Revolution #52, June 25, 2006

The Bush regime should NOT be allowed to lock the future

World Can’t Wait Training Project Unleashes Activists

As dozens of young people from across the country arrived in New York City for The World Can’t Wait’s student and youth training project in early June, the story of the Haditha massacre was on everyone’s mind. After seven months of cover up, the details of the Marines’ systematic killing of 24 civilians in Iraq had finally made its way into the major media. A shudder spread across the country. But still the streets were calm. And still, the murderous war lumbered on.

This—the escalating horrors of Bush’s brutal program, coupled with the disturbing normalcy of daily life in the U.S.—was exactly the problem these World Can’t Wait activists had gathered in New York for ten days to take responsibility to transform.

From different perspectives and with different life experiences, the volunteers shared something truly radical and all-too rare today: a determination to live their convictions that the Bush regime should NOT be allowed to lock the future. To disturb the disturbing calm and rouse millions who are horrified to act all summer long and manifest on October 5th in a day of resistance so powerful and widespread it marks a big step in Driving Out the Bush Regime.

So for ten days they came together each morning for meetings and strategizing, fanned out around the streets of New York every afternoon doing outreach, and packed into programs each evening to hear from and talk with experts on various aspects of the Bush program. And then late into every night the conversations continued among twos and threes and their local hosts throughout the city and New Jersey.

I got a chance to meet most of the volunteers on the second day, when I gave a talk about the lessons that can be drawn today from the rise of the Nazis. The youth were serious, about half of them with their notebooks out jotting down notes. When the chance came for questions, they went for the big ones.

A young woman from Atlanta who’s done a lot of work with MoveOn began what would become a pattern throughout the week. She wanted to know how to answer her friend’s dad who “knows so much” but is “always so wrong.” This time, she asked about Bush’s real motivations for war on Iraq. I described how the Bush cabal is motivated by more than their own desire for profit, or even for oil consumption, but how they see an opportunity and an urgent necessity to reconfigure the world to more appropriately suit their imperialist interests. Notebooks flipped open again when I recommended that people read Bob Avakian’s The New Situation and the Great Challenges.

The programs that took place during the training project were extraordinary, and in spite of my previous plans I found myself attending as many as I could. Each speaker was an expert in their field. Ted Glick, who works with the Climate Crisis Coalition and testified at the Bush Crimes Commission, gave a talk on the “Bush Administration’s Destruction of the Environment.” Christina Page, vice president of the Institute for Reproductive Health Access at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and author of How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, discussed the Christian fundamentalist attack on contraception and sex education. David Lindorff, author of The Case for Impeachment: Legal Arguments for Removing President George W. Bush from Office; Stanley Rogouski, an activist, photographer and writer for World Can’t Wait; and I spoke on a panel about “Why the Democrats Won’t Stand and Fight and Why You Must.”

I was able to attend Esther Kaplan’s talk. She is the author of With God on Their Side. I got the sense that people were stunned by what she presented about how much institutional power has already been grabbed up by the Christian Right. When asked whether atheists could criticize the fundamentalists, she responded firmly, “The media always treats the Christian Right like a religious movement, not a political movement…but it is a political movement and should be subject to the same critiques you would make of any other political movement… You have every right to comment on that. Be empowered as an atheist.”

Another volunteer asked what the future looks like for women if this movement isn’t stopped. Kaplan explained both how “oppressing women is at the heart of their agenda” but that because the grassroots Christian Right movement relies so heavily on women’s participation, this contradiction “could be a fault line that helps this movement self-destruct.”

One night, after a day spent at the American Museum of Natural History viewing the Darwin exhibition, the activists gathered at John Jay College to hear from Dr. David Kohn, the leading Darwin biographer who helped put together the exhibition. He broke down the basics about Darwin’s discovery of evolution and examined the ongoing conflict, from Darwin’s time down to today, between this discovery and religious outlooks.

As Kohn explained it, not only did Darwin “de-center man” from humanity’s understanding of the universe by demonstrating that we are just one more species that evolved like all the rest, but even more fundamentally he challenged the notions of permanence and absolutes (including absolute perfection) that have often been central to religious belief systems.

Kohn’s emphasis not only on the facts of evolution but on what’s wrong with the world view that denies it provoked all kinds of ongoing discussion. The next day, a young woman who had been a fundamentalist Christian for more than a decade remarked, “It might sound like a funny thing to get from his talk, but when he said there is no such thing as absolute perfection, I felt this big weight lift off of me. We are always told what women are supposed to look like, what’s beautiful, you know. But there is no such thing as perfect.”

Another program that created a buzz and set a tone for the week was the held on the first evening. A screening was held of Sir, No Sir!, which tells an exciting and challenging story that most of the volunteers had never heard, but which they quickly began measuring their own commitment up against: GIs, many the same age as the activists in the audience, who had taken incredible personal risks to stand on principle and who made history by helping to stop the unjust war on Vietnam.

On most days, after gathering in the morning for breakfast and discussion, the attendees would break into squads and spread out around the city talking to tourists and active GIs on visit, shop owners and street vendors, punks and professionals. They went with hundreds of copies of the Call to Drive Out the Bush Regime, clipboards, donation buckets, and an armful of striking posters exposing the Haditha massacre and opposing an attack on Iran. They were often surprised how few people—up in Harlem, down in Chelsea and other areas—had heard about the Haditha massacre.

Many of the young activists got bolder each day, encouraged by the warm response they got most places they had been and bolstered by their deepening understanding of the crimes of the Bush regime. One day, after arriving just a bit too late to be able to hand flyers to a wave of people boarding a ferry out to the Statue of Liberty, a volunteer from San Francisco got everyone’s attention by yelling out the opening lines to the WCW’s Call, “Your government, on the basis of outrageous lies, is waging a murderous and utterly illegitimate war in Iraq, with other countries in its sights. Your government is openly torturing people, and justifying it… People look at all of this and think of Hitler, and they are right to do so…” When he finished, the tourists from all over the world broke into enthusiastic applause as their boat pulled away from the shore.

There was debate over what to make of the warm response people received each day. Some expressed a frustration that, “Everywhere you go, people like that we are doing this. But they need to be doing this too.” A punk rocker from a small town in Indiana spoke up in one of the morning meetings to say, “You guys don’t know how good you have it here. You should try doing this in Indiana.”  He pointed out that there are a lot of people in the so-called “red” states who don’t like Bush either, but that it’s not so easy to reach them and move them.

There was a lot of debate over whether reaching “the mainstream” means toning down the message or whether we owe everyone as big a dose of the truth as we can bring; over how to draw the line between religion and theocracy; over how to argue with people that they cannot rely on the Democratic Party to get us out of this mess without insisting that people break with the Democrats in order to get involved; and over how to get way out there in stirring up massive, unprecedented resistance without inadvertently sending the message that “non-radicals need not apply.”

Many of these questions didn’t get completely settled and will surely reassert themselves as these youth, and others that they meet and bring forward to drive out this regime, go out all summer long. That is as it should be because it’s not like anyone has ever endeavored, much less succeeded yet, in the kind of historic undertaking these youth have joined with The World Can’t Wait movement in taking up.

On the last day, I had a chance to sit down and talk with several of the volunteers before they left. All of them had changed their life plans through the course of the week. Everyone in this particular group had decided to either join the summer Bus Tour to build momentum for October 5th, to move to New York to work in the National Office, or hit the road to take World Can’t Wait out to the Warped Tour concerts nationwide.

“Talk about moral certitude,” one of them said. “I came here because I thought I knew how bad it is getting, but really I had no idea. I am just so angry that my government is torturing people, and for anyone to tell me that I can’t or shouldn’t be doing something about it—I just can’t accept that.”

Another volunteer got very emotional when she described all the organizing she had been doing in Texas before coming and how much it meant to meet “other people my age who are like me, who want their lives to be about something that matters. I mean, I sat down for lunch today with these new friends I made here and all we could talk about was, ‘How could I sit in class right now or stay home and only think about a summer job? They are taking away women’s rights. People are being tortured. There is just no way.’”

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