Text of speech given by Debra Sweet, national director of World Can’t Wait, at a teach-in Dec. 4 at George Washington University:
Hello. I”d like to know how many students we have in the audience. (about 25 from George Washington, and several from Howard University raise their hands). Every generation puts its stamp on the world. It contributes or detracts…actively engages or passively lets events take their course…and each influences the way history unfolds.
But not every generation lives through pivotal epoch-shaping events. The generation that rose up and abolished slavery — the generation that lay down in the face of the Nazis. These are among those that are celebrated or scorned.
All of us living in this country today, have a greater role to play than even these.
The Nobel Prize winning British playwright Harold Pinter said last year, “The Bush Administration is the most dangerous force that has ever existed. It is more dangerous than Nazi Germany because of the range and depth of its activities and intentions worldwide.”
Driving out the Bush Regime before 2008 must be the mission of all of living in this country today, or else everything that Bush is doing or has done becomes permanent and is not easily reversed.
Will we be remembered as the people who sat back and passively accepted the wholesale murder of Iraqi people even though we knew the whole premise of the war was lies?
Will we be the people who went along with a new doctrine of pre-emptive war that spreads this to other countries that pose no threat?
The people who allowed all forms of torture: sleep depravation, beatings, water-boarding, dogs, sexual violence to become legal?
Who allowed habeas corpus — a cornerstone of the rule of law that prevents arbitrary, indefinite detention — to be revoked?
The people who learned to accept government surveillance of emails, of phone calls, of bank accounts and students” records”signing statements…No fly lists…jailing of journalists?
Will the future generations be enslaved to their reproduction, not even knowing what it is like to have reproductive rights? Will the movement that has made such strides in restricting abortion get what they”re after next: ending birth control, preaching virginity as a girl’s worth, and child-bearing and submission to their husbands as a form of worship after that?
Will the fact of evolution and a scientific understanding of the world be buried, the next generation disarmed of the ability to think critically, to prevent global warming, and to simply be awed at the wonders of the natural world?
Will history be re-written — as it already has been in Christian fundamentalist textbooks and as is being attempted in a different way on college campuses by academic hit-men like David Horowitz — to erase and excuse the horrors of slavery and lynchings, the genocide of the Native Americans, and conquest of foreign lands?
Catherine Crier, a former Republican judge from Texas, writes of a movement that “would like to see the United States under biblical law. Comparable to countries like Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran”a nation governed by Old and New Testament scripture. Born-again Christianity will supplant the Constitution.” She ends this passage with this, “For all of those Americans who believe that our democracy is safe, you are wrong. Today, the radical Right is winning, and they know it. Sooner rather than later, we may be living in a very different country, a country that had been ours, a country that will be theirs.”
These are the huge changes that we are living through. And they are a lot further along than most people realize.
But, this direction was not derailed or even challenged in the 2006 elections.
Did you see any ads that showed the bodies of Iraqi children in town after town shot down by U.S. troops, where the candidate promised to immediately withdraw troops from Iraq? Did you see any ads that showed the photos of Abu-Ghraib, and implored you to vote out everyone who approved the Military Commissions Act? Did you see any attack ads that railed against candidates who favor criminalizing abortion, who oppose birth control, or who are against allowing gay people to marry?
There weren’t any. But there were thousands of mailings from Senator Chuck Schumer criticizing the Republicans for not having a “credible strategy for victory” in Iraq. There were television ads from Democrat Harold Ford in Tennessee just to proclaim his opposition to the “Morning After” pill for teenagers and gay marriage. And there was the promise all the way through — and since — from Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, and others that impeachment is off the table.
For about a day and a half after the election, Bush somewhat clumsily talked about having heard the American people and even about being open to “fresh” ideas about Iraq. He appointed Jack Kerouac, a doctor who doesn’t believe in birth control and runs a string of “crisis pregnancy” clinics, to a position overseeing population issues in Health and Human Services.
Already he’s returned to his belligerent promise, “We’re going to stay in Iraq to get the job done.”
By last Friday, the New York Times declared, “In the cacophony of competing plans about how to deal with Iraq, one reality now appears clear: despite the Democrats’ victory this month in an election viewed as a referendum on the war, the idea of a rapid American troop withdrawal is fast receding as a viable option.” It goes on a bit later, “Even the Democrats, with an eye toward 2008, have dropped talk of a race for the exits [from Iraq], in favor of a brisk stroll.”
So, there it is. Already it’s being forecast that to win in 2008 the Democrats can’t push for ending the war any time soon. Despite the fact that the reason why so many people voted for the Democrats exactly because they want to get the U.S. out of Iraq.
What logic are the democrats operating on? Throughout this election — and the last one and the next one — the Democrats have accepted and promoted the Republican logic of the so-called “War on Terror.” But this so-called war on terror was, from its very beginning the rubric under which the Bush regime unleashed a war for permanent empire. And the War on Terror is the rubric under which they have demanded and gotten unprecedented and sweeping police state powers. This was never just stupidity or incompetence. This was a plan to remake the world and they seized on 9/11 to do it.
It was from within the logic of the War on Terror that the Democrats rubber-stamped George Bush’s pre-emptive war on Iraq. Now Iraq’s morgues are overflowing, villages have been reduced to rubble, economy and infrastructure is decaying, and returned U.S. troops talk openly about how they were given a free-pass to massacre civilians.
It was in the name of the War on Terror that the Democrats collaborated to pass the Military Commissions Act. And now George Bush and any future president have the legal right to disappear anyone, never press charges, never tell the family, and to have them tortured — everything we saw at Abu-Ghraib and more — indefinitely with absolutely no legal recourse.
Preemptive war and torture are war crimes. So is collective punishment and targeting civilians, hospitals and ambulances. And yet, again, there was bipartisan support for, to take one example, the decimation of Fallujah, once a city of 350,000. 36,000 of the 50,000 homes in the city were obliterated by the U.S. attack. The whole city was cut off from electricity or water for weeks, was pounded with more than two tons of bombs per person, was declared a “free fire” zone, and yes, there were U.S. snipers targeting hospitals and ambulances.
So, people living in this country have a choice to make: is all this going to continue to be done in our names?
Some hear the idea of driving out the Bush Regime and think, wouldn’t it be easier or better to throw our support behind the Democrats to stop this? No. Because they are not going to stop this.
For four and a half years we’ve gone through this dance where the Bush regime proposes – or gets caught doing something – outrageous. At first the Democrats make some noises of opposition, then they get reasonable, and eventually capitulate, and the world is made worse.
There’s been Roberts, Alito, the Patriot Act, the NSA spying, the Military Commissions Act, and we’re seeing the same thing happen – again – with the war on Iraq. They promised a “new direction”, but already they are accommodating to Bush, and saying it’s too messy to pull out, and now that doing so will jeopardize their chances of getting elected in 2008.
It is time for people to stop deceiving themselves and deceiving others. The Democrats are not going to stop this direction. But there is another force in society. There are people. Millions and millions of people. People who are sick of this war:
Troops who don’t believe in their mission stuck on their third and fourth tour of duty.
Thousands still scattered across the country by Hurricane Katrina and millions more who’s smoldering anger at how Black people were treated there has been inflamed again by the NYPD’s 50 shots that killed an unarmed Black man last week.
Women and gays whose fundamental rights are being systematically shredded. Rivers of immigrants who not long ago clogged the streets of every city in this country in protest. Intellectuals and artists who are not ready to bow down to a king.
And there are all the people who tried to give expression to their sentiments through this election but whose sentiments will not be felt unless we create a mass movement of millions who are resisting and demonstrating in huge numbers and drive the Bush regime from power.
Now, in this culture of instant gratification, a lot of people say, “We protested the war but it didn’t do any good.”
Wrong. It did a LOT of good. The government didn’t listen — but the world did and the people in this country did listen.
No one can deny that before the war even began, it was clear to the whole world that there was a very large section of people who knew this war was unjust and illegitimate. People were debating this at work and at school — it opened up a whole lot more room for people to think, to take a stand, and to learn things about the war they never would’ve been interested in looking into otherwise. This fueled questions and this planted doubts even among those who still lined up behind the President.
And then, as events unfold, as lies are exposed and as Iraq descends into an un-winnable civil war these questions and doubts that were planted grow and bear fruit.
The new Dixie Chicks movie, Shut Up and Sing, reminds you how dramatically and quickly the President’s approval rating plummeted. When Natalie Maines made her now-famous comment that she was embarrassed that Bush was from her home state of Texas, Bush was at 80% popularity. Now, his popularity is down under 30%.
This matters. Not because those in power are looking to represent what the majority want, but because it’s harder for them to project an intimidating strength in the Middle East when their people are not behind them. People in the military can get the courage to resist this illegitimate and unjust war if they know people will support them. People don’t always get to see their results immediately.
Daniel Ellsberg, who worked in the Pentagon during the Vietnam War, and who later released the Pentagon Papers that helped to end the war, said that even though no one knew it at the time, plans to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam were taken off the table after the Moratorium in October of 1969 that brought 2 million people into the streets. He also said that he personally never would have thought to risk prison and his career to release those secret documents had it not been for the courage and determination of the protesters.
Imagine if after the Moratorium people had summed up that because they didn’t stop the war nothing had been accomplished and all gone home. History would have turned out very differently.
So, I want to say again: every generation puts its stamp on the world. If we do not repudiate, resist, and drive the Bush Regime and its program from power then our stamp will be condoning, cementing, and complicit with every thing he has done.
We cannot wait for or constrict ourselves to the terms set by those holding political office. We need to make them respond to our demands that this whole direction be brought to a halt. We need to be out in the street and on the airwaves demanding that Congress bring forward articles of impeachment against a president who is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
And let’s get over that taboo against polarizing people. The only way you change the tide is by going against it. We need to rock the boat and take risks to get people talking about the true nature, roots, and objectives of this war. One important way to do this is next weekend, on December 10th and 11th when I and others across the country will be putting on the orange jumpsuit that Guantanamo detainees are forced to wear – into shopping malls, to our schools and religious services, to work and on the street.
There’s information available about this on worldcantwait.org.
Let’s get people talking about whether there even is, or should be, a “War on Terror” or whether this is really just a cover to get the American people on board with what really is a war for empire that was strategized long before September 11. This is discussed in books like John Dean’s Worse Than Watergate, Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival, and Larry Everest’s Oil, Power, Empire, but most people don’t know anything about this and this holds them back.
People can’t act to change something if they don’t know how deep it goes; they won’t take risks unless they see what difference they can make.
In particular, the campuses have to be buzzing with debate and firment that spills over into the larger society over where this is all going, and what role we have to play in really making a difference to STOP the horrors the Bush regime will still carry out.
On January 4, World Can’t Wait is initiating a call for people to come to Washington on the day Congress opens. If war crimes, torture, and crimes against humanity aren’t enough to start impeachment, then what it? Start the impeachment and open the investigations. Bush must go!
The final scene of Ground Truth, a new movie out that interviews soldiers back from the Gulf War, Camilo Mejia, the first soldier to openly refuse to fight in Iraq and who served a year in prison for this, is near tears. Earlier in the film he tells about how he participated — with his whole unit — in torturing and killing innocent people. He says:
“To the people I just want to say that I’m really sorry. I’m really sorry for all the damage. And I am really sorry for my cowardice. For not opposing the war, for not speaking out sooner, for not disobeying more orders. I’m sorry.
“And to the troops I want to say that there is a way out. And if it means jail or if it means disgrace or shame, then that’s what it’s going to take, but there is a way out. And I also want to tell people that, after being in jail, that there is no higher freedom that can be achieved than the freedom we achieve when we follow our conscience. And that’s something we can live by and never regret.”
Let us all heed his words — and his example. Let’s not wait, only to regret tomorrow that we didn’t act while there was still time. Let’s seize this moment, when people are feeling optimistic and hopeful, when people saw through the election how many people agreed with them. Let’s all risk something to wake them up and bring them together to make good on our obligation to the world. It can’t wait any longer. We must Drive Out the Bush Regime!