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Friday, March 21, 2003

I have been thinking about

I have been thinking about what to do in the face of this senseless war. I am torn. I feel guilty that my life is going on as usual. I worked at home yesterday, called in to a conference, made dinner plans with friends, read a bit, all the while with CNN in the background showing the bombing of Iraq as if it were a video game. Life went on as usual, and that drove me nuts!

On the other hand, I saw the demonstrators wreaked havoc on the streets of San Francisco and I wondered. What is it all for? A while back I listened to someone on NPR making an argument that all the anti-war protests of the Vietnam era played right into Nixon's hands, assuring him a second term by scaring middle-America into voting for law and order and, by extension, Nixon.

Is that what we are doing by protesting? Playing into the hands of Bush, Ashcroft, and co. by enabling the passage of the Draconian "Homeland Security Act" or perhaps far worse things to come?

I went to the first large scale protest in San Francisco in Jaunary, having returned recently from the frightfully anti-American Europe. I did it mainly to show the world that not all of us in America supported Bush. I was a bit unnerved by the multiplicity of "causes" displayed there. Some had signs demanding "Free Mumia", others had more menacing anti-Semitic tones. I was there to show my opposition to this senseless war, not in support of these other "causes".

I was ambivalent about the second protest in February, especially after Rabbi Michael Lerner had been banned from speaking at the rally by the pro-Palestinian A.N.S.W.E.R., one of the main organizers of the event. In this case fate made the decision for me, by conveniently spraining my ankle the day before, thereby saving me from some serious soul searching.

The question still plaques me today, however. What am I to do?

Then I read Justin Raimondo's This Isn't About You, and Timothy Burke's blog Put Away Your Puppets.

They both made an argument that protesting, particularly the one calling for us to Shut down the war machine is but a misguided attempt by self-righteous individuals to assure themselves that they are right and good.

Justin argues "...all the plans for direct action that involve "no business as usual" gimmicks like blocking traffic, chaining oneself to fences and the like are pure, unadulterated narcissism. They're about anointing yourself a virtuous, righteous person and performing your virtue on the public stage. You want that, come by my office and I'll give you a little "I'm a Good Person Because I'm Against the War" badge to pin on your shirt and I'll applaud you every time I see you walk by..."

I can't be completely honest with myself and still say that what Justin said is completely untrue. I am a free-thinking liberal. I believe myself to be, mostly, good. I oppose this needless atrocity being waged in our name. I need to do something about it.

Then I heard my self thinking. Damn. He's got a point. There were so many I this, I that in all my thoughts. And I call myself a Buddhist. Dammit! This was just like reading Nick Hornby's How to be Good and facing what it was like if someone actually called the bluff on all your ideals.

Timothy Burke's blog Put Away Your Puppets offered up circumspect suggestions about what to do now.

He argued that we could not prevent this war "..You can only prepare to exact a political price from the people who led us so poorly to this point, and to do that, you need to make the war a bigger issue than the antiwar...."

"...If you really care about opposing the war, you need to put your own selfish needs to proclaim your virtuousness aside and keep your eyes on the prize. Large public gatherings that are respectful, quiet and rhetorically modest would be a good thing, sure, but for the moment, little more than that...."

"...more importantly, if something dire happens involving chemical weapons or terrorism it means that an antiwar movement is going to have to be generous in conceding some of its own faults and errors, because it's going to mean that Bush had some legitimate reasons to go to war. At that point, we would need to make it clear that the issue is not war itself, but the incompetence of the way the run-up to war was handled, and the lack of vision about how to handle its aftermath. If antiwar activists spend that first week chaining themselves to fences and burning American flags, they will have already lost the antiwar struggle should at least some of Bush's reasoning be vindicated by the course of events...."

He's got some really good points, hasn't he? Since this was the best argument I'd seen so far, I settle for now here.

As for my own self-righteousness, no worries, I found a simple way of maintaining it by donating some money to UNHCR. There, *I* did something.

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