Revolution #59, September 3, 2006
Interview with Debra Sweet, National Coordinator of World Can’t Wait
The Vision and Plan for Oct. 5: Bring This to a Halt!
On August 25, Revolution interviewed Debra Sweet, National Coordinator of World Can't Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime.
Revolution: The WCW plan for the next six weeks, building up to October 5, has two major focuses. One, a big ad campaign to connect with and mobilize millions and millions of people who do not yet know about October 5. And two, important planning meetings to be held across the country on September 7. First of all, can you talk about the vision and importance of this ad campaign?
Debra Sweet: We have a simple plan in the sense of raising a lot of money and then buying ads in as many places we can to reach a wide variety of people because we do know one thing: in order for people to act on October 5 they have to know that it's possible to act on that day and they have to feel a momentum in society towards acting. Most people who will act on Oct 5 don't even know about it yet. And I'm talking about only six weeks from the day. We know that. Even a lot of people who acted on Nov 2 last year, which is over 20,000 people around the country, do not necessary know that a day posed right in front of them as the most important day to act, is happening on October 5th. So we have a tremendous responsibility to number one, get the word out in society, and one big way that you do that in this society is to buy ads. Yes, we're going to do all sorts of other ways to get the word out that includes handing out fliers and putting the word out on the Internet, those are all very important. But there are key ways that people hear about things, and that is newspapers and radio. And in order to get many, many millions knowing about this right away, we are raising, right now, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we should eventually raise millions in order to buy air time and print to advertise: October 5—There is a way, There is a day, Bring this to a halt.
The goal of this national ad campaign is that people will start to see October 5 all over the place. They will see ads, hear about this on the radio. Then people will go to worldcantwait.org, and they will start sending out e-mails about what's going on, downloading and posting fliers on campuses, in their neighborhood, at their workplaces. They'll start to talk about the actual plans for October 5th, people will hear about it on the radio and on street corners and this is how we build word of mouth and things start to snowball.
At the same time, those ads are going to be announcing mass organizing meetings everywhere across the country on the same night, Thursday, September 7. And it’s really important to turn people out to those meetings. We have to follow up and follow through with everyone who contacts World Can’t Wait. Listen to them, find out what they’re all about, and bring them out to these meetings.
The ads are going to tell people to go to worldcantwait.org and find out where the organizing meeting is in your area. If you don't see one, organize one. This is what our ads on radio and in print are going to tell people to do. You want to know what's going to happen on October 5, you want to contribute your ideas and creativity, then come to these national organizing meetings with people at the same time all across the country.
The first hour will be a message from WCW on what October 5 is aiming to accomplish, reversing the whole political direction of society. And the second hour of these meetings will be very well organized, well prepared, breaking down into groups, where people who want to organize their campuses or their schools, or people who want to help on the program, or people who want to learn and help on fund raising, or people who want to get out fliers and work on the Internet, can all come and find out what to do and contribute their own ideas in very well-organized sessions, and then leave that night knowing what they are going to do for the next four weeks. You might have people in the visual arts figuring out how to make a major impact in that sphere; or teachers getting together to figure out ideas for schools; or public relations or fund-raising professionals, or people out of the religious communities…could be a lot of things. The point is when you reach out very broadly, like we’re doing with these ads, and when you systematically do the follow-up and follow-through with people, and then you get people together with a basic understanding of what we’re aiming to accomplish and a basic vision, a whole lot of things that maybe didn’t seem possible that morning can all of a sudden seem very possible.
This plan builds on the fact that we can do national advertising and everyone who has access to Internet or who can call an 800 number can find out where these meetings are, where they need to be that night. They can find out everything they need to do, and they can meet people who feel like they do. We already have some of these meetings posted on worldcantwait,org, including a brand new organizer from Portland, Maine who saw the ad in the New York Times and has a message right on our website right now that says, come to City Hall on September 7 and meet me because I'm forming an organizing committee for October 5.
Revolution: Could you share with our readers some of the experience that you have had in going out to people, taking out the message of World Can't Wait? What has been the response to the New York Times ad, or what kind of experience have you had in working the WCW phone bank—in other words calling people who have left their names to be contacted?
Debra Sweet: Very concretely, we published an ad three weeks ago in the New York Times. Thousands of people responded to it, one-third of those people sent their phone numbers and even more than that sent money in order to pay for the ad and to pay for more ads. What this tells us is that we have a base right now of thousands of people that we know are waiting to hear more about October 5. So we've set out to get back to every one of those people and have conversations with them. And the results have been extremely encouraging.
What we found in the people that we've called and talked to is a great eagerness and a happiness that we called them and that they're hearing from a live human being, who wants to hear what they think and listen to and give substance and affirmation to their feeling that this regime has to go and actually has a plan to do something about it. We've found people who are very well informed, very opinionated. We have tapped into a wellspring of revulsion for Bush. People really are very, very angry at what the Bush Regime has done. They know all about it, they have been looking for a way to act.
So we are calling back every one of the people that has come to us, and if we don't have a phone number, we're e-mailing them and if we don't have an e-mail address , we're sending them snail mail. A lot of retired people have responded by mail to us, sending money to us, including money out of their Social Security checks to WCW. This is another thing I tell wealthy people who want to give us $150, I will say, look, people on Social Security have sent us that much money who are just living on pensions. A survivor of Katrina sent us $100 out of their FEMA check. Prisoners have sent us $30 out of the prison commissary. So people who are wealthy have to dig a whole lot deeper than that.
We're still learning about all the people who sent money off the NY Times ad. But we have presidents of large corporations, a retired brigadier general, editors and writers of major publications, political science professors and all sorts of academics, a lot of ministers. We have just all kinds of people from every single state, and many are saying the same thing: this country is going fascist and I want to stop it. This is a good sign, the recognition of what's really going on. But again, we need to multiply this 10 times right now. This is why we're doing this advertising and reaching out to people.
We called a retired writer who had already given money. He said I already sent off my check and I think this is a good plan, but I don't really know what I can do to help. So the WCW person initially said, well OK, thank you for donating money. But then they thought about it and called the person back and said, look, you're retired, you know a lot of people, what about all your friends. And it ended up that the person sent a letter to 75 of his friends saying, I just donated $50 to WCW and I want you to do the same. This is an example I want to send out to everybody. Literally everybody can multiply this effort very quickly. You need to be asking your friends and the people you work with, and the people you went to college with, your colleagues and your neighbors, people you go to school with and all of your co-professors, to be doing the same thing. Sign this call, send money and raise money for World Can't Wait. There needs to be an epidemic of fund raising and getting involved and jumping on the band wagon, and we are completely unabashed about this. There is nothing more important that people can be doing right now as we're going into this Labor Day weekend. You've out socializing, talk to everyone—did you hear about this movement to drive out the Bush Regime and you have to be out there with me on October 5 and organize for it. People should go on worldcantwait.org and print out right now the flier and the call for October 5 and get it all over the place. Get the word out, contribute money so the word can get out to many more people.
Revolution: Can you talk more about the actual vision for Oct. 5? Sometimes people say, well how is this going to be different than protest as usual? Or you were saying earlier that some people say, how can this one day actually make a difference, isn't it more of a long-term struggle, that we have to educate people, this kind of thing. Why is WCW saying this day is so crucial in terms of actually building a movement that can drive out the Bush Regime? And what actually is the vision of what would happen on that day? What needs to happen on that day, and on what scale?
Debra Sweet: Well, I want to approach it from a couple of things. What makes it different than any other protest demonstration is the demand: Bring This to a Halt. This is not approaching this one abuse and outrage at a time. This is bringing on to the fore a movement saying: This all has to stop. Bring it to a halt. We must drive out this hated regime because the world can't wait. This in itself is completely a different approach than anything that's before people right now. It is very audacious and bold and it's saying, look, we've got to get something going in this society that challenges the conventional wisdom that things can't change quickly and that the people really have no role here. We're bringing something new to the fore.
What can happen Oct. 5—if we get the critical mass, the momentum in society, the snowballing going into it, and the critical mass on that day—is that a new political force will be in existence that says because of our firm stand—“Drive Out This Regime”—and our large numbers, we can not be ignored. We're making a powerful political statement, refusing that day to work, or leaving work, refusing to go to school or walking out of school, rejecting business as usual, making it to the town center or the federal building, demanding together: Bring This to a Halt. This is what makes this different from any other day. And the dynamic it can get going in society is that people who feel there's nothing that can be done and feeling that there's not a way to act, will see us act in sufficient numbers to wake them up and give them a sense that there is a way to act.
The success of Oct. 5—and I believe there is a huge basis for this, given this huge reservoir of people who really detest the Bush regime and the whole direction it’s taking things—is that it will be tens of thousands of people in even just the major cities acting in a visible way on our felt sentiments that no other voice in society is speaking to. No one else is going to represent this other than ourselves taking it into the streets in intense, serious, joyful, imaginative ways—but in massive numbers. The key to this is massive numbers in a very determined way being out in the streets. We want to take the same spirit that people remember from the demonstrations we called on November 2 last year, we want to take that spirit but we want to multiply the numbers by a factor of ten—and then we want to build from there. And that, combined with this message, can be extremely powerful.
There are people who say, look, nothing can change in one day. This has been building up for years, and it's going to take years and years to right the situation. I completely disagree—that this is going to happen in some linear, incremental way with quiet, patient organizing, one here, one there and building it up from where we are now. In just the most basic sense, there’s not time for that—the Bush regime is very quickly, to take one very important example, making preparations to attack Iran, and you’ve got all the main Democrats going along with that—and think what that kind of attack would mean to the world, how disastrous that would be in so many ways.
Again, this is why we're trying to immediately, very quickly reach millions of people with a message that there is a way to act on the sentiments that they already deeply feel. Because a critical mass taking the streets right now at this urgent moment, a mass of people that takes responsibility for looking at the stakes and saying, no, we won't let society go in that direction, we're going to stop it, we're going to drive out this regime, creates a new dynamic in society where more and more people will have the question posed to them: maybe you could drive out this regime.
We don't have to accept that there's nothing that can be done but tying our hopes to the Democratic Party that is providing no effective opposition and in fact agrees with the basic direction that this is going in. We're not just building a movement here over some period of time that is trying to do some good in society and trying to protest some policies we feel are very bad. We're doing something different. What's on our minds, or what's in our thinking and what's in our hearts is, this regime is illegitimate, unjust, and immoral, and they have to go, they have to be driven out. This is “drive out the Bush Regime” thinking, versus we're only out here to protest some of the bad things they've done and after all, we could never really stop them anyway. This is about understanding and seeing that there's a huge reservoir out there we can connect with if we act quickly and with enough resolution and substance.
And we're really not afraid to go out and argue with people that, look, what you're doing is going to lead to a bad place, if you're relying on and only supporting the Democrats, and if that's where your money and energy is going. No. Your money, your energy, your heart, all of your thinking needs to be going into, how we can create the one thing lacking—the expression of people's real sentiments out on the streets in a public way, that will mushroom and lead to this question being debated on editorial pages all across the country, and in lunchrooms and break rooms, and in church basements, and even in the pulpit, over: Is it right that we should support the direction this Bush regime is going? Or must George Bush himself be driven from office? And must we STOP what this government is doing in our name? And don’t we have the moral duty to act on that? This is what Oct. 5 has the very real potential of breaking open. Look, if company presidents and retired brigadier generals are sending substantial amounts of money to fund this, and if on the other hand, high school students are getting ready for walkouts, and prisoners are sending us $30—and we’re really only beginning to get our message out—then there is a very broad basis for this movement in this society. Many many people feel this must be stopped. They're waiting for a way to do it. We have a way, and we have a day. And we have a responsibility to pull as many people out on that day as possible.
Revolution: I’d like to follow up on that point on the Democrats. It sounds like you’re saying that you’ve got to argue with a lot of people about this.
Debra Sweet: I think people have to come to grips with what these Democrats have done and what they’re about, and why it’s such a harmful dead-end to be throwing in with them. For instance, the Patriot Act, which was hastily passed after 2001—and we know some of the Congress never even read the act, and we were all supposed to be mollified because they said well, after five years we'll get a chance to look at this again and some of the most egregious parts will never get ratified. Well, guess what, 96 members of the U.S. Senate ratified the Patriot Act earlier this year. That should say to everyone that something has happened—when five years ago this Patriot Act was so over the edge that very few people wanted it to hold up, certainly there was a real determination on the part of the Bush Regime and others that it be enacted very forcefully into law, but many people, especially many people very alarmed at the trampling of civil liberties, thought it would not hold up. Well, there was a climate created, largely through the accommodation and cooperation of the leadership of the Democratic Party who came out and argued for these restrictions, and now this is locked down and in place and this is just so typical. What happened with the Supreme Court? There have been two Supreme Court appointment of people whose views are clearly way over to the right, including right in there with Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, the most right-wing members of the court, on all sorts of questions, even whether people have the right to habeus corpus, whether people have the right to a speedy trial, whether women have any self determination over their bodies at all—this has been locked into place, largely through the accommodation, again of the leadership of the Democratic Party.
You have a situation where both of these parties are saying we're going to have to attack Iran. And they are not shy about it, the nuclear option has not officially been taken off the table. They're not giving a timetable, but this could happen very quickly. At the same time, George W. Bush says, look I am not withdrawing any troops, this is up to the next president. And you have John McCain in there arguing that whatever the bad options about attacking Iran, it would be much worse if we don't attack Iran. They're telling us and they're not saying off in the far distant future. Lebanon was a practice for Iran. Seymour Hersh said in his New Yorker article, people in this administration and the Department of Defense were saying this was practice for attacking Iran. Not idle practice: 1400 civilians killed, the use of anti-personnel weapons, scattering cluster bombs that are still alive, the destruction of airports and bridges and highway systems that kept people from being able to evacuate, the destruction of the electrical system. All of this done very consciously, according to plan and to practice for attacking the bigger nation of Iran. This absolutely cannot be allowed by any person who cares about the future of humanity. And it is very urgent. Anyone who thinks that they are not out there building a constituency every day, including by increasing people's fear of terrorism, needs to wake up.
So we have to struggle with people who still want to go down that well-trodden path of relying on people who have accommodated to this whole road that the Bush Regime has taken society, and that this is somehow OK, because these are not Republicans, these are the Democrats. But people have to face up to what is the actual political program of the Democratic Party as I touched on earlier.
Doing fund raising for WCW, I have found that there are people who very much like what we're doing and are very attracted to the idea of getting people out on the street on October 5 to bring the Bush Regime to a halt and the idea of impeachment. At the same time they are very much involved right now in working for one or another Democrat to get elected his fall and even looking forward to the 2008 presidential elections as something they need to be working on. I think we have to tell people honestly, look at what they're actually saying. They're telling you right now, they're not really for any of those things that you care about. They pay lip service to choice, but they are running anti-abortion candidates up against the most horrible reactionary, cretinous, anti-abortion politicians, anti-gay marriage politicians, including Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania—the Democrats are running Casey, an anti-abortion Democrat. And people are being told to swallow that on the basis of, it's better to have an anti-abortion Democrat than an anti-abortion Republican. This is just ludicrous. What are you going to have when you have an anti-abortion Democrat win? Surprise, you're going to have an anti-abortion situation.
So that's actually where that road is gong to lead. And as I've said to many, many people in building this movement, it's not so much a question of voting or not voting. It’s a question of where you put your time and resources and energy. So come out with us, put your whole heart in building for October 5. Your $10,000 towards one more Democratic candidate being elected will only serve to foster the illusion that that's going to do some good. I don't think that will do any good at all. What's going to do some good is spending that $10,000 on and getting contributions from your friends and arguing with them right now over what difference it will make to bring into society something new on the scene, a movement that rejects the official politics being forced down our throats, and says very clearly we're going to be out visible for our actual sentiments: an end to the war, an end to this whole direction, bringing this to a halt. And following that road out, on the basis of looking again at this statement that is out on our website about October 5 - There is a Way, There is a Day: If this is done, imagine if this huge reservoir of people is pulled out..., this great wave is unleashed. If this is done, then the possibility of turning things around and on to a much more favorable direction, will take on a whole new dimension of reality. People need to see this manifested out on the street for real. They need to see people voicing and with substance making real these sentiments and not just going along with the projected conventional wisdom that the Democrats must be on our side here.
Putting your money, your efforts, and your heart behind the leadership of the Democratic Party right now that is telling you what they're going to do around Iran is wrong. It's telling you that they are not going to oppose the fundamental direction of the Bush Regime and they're not even willing to bring this guy on trial, in an impeachment trial in Congress, and put up all these crimes against humanity for people to look at. They're telling you, they're not going to go there. When you have a chance to really change the whole direction and take responsibility for changing history, it's just wrong to keep pouring money down the rathole of these Democratic candidates. It's a wrong place to go. We can do some real good in building a movement from below right now and really challenging this. And the $10,000 that people are considering giving to the Democrats, they should be giving to World Can't Wait – and to not do that, to give to the Democrats instead, to maybe give a token amount to World Can’t Wait ‘cause you’d sort of like to see it out there but you’re not gonna give it what it takes to really become a force when, let’s face it, it’s the only thing taking on the whole fascist direction of this Regime – well, that’s not neutral. That’s doing harm, and it’s unconscionable.
On the other hand, a movement from below of driving the regime out, based on a real repudiation of everywhere they are going, has every possibility of getting a different dynamic going in society, where the whole question gets changed. I was talking to Father Luis Barrios, who is of Puerto Rican nationality, a very active campaigner for WCW and for justice everywhere in the world. He's somebody who helped lead getting the U.S. army kicked out of Vieques some years ago. He was telling us the story, he remembers Nixon, he said, we all have to remember that the day before Nixon left office in August of 1974, he said look, I am not going to resign. It was a testament to the fact that he was so opposed all over the world and that his whole program was hated that he ended up having to do just that and resign. And Father Barrios said, I think we have to keep that in mind, that things can turn quickly, and a question that everyone says is impossible, you could never think that, you can't even think that way, could become reality on the basis of the conscious political mobilization, the conscious political activism of even a small minority, reaching a bigger minority in society and doing something very momentous that starts on one day. That's what we're trying to do with October 5. We are trying to actually help people see, on one day, how you would start to create a political situation where you can drive out a regime and create a political situation where Bush himself has to leave office.
And that’s what everybody needs to be doing. We’ve got a really good plan to get the word out to millions through these ads, and to turn hundreds of people out to these meetings on the 7th. Then there’s a whole lot of thinking we have about how to leapfrog from there in the four weeks we have after that. So I’m hoping that a lot of your readers will be plugging in and throwing in and really make this happen.
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