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by Rick Giombetti
Monday, Sep. 17, 2001 at 3:43 AM
What good is a Bill of Rights when influential organizations aren't willing to stand up for their constitutional rights during a time of crisis and danger.
The AFL-CIO, International Rivers Network, Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club, the Rukus Society and Friends of the Earth are among the many liberal organizations that have announced that they are canceling protests and even suspending entire campaigns because of the September 11 terror attacks. It's bad enough that the mass media is leading the drum beat for war and the public towards a deadly embrace with fascism in the wake of the tragic attacks. Now much of the left is engaging in what amounts to unilateral disarmament at a time when the Bill of Rights needs as many defenders as possible. There is much justified fear about a suspension of constitutional rights and marshal law. But what government needs to ban demonstrations if there isn't anybody willing to hold them?
Perhaps the most disturbing example of this is an internal Sierra Club memo circulated among the organization's leadership and staff secured by the D.C. political newsletter Counter Punch. The memo explains that "in response to the attacks on America we are shifting our communications strategy for the immediate future. We have taken all of our ads off the air; halted our phone banks; removed any material from the web that people could perceive as anti-Bush, and we are taking other steps to prevent the Sierra Club from being perceived as controversial during the crisis. For now we are going to stop aggressively pursuing our agenda and will cease bashing Bush."
Imagine if Martin Luther King had spouted similar tripe in his "Beyond Vietnam" speech. In that great speech given a year-to-the-day before he was assassinated on April 4, 1967, King denounced the U.S. war against Vietnam and called the U.S. government the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. How forgetful that speech would have been had King urged advocates for social justice to not say anything "too controversial" about the Vietnam War and not to say anything that could be perceived by people as being "anti-Johnson." King's sentiments weren't popular among much of the general public but he wouldn't be remembered as the great activist he was if he didn't have the courage to express his convictions.
Among the groups canceling its participation in the upcoming IMF/World Bank demonstrations is Friends of the Earth. FoE President Brent Blackwelder wrote in a message to the organization's board and membership that "it is also time for us to not lose heart, nor to set aside our steadfast commitment to protecting the planet in every way possible." He then justifies FoE's pullout from the IMF/World Bank demonstration by stating that it is "out of respect for those who lost their lives and out of concern for the safety of protesters, we have chosen to demonstrate our commitment to peace and justice by not demonstrating."
Now let me get this straight. According to FoE's reasoning those demonstrators who do show up in DC on September 29 will be engaging in violence instead of expressing their own commitments to peace and justice. FoE's reasoning for pulling out of the IMF/World Bank demonstrations is in harmony with the FBI's classification of Reclaim The Streets! as a "terrorist" organization. RTS! is a movement that advocates holding unpermitted block parties in urban areas. Yes, with an army of DJ's armed with an arsenal of CD's and LP's, RTS! will be terrorizing an urban area near you. WHAT ABSOLUTE NONSENSE! Is a lobotomy a requirement for becoming a leader of a liberal organization!? David Brower must be rolling over in his grave right now!
A more honest, and reasonable, explanation for pulling out of the IMF/World Bank demonstrations would be to explicitly state fear of police violence. Blackwelder never once mentions this possibility in his message, leaving the impression that it is protesters, not police, who would be the cause of violence if they were to show up and demonstrate. The only thing he needed to write was something like "we're afraid the police are going to shoot demonstrators." That would be a fair enough reason for not wanting to hold a protest. Instead he wrote a confusing sentence that reads like it is comparing holding a peaceful demonstration with blowing up a building. And I'm really tired of hearing "we're canceling our demonstration out of respect for those who lost their lives." Yeah, what a fine way to honor the September 11 victims. Let's unilaterally give up our constitutional rights and join the flag waivers at the Sierra Club in helping the war makers usher in fascism.
The great environmental warrior David Brower would certainly not be expressing the above mentioned nonsense and he most likely would be endorsing the International Action Center's (IAC) call for an anti-war rally at the White House on September 29 instead of the planned anti-IMF/World Bank rally. Holding an anti-war rally on S29 would be a bold and potentially hazardous action. Such a demonstration could be met with both police and counter-demonstrator violence.
However, with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell blaming the ACLU, People for the American Way, gays, lesbians, atheists, pagans, feminists and abortion doctors for the terror attacks and pogroms against Arabs and/or Muslims underway, now is not the time to back down from defending the Bill of Rights. There is no better time to stand up for principles than when they are deeply unpopular. If anti-Vietnam war protesters had postponed demonstrations until it was convenient and safe to hold them, then that movement would have never gotten off the ground. Also, and most importantly, by not pulling out of a planned and already permitted demonstration, the IAC will force the government to try to cancel it. This way an organization like the ACLU can make an issue out of the demonstration being canceled in court. This can't happen though if individuals or organizations are insisting on not upholding their constitutional rights. Even if a march doesn't happen, organizing for one right now is far better than the unilateral
disarmament the above mentioned liberal organizations are engaging in.
Let's not let the September 11 terror attacks be remembered as an American Reichstag Fire. Here in Seattle the Church Council of Greater Seattle is organizing to protect mosques from violent attacks. An attempted arson against a Seattle mosque has already been reported. Meanwhile, Seattle peace activists are considering holding demonstrations and teach-ins in as little as a week. They should follow through on these plans. Staying at home and not demonstrating isn't going to prevent fascism.
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