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by Sunsara Taylor
Wednesday, Sep. 10, 2008 at 1:08 PM
Sunday, August 24, at the Cleo Parker Robinson Theater in Denver, 300 people gathered to hear speeches by prominent representatives of the movements against the war, repression, and torture of the Bush regime. The following is an edited transcript of a talk given by Sunsara Taylor at this Evening of Conscience.
I want to start by giving everyone who came out and protested today a shout out. People had to go up against a lot and this needs to be appreciated. There was the “freedom cages” with barbed wire that the police built for the protesters, the storm troopers in the streets, there was all the media hype about protesters being dangerous. And then there is all the Obama hype (the Obama “hope”) that is being built up and that people are being sucked into. To go out in the face of that and to stand true to principle, against the war, against theocracy, against everything this Bush program has brought, and everything that Obama is not challenging, is very courageous and very heroic and very precious.
At the same time, our numbers were smaller than they need to be, than they should have been and than many of us were hoping they’d be. I want to talk bluntly and honestly about this and what we should make of this. I write for Revolution newspaper and this is something I’ve been writing about. I did an article recently, “The Dangerous Logic of Blocking Protests in the Name of Getting Obama Elected.” This has been going on. People maybe have heard some of the groups talk about having an “inside/outside strategy.” As World Can’t Wait was working to help build these protests we talked to a lot of people who said, “Oh yeah, we’re glad you’re organizing street protests against a new war on Iran, against the war in Iraq. We’ll be there too—and we’ll be doing our inside strategy.” That is, trying to influence the Democratic Party from within the convention and by appealing to delegates.
But in reality what’s been happening is that a lot of these so-called “anti-war” groups and “anti-war” leaders have been demobilizing protest. They have been working on their “inside strategy” but they have done nothing to mobilize protests out in the streets to oppose this direction that can be seen by the world.
I know Recreate ’68 had to go up against this. I’m going to be really blunt because it matters. United for Peace and Justice, Leslie Cagan, she said maybe we should call off the protest today and advocated instead that we should mingle with the delegates. I’m all for going and talking to delegates…in order to get them to join us in the streets, okay? But Code Pink, Progressive Democrats of America, where were they today?
A lot of people are deeply angered and are getting disaffected with Barack Obama. Why? Like Jeremy [Scahill] just said, Obama is not an anti-war candidate. He wants to send ten thousand more troops to Afghanistan. He threatened nuclear weapons against Iran repeatedly. He threatened to go unilaterally into Pakistan. That’s not an anti-war candidate. He voted for Bush’s FISA bill to legalize massive spying on the American population and render retroactive immunity to everybody who broke the law in the Bush administration and in the telecom industry so that people will never know how far that crime went. This is a man who has come out and said that he wants to expand Bush’s Faith-Based programs. We have a move toward theocracy in this country, and he wants to expand the Faith-Based program. We have a fascist assault on women’s reproductive rights—the right to abortion, the right to birth control—and he’s saying what? “We have to reduce abortions. We have to seek common ground.” He’s featuring Bob Casey, a fanatical anti-abortion candidate, to speak at the DNC. These are the reasons people are growing disaffected with Barack Obama. Frankly it’s a good thing, but it’s not enough.
I want to say something else, because this has had a real impact. We have to confront this. The Nation came out with an open letter to Barack Obama. And a lot of very courageous people who have rightfully earned the respect of the people for their stands against the war and the Bush program signed this letter and this was a mistake and it’s done harm. This letter says, among other things, that there are many, many people who gave grown alienated from politics-as-usual who have found hope again in Barack Obama, and the letter casts this as a good thing. This is not a good thing. People are right to get disaffected. The question is not how do we get people to believe and how do we use our anti-war credentials to make Barack Obama more palatable. The question is, how do we go out to people and tell them the truth about what it’s really going to take to stop all the things that made them alienated in the first place.
Including the fact that Obama is not going to stop this program. Sure, he’s different in some flavors or varieties than McCain. I’m not contesting that. But those differences are about how to run an empire, that’s what he’s auditioning to do. And it’s time for people to confront this reality. We do not bridge this gap by going with the grain, appealing to the false hope that he’s capturing people in. We deal with this by going against the grain, by telling people the truth that they need to hear: that Obama doesn’t represent the change you need, he represents the change that the system will allow you to believe in.
We have to be out there in the streets. This is why I think it’s so important what people did today and why we need to persevere in this. There is nobody up in the halls of power listening. There is no referee up there. There is nobody saying, “What does the public really want; let me give that expression.” This is the dictatorship of a ruling class of a capitalist system. And the only people who are going to stop this program are people who are going to go in the face of that, who are going to work outside of official politics, who are going to go outside of the mainstream, who are going to go into the streets, who are going to shut down their campuses, who are going to blow the whistle in defiance of the halls of power, who are going to risk all the things they are bringing down on journalists now who report the truth, who are going to pass resolutions in their professional organizations that they won’t participate in torture, that they won’t go along with spying and covering up—people who are going to risk something.
I know a lot of people got demoralized. They think protest doesn’t work, that maybe this is unrealistic. But look, there is nothing less realistic than thinking that somebody in one of these two parties or in this whole framework is going to listen.
It is on us.
Yes, this is harder. It is riskier. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to confront this. But, frankly, it’s uncomfortable to have your home raided, to have your sons dragged out in Iraq, to have them rounded up and disappeared, to have five million people displaced. Nobody asked them, O.K.? Nobody asked the people in New Orleans if they were going to be displaced while they are standing on rooftops and George Bush is making jokes. And they take troops off on rescue missions and send them in with orders to shoot to kill. That’s what this government did.
And if you want this to stop, you have to take it upon yourself, we have to take it upon ourselves, and, yes, there is risk involved.
But if you look back in history and you look at what happened in Nazi Germany, how people went along with one outrage after another and they got cowed and intimidated. Pastor Martin Niemoeller came out after that. He’s the one who said, “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up… Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up… and by the time they came for me there was no one left.” That’s his most famous quote and I think it’s very relevant now. But he also said something else which I think is worth upholding. He said, look, if we had stood up when it was still early enough, while we still had our convictions, while we still had the ability to do so, perhaps 30,000 people would have been rounded up or killed, but think about what we would have stopped.
I’m not going to prettify this. We are in the belly of an empire. It is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. They have legalized torture and both parties, the whole system, is involved in that. History is going to judge us by how we act.
If your allegiance to the Democratic Party is bigger than your allegiance to the people of the world then you have foreclosed your right to call yourself an “anti-war leader.” [applause]
I really want to say this because I know it can be demoralizing. We can hype ourselves and say, “Oh, we were really militant out there...” And we were and it was righteous. But I don’t want to hype us. We are smaller than we need to be. But here, right now, it matters a lot if we get demoralized or if we get firmer in our conviction. The fact that we are smaller means that there is more responsibility on our shoulders. We are still right and there are still tens of millions of people in this country who do not want to live in a new Rome, who do not want to live in a torture state. They may be deluded right now by Barack Obama, by the illusion that they are going to get change through this election. And this may be being facilitated by a huge section—and it’s an embarrassment—of the anti-war movement and the so-called pro-choice movement and you name it. This may be being facilitated but those people are disaffected and the reality will assert itself whether Barack becomes president and escalates this war, whether McCain becomes president and people feel that their hopes were dashed, there are going to be people looking to what comes next. And they are either going to get demoralized and paralyzed—or they will get radicalized and active. And the difference between the two depends disproportionately on what we are doing now. Whether we tone it down and half-step on the truth of things, or whether we’re going in the face of people’s illusions and telling the truth about what it’s really going to take, the kind of struggle and sacrifice, and yes, upheaval, it takes to change the course of history.
I really want to encourage people to not lose our bearings. This is a time for strategic nerve, for bold truth-telling, for going out to the people in a mass way, not being intimidated or disoriented by all the hype that’s going on for Obama, or by our small numbers.
This is a time to get more radical.
I want to talk about this for just a minute. They try and scare people when they talk about radicals—"Oh the radicals…" Radical just means getting to the root. It means you’re not just dealing with the symptoms any more, you’re dealing with the root of the problem. I think it says something about American culture that they try and scare you with the idea of being radical. That’s a problem. [Applause]
It’s not just this election and it’s not just these candidates, although it is, and this is a historic moment. Elections in this country—we live in a capitalist society—and elections are controlled by the bourgeoisie, by the rulers. They are not the means through which decisions are made. That’s why they give you two options to continue the war. Elections are not how decisions get made. They are primarily for the purpose of channeling people’s political energies, confining them, and running them into the ground. And they are a way that whoever becomes president is able to claim a mantle of legitimacy, of a popular mandate, so when they do their crimes people think, “Oh, maybe I’m the only one, everybody else supported them.” It’s a way to confuse people. It’s a trap. It’s a bamboozlement. And it’s time to get very radical and look at how it’s rooted in a system and we actually need a different system. We need a different world. We need a revolution. [Applause]
A lot of people say, “You guys criticize and criticize but what would you do instead?” I’m a supporter of the Revolutionary Communist Party and I am very proud to say that the Revolutionary Communist Party just published its new Constitution. We communists don’t just want to criticize. We want state power. We know we could run things far better if we had state power in our hands. I invite people to get your hands on this and engage this. We need a radical solution. We need a new world. We need socialism. We need communism. And if we had state power there would not be imperialist wars. There would not be an epidemic of police murder—twelve men shot in four weeks by the Chicago P.D., not to mention Sean Bell, Amadou, the names and the tears and the outrage goes on and on. To be a young Black man in this country in 2008 is to have a target on your back. How much longer is this going to go on? If we had state power, that’s over. No longer a situation where half of humanity, women, are terrorized walking down the street and the most dangerous place in their lives is in their own homes. A quarter of women will be raped during their lives. This is a sick system and we need a different world. [Applause]
We need a whole different culture. Think about the energy, the creativity, the audacity that young people get into and they endlessly come up with new cultural expressions and then how—because of this system and the culture it gives rise to—all this gets twisted into new ways to degrade women or get over on somebody else. It doesn’t have to be this way. If people could live differently, and I think you see this all the time, bursting up against the constraints of this system. You see it in the songs that don’t get played on the radio. And you see it in the people trying to become teachers in the inner cities. You see people trying to become doctors to spread HIV medication around the world. But they’re up against the fact that the system is bigger and the problem is bigger. But if you had revolutionary state power all of that could be given the backing of the state. It could be unleashed. People could live a different way.
Or think of what it means that in the face of massive intimidation, of all the repression and the legalization of torture and all this “watch what you say” that’s coming down, that people go out in the face of this anyway, not just for their own narrow self interest, but because they care about the lives of people in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Iran, in Palestine. People they have never met. That’s a sentiment that a lot of people share, deep in their hearts, and we can bring to the surface and if we had state power, you would not be caged for giving that expression. That would be given the backing of the state. We would open the airwaves to dissent and debate.
The world could be radically different and it’s time we start talking about real change, fundamental change, radical change. We’re doing a program on Wednesday night at the Unitarian Church at 7 pm on the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party. I invite everybody to come out to it and engage in this discussion and to talk about how we’re going to really bring about a different world. And for people, whether you’re ready to get with that, to debate that, or if you’re not ready for that, we are going to be in the streets with people, this week all week long and going forward.
And all of us—we all have to go back where we’re from and not lose our bearings and go and challenge people because history will pivot on what we do.
So I want to give another shout out to everybody here. It can seem like the storm has blown over, that maybe Americans have calmed down, that maybe the world has settled in, and that it’s all supposed to end with Barack, but that’s not the reality. In reality we’re likely to be at the eye of the storm and bigger storms are coming and what we do in this period really matters.
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