoughtful and comprehensive strategy that takes particular account of their unique circumstances.

A framework to plan and implement a strategy to remove the dictatorship is explained in Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy with Sovannarun’s Khmer translation of this strategy here.

This strategic framework explains what is necessary to remove the dictatorship and, among consideration of many vital issues, elaborates what is necessary to maintain strategic coordination when leaders are at high risk of assassination, minimize the risk of violent repression while also ensuring that the movement is not hijacked by government or foreign provocateurs whose purpose is to subvert the movement by destroying its nonviolent character as well as deal with foreign governments (such as those of China, the European Union, Japan and the USA) who (categorically or by inaction) support the dictatorship, sometimes by supplying military weapons suitable for use against the domestic population.

Sovannarun is not optimistic about the short-term prospects for his country: Too many mistakes have been repeated too often. But he is committed to the nonviolent struggle to liberate Cambodia from its dictatorship and recognizes that the corrupt electoral process cannot restore democracy or enable Cambodians to meaningfully address the vast range of social, political, economic and environmental challenges they face.

The Punditry of Shithole Thinking

Our capitalist elites have used propaganda, money and the marginalizing of their critics to erase the first three of philosopher John Locke’s elements of the perfect state: liberty, equality and freedom. They exclusively empower the fourth, property. Liberty and freedom in the corporate state mean the liberty and freedom of corporations and the rich to exploit and pillage without government interference or regulatory oversight. And the single most important characteristic of government is its willingness to use force, at home and abroad, to protect the interests of the property classes.

— Chris Hedges, “Corpses of Souls”

Here’s a thought experiment for social workers assisting homeless, recovery (drug, alcohol), re-entry (coming out of prison), and those diagnosed with mental and physical health challenges: Take a college educated “professional,” George, and then a “homeless” person, Julia, and put them in the same tattered clothes, take away phone, ID, money, credit cards, blindfold them, transport them from say Portland, Oregon, and to Toronto, Canada, or Buffalo, NY, and drop them off in an alley in a run-down part of town at 3 am on a Monday. Then challenge them to get back to square “go.”

We know the homeless person, or the former incarcerated person, or the recovering addict will be home — Portland – within 48 hours. The professional, either in FIRE (finance insurance real estate) or any number of elite fields, will tank quickly. Especially if we were to drop that person off outside of town into a homeless camp.

In my field of social work, many employers I talk to would rather have a former inmate, a former felon, who has gotten his or her life back on track, on the job. Really. There are even Harvard (who cares that it’s Ivy League, by the way?) studies to that effect. Of course, the rationale is based on company loyalty; an ex-con would really appreciate his freedoms now; hard work – workaholic – since all that time in the lobotomizing prison system would kick in an obsessiveness toward keeping busy, keeping moving. Then, some employers I talk to think most workers or potential workers are the problem, would steal time, money, goods, and things from the company. So, the felon has already done time, knows the depravity of prison systems, and would stay on the up and up without jeopardizing incarceration. Plus, in the US, companies get a tax break for hiring former felons!

The fields of social work are growing, yet the pay is shrinking, the work conditions are ramped up, the management are bizarre examples of former social workers themselves (very anti worker, very hard on outside-the-box thinkers, and completely blank on what radical social work is and how to even apply the principles of that form of social work). Most non-profits do the dirty work of what a society is looking more and more to not provide for – mental health care for a bigger and bigger share of the USA population; disability services for a larger and larger swath of Americans mentally, psychologically, intellectually, socially, physically, and spiritually broken or disabled; financial, employment, education, housing assistance for an ever-growing population of humans who are not able to work and live and transport and find health care for themselves in this New Gilded Age.

The non-profits I have worked for are top-heavy, have very little money put aside or earmarked or grant-provided for the workers; many of the non-profits hire development associates, upper management shills, PR folk, marketing and events coordinators; many are in shining and remodeled digs while casting shadows on the street people they supposedly care about.

Some of us in social services have come from other professions, and like me, many are former teachers. Very few are radical thinkers, and many are just trying to hang on. When you work in an at-will state, where organizing and workplace coordinating is akin to communism, and when you work for people younger and the same age as yourself who once had their lives more or less put together but who are today on the streets, in shelters, in vans on the side of the road, and who have to pay for legal debts – hospital bills, legal financial obligations, debts coming at them via mean-assed debt collectors and repo men —  the idea of Six Degrees of Separation comes cold like melting glaciers as really Only One Degree of Separation.

Manfred Max Neef calls this country, USA — richest, biggest land rip off abusing, military mightiest, vastest financial thieving, culturally insanest — underdeveloping.

I mean, your country is the most dramatic example that you can find. I have gone as far as saying — and this is a chapter of a book of mine that is published next month in England, the title of which is Economics Unmasked. There is a chapter called “The United States, an Underdeveloping Nation,” which is a new category. We have developed, underdeveloped and developing. Now you have underdeveloping. And your country is an example, in which the one percent of the Americans, you know, are doing better and better and better, and the 99 percent is going down, in all sorts of manifestations. People living in their cars now and sleeping in their cars, you know, parked in front of the house that used to be their house — thousands of people. Millions of people, you know, have lost everything. But the speculators that brought about the whole mess, oh, they are fantastically well off. No problem. No problem.

This short piece – rare for me at DV, LA Progressive,  and other places, since I still believe that concision is not a favorable tool to understanding the complexities of our society and systems thinking – is all tied to really what many Americans WAY WAY before Trump’s family set foot in this country have always believed about Mexico or New Orleans or Dominican Republic or South Africa or Philippines or Afghanistan (just replace a country like Haiti with any number of 120 countries in the world) have said, stated, written and professed undiplomatically and through the Economic Hit Men: They are ALL shitholes.

I have had plenty of people in my 61 years living on this planet, after being in dozens of countries (I have lived and worked in), fellow (sic) Americans (sic) who thought my white skin and my little lists of three college degrees and my male status entitled my fellow Americans to rant on and on about how dirty, backward, primitive, slow-witted, poor, inefficient, shady, criminal this or that country is — countries from which I lived, traveled and worked and those many have not stepped foot in, beyond FOX News and Hollywood propaganda.

That Trump now voices what Americans have believed, and economists have practiced, and our military branches have reflected – America is Great, and the rest of the rabble (well, maybe not Norway or Finland — that’s about it for that pure white race places) are part and particle the shitholes Trump so undiplomatically states the world is.

In reality, though, if we look at the definition of “shit”/”hole,” it all comes back to this warring, militant, earth-killing, global lording over country called the United States of America. Infantilized, lobotomized, one-paycheck/broken bone/auto accident/employment termination/criminal justice involved/foreclosure AWAY from shithole status.

This poor white and now multi-race co-opting country of people who have zero idea how and why its more or less isolated little status among the global actors is set in their minds as “okay . . . Great/Yes We Can/Make It Great Again/Numero Uno” because of the shit we serve up to the rest of the world vis-à-vis military and economic and resource plundering insanity.

While our own country is full of shit-holes– full of systems of penury and debasement and depravity and delusion and destruction and increasing wrath upon its own populations – we see this spasm of protestations from the Liberal Democrats Who Support All Those Democratic Party apparatchiks of regime change and collateral damage carried out on what Bush or Obama see as the “shit hole Iraqis and Afghans and Libyans and Yeminis and Somalis.” Imagine, the democrats crying about Trump and his redneck Americanism.

Which party said we had to bomb them back to the stone age? Which party wrapped up Japanese Americans in barbed wire luxury? Which party helped to wipe out 3 million Vietnamese? Who bombed, razed, illegally mined, economically double-triple tapped the world’s other shit holes? Way-way before two-bit The Apprentice got raves and ratings and millions. It’s Trump who is still on record ranting about the Central Park Five, found to be falsely convicted and held in prison (now released), stating months ago, after the five men were acquitted, found to be innocent and released, that “they are guilty of the rape, man.” His Trump Faulty Towers Corp. paid or two full page ads in the NYT ranting about “their guilty” after they were found innocent.

Again, a reset button is necessary when looking at the big billionaire’s motley mind and fourth grade thinking style: who is he, how did he get here, where did he learn, how did he exist in this country, what is his American soul made of . . . . The who, why, when, what, where and how are questions Americans of all political stripes never ask.

We can tap dance around those “deplorables” voting for George Wallace or Barry Goldwater or George Bush or Donald Trump, or dance around those millionaires who see other shitholes producing other super predators, or two-step into more delusion when Super Rich Hollywood defines You and Me and Success and Failure, or when Amazon dot com comes crashing into your local bricks and mortar, or how the millionaire media or celebrities come into your living rooms via cable or iPhone and kidnap your loved ones, young and old.

Seriously, which shithole shall we concentrate on in the US of A, the engine of shit holes, the Mother of All Shitholes, coming to a neighborhood nearby, or Flint Michigan, or Charlottesville, or Fortune 1000 boardroom or dis-education college faculty and administration?

Who in your group of friends and acquaintances even knows what economics is for? Manfred Max Neef again:

One, the economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy.

Two, development is about people and not about objects.

Three, growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily require growth.

Four, no economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services.

Five, the economy is a subsystem of a larger finite system, the biosphere, hence permanent growth is impossible.

And the fundamental value to sustain a new economy should be that no economic interest, under no circumstance, can be above the reverence of life.

I am sorry to say in my years as a journalist, college teacher, union organizer, social worker, environmentalist, urban planner, etc., I have run into more shithole thinkers in this country than all the countries I’ve been to combined, by far. If you want to run into real thugs, real criminals, real depravity, delusional thinking, disgusting thinking, real retrograde philosophy, real illiteracy, real infantilism, come to a town near me – Pacific Northwest, or Texas or Arizona, or anywhere I have done my time in.

Not many anti-Trump people would question the root cause of his shithole role running this shithole country, and the mirror is not large enough for self-reflection: biggest military in the world, biggest land mass stolen from original nations, biggest area cleared of natural ecosystems, biggest group of la-la-land thinkers. Magical thinkers, the lot of us, really.

Let the knee-jerking go on and on as Americans attempt to parse out who they are in that mirror mirror on the wall! Unless you have ended the mythical belief in this country’s prowess and greatness and stopped hiding from this society’s advanced malignant cancer called predatory and consumer capitalism, then you are the Trump in that mirror, without or without the orange glow!

Max-Neef: First of all, we need cultured economists again, who know the history, where they come from, how the ideas originated, who did what, and so on and so on; second, an economics now that understands itself very clearly as a subsystem of a larger system that is finite, the biosphere, hence economic growth as an impossibility; and third, a system that understands that it cannot function without the seriousness of ecosystems. And economists know nothing about ecosystems. They don’t know nothing about thermodynamics, you know, nothing about biodiversity or anything. I mean, they are totally ignorant in that respect. And I don’t see what harm it would do, you know, to an economist to know that if the beasts would disappear, he would disappear as well, because there wouldn’t be food anymore. But he doesn’t know that, you know, that we depend absolutely from nature. But for these economists we have, nature is a subsystem of the economy. I mean, it’s absolutely crazy.

Solidarity from Central Cellblock to Guantanamo

On Thursday, January 11, the sixteenth anniversary of the opening of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba was marked by a coalition of 15 human rights organizations gathered in Lafayette Park, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House in Washington, DC. An interfaith prayer service was followed by a rally featuring song and poetry and addresses by activists from the sponsoring organizations, including attorneys for some of those detained at Guantanamo, few of these charged with any crime and some cleared for release years ago. Despite his declaration that “In the dark halls of Abu Ghraib and the detention cells of Guantanamo, we have compromised our most precious values,” President Obama failed to fulfill his promise to close the prison and days before his inauguration last year, Donald Trump tweeted, “There should be no further releases from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”

Witness Against Torture (January 11, 2018)

I participated in the day’s events as part of the Witness Against Torture community. This was our fourth day of fasting, reflection and action together and many of us wore orange jump suits and black hoods representing the 41 Muslim men still held there. After the rally, WAT performed a simple ritual, serving 41 cups of tea one at a time to “detainees” who each lifted their hood to accept their cup and take a sip before laying it down in a row on the sidewalk. The names of the men were spoken aloud and had been written on each of the styrofoam cups, remembering that drawing and writing on such cups has been one of few outlets for expression for many detainees.

Immediately after the tea was served, five of us, Ken Jones, Manijeh Saba, Helen Schietinger, Beth Adams and I, stepped into Pennsylvania Avenue, walking toward the White House with a banner calling for the release of these 41 along with the thousands imprisoned in immigration detention centers and the millions of victims of hyper-incarceration in the US. To approach the White House, we needed to cross under yellow police line tape and were immediately arrested by uniformed Secret Service police.

I have been attending protests at the White House since Jimmy Carter lived there and with each succeeding administration, the space allowed for political discourse has been reduced and the once protected free speech of citizens increasingly criminalized there. Under Trump, half the width of the formerly public sidewalk in front of the White House is fenced off, the inner perimeter now patrolled by officers armed with automatic weapons. Pennsylvania Avenue, long ago closed to vehicular traffic, is now closed off to pedestrians at the hint of a demonstration. This public forum, a place of protest and advocacy for more than a century, the place where the vote for women and benefits for veterans were won, has been strangled to the point where no dissent is tolerated there.

Brian in Custody of Secret Service

The five of us were vigorously searched and taken to a local DC Metro Police station where we were photographed, finger printed and charged with “crossing a police line.” My four friends were released from the station after a few hours with a pending court appearance date, as is usual for such petty crimes as ours. I, on the other hand, was transferred by the Secret Service to the Central Cellblock to be brought before a judge the next day.

The booking sergeant told me that if it were up to the Metro Police, I would go home with my friends. The arresting authority, however, was the Secret Service and they wanted me held over due to an apparent outstanding case from Las Vegas. Last April, I was arrested at the armed drone operation center, Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, for the alleged crime of disturbing the peace. The District Attorney in Las Vegas declined to file any charge against me (maybe because I was disturbing the war?) but the chief judge of the Las Vegas Justice (sic) Court summoned me to appear before him on September 25 anyway. I made a motion to the court for clarification and received a response from another judge that I was not required to appear in answer to the summons. I also got official notice from the DA’s office that they had “determined not to file formal charges at this time.” Apparently, the chief judge was not happy with that decision and decided to take the role of prosecutor himself and issued a warrant for my arrest.

Central Cellblock is a crowded, noisy, roach infested hot box where all those arrested and held for various crimes around the city are collected for their initial appearances in court the next day. I was one of more than 90 men who spent the day shunted in chains from cell to cell between the jail and the court. Of these, there was one Latino and a young man from Mauritania, the rest African American. I was the only white man arrested in all of Washington, DC, on January 11 that the authorities chose to keep in jail.

Late Friday afternoon the United States Attorney decided not to press the “crossing a police line” against the five of us and so I was released before coming to court. Had I appeared before a judge, the government would likely have asked the court to hold me over for extradition as a fugitive from justice in Nevada. If this were granted, the Las Vegas authorities would then have had three days to come to DC to fetch me if they cared to.

In our group planning the events of January 11, the question came up about the usefulness of risking arrest for this cause. For myself, beyond strategic benefits, is the issue of solidarity. Just as we fast for a few days as a small gesture of sharing the suffering of the brothers in Guantanamo on hunger strike, so arrest and a few hours in a police station cell can bring us closer to understanding their unjust confinement. My intention was more than realized this time! The suppression of free speech in front of the White House is not the crackdown on the Arab Spring in Bahrain and Central Cellblock is not Abu Ghraib. My would-be extradition to Las Vegas is not “special rendition” to Jordan or to Guantanamo. These evils, small or large, are all growing from the same roots of imperial arrogance and in our different places and conditions, we are in this struggle together.

Dr. King and Ms. Baker

I woke up this morning thinking about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And then I began thinking about Ella Baker, whose model of “group-centered leadership” I have recently been meditating on and writing about.

I heard Dr. King speak in person twice during the 60’s, once at Grinnell College in Iowa a few months before he was assassinated. When he was killed 50 years ago, on April 4th, 1968, I began what became 50 years of progressive activism by posting a petition to Congress on the wall of the student mail room that night. About half the students had signed it by the end of the following day and I sent it off to Mike McCormack and Hubert Humphrey, the leaders of the House and Senate.

I met and worked with Ella Baker for several years in the mid- to late-70’s after I moved to New York City. Ms. Baker was part of the leadership for a while of a group I was working with, the Mass Party Organizing Committee, and I have always been so grateful for that privilege. I would like to think that I learned much about how to be an effective organizer from the time spent with her and the things about her that I learned from others.

Dr. King and Ella Baker were the two primary leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in its first couple of years of existence, between 1958 and 1960. King was the heart, soul and speaking voice of SCLC; Baker was the Executive Secretary. Baker was a public speaker too, but she was primarily the behind-the-scenes, get-things-done, relationship-building person. Her vision in doing so was for the emergence of a grassroots-based, mass movement and organization that could take on structural racism and fundamentally transform US society, with Black people at the center of the leadership of that movement.

Ella Baker had been active in the Black civil rights and freedom movement since the late 1920’s. She had traveled throughout the deep South in the 1940’s for the NAACP, actively supporting local organizers and encouraging the building of strong grassroots organizations which operated in a cooperative way. She was a strong advocate for a shared leadership model and an emphasis on empowering the members of the organization and the new people getting involved: a continually-empowering mass movement.

Ms. Baker had problems with the decision-making structure of SCLC, as explained clearly in Joanne Grant’s biography, Ella Baker, Freedom Bound. The decision-making structure, as explained there, was essentially Dr. King making the major decisions, with input from others.

With the emergence of the student desegregation sit-ins at lunch counters in the deep South in 1960 and the creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Ms. Baker shifted her time and energies to SNCC. She was a major supporter of the organization and took part in the decision-making process, but usually in the capacity of an active listener who occasionally asked questions.

Grant explains it this way: “Often, her questions directed the discussions. Her technique was much like that of Nelson Mandela, who had learned it from his mentor, a tribal chieftain. Mandela wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, ‘I have always endeavored to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my opinion. Oftentimes, my own opinion will simply represent a consensus of what I heard in the discussion.’” (p 136)

Our individual movements and our movement of movements can accomplish much in 2018. The political winds are clearly blowing in a progressive direction, evidenced most recently by the defeat of Trump-backed Roy Moore in the US Senate race in Alabama. The Republicans, and corporate Democrats, are in trouble. But unless we consciously utilize, as much as possible, the group-centered, cooperative, grassroots-empowering, consensus-seeking methods of decision-making, consciously interact with one another and new people in a supportive and strengthening way, whatever gains we make will be much less than what they could be, much less than what our peoples and our damaged world so badly need.

41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo

January 11, 2018 marked the 16th year that Guantanamo prison has exclusively imprisoned Muslim men, subjecting many of them to torture and arbitrary detention.

Witness Against Torture demonstrators marching to the White House (Credit: Justin Norman)

About thirty people gathered in Washington D.C., convened by Witness Against Torture, (WAT), for a week-long fast intended to close Guantanamo and abolish torture forever. Six days ago, Matt Daloisio arrived from New York City in a van carefully packed with twelve years’ worth of posters and banners, plus sleeping bags, winter clothing and other essentials for the week.

Matt spent an hour organizing the equipment in the large church hall housing us. “He curates it,” said one WAT organizer.

Later, Matt reflected that many of the prisoners whose visages and names appear on our banners have been released. In 2007, there were 430 prisoners in Guantanamo. Today, 41 men are imprisoned there. Shaker Aamer has been reunited with the son whom he had never met while imprisoned in Guantanamo. Mohammed Ould Slahi, author of Guantanamo Diary, has finally been released. These encouraging realities don’t in the slightest diminish the urgency we feel in seeking the release of the 41 men still imprisoned in Guantanamo.

Not even one of the 41 prisoners now in Guantanamo was captured by the U.S. military on a battlefield. Afghan militias and the Pakistani military were paid cash bounties for selling 86 percent of these prisoners into US custody. Imagine the “green light” given for other countries to practice buying and selling of human beings.

Aisha Manar, working with the London Campaign to Close Guantanamo, points out that “the rights violating practices surrounding Guantanamo are now a model for the detention and incarceration polices of the US and other states.”

This chilling reality is reflected in Associated Press reports revealing that the United Arab Emirates operates a network of secret prisons in Southern Yemen, where prisoners are subjected to extreme torture. This has included being trussed to a rotating machine called “the grill” and exposed to a roasting fire.

“Nearly 2,000 men have disappeared into the clandestine prisons,” the AP reports, “a number so high that it has triggered near-weekly protests among families seeking information about missing sons, brothers and fathers.”

One of the main detention complexes is at Riyan Airport in Yemen’s southern city of Mukalla. Former detainees, speaking on condition of anonymity told of “being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, trussed up on the ‘grill,’ and sexually assaulted.”

A member of the Yemeni security force set up by the United Arab Emirates told AP that American forces were at times only yards away.

“It would be a stretch to believe the US did not know or could not have known that there was a real risk of torture,” said Amnesty International’s director of research in the Middle East, Lynn Maalouf.

On January 9, 2018, WAT members tried to deliver a letter to UAE Ambassador Yusuf Al Otaiba, seeking his response to these reports. Security guards took our pictures but said they were unable to accept our letter.

Two days later, joining numerous other groups for a large rally, we donned orange jumpsuits and black hoods, carried placards bearing the number “41” and displayed two main banners. One said: “It would take a genius to close Guantanamo.” And the other: “We are still here because you are still there.

Forty-one hearts still beat in Guantanamo prison cells. That’s forty-one too many.

• A version of this article was first published on The Progressive website.

On Being a Social Justice and Peace Activist

Browsing the Internet, one can find a deluge of entries on social justice and peace activists, but very little about their own introspections on how they see and feel themselves as activists.

Seeking to fill at least partially that void I aim to explore in this article what it is like to be an activist in America for social justice and peace. I will do this in four ways.

First, since this journal is read by activists with varying levels and types of activity I will ask them about their activism. How would you answer the following questions?

Your Activist Self Checklist

a) Type and Degree of Feelings

Minor (e.g., anguish, ashamed of America, disgust, guilt for not doing more)?

Moderate (e.g., despair, determination, hopelessness, resignation)?

Intense (e.g., alienation, anger, burnout, paranoia, suicidal)?

Unusual (e.g., pride in fighting the corpocracy)?

b) Activities:

Armchair Activist? Street Activist? Activist Elsewhere? Professional Activist?

Percentage Yearly Time Spent on Activism:

Minimal (25% or less)?

Moderate (More than 25%)?

Extensive (50% or more)?

c) Experiences and Degree of Hardship:

Minor (e.g., inconvenience)?

Moderate (e.g., inclement weather, harassment)?

Extensive (e.g., physical confrontation, injury, detainment, trial, prison)?

Anyone higher on the scale for all three categories could be considered in my opinion a supreme patriot who is suffering a lot for that patriotism in its purest sense (i.e. not “my country right or wrong,” but, “my country, please do no wrong”). I should think such a patriot would feel a sense of pride mixed with other feelings.

Second, I will tell you about myself as I see myself. My score for the last few decades would waver between minor and moderate. Except for once participating several years ago in a protest at the local office of a U.S. Representative, all my activism has been from afar, sitting unharmed and comfortable at my computer desk (my family calls it the “cave” where I disappear to grumble and write). That one time was so pathetic it was disgusting. I had responded to an e-mail from the NGO, Move On.org Political Action Team requesting that I join with others in my community to protest outside the local office of said politician who was on recess. A few of us showed up holding signs (I had made my own). He never came out to hear us or talk to us because he was either not there or hiding.1 Never again, I vowed. So instead of weathering more outdoor protests I accelerated my armchair activism of writing out my protests via articles and books.

But therein began my slippery slope into feeling a form of alienation, one from my own nation. I found myself straddling between feeling that I was part of it and at the same time not part of it. I will never choose to be an expatriate, and never choose to alienate myself from my own life by ending it, so I will probably bear this personal conflict and other unhealthy feelings for the indefinite future.

Personal Vignettes and Memoirs

Third, although personal vignettes and memoirs of living activists are hard to find, I do have a few to share with you, starting with these from a few commenters (names withheld) on some of my activist articles:

“If I did not have people like you and them to examine this moment in time, I would go insane! The people I meet, and even my own family appear clueless.”

“I am working hard on staying centered, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally–and trying hard not to add fuel to the fire of hate.”

“I personally feel that we are in a hopeless decline and are sliding down that slippery slope to the destruction of our democracy. There is certainly little left of it now.”

“Many of us feel despair.”

“Gary, I hear your frustration and despair. I too feel it, so I will share my philosophy that keeps me going so far.”

“I also have members of my family that know what I write about and never read any of it.”

“Gary, while I was reading this article I kept thinking of all the loved ones with whom I longed to share it. But this comment stream shows me there are many others like you whose efforts are ignored or despised by the ones we want to help the most.”

“I do the same thing (pass all sorts of information on) and the response is almost non-existent. Heartbreaking.”

And here are excerpts from accounts told by three very active activists:

Lauren Rankin, a feminist activist, freelance writer, and a graduate student in Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University:

If you are involved in social justice activism in any way, you likely know of ‘activist burnout,’ the feeling of sheer mental (and often physical) exhaustion that catches up with you after spouts of perpetual tuned-in-ness. But for activists like me, this burnout is magnified by an ever-present undercurrent of chemical forces beyond our control: my burnout is coupled with my depression and anxiety.2

Lawrence S. Wittner, a tenured professor, book author and longtime agitator against war and social injustice:

On a cold night in mid-January, 1985, the police in Albany, New York, placed me under arrest. It was my first arrest, but not my last. Over the course of my life, I also have been tear-gassed, threatened by police with drawn guns, charged by soldiers with fixed bayonets, spied upon by U.S. government intelligence agencies, and purged from my job for political reasons. More often than not I was a marginal, alienated individual—in short, an outsider.3

David Swanson, a full time professional activist and co-founder of the peace activist organization, World Beyond War. Mr. Swanson lives and breathes for peace. He is the consummate peace activist: He wrote an article about how he became a peace activist. It is informative, at least about him.4 In it he wrote:

I often speak at peace groups and colleges and conferences about working for peace, and I’m often asked how I became a peace activist, and I always politely dodge the question, not because the answer is too long but because it is too short. I’m a peace activist because mass-murder is horrible. What the hell do you mean why am I a peace activist?

I can’t tell from his article when he became an ardent peace activist, but it may have been when he was an older teenager, as he writes this:

We once had a guest visit us from out-of-town who wanted especially to visit the Naval Academy at Annapolis. So, we took him, and he loved it. The mast of the U.S.S. Maine stood proudly as a monument to war propaganda, though I had no idea what it was. I just knew that I was visiting a beautiful, happy place where great resources were put into training people to engage in mass-murder. I became physically ill and had to lie down.

By their very nature personal vignettes and memoirs such as the foregoing are subjective as reported in each by a single subject. At best they give us insight about the person. They can’t lead to generalizations about what being an activist really is. For generalizations we need to rely on research findings.

Research Findings

Fourth, I will share with you the findings from one research study. Research studies are as hard to come by as are personal vignettes and memoirs. But the one I am summarizing is as good a study as the subject would intrinsically allow.

The study was conducted by two researchers at the George Mason University.5 Using a well-designed interview protocol and a rigorous analytical procedure they interviewed a sample of 22 very active activists. While the study’s focus was on activist burnout, it also uncovered other effects of activism on the activists. These related effects included exhaustion, cynicism; inefficacy, hopelessness, disbelief, selflessness, and deterioration of physical, psychological and emotional health. In short, these 22 activists were paying a heavy personal cost for their activism.

Conclusion

Since America’s social injustice and wars of aggression continue unabated, being an activist protesting those conditions continues to be a futile effort, and thus burnout and all the other conditions of being a social justice and peace activist are to be expected and are found with perhaps a few rare exceptions. One exception, I think, is personified by David Swanson. I can’t imagine a more upbeat activist than him. He has a very healthy perspective, viz, “People ask me how I keep going, how I stay cheerful, why I don’t quit. That one is pretty easy, and I don’t usually dodge it. I work for peace because we sometimes win and sometimes lose but have a responsibility to try, try, try, and because trying is far more enjoyable and fulfilling than anything else.”6

Oh, how I wish I were as young as David Swanson and as cheerful and optimistic about my activism.

In Closing Twice

Once because I am closing this article. Twice because I am not like a young David Swanson and unless I recant, I am closing my chapter of life on writing about such depressing subjects and will try my hand at writing an uplifting children’s book (David Swanson says he once wrote one).

  1. Brumback, GB. “Stop Warfare, Not Medicare: A Pathetic Personal Experience but Still Undaunted”. OpEdNews, July 10, 2011.
  2. Rankin, L. “When Activist Burnout Meets Anxiety and Depression.” Speak Out, July 01, 2013.
  3. Wittner, L. “Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual” (Legacies of War), March 20, 2012.
  4. Swanson, D. How I Became a Peace Activist. OpEdNews, December 4, 2017.
  5. Weixiachen, C. and Gorski, PC. “Burnout in Social Justice and Human Rights Activists: Symptoms, Causes and Implications.” Journal of Human Rights, September 27, 2015, pp. 1-25.
  6. Swanson, op. cit.

The Responsibility to Protect the World from the United States

One of the most ingenious propaganda weapons ever developed is that the powerful nations of the West—led by the United States—have a moral responsibility to use military force to protect the rights of people being repressed by their governments. This “responsibility to protect” (R2P) always had a dubious legal standing, but its moral justification also required a psychological and historical disengagement from the bloody reality of the 500-hundred-year history of U.S. and European colonialism, slavery, genocide and torture that created the “West.”

This violent, lawless Pan-European colonial/capitalist project continues today under the hegemony of the U.S. empire. This then begs the questions of who really needs the protection and who protects the peoples of the world from the United States and its allies? The only logical, principled and strategic response to this question is citizens of the empire must reject their imperial privileges and join in opposing ruling elites exploiting labor and plundering the Earth. To do that, however, requires breaking with the intoxicating allure of cross-class, bi-partisan “white identity politics.”

Neocons like William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Pearl were the driving forces in pushing for the war in Iraq. They understood if they wanted to sell war, “Americans” needed to believe the conflict was about values, not interests. The neocons dusted off and put a new face on that old rationalization for colonialism—the white man’s burden. Interventions were to bring democracy and freedom to those people who were struggling to be just like their more advanced models in the white West. Liberal interventionists further developed those ideas into “humanitarian interventionism” and the “responsibility to protect.”

The fact that the United States and Europe can wrap themselves in the flag of morality, practice savior politics and get away with it is a testament to the enduring psychopathology of white supremacist ideology.

The most extreme expressions of this cognitive dissonance occurred during the Obama administration, when the notion of U.S. exceptionalism was used to justify continuing the barbarism of the Bush administration’s so-called War on Terror. With this justification and the outrageous assertion that it was defending democracy, the U.S./EU/NATO axis of domination committed crimes against humanity and war crimes that resulted in the deaths of millions, while millions more were displaced and ancient cities, nations and peoples were destroyed.

The result? International Gallup and Pew research polls have consistently shown the peoples of the world consider the United States the greatest threat to world peace on the planet.

National Security Strategy Under Trump: More of the Same

When the Trump administration released its National Security Strategy, Liberal pundits suggested it was significantly different than any previous U.S. strategy.. But beyond some specific references to putting “America” and its citizens first in relationship to the economy, and the reactionary stances of tightening border security and enforcing strict immigration policies, Trump’s strategy did not stray much from the post-Cold War strategy of the preceding years.

The difference that did exist was more in style than substance. The Trump administration completely dispensed with all pretexts used by previous administrations. Even domestic law, like the War Powers Act that was ignored by the Obama administration, continues to be of no concern for the new Trump administration. Now it is Trump’s “America first” with no concern for international law or accepted standards of behavior.

Unchecked by the countervailing power of the Soviet Union, the bi-partisan National Security Strategy produced in the 1990s that committed the U.S. state to pursue policies that would ensure continued U.S. economic, political and military hegemony through the 21st century—the “new American century”—is still the overall strategic objective of this administration.

Even explicitly naming China and Russia as “competition” that threatens to harm the country’s security was not that much of a departure since the centerpiece of U.S policy has been checking any state that challenged U.S. power in any region. The Trump administration named threats to U.S. interests—North Korea in Asia, Russia in Eurasia, Iran in West Asia, with jihadist groups included in case the United States needed a War on Terror (WOT) justification for U.S. interventions anywhere in the world.

While Neocons and liberal interventionists in previous administrations sugarcoated U.S. geo-strategic objectives to mask hegemony, the Trump rhetoric is crude, direct and unambiguously aggressive. Protecting U.S. interests in the 21st century means relying on military aggression, war and subversion.

Building the U.S. anti-war movement as the responsibility to protect from Empire

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated the obvious: the United States was the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. He also said the public allowing this violence would lead to a kind of national spiritual death that would continue to make the U.S. state a danger to the world.

That spiritual death has not quite happened completely. Yet accepting the “inevitability” of violence and the necessity for waging war is now more deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness of individuals in the United States than it was 50 years ago when King warned of the deep malady of U.S. society. For most of the 21st century, the United States has been at war. Culturally, mass shootings, the wars on drugs and terror, violence and war as entertainment, livestreamed videos of horrendous police-executed murders as well as of a head of state being sodomized with a knife have resulted in what Henry Giroux refers to as a “culture of cruelty”.

But the very fact that the authorities need to lie to the people with fairy tales of the responsibility to protect in order to give moral coverage for the waging of war is an acknowledgement that they understand that there is enough humanity left with the public that it would reject U.S. warmongering if it was only seen as advancing narrow national interests.

It is this remaining moral core—and the objective interests of the clear majority of the people to be in opposition to war—that provides the foundation for reviving the modern anti-war movement.

Baltimore was the site of the rebellion in response to Freddie Gray’s murder by the domestic military we refer to as “the police.” There, a couple of hundred activists will convene January 12 to kick off a new campaign to close all U.S. foreign bases. This gathering is the result of a new coalition of forces—both old and new—to revive the U.S. anti-war movement. This conference comes on the heels of another meeting that took place just a few months ago in Washington, D.C., where some of the same forces came together to kick-off a campaign to “divest from the war machine.”

Strategically these efforts are designed to be the first steps toward building the confidence, institutional strength and programmatic focus of a new, reinvigorated, broad-based, anti-war, pro-peace and anti-imperialist movement in the United States. We are opposing the warmongering both corporate political parties have normalized.

The difficulties and challenges of this endeavor are not lost on the various organizations, networks and coalitions that are part of these efforts. We all recognize that there are no shortcuts to the delicate reconstructing of our existing forces and the challenge of expanding those forces by bringing in new formations. The ideological and political differences that have surfaced among left and progressive forces around issues of war and imperialism make it more challenging.

But the imperative of expressing solidarity with the victims of U.S. warmongering must take precedence over our differences and should serve as a basis for building political unity.

Solidarity, however, is not enough for those of us in the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP). We recognize its importance as a baseline principle for (re)-building a broad anti-war movement. Our common interests with other oppressed peoples, nations and states that find themselves in the cross-hairs of U.S. imperialism demands we offer more than solidarity—we must stand as allies.

Those of us building the Black Alliance for Peace understand we cannot afford the comforting myths of U.S. benevolence that attempts to conceal the naked deployment of U.S. state power in service of Western capitalist/colonialist interests. And so, we view with suspicion, if not treat with disdain, our comrades who support U.S. interventions, even when they frame that support with “leftist” justifications. For oppressed nations and peoples of the world, the U.S. white supremacist, colonial/capitalist patriarchy is and remains the principle contradiction. There must not be any nationalist sentimentality or equivocation on that position.

We saw how the anti-war opposition that emerged during the Bush years in opposition to lawless state-sanctioned violence, dissolved during the Obama administration. Liberals and major elements of the “left” objectively aligned themselves with the U.S./EU/NATO axis of domination through their silence or outright support in the name of opposing authoritarian regimes.

The consequence of that class collaboration is the spectrum of war has today become a permanent feature of policy discourse. The obscene $80 billion increase in military spending that was supported by both parties and the corporate media reflects that collaboration and the corrosive impact of almost two decades of militarism on the politics and consciousness of the public.

So, for BAP, the historic task is clear.

The people must be separated from the capitalist oligarchy and the nature of the state must be exposed. Our politics must be clear and our rhetoric devoid of liberal ambiguities. We must expose the underlying capitalist-class interests that are masked by appeals to national interests and patriotism. The anti-war movement must advance a clear understanding of the economic and class interests that are at root of imperialist strategies and great power conflicts. We must assert without equivocation the position that we can’t get rid of the scourge of war without getting rid of racism and capitalism and that the people should reject all calls to protect the national interests promoted by the ruling elites.

We must say if the rulers want war, let them fight it themselves!

The anti-war and anti-imperialist position must be seen as the highest expression of internationalism and global solidarity. Activists in the United States must reject all efforts to pink-wash militarism and recognize their moral obligation—as citizens of empire—to oppose all U.S. military interventions. We must take the position that we will no longer allow chicken hawk politicians to send our sons and daughters off to other lands, where they become war criminals fighting other working-class and poor people who only want social justice, national sovereignty and self-determination for themselves.
The permanent war agenda of the capitalist dictatorship must be met with permanent opposition from the working class and all oppressed people. The people must understand the link between the racialized justifications for making war abroad with the intensification of the war being waged against Black and Brown communities in the United States

We say to progressives that you can’t pretend that you believe “Black Lives Matter” in the United States and not be opposed to the assault on the humanity of Palestinians, of Yemenis, of the millions lost in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, of the destruction of Libya and of coups in Honduras and destabilization in Venezuela.

Reject the racist 21st century version of the white man’s burden with its absurd notion of humanitarian war and the responsibility to protect and understand that the real threat to world peace is the empire that we are all a part of.

Our task is clear: the anti-war position is not an add-on. It is a fundamental moral and political obligation for the citizens of empire. The world can no longer wait.