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Get Up, Stand Up!

by Robert Jensen Friday, Feb. 07, 2003 at 5:34 PM

To take the side of the empire is to give into our fear, to cast our lot with the past. To resist the empire is to grab onto hope, to cast our lot with the future. It is literally a choice of empire and death or resistance and life.. R.Jenson is a journalism prof in Austin,Tex

Get Up, Stand Up

by Robert Jensen

Last week at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, I talked

with dozens of people from around the world. I learned a lot about the

struggles for justice in their countries, but the most important lesson

I brought home was about my own country.

The question I thought people at the Forum would ask me is, "Why does

the U.S. government follow such brutal policies of economic and military

domination around the world?" I thought they would want me to explain

the United States to them. But they didn't -- because, I came to

realize, they already knew the answer to the question.

In one session I listened to a man who works with the MST, the landless

movement in Brazil that is widely considered to be the biggest and most

important social movement in the world today. He told us that the people

he works with often are lucky if they get a fourth-grade education; many

are illiterate. "But I don't have to tell them about imperialism," he

said. That they understand. They live with it.

The question that people in Porto Alegre did ask me was simple: What are

people of conscience in the United States -- what am I -- doing to stop

the U.S. government, especially in its mad drive to war in Iraq?

Those of us organizing in the United States are in a strange situation.

Our task is to work to educate the people of our own privileged and

affluent culture about what the rest of the world already knows: The

United States is an empire, and -- as has been the case throughout

history -- empires are a threat to peace and life and justice in the

world. There is no such thing as a benevolent empire.

It is crucial that we in the United States who have so much unearned

privilege that comes with living in the empire face their question: What

are we willing to do to stop our government? What are those of us in the

heart of the beast doing to tame that beast?

The United States is preparing for a war in Iraq that virtually the

entire world opposes. No matter how brutal the regime of Saddam Hussein,

the world understands that even more threatening is the empire unleashed

and unrestrained.

The cynical among us say that it is clear that Bush and his boys want

this war, and that the war will come. That may be true; there's no way

to see the future. But I know that no matter what will come, our task is


We are the first citizens of the empire. In the past, empires had

subjects. But we are truly citizens, with freedom of expression and

rights of political participation that aren't perfect but are real. With

those freedoms comes a responsibility, to use them to stop our

government from pursuing a war that will kill and destroy innocents

while further entrenching U.S. power in the Middle East and U.S. control

over the strategically crucial oil resources there.

We have a choice. We can hide from our responsibility. Or we can stand

up, speak up, organize, and join the people of the world in movements to

challenge the powerful, to resist the empire.

It may seem safer to avoid that choice, to hide from that

responsibility. But I learned one other thing in Porto Alegre: The

people of the world do not accept the American empire. All over the

world there are movements for social justice that are strengthening,

gathering support and challenging power. They are the future. History is

not on the side of the empire.

To take the side of the empire is to give into our fear, to cast our lot

with the past. To resist the empire is to grab onto hope, to cast our

lot with the future. It is literally a choice of empire and death, or

resistance and life. This is not about liberals v. conservatives or

Republicans and Democrats; both parties are on the wrong side of this

struggle right now. This is about a far more fundamental choice.

There is much work to be done on many fronts. One thing we can all do is

come out on Saturday, Feb. 15, when people in New York City, Austin and

around the world will rally to oppose the U.S. drive to war. Information

is available at

If you doubt the importance of this, think back to September 11, 2001.

On that day, we got a glimpse of what it will look like if the empire is

dismantled from the outside, if the empire continues to ignore the

world. But we have a choice. We, the first citizens of the empire, can

commit to dismantling the empire from within, peacefully and

non-violently, in solidarity with those around the world struggling for


Let me leave you with one image from Porto Alegre, from the floor of the

arena in which the closing ceremonies took place. As the conveners of

the World Social Forum delivered a final declaration and stood on stage,

the sounds of John Lennon's "Imagine" came over the loudspeakers, and

the 15,000 people in the arena stood, held hands, moved with the music

and sang of a world with no countries, a world living life in peace, a

world without possessions and greed.

When the song was over, I turned to an older man sitting next to me. I

had told him I was from the United States and we had exchanged nods and

smiles throughout the event, but he spoke little English and I spoke

even less Portuguese. At that moment, language mattered little. I

extended my hand to him. But he rejected it.

Instead, he reached out, grabbed me and enveloped me in a hug as big as

that song, as big as Brazil, as big as the world.

"Peace," he said. "Paz," I replied.

We are Americans, but if we choose to resist we are not the American

empire. And if we do resist, there is a world we can join, a world that

is waiting for us.

Perhaps I am investing too much symbolism in one simple hug. But that

moment with that man, that hug in Porto Alegre, was for me the promise

of life outside the empire. It was the feel of a future that we can all

imagine. It is easy, if we try.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at

Austin, a member of the Nowar Collective and

author of "Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the

Mainstream." He can be reached at


Norman Solomon

Target Iraq: What the

News Media Don't Tell Us

1) Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book is about? What is it

trying to communicate?

The book is primarily an assessment of key lies and omissions in the

U.S. government's push toward war on Iraq. The subtitle -- "What the

news media didn't tell you" -- may be overly ambitious, since it would

take many books to cover all such relevant ground. But this book, which

I co-wrote with foreign correspondent Reese Erlich, focuses on central

aspects of the propaganda campaign that gradually made it possible for

the Bush II administration to be able to unleash a huge murderous

assault on people in Iraq. The book is trying to communicate that the

Bush team's media blitz in the United States was fueled by selective

(mis)information, and that the mainstream U.S. media generally

participated in the manipulation. Along the way, "Target Iraq" focuses

on the pivotal role of Colin Powell, who was praised in the fall of 2002

by many people who should have known better. Overall, the war on Iraq

has been made possible by pervasive mendacity from Washington and by

go-along-to-get-along reflexes in major media. To put the consequences

in human context, the book includes descriptions of what Reese and I saw

and heard during our visits to Iraq in late 2002.

2) Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the

content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

Reese Erlich and I traveled to Iraq together in September 2002. There

were official meetings with Tariq Aziz and other high-ranking Iraqi

functionaries, visits to a children's hospital and more informal

gatherings. Reese traveled elsewhere in Iraq -- he's a very thorough

journalist and keeps asking questions everywhere he goes -- and in the

book he does a lot of original reporting on the effects of sanctions,

the grim aftermath of the Pentagon's use of depleted uranium during the

Gulf War in 1991, and attitudes among "ordinary" Iraqi people out of

earshot of Saddam Hussein's regime. I returned to Baghdad in December

2002, traveling with Sean Penn, and incorporated information and

experiences from that visit into the book just before it went to

press.The book includes a lot of content analysis of the U.S. media spin

during the crucial pre-war months -- in counterpoint to other available

information and the firsthand knowledge that we gained while visiting


3) What are your hopes for "Target Iraq"? What do you hope it will

contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you

have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave

you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if

it was worth all the time and effort?

I hope the book provides intellectual and emotional support for stopping

the U.S. war on Iraq. We need to build an extremely strong antiwar

movement in a very short time. I think the "Target Iraq" book can

combine with other work, being done by many people, to help create

massive nonviolent resistance to Washington's war machine. Nothing would

please me more than seeing the book used as a tool to impede and stop

the Pentagon's activities of mass murder ordered by President George W.

Bush. The book was written in the spirit of a quote that appears in the

first chapter, from Albert Camus: "And henceforth, the only honorable

course will be to stake everything on a formidable gamble: that words

are more powerful than munitions."


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