CHALLENGING THE BEAST
Marc Cooper's report from Porto Alegre ["From Protest to Politics," March 11] was inspiring and included some hints about the state of the US portion of the anti-corporate globalization movement. As an activist from the marine division of the ILWU here in Seattle, I was upset to read, "The post-9/11 labor movement doesn't want its rank and file to see its leaders in street demonstrations that turn violent." Now, don't get me wrong--I'm not condoning violence as a tactic; however, there is more to the story. Our union not only shut down the docks on the West Coast during the WTO meeting here in Seattle, a group of 200 of our members and elected leaders walked through the marshals and bolstered the Direct Action folks. We were not led by any NGOs or top AFL-CIO leaders. We took the initiative and did the right thing. We are fortunate to belong to one of the few remaining US rank-and-file-run unions with a heritage of militancy and direct action. The vast majority of unions are top-down business unions whose leaders are deathly afraid of their members thinking or acting on their own.
By the way, no one from the ILWU made it to sunny Brazil. But three of us flew back to the "bellybutton of the belly of the beast," New York, for the WEF street protest. We participated in a peaceful, fun, vibrant street protest of 12,000 to 15,000. Yes, there were more NGO superstars in Porto Alegre, but I think history will show that it was more important to brave the weather and 4,000 NYC cops to challenge the beast.
JEFF ENGELS, IBU-ILWU
RESIST LOCALLY--AND NONVIOLENTLY
David Cortright's "The Power of Nonviolence" [Feb. 18], combined with The Nation's call to oppose globalism locally, points us toward more than nonviolent demonstrations and more than pressure on Congress.
Those sitting at forbidden lunch counters in the 1960s were not different from Seattle vandals just by being nonviolent. They were also clearly demonstrating what their message was: They wanted to be able to sit at those counters. We need boycotts of big-box stores with human chains around them, human walls against bulldozers, demonstrations at factories proposing to move overseas, campaigns in the street to take money out of big banks and put it in local ones, student walkouts of schools targeted for privatization, local sandwich sales in front of McDonald's. We need to think globally and practice nonviolent resistance locally.
David Cortright is correct in arguing that "a 95 percent commitment to nonviolence is not enough" in the movement against corporate globalization. As long as protests are planned around such events as the WTO meetings in Seattle, it is likely that protesters who refuse nonviolence will show up. By planning protests on dates of their own choosing, at the offices of governments, corporations and global trade organizations, nonviolent organizers would be better able to "run their own show" and maintain stricter nonviolence. High-profile meetings offer the perks of free, guaranteed press coverage and a convenient kind of roadshow for the global protest movement. But the baseball-bat-and-football-helmet crowd is less likely to crash a nonviolent protest if staying away doesn't mean giving up those same perks themselves. The sit-ins of the civil rights movement took place at lunch counters, not at Klan rallies.
DANIEL J. MORIARTY
Have we heard this myth of protester violence so many times that we believe it ourselves? True, Seattle was violent, but not on the part of the protesters. As for Genoa, credible reports point out that most of the "street battles" and property destruction were carried out by police infil-traitors. Instead of giving our critics ammunition by adopting the rhetoric of a hostile media, why don't we cease framing the debate by pitting "violent" protesters vs. "nonviolent" protesters and alert others to the true nature of our cause, which is, after all, global justice and peace.
ZINN: 'ELOQUENT'? 'MUSHMOUTHED'?
There was a deluge of mail in response to Howard Zinn's "The Others" [Feb. 11]. A sampling appears below.
Thank you for "The Others" by Howard Zinn. Finally someone has the integrity to raise a voice for the innocent people of Afghanistan amid the blind fury of the US media and the government. Please don't stop raising this issue again and again.
Howard Zinn has given us an eloquent and devastating rebuttal to those who think there is such a thing as an acceptable loss of civilian life in warfare. Any loss of life through violence is unacceptable. Until we can understand that the "others" are really ourselves, we will be the playthings of madness.
It's sad to see Howard Zinn stoop to peddling such softheaded, mushmouthed, sentimental claptrap. "Those who celebrated the grisly deaths...what if, instead of symbols, they could see, up close, the faces of those who lost their lives? I wonder if they would have second thoughts, second feelings." Please! As a corrective to his "can't we all just get along?" speculations, we should recall that the hijackers had no trouble looking into the faces of those they were about to murder without any second thoughts.
My sister was at work on the eighty-first floor of the first tower of the WTC. It took her more than one hour to come down, but thank God she made it. I have followed the developments since September 11 and am not surprised that the casualties in Afghanistan are underreported, as clearly the Afghans are insignificant. We have come to know that only American blood is blood, and it is water that runs in the veins of all others. What happened at the WTC is way past reprehensible. But an eye for an eye makes for only blind men. The government had a golden opportunity to prove to the world that it is different from the terrorists, but sadly, it hasn't, because it isn't.
Fujisawa, Kanagawa, Japan
It has disturbed me that critics of the war on terrorism have not pointed out that besides the possible 4,000 Afghan civilians dead after September 11, some 1.7 million Afghans have fled as refugees, with no home to go back to. If we could imagine an equivalent number of Americans displaced so that several hundred militants could be arrested, well, it would not be tolerated.
My Japanese students are surprised when I speak against the bombing, and impressed. Everyone who speaks the truth has an impact. Thank you, Mr. Zinn.
Howard Zinn accuses the September 11 hijackers and US politicians of perpetrating "terrorism" against "men, women and children." To make a moral equivalence between the two events is ridiculous. Distinctions matter. In the case of the World Trade Center, civilians were massacred deliberately during a time of peace by a nonuniformed group whose intention was to spread terror. In the other case, civilians were killed during an exercise of legitimate self-defense by a state, in response to an act of war, and were killed unintentionally despite good faith efforts by targeteers to avoid doing so.
If I, as a young historian, can see the difference between the two incidents, it is strange that Zinn, whose breadth of knowledge vastly exceeds my own, cannot.
Howard Zinn's putting a human face on the Afghan people killed and maimed by our bombing is of dire importance. I teach US history in a big urban university and have told my students that the greatest obscenity in the corporate media's coverage of this and other recent US wars is that only American lives matter. People trying to live in whatever impoverished, defenseless country we are currently bombing do not register on big media's cockeyed moral compass. Hence we never get to see or feel any of their anguish. I only wish Zinn's words could be circulated more broadly.
George W. Bush said in his State of the Union address, "Evil is real, and it must be opposed." Upon reading Howard Zinn's article, one has to stop and wonder just who the evil nation is. If US bombs had just wiped out your village and family, you would know who is evil, just like those who lost friends and loved ones on September 11 know who is evil. It's all a matter of perception, I guess.
Just how would Howard Zinn defend US citizens? Or would he? He may be of the school that feels, because of past morally indefensible interventions, that this country owes a sacrifice to "even out" the accounting in blood. September 11 was not a one-shot Oklahoma City-like catastrophe: It was an opening salvo. An armed response was mandatory; the workings of that action were, I imagine, informed by the grown-ups who advise the President. Had Zinn been in that cohort, what would he have advised?
Howard Zinn's article is a powerful reminder of the horrors that are perpetrated in the world. I, too, cried as I saw the portraits of the 9/11 victims. I, too, was crying not only for them, and not only for the victims of the wars the United States and other powers perpetrate but also for the millions who die every year because of economic terrorism. Detailed, in-depth TV and newspaper portraits of, say, the 12 million children who die from hunger every year might wake up our collective consciousness.
Zinn makes another important point that I stress with my quantitative reasoning classes: Statistical data can distance us from a deep empathy and understanding of the conditions of people's lives. Of course, the data are important because they reveal the institutional structure of those conditions. But, also, quantitatively confident and knowledgeable people can use those data to deepen their connections to humanity. Those 12 million children are dying faster than we can speak their names.