NYC, November 2005 – Photo by Fred Askew
How this all got started: A movement to drive out an illegitimate regime
High school students, street protests, prominent voices in print and on the streets
In the summer of 2005, people were starting to come out of their 6 month long depression over the outcome of the 2004 election. It was somewhat of a struggle to get people to stop blaming Bush voters, and grasp and grapple with the depravity of the Bush program, and the fact that two aggressive wars had been launched on the basis of lies.
Some of us already working to end the wars, torture, and in many other causes wrangled with the problem that, “fighting against each outrage and winning on important fronts — from immigrants rights to defending the right to due process, to defending abortion, evolution, against discrimination or to defend critical thinking on campus — is invaluable to making real change in a world that desperately needs it. But we are fighting each and every one of these battles on losing ground – ground that is rapidly disappearing under our feet.”
The future is unwritten…
A better outcome for the world required a mass movement of people united in acting to drive George Bush, “Dick” Cheney, and their illegitimate regime from office, and repudiating and reversing the program which had become to be identified with them, especially after 9/11/01. That movement needed to act independently and stop looking for a savior from the Democratic Party. It needed a spirit, call, and direction, which World Can’t Wait supplied in the Call to Drive Out the Bush Regime.
The Call was quickly distributed hand to hand in about a million copies nationwide starting that summer, and published in several full page newspaper ads in The New York Times, many local papers, and USA Today, with 40,000 people ultimately signing it. While it aggravated some, the points outlined in it captured what was coming down from the heights of power in a belligerent way, and moved many to act:
YOUR GOVERNMENT, on the basis of outrageous lies, is waging a murderous and utterly illegitimate war in Iraq, with other countries in their sights.
YOUR GOVERNMENT is openly torturing people, and justifying it.
YOUR GOVERNMENT puts people in jail on the merest suspicion, refusing them lawyers, and either holding them indefinitely or deporting them in the dead of night.
YOUR GOVERNMENT is moving each day closer to a theocracy, where a narrow and hateful brand of Christian fundamentalism will rule.
YOUR GOVERNMENT suppresses the science that doesn’t fit its religious, political and economic agenda, forcing present and future generations to pay a terrible price.
YOUR GOVERNMENT is moving to deny women here, and all over the world, the right to birth control and abortion.
YOUR GOVERNMENT enforces a culture of greed, bigotry, intolerance and ignorance.
Over Labor Day weekend in 2005, as the waters of Katrina were covering New Orleans, 250 people gathered in New York City to found The World Can’t Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime. Sunsara Taylor and Debra Sweet chaired the discussions. We took time out to march, with about 150 more joining us, around midtown, demanding, “rescue, not repression!” for New Orleans, which set a basic approach of immediate response to government action – or inaction.
Don’t Go to Work! Walk Out of School!
It was a bold call, and thousands followed it. On Thursday, November 2, 2005, on the year-anniversary of Bush’s re-election, tens of thousands marched around the U.S., inaugurating the effort to drive out Bush and Cheney, and reverse and repudiate the Bush program. Older people heeded a message from Gore Vidal to:
“join together in a popular movement dedicated to ending pre-emptive wars and restoring the nation to its traditional tax base which repaired levees, educated the citizenry and at regular intervals repaired the wall that Thomas Jefferson wisely put in place to separate church from state.”
Howard Zinn issued a call to students. High school students at more than 200 schools across the country left school and walked out, sometimes for miles, to join organized political protest in unprecedented ways. Protests took place in more than 60 cities, and involved at least 40 college campuses, in addition to the high schools. The outpourings of people all over the country had many faces. Local office holders came out and spoke at New York, Chicago and San Francisco rallies with mothers of soldiers who died in Iraq. Prominent public intellectuals and Hollywood celebrities gave their support to this effort to actually drive out the Bush regime.
In San Francisco, Latino day laborers joined with thousands at the Civic Center as Cindy Sheehan, California State Senator Carol Midgden, and others spoke from the stage. Statements of support came from artists and figures such as Jane Fonda, Harold Pinter and Gore Vidal, who signed on to the Call to Drive Out the Bush Regime.
In the dead of winter, as 2006 broke, and Bush gave his State of the Union address, people gathered in 68 cities to “drown out” the lies with street protests – then traveled to Washington, DC to protest in cold rain February 4, 2006, demanding Bush step down. The Bush Crimes Commission held hearings with testimony from people like former Brigadier General Janis Karpinsky and former UK ambassador Craig Murray on the crimes that the Bush regime was actively carrying out. In October of 2006 more than 200 cities across the country held mass protests of thousands. With heart and courage, thousands of us came together to make a powerful and precious political statement against a truly dangerous and repressive government. More on driving out a regime.
Stopping torture as a key expression of
the Bush program
Spreading a culture of resistance through
the Declare It Now: Wear Orange campaign and wearing orange jumpsuits
World Can’t Wait has led the fight against torture, making it something that people nationally and internationally associate with US government policies: the Bush Regime and Obama’s refusal to bring the Bush gang of torturers to justice and his refusal to put an end to torture under his administration. As one sign of this, pictures of our waterboarding demonstrations are almost as well known as Abu Ghraib’s iconic photograph of the black-hooded prisoner on a box with electrical wires dangling from his arms.
AFP correctly identified World Can’t Wait as the group protesting waterboarding in Times Square in this photo.
Borrowing the orange that prisoners are forced to don while being detained and tortured, World Can’t Wait took the color of orange and made it into a symbol of resistance to torture recognized worldwide both in our actions and in the Declare It Now! campaign that encouraged people to wear orange (e.g., orange ribbons and wristbands.) In 2008, the year that Alex Gibney won the Oscar for Best Documentary for his heartrending expose Taxi to the Dark Side, he and dozens of others such as Best Actress nominee Julie Christie and Director Paul Haggis (who won the Best Director Award in 2006 for Crash) wore orange to show their opposition to what our government is doing. As Haggis put it:
The Declare it Now campaign sought to make visible the sentiment to Drive out the Bush regime by wearing orange
“The orange ribbons were worn in protest against state sanctioned torture. The ribbons are the color of the jumpsuits at Guantanamo Bay, and at our secret detention camps, where prisoners are kept indefinitely, in violation of our constitution, and tortured. This is something that our government has long condemned as the heinous behavior of dictators, but something that unbelievably we now condone … Every American of any political party should be loudly condemning this grossly un-American activity, but it is barely even mentioned anymore. The orange wristbands some of us wore said simply ‘Torture + Silence = Complicity.’ I received mine from The World Can’t Wait campaign.”
After years of denying that they were torturing people, the Bush Regime finally came out and openly admitted that they were waterboarding people, a practice that dates from the Spanish Inquisition and that in World War II led directly to criminal prosecution for Americans who used it. While George W. Bush did not invent torture, with its use stretching from slavery to U.S. domestic prison policy, his regime transferred the practice to Guantanamo and then onto Abu Ghraib and beyond. The Bush Regime spent years methodically building the case for claiming that the “war on terror” required extraordinary and extra-legal measures and that anything, including the most egregious ones, were justified in “protecting American lives.” This rationale rests upon the immoral premise that American lives are worth more than anyone else’s and moreover flies in the face of all of the evidence that torture does not even work to prevent terrorist incidents. Indeed, torture has the opposite effect: it fuels anti-state terror and a cycle of violence. Those who carry out torture and other acts of terror know this. It is, in fact, why they use it: they profit from the ongoing cycle of violence because it provokes fear in the populace and allows those who rule to justify all manner of extra-legal actions in the ostensible name of preventing terrorism.
Silence + Torture is Complicity
Protesting torture at Hunter College, NYC, in 2005
World Can’t Wait has been uncompromising about the immorality and cynical purposes of torture and is notable for that fact when so many others have conceded implicitly the alleged superior status of Americans over all others. The most infamous torturers such as John Yoo, who testified in Congress that a president could order a young boy’s testicles be crushed in the course of an interrogation, have been the target of World Can’t Wait’s and others’ persistent protests at occasions such as Berkeley Law School’s graduation ceremonies, where orange ribbons have dotted the crowds and graduate’s black robes. John Yoo’s work at the Office of Legal Counsel, popularly designated the “Torture Memos,” provided legal cover for not just torture, but also for war, indefinite incarceration without trial, rendition, and massive spying on American citizens (see more on this at FireJohnYoo.org). Other war criminals identified by World Can’t Wait’s War Criminals Watch project are being sheltered in public institutions, including universities, where activists confront them on a regular basis.
Torture, as Dennis Loo has written, is the very epitome of terror. It is terror inflicted upon one individual but designed to terrorize entire populations, both those abroad and Americans at home, so that people will fear speaking out against the brutal iron-fist of US rule. Terror, whether employed by anti-state terrorists or by state terrorists, makes absolutely no distinctions between combatants and innocents. It does so purposefully: the point is that you are supposed to be fearful that you could be the next capriciously chosen victim of terror and therefore go along with whatever the terrorists (governmental terrorists or allegedly anti-state terrorists) want, regardless of its irrationality or immorality.
Above and below: Protesting torture at Grand Central Station, NYC , 2009
The US government’s use of torture reveals volumes about the dramatic shift in the new social compact that the American people have been led to: anything and everything in the name of Empire is all right. If we do it then it’s right, if others do it, then it’s not. “Shut up and go along as we’ll not shrink from even torturing you and killing you.” Torture, in other words, concentrates everything that is so wrong about where things have come to and where they stand today.
Torture is universally wrong—we all know this. The world has a name for those who stood by silently and allowed the atrocities of murder and torture committed by the Nazis in World War II – Good Germans. World Can’t Wait, in the face of the almost total collapse of moral opposition from leading pundits and public officials and their nearly universal acceptance of the immoral premise that Americans matter but nobody else does, has insisted that “Crimes are crimes, no matter who does them,” as our 2010 ad in The New York Times and other leading publications stated, signed by thousands, including prominent intellectuals, actors, and other notables. Rather than caving into expedience or narrow nationalism, World Can’t Wait continues the fight to bring forth an alternative moral authority in the face of the horrid new “normal.” We stand in solidarity with all people of conscience to say NO! to torture in our name—we refuse to live in a torture state.
When World Can’t Wait started, the goal was to Drive Out the Bush Regime and repudiate its whole program: from the illegitimate wars of aggression and open use of torture to domestic spying, suppression of science and much more. The domestic agenda of political repression and a whipped up atmosphere of bigotry and discrimination came hand-in-hand with the war OF terror as the needs of empire dictated. Under the PATRIOT Act, thousands of people have had their phone, computer, or banking records turned over to the government’s permanent database, or had their homes searched. Police forces have been increasingly militarized and political protest has often been brutally suppressed. Cruel laws that codify racial profiling and enforce discrimination have been passed.
A key part of this agenda has been from the onset the promotion of a culture of bigotry, and a theocratic approach to governance. The LGBT community and immigrants have been vilified and targeted under the banner of national unity and American Christian (white supremacist) “identity,” as women’s right to abortion and birth control was and still is first on the chopping block, as Bush demonstrated by re-imposing the “global gag rule” as his first presidential act. Since 2008, this aspect of the Bush program has not continued to be directed from the White House under an ostensibly “pro-choice” president, but the tradition of compromise followed by even worse compromise has continued to be followed by the so-called defenders of women’s rights in the Democratic Party.
Since inception World Can’t Wait has exposed the right-wing offensive against abortion rights and collaborated with others to organize clinic defense. In 2009 we produced a DVD and YouTube video “Abortion, Morality, and the Liberation of Women” featuring Dr. Susan Wicklund, author of This Common Secret, My Journey as an Abortion Doctor, and Sunsara Taylor, writer for Revolution Newspaper, which has been distributed in the hundreds to educators, students, and clinics around the country. Working closely with artist Heather Ault, we’ve brought a bold visual pro-abortion-rights presence to clinics under siege and the steps of power in Washington, DC.
The right to abortion cuts to the very heart of women’s social role and most fundamental rights. As seen during the turmoil over healthcare reform within Congress over the past few years, this question is at the core of the most reactionary politics in this country. The ferocity of one’s opposition to the right to abortion has become THE most important litmus test within the Republican Party, even as the most prominent abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller, was gunned down in his own church in 2009 and clinics and doctors have been violently attacked across the country. Right-wing crowds organized supposedly for greater “personal freedom” as the Tea Party take opposition to abortion rights as a core value – all the while Democratic leaders still preach “common ground” as access to abortion is further and further restricted, and women who get abortions are shamed and stigmatized.
One out of three US women will have at least one abortion at some point in her life. Beyond that, access to birth control is also under fire, further exposing the nature of this anti-women agenda. Relying on politicians who cede the moral high ground along with real access has long proven itself to be a dead-end path. What we need is an outpouring of resistance to this assault on the humanity of women!