Hundreds of readers, aged 16 to 94, replied to our request for
letters detailing how September 11 changed (or didn't) "your views of
your government, your country, your world, your life." Many responses
are personal: A husband and wife separate; family members no longer
speak to one another; a woman searches for, and finds, her biological
father--all impelled by the fallout of that day. New Yorkers--and
others--report sleeping less soundly; a Brooklyn man leaps from bed in
the night at the sound of crashing booms, rushes to the window... and
finds it's a thunderstorm. A woman recovering from a Caesarean section
watches the towers fall from her hospital room and wonders what sort of
world her son, born the day before, will grow up in. A reader whose 9/11
birthday has become a deathday vows to light a candle this birthday "in
hope for our world that one day 9/11 will become a day that...changed us
for the better." Below is a selection.
Largely because of my age--75--September 11 didn't change my life one
iota. Except for this: My reaction to the fascist foragings of John
Ashcroft and the dude who sponsored him, "Shrub," has been to rejoin the
ACLU after an absence of twenty-seven years.
How has my life changed since September 11? My life goes on much the
same--except that I'm not living in America anymore. In America, people
are not disappeared. In America, cherished constitutional rights are not
abolished with the stroke of a pen. In America, disagreeing with the
government doesn't make you a terrorist. In America, ordinary citizens
don't have to wonder whether their e-mail is being read and phone
conversations taped by government agents. In America, there is no
Ministry of Truth (for telling lies) or Ministry of Love (for making
war). America doesn't wage unending war. America doesn't casually
threaten first-strike use of nuclear weapons. I see the nation I love,
in its fear and rage, stinging itself to death like a scorpion.
New Haven, Conn.
Our government's militaristic response to the crimes of 9/11 and the
failure of the Democratic Party to challenge Bush's flawed and
self-serving war on terrorism pushed me, after thirty-four years as an
active antiwar Democrat, into working for the Green Party in our
November 2001 municipal elections. Today, I am a Green Party candidate
for the US House of Representatives.
Unlike the "Arthur Andersen Democrats" and the "Enron Republicans"
against whom I'm running, I am a patriot who is not afraid to challenge
the so-called Patriot Act, which guts the Bill of Rights, or the "war"
on terrorism, which has killed hundreds of innocent civilians, created
more terrorists, earned more profits for military contractors and made
the world safer for oil companies but more dangerous for the rest of us.
Vote Green in November.
September 11 changed my life because of the government's immediate
response and continuing abuse of it as an excuse to erode civil
liberties. So what have I done? I subscribed to The Nation for
the first time ever (I'm 25), and so far have given away three gift
subscriptions. I began giving money monthly to environmental and
pro-choice organizations, as well as regular donations to the ACLU.
Motivated by John Ashcroft's total disregard for the Constitution, I
will be going to law school in the fall of 2003 to join the ranks of
those who work on the side of justice that strengthens and protects
I was in the Pentagon on September 11. Our office was on the opposite
side of the building, and as we filed out none of us guessed how
horrible it was until we saw, from the parking lot, the columns of
smoke. That first evening, amid the shock and sense of loss, I thought,
"This is what blowback really means." No one can excuse Al Qaeda's
murderous hatred, but I now realize that this terror network was made
possible by the arms and money we provided the Afghan mujahedeen during
our demented anti-Soviet crusade. Those Americans who supported these
thugs and psychopaths should be ashamed. Whenever I see that antidrug ad
that claims that buying pot helps terrorists, I am reminded that our own
cold war "patriots" helped to slaughter 3,000 people, and tried to kill
me at my desk.
Prior to 9/11 I spent my 83 years maturing in a cocoon spun by
America's fuzzy, heroic image. While well aware of its flaws, I had been
sustained by an aura of essential good will as we fought fascism,
rebuilt Europe, forgave former enemies. My cocoon erupted on 9/11, and I
emerged irate but deeply troubled by the vision of an America that would
justify such an attack. I realized our Marshall Plan spirit had morphed
into a superpower mentality, where political problems are solved by
bombs rather than sweet reason: Witness Vietnam, Baghdad, Panama City,
Belgrade, Afghanistan. With knee-jerk enthusiasm we've obliterated
infrastructures and dealt out "collateral damage" to poor nations. No
wonder we've become a target for organized hate. Can we curb our
arrogance and revive our image as people of good will before we
LLOYD EDWARD SLATER
I am of the generation that reached maturity in the 1960s and '70s. A
time of struggle and pain, yes, but also of hope. We marched, fought,
demanded a new world paradigm. Comes Reagan and my righteous generation
finds greed. What then happened to that promise? Sweet upward mobility;
the dawn of our renunciation. The 2000 election fiasco. A leader takes
power by judicial coup and not a whimper from the streets, and I cannot
comprehend. I am lost.
September 11. Our hand is forced. The time for intelligence, discussion,
debate, understanding, reflection has come, yes?
No. Wrong again. Now we love our fear. Good versus Evil this is, and we
joyfully surrender our liberties, our humanity and embrace a permanent
state of war with an omnipotent, omnipresent enemy. Our new paradigm:
sadism. I am not prepared for such a savage reversal of fortune. I am
After the savage attacks on September 11, I felt scared, angry,
confused. Days later, I found my way to an interfaith service at All
Saints Church in Pasadena. I was deeply moved by the scriptural
readings, prayers and songs offered by Christians, Jews, Muslims,
Buddhists and others. Out of that healing event, we created Interfaith
Communities United for Justice and Peace (www.icujp.org), which has been
the center of my personal efforts to contribute to greater understanding
and lasting reconciliation between people of all nationalities and
beliefs. At a study group arranged by ICUJP, I sat next to an
African-American Muslim teacher. He turned to me and said he didn't have
a Torah. I responded that I didn't have a Koran. At the next meeting, we
exchanged our holy scriptures. It brought us closer together, and we
have become friends.
STEPHEN F. ROHDE
After the initial shock/grief came the stunned recognition of the
despair and deep hatred felt against the United States, then finally the
gut-wrenching knowledge that the vast majority of US citizens love being
hated. They shower approval on the Administration and Congress for every
piece of legislation that increases US killing power, entrenches inroads
on constitutional freedoms and inflicts economic and physical handicaps
and health hazards on all the populations of the planet.
The Pentagon/Administration response to the "act" was so fast, the
erosion of civil liberties so quickly and deftly accomplished, flags
blanketed the continent so speedily and providentially--I can't help but
think that the act of terrorism was not only expected but that
contingency plans had been prepared months, perhaps years in advance--a
Stalinist-type master plan. These duplicitous plans have been welcomed
and incorporated into everyday living with hardly a ripple to indicate a
residue of thoughtfulness or alternative possibilities.
Yes, I am changed. I am ashamed of my country and bitterly acknowledge
that there is no prospect of new directions.
September 11 changed my life by directing my 94-year-old,
still-functioning wits and remaining energies from the sheltered
smugness of an assisted-living home out again into the real world with a
determined campaign to compel G.W. Bush to answer this key question: Why
were no jets commanded to divert those three lethal hijacked planes
after each had appeared off-course on radar and all failed to obey the
orders of air controllers? Why, Mr. Bush?
JANE SHERMAN LEHAC
Liars! From the very top on down, my government does not know the
meaning of the word "truth." In light of the billions of dollars we
spend on electronic communication monitoring installations at Menwith
Hill, Britain, and at several sites in the continental United States, we
taxpayers have been deceived. Our NSA claims to have worldwide
monitoring capabilities over all electronic communications.
It is inconceivable that with all the electronic communications before
9/11, some intelligence was not deciphered and passed on to the
appropriate officials. When, where, by whom was the necessary
intelligence intercepted, interpreted, analyzed, collated and forwarded
to the responsible agencies and parties? Polygraphs everyone?
JAMES B. BURKHOLDER
Colonel, US Army, retired
September 11 has reinforced all my negatives: suspicion of government
motives; frustration at the perpetuation of failed policies; horror at
the immense war budget; fear of nuclear proliferation; opposition to
oppressive and domineering globalization; anger at support given to
repressive regimes while raving and ranting at Cuba; despair that an
equitable Middle East solution cannot override oil interests; and
finally, that we are doing absolutely nothing to address the grievances
of "terrorists" while eroding our own democracy and allowing degradation
of the environment.
September 11 is an American hegemonical construct, a good guys vs.
evil vision that is as much a part of American cultural imperialism as
McDonald's or the latest Hollywood movie. Sycophantic French politicians
and intellectuals (like Bernard Henri-Levy) quickly proclaimed that "we
are all Americans." The result has been a frustrating diversion from the
real issues. To limit the discussion to terrorism--who has the world's
biggest arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons? Who refuses
to sign any treaty outlawing them, or landmines for that matter?
Who--and for good reason--refuses to reject genocide or pre-emptive
nuclear strikes? The biggest threat to world peace today is not
minuscule terrorist groups but the US government. As an American who has
lived in France for the past twenty years, for me September 11
epitomizes the self-centered worldview of too many of my countrymen.
I have not felt so alienated from this country since Nixon was elected
to a second term after Watergate and all his misdeeds in Southeast Asia.
I was so devastated by the instantaneous deaths of so many people, and
then so appalled by the nationalistic frenzy, the lust for revenge and
the level of pure propaganda in the mainstream media. So much emotional
manipulation, so little cogent analysis. Having Bush in the White House
made it all much harder for me, given his general ignorance of foreign
affairs and his entourage of cold warriors. I have never appreciated the
alternative press, especially The Nation, so much.
North Bend, Ore.
I'm a Democrat and former Green Beret with a BA in political science
and get my news primarily from ABC, NPR and BBC radio. After Al Qaeda
spectacularly murdered a couple thousand Americans, we "brought death"
to Afghanistan in retaliation, belying "Clinton's weakening" of our
forces. That twice as many Afghan citizens died collaterally, many
Americans died from friendly fire and Al Qaeda apparently returned to
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, might bear investigation. No?
On the home front, our Attorney General has, modestly, hidden Justice,
and God knows what else, but the anthrax murders remain unsolved. Our
National Security Adviser's patent culpability for the attack's success
is unremarked upon. Republicans' malfeasance, ideological incoherence
and compassionless corporatism, ever more glaring, go unchallenged. Do
most Americans still want a national health plan? Yes?
Nothing has changed, nor will it unless Democrats fix Dumbya and try a
testicular implant (metaphorically speaking, of course!).
Long Beach, Calif.
September 11 is a lot about the enemy from without. But the enemy from
without will never, try though it may, extinguish the American
experiment. We Americans, on the other hand, are armed and capable of
such a result. As I fear us more than them, September 11 has little
changed my life.
I am of Indian origin and before September 11 learned to avoid racism
by presenting myself in a relentlessly middle-class fashion. And if the
precise diction, discreet deodorant and the late-model four-door sedan
proved insufficient, then out came the race card. "Is my race a
problem?" I would ask with a faint British intonation. I felt a sense of
entitlement in challenging the closet racial profiler to deny his own
But 9/11 changed all that. My identity as a comfortably assimilated
immigrant who moves easily among various cultures, languages and
geographical regions has been shown to be a fragile myth. To the
security guards at the malls, airports and theme parks around the
country, I look like the sister of the nineteen hijackers. My
cosmopolitanism, my ability to read ancient Tamil love poetry, my
advanced degrees become irrelevant in the face of such appalling
"We'll never be the same," broadcasters kept pronouncing while
replaying jets slamming towers. That sounded so false, from people
worried about their makeup surviving marathon airtime. (Do I seem cold?)
My firstborn son died from an auto accident on August 11, 2001. I don't
expect to be the same. A month later, I felt families' desperate waits,
dwindling hopes. Not the urge for revenge; I lacked that option. Leaders
who scare me more than bin Laden jumped to exploit the revenge rush,
while the "commentariat" lock-stepped in boosting an amorphous war,
blowing off civil liberties. My faith in journalism tanked. I'm a
freelance reporter. An apparent economic fallout from 9/11 was the
folding of a little alternative magazine I wrote for. I still feel
powerless, but better since visiting a conference to interview
peacebuilders from several continents. Their spirits moved me.
Accustomed to danger, children dying, they hadn't given up.
Flat Gap, Ky.
Everything changed with the Supreme Court's appointment of George W.
Bush, not with the events of September 11. Like a bicycle ride along a
peaceful country road when a pack of dogs run out from nowhere and bite
your ankle, any sense of security is now an open wound. Even the dogs on
your own front porch become suspect and you lose your trust.
CATHERINE S. WELLS
Omaha Indian Reservation, Macy, Neb.
On September 11, Ariel Sharon said all Americans are Israelis,
learning that terror can strike anywhere, anywhen. With equal
conviction, Yasir Arafat might have said all Americans are Palestinians,
compelled to retaliation and pre-emption. Although these metaphors are
apt, neither is accurate.
Rather, it may be said with supreme justification that all Americans are
Native American Indians, living under occupation by a hostile government
ever ready to liquidate our life, liberty, property--our pursuit of
happiness--in conducting an endless, self-righteous campaign.
Presaging the Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Indian
Affairs has extraordinary powers, employing DOJ, FBI, CIA and military
enforcement and investigations. Intelligence responsibilities are
debated, ignoring our experiences: Feds rarely uncover evidence; they
create it, solving mysteries and preventing disasters only by
expropriating the work of others. Their goals are to destroy, not
protect; to master, not serve. Heed us, America. Our plight is
yours--our history, your future.
J. WILLIAM MORELAND
Chief Judge, Omaha Tribal Court
I'm a 73-year-old retired American academic who witnessed the events
of September 11 on CNN here in Poland. Initial reactions: outrage, angry
"patriotism" and a powerful helplessness. As reason replaced reaction,
those feelings diminished.
The attack? Inevitable. Built on US ignorance and arrogance and
exclusion. Why do they hate us? Years of ruinous intervention and
destabilization of Third World countries, especially those seeking
self-determination in leftist political movements. September 11
unleashed religious and political fundamentalist zeal, a manic frenzy of
"security" threatening constitutional safeguards.
Polish officials assured me of protection. As an Arab-American, would I
suffer abuse at home? Life-change? Yes. 9/11 sharpened my sense of
responsibility for others. Sadly, the hatred that generated the attacks
has not provoked objective intellectual examination of cause, has
only brought a violent reactionary backlash effect. The
conscience of America remains where it was: anesthetized by greed,
racism, nationalism and impotent leadership.
JAMES E. HASHIM
I drive tractor-trailers, tankers. I could do great harm to thousands
of people without learning or buying a thing, with a good chance of
getting away and doing it again. The fitful inspections of a few trucks
after 9/11 are long gone. Since neither means nor opportunity need
restrain anyone's hand for long, I was naïve enough to hope that
9/11 might launch some citizen debate on applying the golden rule to the
rest of the planet. Our collective reaction to 9/11 has taught me that
self-interest and intelligence are not as intertwined as I had hoped.
September 11 haiku:
among the rubble
the chickens come home to roost
waking us up now
I am a songwriter and visual artist, and I thought I would go home
that evening to document the day in words and images, but I found I
couldn't. I just watched the smoke rising, from my window in Brooklyn. I
found that there were experiences too deep for words or songs. That
night I wrote in my journal:
I have no songs to sing, until I can sing all songs
I try to speak, but I have no voice until I can have all voices
I would call on God but I think that God will only answer
to all of his names, spoken as one.
There were oblique benefits. There was commercial-free network TV for
four days after 9/11. The twin towers had been the worst hazard of all
on the Atlantic flyway, and during three decades of autumn and spring
migration on a few mornings, fallouts of thousands of shorebirds and
passerines lay on the asphalt below them.
The worst did not occur. If planes had been flown into the Indian Point
and Three Mile Island reactors, probably failing to penetrate the
containment chambers but destroying the surrounding cooling systems,
there could have been millions dead and dying after meltdown.
And there was unintended bathos. In the hours following, Gen. Norman
Schwarzkopf suggested that it might have been the Montana Militia.
What surprises and disappoints me is how little has changed since the
terrorist attacks. I thought the horrific death and destruction on our
own soil so clearly demonstrated hatred and resentment toward us that we
would work ceaselessly to implement an evenhanded approach to Israel and
Palestine. I thought our leaders would ask us to make some sacrifices,
and we'd give up our SUVs and other aspects of our everyday life built
on oil gluttony and being beholden to Saudi Arabia. I thought a
successful attack with box-cutters would highlight the stupidity of
"missile defense" and we'd begin to change how we spent our defense
dollars. I thought we'd finally acknowledge we need transportation
diversity and begin creating a healthy passenger rail system with less
dependence on air travel. I thought we'd become less unilateral and work
harder to build alliances and honor treaties. I was so wrong.
Stony Brook, NY
September 11 has not changed my life. It has accentuated and
invigorated my desire to return home, to Jaffa, Palestine, as soon as
possible. I am a graduate student at a US university, and I have not
felt as strong a desire to return to my culture, national history and
values as in the aftermath of what has become an American right to a
moment in time called "9/11."
I came to this country with as little animosity as possible for a Third
World colonized citizen, hoping to refute all I had learned as a child.
I am about to leave with repugnance, wrath and hopelessness toward an
arrogant, brutally hypocritical, mass-destructive autocracy, the United
States of America, governed not only by its political head but by its
willfully ignorant people.
Daytona Beach, Fla.
Having come to America from the Philippines, a country colonized by
Spain and the United States and then brutalized by the dictatorship of
Ferdinand Marcos, I learned early the meaning and the beauty of freedom.
The longer I lived here, the better I appreciated how precious freedom
has been in all its manifestations.
Then came September 11. In a matter of minutes, I learned that the thing
I have held as so sacred in my life could also be fragile. Why, why? How
could there be so much hate when America is the one country that has
welcomed people of all colors, races and religious creeds to share in
its blessings of freedom?
September 11 taught me more than ever that America is worth fighting and
dying for; that out of the ashes, we shall emerge stronger and more
united, and that my adopted country will continue to be a shining beacon
for the rest of the world.
REMIGIO G. LACSAMANA
I lost my brother to murder in 1984. Some people reacted with dismay
that my opposition to the death penalty didn't change. Did they think
this principle was based on some bizarrely naïve idea that people
never commit terrible crimes? Or was it that the closer to home a
perpetrator strikes, the harsher the appropriate punishment? A family
conflict erupted after the murder: Was it legitimate to try to
understand how these two young men had arrived at the point of
committing this crime, to examine the social web of race and class in
which they and my brother intersected, or was such an examination
tantamount to offering an excuse for what they'd done?
Change the details, and precisely these same tensions have characterized
the public debate following September 11. I hope we Americans can work
through them patiently and thoughtfully, as my family and I have had to
Gays Mills, Wisc.
The events of 9/11 have strongly reaffirmed my commitment to my
intentional community, Dancing Waters Permaculture Co-op, created to
remove land from the debt cycle through collective ownership. Using
consensus decision-making, our collective is a nonviolent attempt to
demonstrate an alternative to the capitalist, consumerist ideology that
the terrorists symbolically targeted when they attacked the World Trade
The worst thing was going out into my yard while the towers were
burning. My cats were there, our garden was a jungle and the Vermont day
was so beautiful it hurt. My heart was pounding. I wondered if these
simple things that brought me such joy would even exist for another
month, another week, another hour.
Unfortunately, with the White House occupied by people who make Dr.
Strangelove and General Ripper look normal, I still wonder how long we
will have our freedom or our lives. I can't say I am optimistic, but
miracles can and do happen. Love must happen on earth, or none of us
Garfield Heights, Ohio
Having been involved with the movement to shut down the WHISC/SOA for
several years, I sat in a bus stop in Cleveland after my school was
evacuated on September 11 with the terrible feeling that these attacks
were some sort of repercussion of US foreign policy.
As the antiwar movement began to take shape, I became involved as soon
as possible. I feel that a change in US foreign policy of militarization
and neoliberal economics isn't just needed, it is imperative to the
survival of this country, and possibly the world.
I participated in the antiwar demonstrations on September 29, and many
more since then. September 11 changed my life in the sense that I now
feel that being a single-issue or armchair activist isn't enough, that I
must be involved in what I believe and educated and involved in other
The first news I received of the attacks came from my government
teacher. The tragedies of that day shocked me more than any event in my
seventeen years. Something else that happened was almost as surprising
to me. Alongside pictures of toppled buildings came pictures of people
in other countries holding vigil for America. That people all over the
world cared that much about America surprised me. I knew that we have
friends and allies, but it never seemed they were that close to us. We
don't seem to feel as much solidarity with others. Instead of doing our
part in the world, we do things such as not participating in the Kyoto
Protocol and the International Criminal Court. It seems we only act when
our interests are threatened. America is shown great friendship by other
countries--we need to learn how to give friendship back.
Mt. Pleasant, SC
September 11 made me, an 18-year-old living in the suburbs, much more
cynical, and that's difficult to do. When our leaders had an
unprecedented opportunity to lead, all I got was a bunch of talk (unless
a behemoth military budget counts as "leadership"). And when I expected
citizens to be shaken from their 1990s isolationist,
stock-market-is-booming delirium, all I got was the irony of an SUV with
huge American flags posted all over it. I really don't intend to sound
rude or coldhearted; I was just as shocked, saddened and outraged when I
saw the CNN footage. But unity and resolve are not jingoism. And a just
response is not unilateralism and carpet-bombing. If the so-called Bush
Doctrine is all the "change" I can expect from our leaders (and the
willful submission of others, Democrats), then I wish I was ignorant
enough not to care. The biggest tragedy of 9/11, aside from the
appalling loss of human life, is one of missed opportunity on the part
of the government and the failure of its citizens to call them on
I cannot identify with the notion that "nothing will ever be the same
again." That's a young person's view. For those of us pushing 60, the
world turned on its head when Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were
killed. With them died the strong possibility of social change. By the
time Reagan took office, many of us had stopped caring. I know I did.
Oddly, September 11 has made me care again. Not the attacks, which were
an outrage, but the federal government's response--the so-called war on
terrorism, with its shameful trampling of civil liberties, its reckless
threats to engage in war against Iraq and its self-righteous moralizing
about "goodness" here and "evil" there. I feel an urgent need to work
for peace and nonviolence once again.
My quest to tell the truth led me in midlife to my dream career. I
became a reporter for my hometown newspaper. There wasn't a lot of hard
news, but the opinion page allowed me to explore broader issues and
excite discussion in my community. That all ended on September 11, when
exciting discussion became unpatriotic. Censorship and my ensuing
protest cost me my job. Mainstream media, I learned, is often the
purveyor of silence.
But I have become the resister of silence. I print copies of
antiviolence fliers from my home computer to plaster on windshields, and
I have discovered independent media. The little girl who was afraid of
the sound of her own voice spoke to a crowd on the steps of the State
Capitol at a peace rally on April 20. The small-town reporter spoke the
truth, and her voice was heard around the world.
Orwell said, "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth
becomes a revolutionary act." On September 11 this middle-class,
middle-aged middle American became a revolutionist.
The horrifying events of September 11 and the mushrooming horrors
unleashed (war, racism, loss of civil liberties) have changed me.
Disgusted by the vapid rhetoric of patriotism, I realized how profoundly
I prize this continent and its progressive heroes and how repulsed I am
by nationalism everywhere. I ache for a transformed world but am more
uncertain how we will get there. We cannot be cast forever as sacrifices
in someone else's nightmare: Bush's "limited nuclear war," religious
fundamentalisms' apocalyptic wet dreams, capitalism's age-old werewolf
As a lesbian, feminist, Marxist-humanist, I know that Bush, bin Laden,
Sharon and Hamas would certainly agree to hate and silence me. So part
of my struggle is to live: fiercely cherishing lovers, friends,
allies and the beauties of this vital planet.
September 11 and its aftermath have made me afraid for this country.
The attacks were tragic evidence that an America once loved and admired
around the world is now an object of hatred. Instead of asking why, the
Bush Administration and a complaisant Congress used the event as an
excuse to kill more innocent people in Afghanistan, justify a bloated
military budget, harass immigrants, jail suspects without charges,
institute domestic spying and erode civil liberties in the name of
"security." I worry about the callous brutality shown when our leaders
debate over when and how to launch a war on Iraq, but show no concern
for the thousands of Iraqi people who are certain to be killed in such a
war. In short, I am afraid that in waging George Bush's open-ended "war
on terrorism" America will become the most dangerous terrorist of
Chapel Hill, NC
As I watched the towers fall on TV from my home in Prescott, Arizona,
on September 11, I shed tears not only for the horror and tragedy of the
attacks, but also in anticipation of the reaction of our government at
home and abroad. Later I headed two hours north to my favorite
cathedral, the Grand Canyon, for some solitude, silence and perspective.
I quit my job and now find myself back in my native North Carolina,
about to embark on a PhD program in political science.
People hear what I'm doing and say, Good luck changing the system. I
say, Well, thank you. Because if at any age I ever lose my idealism and
vision for global social, economic and environmental justice, I pray
someone will put me on a bus to the canyon for a little perspective.
JENNIFER E. WEAVER
I have been stunned by how a coup d'état can take place in
America. The combination of irregular presidential election, traumatic
terrorist attack, administrative control by radical conservatives and
the intimidation and cowardliness of the opposition have achieved
incredible changes. Our country now has an endless war policy,
unilateral withdrawal from international agreements, illegal detentions,
threats to constitutional rights and theft of the people's resources for
military ends. The well-oiled evince a voracious appetite for world
domination and homeland insecurity. I feel like an alien in my beloved
land, now a place of nightmares.
Can we wake up and reclaim our freedom? I work toward a community of
communities across this land who dream a new vision and turn fear,
suspicion and greed into generosity and justice for all.
After the horror let go of my throat I thought, that's it, thirty-five
years of work for peace and equality down the tubes. Our leaders will
now have license to bomb anywhere, anytime, void the Bill of Rights and
shoo away dissent with the flag. They won, we lost.
But wait. History doesn't change course in a day. The world a year after
the attacks looks a lot like the world before 9/11. Liberty imperiled as
always, hard cheese for poor people and poor societies, our leaders
choosing which tyrants to support and which to overthrow, the rich in
power. But the loony system they rule is weaker, not stronger, than a
year ago--is bumping into its own homemade contradictions. If anything,
the terrorists deepened its confusion. I'm ready to rise up once more
MORE FUN THAN A BARREL OF...
In an accurate review of Jonathan Marks's loosely argued What It
Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee, Micaela di Leonardo passes on to readers
the misleading impression that the Great Ape Project uses the genetic
similarities between humans and apes to argue for "human rights" for
apes, "frequently to the detriment of the impoverished African and
Southeast Asian residents of ape homelands" ["Too Much Monkey Business,"
This is false from start to finish. First, the Great Ape Project is not
based on the genetic similarities of humans and great apes but on the
rich emotional and mental lives of the great apes, so well documented by
supporters of the Great Ape Project like Jane Goodall and many others.
Second, the Great Ape Project does not seek the full range of human
rights for great apes, but only the basic rights to life, liberty and
protection from torture, and even the rights to life and liberty that we
seek are not absolute, for they allow euthanasia in the interests of the
apes, and captivity where that is in the best interests of the apes or
is required for the safety of others. Finally, the protection of the
remaining, and rapidly dwindling, forests of Africa and Southeast Asia
where the great apes live in their natural habitat is, surely, also in
the best long-term interests of the human residents of those regions.
Readers interested in finding out more about the project for themselves
may go to www.greatapeproject.org.
DI LEONARDO REPLIES
You've got to hand it to notorious headline-grabbing philosopher Peter
Singer, who has endorsed infanticide for disabled human babies, claimed
we can solve global poverty by just consuming a little less and donating
as individuals to aid agencies (no need, apparently, to complicate
matters by considering capitalist functioning and state and NGO actions)
and called for a revision of taboos against bestiality since "sex with
animals does not always involve cruelty." Now how exactly can he hold
his mouth to call Jon Marks's 98% Chimpanzee loosely argued?
What is so refreshing about Marks's work is that he is a hard scientist
who really understands that we live and act within a shifting political
economy. Animal and ecosystem conservation and human rights for the
impoverished who live in surviving great ape territories in Africa and
Southeast Asia need not be antithetical projects, but Marks quotes
numerous Great Ape Project activists who believe they are, including the
zoologist who chillingly said to him, "Think percentages, not numbers"
in weighing Southeast Asian human vs. ape rights. Others frequently
liken apes to human children or mentally retarded adults. And Singer is
most disingenuous in claiming that the GAP does not argue on the basis
of genetic similarity. The group's official website clearly argues for
apes' inclusion with humans in a "community of equals" because they (and
Singer co-wrote this statement) "are the closest relatives of our
The issue, as Marks makes crystal clear, is not whether apes are
adorable, interesting, endangered and in need of aid--of course they
are--but how we use science to make political arguments. "Why should the
mentality of apes have any bearing on their humanness (or lack thereof)
or their rights (or lack thereof)? If you lose the ability to reason and
communicate, do you...forfeit your humanity and rights? This is a scary
moral place for apes and people to be.... Human rights should neither be
forfeitable nor accessible by nonhumans.... Singling out particular
classes of people in order to show how similar they are to apes is a
troubling scientific strategy, not least of all when the humans
rhetorically invoked are the very ones whose rights are most
conspicuously in jeopardy."
Disability groups and others quite rightly have weighed in en masse
against Singer, but nonhuman primates, too, deserve a better, more
MICAELA DI LEONARDO
THIS IS A TEST. THIS IS ONLY A TEST...
Santa Barbara, Calif.
Eighty years ago, journalist Walter Lippmann took on the standardized
testing enterprise in The New Republic, addressing such broad
issues as the effects of education, opportunity and heredity on test
scores. For example, Lippmann dismissed the claim that IQ tests measure
hereditary intelligence as having "no more scientific foundation than a
hundred other fads, vitamins and glands and amateur psychoanalysis and
correspondence courses in will power." His articles on testing continue
to be valued today not merely because he could turn a phrase but because
he had a firm grasp of the complex technical and political issues
surrounding the use of test scores.
Alas, Peter Sacks is no Walter Lippmann. To Sacks, who reviewed my book
Fair Game? The Use of Standardized Admissions Tests in Higher
Education ["Testing Times in Higher Ed," June 24], the issues are
simple: Tests are evil; eliminating them is good. Sacks has undoubtedly
been aware of my work because I have pointed out errors and omissions in
his writings on testing; in fact, I do so in my book. He ignores large
portions of the book in order to characterize it as "a defense of the
hegemony of gatekeeping exams." A reader of the review might be
surprised to find that my book proposes a new consumer agency to monitor
admissions testing, discusses the perils of relying too heavily on test
scores in admissions decisions and describes research, including some of
my own, in which test scores did not do a good job of predicting
Rather than attempt to address every inaccuracy, I will focus on a
central feature of Sacks's review--his belief that the existence of
score disparities among ethnic and economic groups proves that
admissions tests are biased. In Fair Game? I point out that
determining whether tests are biased is complex and requires a
willingness to look beyond patterns of average test scores. In
Change (March/April 2001), I commented on Sacks's earlier
Change article, "Standardized Testing: Meritocracy's Crooked
Yardstick": "[Sacks] cited several studies to prove that SAT scores and
socioeconomic status are related, and alluded to [a study conducted by
the National Center for Education Statistics]. What he neglected to
mention is that this study showed that socioeconomic status was also
related to high school grades... [and to course background, teacher
evaluations and extracurricular activities]. In particular, 24 percent
of the high-SES group, compared to only 10 percent of the low-SES group,
had high school [grade-point averages] of at least 3.5..."
What the GPA and the SAT have in common is that they are indexes of
previous achievement and therefore reflect past inequalities in
educational opportunity. In The Nation (June 5, 2000), Pedro
Noguera and Antwi Akom noted that "explaining why poor children of color
perform comparatively less well in school is relatively easy:
Consistently, such children are educated in schools that are woefully
inadequate on most measures of quality and funding."
Sacks omitted the findings on grades and other achievement measures from
his book and from his Change article. Presenting the complete
results would have undercut his position that some inherent property of
tests causes the scores to be related to economic factors. (Including
all the findings might have also required him to abandon his pet phrase,
"the Volvo effect," which he uses to refer to the association between
family income and standardized test scores.)
In addition, Sacks is incorrect in implying that class-rank admission
plans like the Texas 10 percent plan, which involve consideration of
high school grades but not test scores, have uniformly led to greater
campus diversity. The Dallas Morning News, for example, reported
on June 19, 2002, that at Texas A&M, the percentages of black and
Latino students have decreased since the initiation of the Texas plan.
As I point out in my book, the plan is structured so that diversity
benefits are likely to accrue to the state's flagship institution, UT
Finally, in response to Sacks's criticism that my writing is
textbookish, I readily concede that I lack his ability to generate
catchy phrases like "Volvo effect" and "crooked yardstick." But clever
labels are a poor substitute for thoughtful consideration of the
controversies that surround the use of standardized tests.
In response to my criticisms of her new book, Rebecca Zwick takes aim
at the reviewer. She says I believe that "tests are evil; eliminating
them is good." It's not surprising she'd make up this straw man, since
attacking it also sums up the entire marketing strategy behind her book.
Zwick--a former researcher at the Educational Testing Service, the firm
that produces such standardized tests as the SAT--and her publisher have
touted Fair Game? as a source of objective information about
testing, positioned to clear up all this testing fuss with common sense
and straight facts. If one chooses to look at a different or broader set
of facts than she does, or to interpret them with a non-ETS spin, Zwick
seems to imply that one must then be a simpleton and an ideologue.
Zwick tries to make hay of the finding that high school or college
grades, just like test scores, also correlate strongly to socioeconomic
status. Not recognizing this, as Zwick takes pains to do in her book, is
to unfairly single out standardized tests as punitive to poor and
minority kids, Zwick claims.
Like so much of her book, Zwick seems to miss the big picture. The
thrust of my entire critique of the testing culture--and her book--is
that gatekeeping tests give questionable weight to one-time performance
on highly abstracted testing exercises, which by definition are mere
approximations of genuine work. And mostly poor approximations, at that.
Given this, it's no wonder that test scores are such feeble predictors
of later success, whether in school or work.
Just as Bates College and other institutions have done, with great
success, in their efforts to reduce the importance of admissions tests,
I'll take classroom performance--as measured by grades, portfolios of
student work and other documentation of student accomplishments both in
and out of school--any day over test performance as an indicator of how
a student will perform in real life, not the tested life.
Regarding the Texas 10-percent plan, Zwick says I'm incorrect in
implying that de-emphasizing the SAT has led to greater diversity for
all state institutions. In fact, I'm not implying any such claim in the
context she quotes. I draw on data only from the University of Texas at
Austin. Zwick speculates that the plan has merely reshuffled the deck in
terms of statewide enrollments of minorities. If Zwick wants me
or another reviewer to take her seriously on this point, she'd better
offer up something of substance or do some real analysis. In her book,
Zwick could only muster up this: "Data on the statewide effect of
the Texas 10 percent plan are hard to come by."
What can she possibly mean with such a vague statement? That university
officials are trying to hide some dirty little secret? Does it mean that
there are no campus-specific enrollment data broken out by race and
ethnicity? Seems improbable. Or could it mean that Zwick could find no
readily available studies by credible researchers that support her claim
that enrollments have merely been redistributed from other state
campuses to Austin? But even a boatload of data needs a theory, an
explanation of what the data mean. Alas, Zwick offers readers no
theoretically plausible explanation whatsoever as to why minority
enrollments might be expected to decline across the state as a result of
reducing the emphasis on SAT scores. In fact, there's every reason to
expect just the opposite.
As for textbookishness, that is certainly no major offense. Sign me up
any day for a dry but forthright book about testing in America.
Regarding Zwick's curious reference to me and Walter Lippmann, I won't
touch that one with a ten-foot number-2 pencil.
Micah Sifry's August 1, 2001 Nation Online article, "Greens at the Crossroads," sparked a number of letters from many of those active in the Green movement. We've published six of them below along with a reply from Sifry.
New York City
Micah Sifry gets some things right. The Minnesota Greens' decision to run a candidate against Paul Wellstone is wrong; at this moment retaining a Democratic Senate is an important part of progressive strategy. And while Ralph Nader has helped the Green Party grow, the Greens must stop hanging on his celebrity and build on their own candidates and issues. But in contending that the Greens are too far left and should stick to economic populism, Sifry misconstrues the party's nature and purpose.
Unlike most electoral parties, the Greens are a hybrid--a social movement as well as an electoral vehicle. Instead of reflecting the "left wing of the possible," whose boundaries have become so narrow that yesterday's centrists are today's liberals, we have a vision of change that seeks to expand people's idea of what's possible and persuade them to act on hope rather than despair. This vision includes proposals for economic democracy that entail a strong anti-corporate position; the Greens are on the cutting edge of campaign and electoral reform. But our concerns are far broader. Our signature issue, ecological sanity, marks us off from virtually every other formation in American politics. We take the global context seriously: We are the only party to argue that the crisis of global warming requires radical changes in our way of life, especially democratic transnational institutions that confront rampant oligarchic capitalism. And unlike the economic populists who disdain social radicalism because they believe it is "divisive," the party is feminist and opposes the death penalty and the war on drugs. In short, the Green Party aims to become an alternative to the two major parties, not a single-issue organization.
Sifry seems to think the Green Party should exercise centralized political discipline over local organizations. But decentralization is the hallmark of a democratic social movement. The results are inevitably messy and contentious. (Indeed, from my perspective, some Greens are too cautious about distinguishing themselves from politics as usual.) But this does not mean the Greens are fated to remain marginal. Opponents of Green politics may use decisions like Minnesota's as an excuse to discredit the party as such, but most of our potential constituents are capable of understanding that we are not a monolith.
This is a moment of turbulence, when many elements of conventional wisdom are in doubt. It is the Greens' role to deepen those doubts and convert them into action.
(The writer is Green Party candidate for Governor of New York State.)
New Haven, CT
For the record, however Micah Sifry chooses to describe or analyze the relationship between Ralph Nader and the Green Party, he should have included some crucial facts. For example, since the November 2000 elections, Ralph Nader has headlined about thirty-eight fundraisers for the Green Party and its candidates, including seven joint fundraisers for the national and one of the state Green parties. This has helped Greens to raise over $200,000. When the fundraisers have been with the national party, Nader has also allowed the use of his donor list for that state, to assure that the fundraisers have had the best
turnout possible. As part of those thirty-eight fundraisers, Nader has headlined fundraisers for the Green Party in conjunction with each
of the Democracy Rising super-rallies. Democracy Rising also shares the list of the DR attendees with the state Green Party where the Democracy Rising event is held.
Finance Director, Green Party of the United States (title for identification purposes only)
For the record, the relationship between Ralph Nader and the Green Party is as good as it's ever been. While Micah Sifry would not be incorrect to point to strains in that relationship, it is surely an overstatement to proclaim, as he did in "Greens at the Crossroads," that the relationship is "dysfunctional."
While it's true that Nader has not agreed to many things the party
has asked of him, it is also a fact that he has continued to actively
support our growth and development. For example, since the November
2000 elections, Ralph Nader has headlined, at last count, thirty-eight
fundraisers for the Green Party and its candidates, including seven joint
state/national fundraisers, helping Greens to raise over $200,000. Nader also talks up the Green Party in the media and in his many public appearances.
It would be unrealistic to expect a historic and powerful figure such as Ralph Nader and a 250,000-member political party such as the Greens to have a smooth relationship. We are grateful to Nader for everything he has done for our party.
Co-Chair, Green Party of the United States
Micah Sifry quotes me and I feel takes my comments very much out of context. I agree in many respects with his analysis of the challenges facing the Green
Party. But in regard to the issue of the Minnesota Greens running Ed McGaa, he seems to have done little more than justify his own fear and outrage, and paint anyone who does not share his apprehensions as hopelessly naive and out of touch with political reality. Of course I know who Senators Orrin Hach and Patrick Leahy are and the importance of the Senate Judiciary committee, but was not prepared to compare and contrast them for Sifry. What Sifry did not say in his analysis of the Green Party speaks volumes. He did not say that Badili Jones, an
African-American, and I, a Latina, are part of a grassroots of "Citizen Leaders" who are driving the Green Party to become the mechanism for making real the myth of democracy. In addition to being co-chairs of the national Green Party both Badili, in Atlanta, Georgia, and I, in Toledo, Ohio, undertake the bulk of our activism on the ground and in our communities. We are both involved in numerous
projects including efforts to address issues of racism and how it has manifested since September 11, 2001. Sifry didn't say these things because he probably didn't know these things, and he didn't know because he didn't ask, and he didn't ask because he was too busy running around acting like "the sky is falling," and blaming it on the Greens. What I expressed to Sifry when he interviewed me in Philadelphia was that both the Democrats and the Republicans have failed the ordinary people of this country and that the Greens should
not be expected to insulate the democrats from their mistakes.
How presumptuous of Sifry to assume that my indifference to his concerns about the Senate race in Minnesota stems from ignorance. As the daughter of migrant farmworkers, as someone who has stood in welfare lines, as someone who has stood in unemployment lines, as someone who has known what it feels like to be hungry in America, I know very well the consequences of continuing with our
farce of a democratic political system. And I am far more concerned about
the reelection of Cynthia McKinney than I am about Paul Wellstone, and it isn't Greens who are running against her.
Co-Chair of the Green Party of the United States
East Windsor, NJ
Micah Sifry laments that the Greens "risk being hobbled by their own impatience." Just two years after our first major presidential campaign, nine months after being recognized by the Federal Elections Commission as a national party, one week after our first-ever midterm convention, the article holds us to awfully high standards of political maturity. I guess we could take that as a compliment of sorts, but I can't help feeling that Sifry is the one who's showing impatience.
He mentions "promising Green candidates in places like Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Texas," but cites a single problematic situation in Minnesota as evidence that "the Green Party is at risk of being fixed in the public's mind by the choices of its most flamboyant branch"--and he devotes more than half the text of his article to oy-vaying about that particular situation!
The movement for Green politics in the United States is clearly in its infancy. Based on reasonable standards of comparison (for instance, relative to initiatives like the Reform Party, New Party, Labor Party, and Citizens Party) the Greens are showing exceptional potential and impressive growth in all measurable areas: number of activists, registrants, votes, candidacies and electoral victories.
Constructive, empathetic criticism is most welcome, but we hope Sifry and all who wish to see a progressive challenge to the only-two-choices system will maintain some perspective. Even better--join up and help us achieve the standards we all agree to be desirable and ultimately attainable. We're on the road toward becoming America's third significant political party.
Green Party of New Jersey
Working with Anita Rios closely, as I do here in Ohio, I am not
surprised that she did not profess to an intimate familiarity with
Patrick Leahy or Orrin Hatch nor their possibly different approaches
to running the Judiciary Committee of the US Senate.
What would surprise me is if Anita had not talked passionately about
the need to empower the disenfranchised in this society. Nor provided
details of the challenges Greens face in organizing grassroots
opposition to corporate power. Opposition such as the rally Anita
helped organize near Toledo the weekend after the national convention
to urge the final and complete shutdown of the damaged Davis-Besse
nuclear power plant on the shores of Lake Erie.
I also am not surprised that Sifry chose a comment by Anita
that supported his thesis regarding Greens' supposed lack of
As for surprises, know now that you should not be surprised if we
who fight in the trenches on a regular basis ignore the tut-tutting
of armchair politicos who profess to offer guidance on the "proper"
path. If the Greens eventually gain national power it will not be
because we artfully finessed conflict and setbacks. We will have
gained national power because we fought the tough conflicts and
overcame setbacks and defeated, in an upset of millennial
proportions, the entrenched powers that are sucking the lifeblood
from this nation.
Convener, Green Party of Ohio
New York City
Since readers can easily find my original article online, I'm not going to reiterate all my arguments here, but just respond to what I see as the key points made by these letters.
1. Steve Welzer says I'm being impatient with the Greens, who are still in their infancy. Maybe yes, maybe no. As I see it, the Greens were in their infancy all through the 1980s and into the early 1990s, when organizers in a few states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine and New Mexico in particular) began building the electorally oriented state parties that became the core of the Association of State Green Parties (formed in 1997) that eventually absorbed its rival Greens/Green Party USA and became the Green Party of the United States in 2001. Some state parties are obviously much younger than others, having been spawned by the Nader campaigns of 1996 and 2000.
2. Besides, if the goal is to grow out of one's infancy, the question has to be: By what strategy? Steve is right to point to the Greens' growth and potential--all of which I noted at the beginning of my article. But new/minor political parties are incredibly fragile flowers. Stanley Aronowitz's wise letter suggests that he knows this. However, he misreads me when he says that I favor "centralized political discipline over local organizations." I don't (and in my book I criticize Ross Perot for trying to do exactly that to his Reform Party). The Greens of Minnesota are welcome to make whatever political choices they want: That is, as Anita Rios put it, what democracy looks like. But the rest of us, including Green activists and leaders throughout the country, can also either welcome those choices or criticize and attempt to revise them. That is not "centralized political discipline," but vibrant democratic discussion--another hallmark of a democratic social movement. And even though it is ultimately for Minnesotans to decide the US Senate race, since that race may well tip that body back into Republican hands, it is inevitably a question that Greens everywhere must face: Do you want your party to have that impact this year? Here's how the Miami-Dade Green Party answers that question (for the full text of their letter to the Minnesota Greens, click here): "We are a political party. So 'political fallout' is a perfectly valid factor in making decisions. Political fallout affects both our present and our future. The loss of a progressive voice. The loss of other potential allies to the Greens. And given the close split of the Senate, this could give Bush the full ultra-conservative control he seeks. We say, let Greens run for every state and local office we reasonably can. Let's get our best candidates and run for federal office as well. But let's pick and chose where that would most help us, and not hinder either Green Party image nor growth (they are intimately tied together)--and where it will not permit this nation to slide further down the slippery slope of repression."
3. Stanley makes a second criticism of me, that I believe the Greens have moved too far left and should stick to economic populism. Let me clarify on both points. I think the pressures of post-2000 Democratic whining, 9/11 and the war are impelling the Greens to push certain issues with a left style that may feel good and right to many core party activists, but will hinder the party's potential growth--especially at a moment when the party's anticorporate message couldn't be more in tune with popular sentiment. During the Green Party's convention in Philadelphia, I participated in a workshop on outreach to nonprogressives where Dean Myerson, the party's national coordinator, made a telling point. Greens, he said, need to recognize the difference between being activists, engaged in pushing their own issues, and organizers who seek to draw more people into the party by finding out what issues will move them. It's the difference between choosing to emphasize the plight of Mumia Abu-Jamal and the plight of low-wage immigrant workers, or stopping plutonium-laden rockets from being shot into space versus stopping CEOs from gorging themselves with stock options. I don't think party organizers should drop their social vision (feminism, opposition to the death penalty, war on drugs, antimilitarism, etc) at all, but I question whether they should lead with it. Stanley is doing this with his own campaign for governor of New York: focusing on a "tax and spend" agenda that seeks to rebuild the state's public infrastructure with the help of those most able to pay for it, and telling Greens that he's a meat-eater who thinks war can sometimes be justified. If Greens want to participate in their own marginalization, they can keep using language and picking issues that set them apart from less politically active Americans. My study of the rise and growth of third parties in contemporary politics suggests to me that what matters to most voters is not how a challenger positions him- or herself on some right-to-left checklist, but how well he or she connects to people's desire for a better life and shows how to carry them forward.
4. Jack Uhrich and Ben Manski both say that Ralph Nader has done lots of good things for the Green Party since 2000. I don't dispute that at all. But their letters confirm my basic point: The relationship is dysfunctional. It's all on Nader's terms. The party is the subject of his decisions at every turn, never the other way around. Part of this is a reflection of the Greens' problems with formally empowering their own leaders (as a result they have lots of behind-the-scenes jockeying and tension). But most of it is a result of Nader's reluctance to be bound to anything he doesn't control. He says that he isn't a Green because he doesn't want to be drawn into internal party disputes. But, to take a current example, that hasn't stopped his latest comments on the Wellstone race, where he dismissed the Green Party's candidate as unlikely to get even a few thousand votes, from being interpreted as an intervention in the party's affairs. Hidden, unresolved conflicts between the Nader staff and the Green base continue to fester. If you doubt that, take a look at democracywrithing.org, a critique posted by Maine Green Party activists unhappy with the top-down nature of Nader's "Democracy Rising" rallies. One could argue that none of this is any better that the actual relations between any top Democrat and their party, of course. But I don't think Greens want to brag about being as bad as the major parties on this score.
5. Anita Rios is right that I didn't ask her about her local activism; I didn't have time, nor is it clear to me what that has to do with her role as one of the party's five national co-chairs. (I did do a longer interview with Badili Jones, one of her co-chairs, earlier in the weekend). I didn't ask her to "compare and contrast" Orrin Hatch and Patrick Leahy, but to tell me if she thought it would make a difference if the Senate was controlled by Ds or Rs, and then followed up by asking if it made a difference if the Senate Judiciary Committee was controlled by Hatch or Leahy. Her letter makes clear that she doesn't see a meaningful difference. As for Paul Dumouchelle's letter, I read only rhetoric of a peculiarly messianic kind. Parties grow or stagnate because of many things, including the decisions made by their leaders. They have to finesse conflict and articulate a strategy, not just a vision. At this time in our nation's history, we desperately need smart third-party strategies. My intention in writing this article (as well as my book) was to try to ask some hard questions about that problem. Hopefully, the discussion will continue.
MICAH L. SIFRY
In responding to comments on his article "Greens at the Crossroads", Micah Sifry made a major misstatement of fact: "As I see it, the Greens were in their infancy all through the 1980s and into the early 1990s, when organizers in a few states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine and New Mexico in particular) began building the electoral oriented state parties that became the core of the Association of State Green Parties (formed in 1997) that eventually absorbed its rival Greens/Green Party USA and became the Green Party of the United States in 2001." Sifry's statement here is generally weak as a piece of historical analysis but that is not my concern. What is my concern, is that his statement that the Green Party USA has been absorbed by the Association of State Green Parties/Green Party of the US is simply untrue, although it is perhaps a wish fantasy in the minds of some of Green Party USA's rivals.
The facts are that the Green Party USA--which was organized in 1991 as a formal reorganization of the original US Green Party (Green Committees of Correspondence formed in 1984) still exists, with annual FEC filings, a national membership, a clearinghouse in Chicago, national officers, a website, two national publications, a Program and Platform and an ongoing political campiagn of radical grassroots organizing (which does not exclude electoral organizing as a strategy/tactic). This is a simple fact which no amount of denial or evasion can change. The Green Party USA is probably one of the very few Green parties in the world that has not succumbed to the reformist deformation of the original Green vision that has overtaken so much of the Green movement. Perhaps this is why statements of its "non-existence" appear in the press. I would appreciate a comment from Sifry.
It was quite a surprise reading Richard Goldstein's latest attack on
me and other non-leftist gay writers ["Attack of the Homocons," July 1].
The surprise was not that he disagrees with me but that he so
relentlessly misrepresented my work. Here's the most egregious example.
Goldstein wrote: "Marriage, Sullivan has written, is the only
alternative to 'a life of meaningless promiscuity followed by eternal
damnation.'" This "quote" is from a passage in which I criticize the
formula of some Christians with regard to homosexuals that they should
"hate the sin, love the sinner":
So the sexual pathologies which plague homosexuals are not relieved by
this formula; they are merely made more poignant, and intense. And it is
no mystery why they are. If you teach people that something as deep
inside them as their very personality is either a source of unimaginable
shame or unmentionable sin, and if you tell them that their only ethical
direction is either the suppression of that self in a life of suffering
or a life of meaningless promiscuity followed by eternal damnation, then
it is perhaps not surprising that their moral and sexual behavior
becomes wildly dichotic; that it veers from compulsive activity to shame
and withdrawal; or that it becomes anesthetized by drugs or alcohol or
fatally distorted by the false, crude ideology of easy prophets.
It will be apparent to any reader that I actually wrote the opposite of
Goldstein's claim. His excuse is that other ideologues had wrested these
words out of context and he hadn't checked the original. That is not an
You might forgive Goldstein for sloppy journalism. What he can't be
forgiven for is simple lying. His article was premised on my alleged
"revulsion at gay styles that depart from the norms of male
presentation. He's appalled by camping, prancing or any expression of
effeminacy," as he puts it in his book The Attack Queers, from
which his Nation article was adapted. He has no evidence for this
from my writing, except some affectionate ribbing of some gay guys in
San Francisco with back hair. But in a lecture that Goldstein actually
attended, after discussing the conflicts between biological gender and
"gender presentation," I said the following:
There are some people's natures that are naturally, biologically
androgynous, or more geared to being queer or effeminate or masculine or
up-ending certain social roles, because that's how they feel their
nature is. And, my God, do I defend their right and would I defend their
right to be who they want to be; and nothing I say about the importance
of encouraging most gay men and most gay women to embrace their own
gender means that we should therefore exclude people who do not feel
that way. There is an absolute central part in our community for the
drag queen as well as the leather bar. And my own commitment to the
First Amendment and to true diversity means I will defend them too.
It's possible to differ with me on the role of biology in gender without
asserting that I am intolerant of or hostile to many subversive aspects
of gay culture. That is simply untrue. Goldstein knows that, because he
was there. But he chose to lie about it. This isn't debate--it's
smearing. If you want to know why the gay left is effectively dead, or
why writers like Goldstein cannot get published outside a ghetto of
like-minded ideologues, you need look no further than the rank
intellectual dishonesty of this article.
Richard Goldstein betrays an extremely shallow understanding of the
appeal of Pim Fortuyn's campaign in Holland. Fortuyn hammered away at a
contradiction that many Dutch felt but were embarrassed to express: that
liberal Dutch values have allowed the immigration to Holland of socially
conservative Muslim groups that are essentially opposed to liberal Dutch
values. Specifically, they tend to be homophobic in a society generally
accepting of gays. To further complicate matters, liberal Dutch people
who would have no trouble criticizing one of their own for this
homophobia are reluctant to criticize Muslim immigrants for the same
attitudes for fear of displaying "cultural imperialism." It is here that
Fortuyn's being an openly gay man became quite relevant. Whatever one
feels about his position on immigration, he raised a genuinely troubling
issue that resonated with many Dutch people. To dismiss him as just
another trendy homocon does nothing to illuminate the issues Fortuyn
Richard Goldstein resents homosexuals who succeed, socially and
economically, on the terms of mainstream society. This seems to validate
the right's argument that the left really wants to keep minorities
marginalized and victimized and deeply resents anyone who escapes that
There is also an attitude that any "behavior," regardless of how
unhealthy or deviant, has to be accepted, but any dissent from leftist
orthodoxy is treason. Goldstein appears to be less troubled by
homosexuals who deliberately seek HIV infection (such a fetish exists),
imparting social and economic costs to society, than he is by
homosexuals who believe society is better saved by lower taxes, less
government intrusion and free-market economics.
Is it possible that what homocons want to escape is the cult of
victimhood and a stifling leftist orthodoxy?
MATT J. KURLANDER
It seems to me that most conservative gays are conservative for the
same reason most straight conservatives are. They care about little or
nothing but their pocketbooks. Many of the more thoughtful conservative
gays will admit, after some arm-twisting, that, yes, the Shrub/Ashcroft
Administration may well put them in a death camp someday, but until
then, by God, their taxes will be lower, their property rights will be
maximized and their businesses will be free to plunder whom they please
with no fear of government regulation.
Your "Homocon" cover is as eye-catching as it is relevant. However,
the pink triangle on the "femme" lesbian is upside down. The gay rights
logo (borrowed from Hitler concentration camp days, when gays were
identified with pink triangles) as used today has the point down. It
symbolizes the opposite of a hierarchical structure, as in a grassroots
movement, which has many people at the top.
So when people are just "born gay," it seems they're supposed to be
"born liberal" too? Queer conservatives represent the ultimate in gay
liberation. When the Republican Party recognizes the validity of the gay
lifestyle, gay liberation has been achieved. Homosexuality is the way
people fuck--not the way people vote.
And Paglia, a homocon? Simply because she doesn't share the Dworkin
belief that masculinity is the scourge of human existence? Read up:
Paglia's views on every variety of sexual nonconformity are gleefully
supportive. It is dishonest to lump her together with people like Andrew
Sullivan and Norah Vincent.
While I agree with Richard Goldstein on the many scary aspects of the
rise of the gay right, I had to laugh when he lumps Camille Paglia in
with the likes of Andrew Sullivan. Indeed, she labels her own ideas
"drag queen feminism." She even describes herself as a "bisexual lesbian
who's also monastic, celibate, pervert, deviant, voyeur." Not exactly a
friend of George W.'s, unless he's not telling us something.
Goldstein calls for "acceptance." Why do we queers have to be accepted?
Why can't we just live like who we are? Some of us are into leather and
enjoy getting our nipples tortured and whipped, some of us like to dress
up in women's clothing and be fabulous, some of us (like me) like to
listen to Sleater-Kinney and Coltrane and read and drink beer, some of
us go to clubs too often and have sex with too many people, some of us
don't have any sex at all and prefer to stay home, and some of us are
CEOs who hate Bill Clinton and think there are too many immigrants in
this country. Just like those damn heterosexuals!
San Antonio, Tex.
Richard Goldstein may regard Sullivan/Paglia/Vincent as significant gay voices, but this silly trio doesn't
mean spit out here in the boonies. Neither does/did Fortuyn, because we
don't live in The Netherlands. Amsterdam's bathhouse schedule means more
to us heartland homos than does Dutch politics!
What is important to those of us in the trenches is actual political
movement, especially on local issues of job protection and equality in
the courts. In a state like Texas, that means doing bidness with some
very conservative vested interests, whether we like it or not.
In San Antonio, the so-called progressive homos are so fragmented, the
local power structure considers them irrelevant. The Stonewallers are so
committed to assimilation, they hand out endorsements to any Democrats
who merely show up for political forums, even if the candidates have
demonstrated anti-queer records. I guess "progressives" don't like to
make their political enemies squirm.
It's true that many homocons are white males, but race, gender and
social class do not alone explain the rightward drift. Goldstein should
consider desperation as a major factor in the rise of homocon groups, at
least at the grassroots. "Progressives" have consistently exploited us
while relegating our issues to the margins. Where else does Goldstein
suggest we go? The Netherlands, perhaps.
In this very scary state, the Log Cabin boys and girls have attracted
attention and support by directly challenging the Christian right in
ways that "progressives" just talk about. And queer Republicans have
influenced several local elections, especially judicial races, for the
better. When a single-parent lesbian Latina can get treated fairly in a
South Texas courtroom, that's progress.
HARRY W. HAINES
New York City
I place Camille Paglia on the gay right because of her devotion to
masculinism, which I regard as a central tenet of social conservatism. I
don't condone "bug chasing," but it's possible to be promiscuous and
safe, and in gay liberation that's an important right.
I've responded ad nauseam to Sullivan's allegation (you can check out my
reply at www.thenation.com//doc.mhtml?i=special&s=goldstein20020625). Clearly his
aim is to deflect attention from my argument. If you attack Sullivan, he
will turn it into a scandal if he can. It's no surprise that he refers
to me on his website as a Communist and a Marxist. Redbaiting and
scandalizing go hand in hand for Sullivan's kind of conservative, and
they always have.
Sullivan's work is replete with nasty comments about sluts and gender
benders. Take that remark he mentions about men with back hair. The
actual quote refers to a hairy man "dressed from head to toe in flamingo
motifs." Sullivan's omission of this phrase is telling, as is his very
selective account of the lecture he gave. He doesn't say that it was
called "The Emasculation of Gay Politics" or that it featured an attack
on the gay movement for placing women in positions of power. In this
talk, Sullivan asserted that drag queens are "at war with their
essential nature." This prompted a brief outburst from the audience, to
which Sullivan replied with a desperate attempt to cover his tracks. Now
he would like this addendum to stand for his actual statement. I would
no more honor his evasion than I would support Sullivan's contention
that he is a liberal, even though he terms abortion "illicit," refers
slyly to a leftist "fifth column" and calls antigay discrimination "a
A slippery character like Sullivan can get very far in a community whose
history is never taught and whose connection with progressive politics
is constantly maligned. That's why it's so important for the left to
engage the gay community--and to fight the gay right.
I was shocked to open my Nation and read the ill-informed and
superficial June 17 "Beat the Devil" column, "The Future Wellstone
Deserves," by Alexander Cockburn, who isn't generally ill-informed or
To begin, there is no one--no one--in Washington more efficient than
Wellstone in supporting green issues. Why is there no drilling in ANWR
today? The answer: Paul Wellstone. As a freshman senator on the Energy
Committee he made a scathing attack on the Johnston-Wallop bill, put
forth by chairman Bennett Johnston on behalf of the oil companies. Of
course, Wellstone didn't win many of his points against the powerful
Johnston then, but he stood firm on ANWR and won that one, and that
victory has given us a dozen years of no drilling.
As for healthcare, it is simply not true that he has abandoned support
of single-payer health. But insurance is not the only health issue:
Wellstone has worked for several years to gain parity for mental health
insurance, and this year the Wellstone-Domenici bill finally passed in
the Senate; and what about his success on the domestic violence bill? As
for campaign reform, Wellstone is working on Clean Money-Clean Elections
Bills, which promise reform far better than the swiss-cheese bans on
As for the statement about "some timid Greens...backstabbing McGaa": If
Cockburn were in Minnesota, he'd realize that no backstabbing is
necessary; McGaa is already self-destructing with progressives.
"The suggestion that progressive politics will now stand or fall in
sync with Wellstone's future is offensive," says Alexander Cockburn, who
apparently has not realized that the principal sequitur of the election
is control of the Senate. If the Democrats lose a single seat, control
will pass to the Republicans. George W. Bush could, as he has promised,
appoint Supreme Court Justices in the image of Clarence Thomas or
Antonin Scalia. Progressive politics would have to cope with a
reactionary Court for the next quarter-century. Like Cockburn, I have
differences with Wellstone and every other Senate Democrat. Unlike
Cockburn, I realize the price we would all pay for handing the Senate to
Yes, Minnesota Greens may mess up Paul Wellstone's chances for
re-election and end up electing a Republican in his place. But Wellstone
needs to realize something--he's clinging to a party that doesn't
represent the same things he does. Jim Jeffords jumped ship, and
Wellstone can do the same. Why not ask the Minnesota Greens if he can
join them and if Ed McGaa would graciously step aside and let him run as
their candidate? Let's abandon the Democratic Party the same way they've
abandoned us and stand behind a party that cares about the things that
matter most in our lives.
Our warmongering Administration appears to have both barrels aimed at
Paul Wellstone, a senator who stands up with the courage of his
convictions. Why don't we dig into our wallets and send our $5, $10 or
$50 to Wellstone's campaign and give him and the Administration of
sleaze an overwhelming message that we're not going to take it
On my desk I had a check for $50 for the Wellstone Senate campaign.
Then I read Alexander Cockburn's column, and I ripped it up. Wellstone
may be a liberal, but unlike Abourezk, Metzenbaum and Feingold, he's no
fighting liberal! No one wants to see the Senate go Republican,
but perhaps we in New Hampshire can send Jeanne Shaheen. She has never
advertised herself as the savior of the left, but if in one stroke she
can get rid of the troglodyte Bob Smith and prevent the possibility of a
"Senator Sununu" her value to the left will far exceed Wellstone's.
Like Cockburn, I'm disappointed that Wellstone didn't stay firm in his
commitment to a single-payer national health program, but as a
Congressional contender once told me: "The only way you can be sure a
candidate agrees with you on every issue is to run yourself." As a
result of Cockburn's column I'm sending Wellstone another
GAIL GIANASI NATALE
So, Alexander Cockburn thinks that Minnesota voters should deny
Senator Wellstone a third term because he isn't perfect. Well, who is?
Senator Feingold, of whom Cockburn seems to approve, voted to confirm
Ashcroft as Attorney General! In 2000, while I voted Green for President
and Representative, I voted for Jon Corzine, a Democrat, for senator.
Perhaps he isn't perfect either, but if I and others in New Jersey
hadn't done that, we might now have a Republican Senate and twins of
Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas on the Supreme Court.
DANIEL D. SCHECHTER
The future Paul Wellstone deserves is to retire after two terms, as he
promised Minnesotans when he first ran for office. In 1996 Wellstone
voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, nullifying the chance for
same-gender couples to have their marriages (or civil ceremonies)
recognized by the federal government. Wellstone boasts of his advocacy
for working families. But his voting record indicates that he is not
willing to give legal recognition to working families headed by
JOHN R. YOAKAM
Senator Wellstone says, "I am a civil rights senator." If and when
Wellstone takes a more honest and humane stance on US foreign
policy--i.e., even Iraqi and Palestinian civilians have civil rights,
and Israel does not deserve full support for its inhumane
policies--I might believe some of the rest of his rhetoric. Until then,
I will believe he is for civil rights for some (in this country) but not
others (not in this country, particularly if Arab).
MARY ELYNNE TAPPERO
Alexander Cockburn didn't point out Wellstone's greatest failing: a
no-show as the Congressional Black Caucus needed just one senator to
challenge the Florida "election" results. How progressive is it to
ignore the voting rights of African-Americans, much less stand silent as
this coup went forward?
I find it odd how cannibalistic some in the progressive left can be.
Before Alexander Cockburn was so quick to highlight Wellstone's
"failures" he should have read John Nichols's May 27 Nation
article, which accurately highlighted Wellstone's role as one of the
few true fighters against the regressive legislation continually
proposed by the Bush White House. And there is nothing "supposed" about
the irresponsibility of Minnesota Greens in this race. It's one thing to
vote for Ralph Nader over Al Gore but entirely another to say a Green is
needed in Wellstone's Senate race. Cockburn and those like him need to
end the cannibalism. If the left can't come together behind Wellstone,
one of our strongest leaders, then maybe we do deserve to be
marginalized. Minnesota Greens should remember that, as Winona LaDuke
said, Paul Wellstone is your friend.
CLUELESSNESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS
Jefferson Valley, NY
When I took my copy of The Nation from my mailbox today, I was
appalled at the cover showing George W. Bush, in hunter's garb, over the
caption "Clueless?" The Nation has long been a debater of ideas,
home for such writers as Christopher Hitchens, Gore Vidal and Jim
Hightower. This cover is a personal attack on the President of the
United States and does little to debate his policies. They're certainly
open to debate, but they are the product of the President and a group
that includes Ms. Rice and Messrs. Powell, Cheney, Rumsfeld and
O'Neill--not a "clueless" bunch at all. Let's debate policies, political
philosophies and economic theories and leave personal ridicule to
JOHN F. MCMULLEN
I am shocked and dismayed at the glaring copy-editing/proofreading
error on your cover. The question mark after "Clueless" is such an
egregious mistake it is hard to find words to express my dismay. After
all, if anyone at The Nation has even the smallest shred of a
doubt that Shrub is clueless...well, there's no hope; we're doomed.
Cartoon fans might appreciate a different caption on your June 10
cover: "Be vewy quiet. I'm hunting tewwowists."
An alternate caption might be: "George W. Fudd: 'Is that you, Osama,
you wascawwy Awab?'"
Thank you for the picture of King George II attired for the hunt. It
joins the collection of pictures of people like Jerry Falwell, Pat
Robertson and Ronald Reagan on my dartboard. I took the liberty of
deleting the question mark following the word "clueless."
St. Cirq Souillaguet, France
Your amusing cover picture of a clueless Bush was a great success in
our village, reflecting as it did a widely held French opinion of the
man. One neighbor went further: "If it's true that your President has an
80 percent approval rating, should one then assume that a majority of
your citizens are equally dimwitted?" I was unable to answer.
SUN, WIND & WIRES
Liberty Hill, Tex.
Matt Bivens's excellent "Fighting for America's Energy Independence"
[April 15] and the ensuing "Exchange" [June 17] covered many important
bases but requires a post-mortem.
The idea of a 110-by-110-mile solar field in Nevada providing all our
nation's electricity is seductive, but it ignores the fact that unless
generation is located near the consumers, you need wires to transmit it.
West Texas has the nation's largest wind farms, with plenty more
capacity. The problem is that the people who want to use that
electricity live in Dallas, 500 miles away. Transmission constraints,
not economics or politics, have slowed the growth of wind energy.
Building high-voltage power lines where people live is problematic; the
financial and political challenges of moving tens of thousands of solar
megawatts from Nevada to, say, New York, are daunting to the point of
The big green solution includes a combination of commercial-scale
renewable power (primarily wind and geothermal), decentralized clean
energy (mainly rooftop solar and stationary fuel cells, with the excess
sold back into the grid) and the three-legged stool of conservation,
efficiency and demand response. A staggering percentage of generation
plants are built solely to accommodate demand on midsummer weekday
afternoons. Demand response, or peak load management, teaches us that
the availability (not to mention cost) of electricity isn't always the
same. California's legendary rolling blackouts are largely a result of
inefficient use of the grid and can be avoided if consumers shift their
consumption away from the peaks. People have learned to make phone calls
and plane trips off-peak; we can use electricity the same way. This
relieves wire congestion and delays the need for new power plants,
accelerating our charge to the day when clean energy is overabundant.
Paul Wattles is correct that getting electricity down transmission
lines would make it impractical to power America on solar electricity
harvested across 12,000 square miles in Nevada. I never meant to suggest
we try. My observations that Nevada could gather enough sun to power
America--and that the Dakotas and Texas alone could also produce enough
windpower to do that--were purely illustrative. The point is that our
nation is rich in wind and sun, the technologies to harvest them are
finally here and working, and yet we aren't moving forward as smartly as
we could--in part thanks to our government's bizarre insistence on
showering huge subsidies on oil, gas, coal and nuclear power while
giving tiny sums to renewables and sniffing that they aren't "market
Some of the best winds are remote from population centers, and
new transmission lines can cost more than $1 million per mile.
Electricity gets wasted when sent long distances down such lines, and
stringing new lines is unpopular--people don't want to live near them.
And wind and solar power are intermittent--churning out wattages
only when the sun shines or the wind blows.
So these are all challenges--and it's striking how many of those
challenges are finessed by the hydrogen fuel cell. Wind- or
solar-generated electricity can now be stored as hydrogen (by using that
electricity to "zap" water, which releases hydrogen). John Turner of the
National Renewable Energy Laboratories observes that hydrogen made from
the sun or the winds could be trucked or pipelined out of remote areas
at a lot less cost and a lot more efficiency than hanging new power
lines. A Dakota-to-Chicago hydrogen pipeline, anyone? Unlike
transmission lines, it could even be buried.
Finally, I accept much of Wattles's "big green solution," but one small
quibble: I'm all for more efficient air conditioners; I'm less enamored
of training people to turn them off when it gets hot. Like berating
people who drive gas-guzzling SUVs, it's a distraction and a political
nonstarter. People have indeed learned to make phone calls
off-peak--i.e., when it's inconvenient. But they don't like it! So why
focus on it as the solution, when there is a much more positive
vision--one that has room for an emissions-free hydrogen-fueled SUV?
Yes, even one with a flag on it.
'JEWS FOR JUSTICE'--SOME THOUGHTS
"Hear, hear!" to Michael Lerner's "Jews for Justice" [May 20]--the
best opinion piece I've read on the Middle East morass, and the only one
brave enough to admit that Jews are themselves mostly to blame for the
recent surge of anti-Semitism around the world--at least insofar as they
participate, support and/or remain silent about Israel's arrogant,
apartheidlike policies. It makes me especially sad and angry that in
their eagerness to placate the conservative Jewish lobby, the most
prominent Jewish voices in American public life today (Dianne Feinstein
and Joseph Lieberman) refuse to recognize this, instead going blindly
forward with their We-Are-a-Victimized-People and Israel-Can-Do-No-Wrong
stance. I thank God nightly that my ancestors immigrated to America.
I suggest Rabbi Lerner move to Gaza and see how much "love" he will
get from the Palestinians; or maybe he should move to Syria and share
the "love" the other Arab countries have for Jews. He can preach "love"
and equal treatment there, if they let him.
New York City
No one can quarrel with Rabbi Lerner's call for a Jewish voice to
speak out for justice for Palestinians (and Israelis). But he is not
correct in saying that there have been no pro-Israel alternatives to
AIPAC, no organized voices that would speak out for the end of the
occupation and the violence, for a Palestinian state as well as for
security and acceptance for Israel.
There are such voices. One is Americans for Peace Now. APN has
been working hard for this agenda for many years, at the grassroots
level, in Washington and in Israel, with a very large coalition of peace
activists there. They speak to the US Jewish community, they speak to
other Americans, they speak to Palestinians and they speak to power. New
voices mean new strength for this agenda, so welcome to the Tikkun
Community. But they are not voices in the wilderness.
ROSALIND S. PAASWELL
I am delighted to read some constructive ideas on the Israel/Palestine
quagmire. As Rabbi Lerner proposes, a good place to start is with a "big
stick" wielded by an international effort to impose some separation and
order. However, I also think a "carrot" is essential to effect a change
of mind. I propose a Marshall Plan for Palestine--a model for the Middle
East. They need democracy, schools, infrastructure, small business
financing--all the basics for a progressive, prosperous country. When
there is prosperity for all, reasonable people don't want to rock the
boat. The religious fanatics would become increasingly irrelevant. Peace
in the area would thus be reinforced. The United States should lead the
effort, as we have much to gain. We'd be the good guys for a change.
I have never felt the urge to respond to anything I've read on the
Internet, but I want to show my admiration and gratitude to Michael
Lerner. His is about the only sane and objective Jewish voice on the
Israeli-Palestinian crisis I've heard. More power (and media outlets) to
you for recognizing the suffering of and injustices done to the
Palestinians. It really hurts to see so many turn a blind eye to the
root cause of the violence. As an Arab-American I am heartened to read
this article and hope that it reaches Jewish and non-Jewish Americans
and helps them realize the moral obligation of the United States to help
solve this crisis.
Although I admire Michael Lerner's courage (I understand that he has
been getting death threats) and strongly agree with his opposition to
Israel's armed occupation of the Palestinian territories, I regret that
he seems unwilling to face the most difficult moral dilemma presented by
the state of Israel and its very disturbing history, which must be
resolved by both Jews and non-Jews. Is there any moral justification for
supporting a state that is fundamentally dedicated to the welfare and
power of one religion and its believers over all others? Is there any
moral justification for supporting a state that has repeatedly invaded
its neighbors, killed thousands of nonbelligerents, destroyed housing,
agriculture and civil infrastructure and confiscated the land and
property of others without compensation? Is there any moral
justification for supporting a state that has repeatedly violated
international law and UN resolutions while scorning world opinion and
humiliating the leadership of the United States, without whose aid it
would not exist? Finally, is support for Israel truly an expression of
solidarity with fellow Jews or is it a profound betrayal of centuries of
Jewish tradition, from Hillel to Einstein, which has always celebrated
human dignity, justice and peace?
MARVIN A. GLUCK
HOW HAS 9/11 CHANGED YOUR LIFE?
For an upcoming Anniversary Issue, send letters of not more than
150 words exploring how the events of September 11 changed your
views of your government, your country, your world, your life. Please
e-mail (preferred) email@example.com or write "9/11 Letters," The Nation, 33 Irving
Place, New York, NY 10003. Deadline: August 1.
GOULD & SCIENCE FOR THE PEOPLE
In his excellent June 17 piece on Stephen Jay Gould, John Nichols
mentions the Science for the People movement and our involvement in it,
and by implication incorrectly places Steve and me in leading roles.
Neither Steve nor I was a founder of Science for the People, nor were we
in any sense leading actors in it. True, we did each write an occasional
piece for the Science for the People Magazine and were members of
SftP study groups--for example, the Sociobiology Study Group--and we
each appeared at some SftP public functions and press conferences and
helped write some of its public statements. We were, however, much less
responsible and active in the movement than many others who devoted
immense amounts of time and energy to it and who kept it going for so
It is important to understand the nature of the Science for the People
movement. It came out of the anti-elitist, anti-authoritarian movement
of the 1960s and was committed to participatory democracy and lack of
central organization. Like many others, Steve and I separately became
adherents of the movement precisely because of its anti-elitism and
participatory nature, as well as for its political orientation. We all
struggled very hard to prevent those outside it from picturing it
falsely and conventionally as being composed of leading persons and
their allies. If, despite everyone's best efforts, there were some
people who from time to time were forced into leading roles, Steve and I
were never among them.
TOUGH LOVE FOR ISRAEL
Philadelphia; New York City
Liza Featherstone in "The Mideast War Breaks Out on Campus" [June 17]
mentions a number of Jewish groups critical of Israeli policy in the
occupied territories, including Rabbinical Students for a Just Peace,
the group of 108 students from seven rabbinical seminaries (not only the
Jewish Theological Seminary, as indicated in the article) who recently
sent a letter asking American Jewish leaders to recognize the suffering
of the Palestinians and to support the creation of a viable Palestinian
As two of the organizers of this letter, we wish to clarify that our
goal is both, as Featherstone indicates, to be "outspoken critics of
Israeli policy" and to support Israel's right to a secure existence
within its pre-1967 borders. Discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict generally suffers from a lack of nuance. Both pro-Israel and
pro-Palestine activists routinely vilify the other and ignore the
mistakes and abuses committed by those they support.
As future rabbis who have spent significant time living in Israel, we
speak out of deep love for Israel and concern for Israel's continued
security. We are committed to creating a Zionist, pro-Israel voice
willing to criticize Israeli policy, out of a desire to guarantee
Palestinians the right to live in dignity in their own state, and to
insure the security of Israel. Our views may appear radical within the
context of an American Jewish community that offers unqualified support
for the Israeli government, but they are in no way inconsistent with the
mainstream Israeli political debate, which has always allowed for a
greater range of opinion than does the US pro-Israel community.
SHOSHANA LEIS GROSS
DO WHAT MEN DO: HAVE IT ALL
I agree with Katha Pollitt that being childless can be as voluntary a
choice for women as for men ["Subject to Debate," May 13] and that we
sometimes make choices "unconsciously" by giving a goal a low priority
and then getting to the point where it is no longer achievable. But I'd
like to make one point: Successful, high-achieving women might consider
the "marriage strategy" of successful, high-achieving men. If you want a
fulfilling marriage and a high-powered career, choose a spouse
who is willing to put your career ahead of theirs--someone who loves you
enough to "hitch their wagon to your star."
Men have always felt free to marry for love and emotional support and to
choose women younger, poorer and less educated than themselves. Women
could broaden their "eligibility pool" in a similar way.
JOHN F. BRADLEY
RAWA IN THE USA & AFGHANISTAN
We applaud Jan Goodwin's "An Uneasy Peace" [April 29] on the perilous
situation for Afghan women and the crucial need for basic security.
However, we were dismayed by her characterization of the Afghan women's
organization RAWA as having "garnered considerably more publicity in the
United States than it has credibility in its own country." Both sides of
this comparison are oversimplified and dangerously misleading.
RAWA (www.rawa.org), an indigenous organization founded in 1977, has
indeed become better known in recent years, but not only in the United
States, and not for superficial reasons (as Goodwin suggests by setting
"publicity" against "credibility"). Rather, RAWA's website (since 1997)
and its dogged work for humanitarian relief, underground education and
documenting fundamentalist atrocities have broadened its international
Goodwin's statement also implies that RAWA lacks credibility in
Afghanistan. Certainly, jihadis, Taliban and other extremists will say
RAWA members are whores and communists, because they oppose RAWA's goals
(e.g., secular democratic government) and very existence. Among Afghan
refugees, however, RAWA is said by many to be one of the few
organizations that keeps its promises and is respected because it is
Afghan and has remained active in Afghanistan across two decades of
conflict. People in both Afghanistan and Pakistan speak highly of its
schools, orphanages, hospital, income-generating projects and views.
However, many inside Afghanistan do not know when they have benefited
from RAWA's help, since threats and persecution have made it impossibly
dangerous for RAWA to take credit for much of its work.
This is indeed a pivotal moment for human rights in Afghanistan,
including women's rights. It would therefore be a grave mistake to
misrepresent a major force advancing these goals: RAWA is,
unfortunately, the only independent, pro-democracy, humanitarian and
political women's grassroots organization in Afghanistan.
As a factual correction, while Sima Samar is a former member of RAWA,
she was not among the founders.
ANNE E. BRODSKY
New York City
Concerning RAWA's credibility, I was surprised that Anne Brodsky, who
was handling press and helping to host the RAWA representative during
her tour of the United States last fall, failed to disclose that
Western feminists may be able to identify with what RAWA has to say, but
as I mentioned in my article, the group lacks credibility and acceptance
in its own country. Part of its marginalization has to do with its
inability to make alliances with other Afghan organizations of any
stripe. RAWA is also not the only humanitarian and political women's
organization in Afghanistan, and to suggest so is to insult the many
Afghan women who have risked their lives to work in these arenas through
twenty-three years of conflict. Sima Samar was indeed a founding member
of RAWA but since breaking with the organization some years ago has been
disavowed by them.
A GEORGE OF A DIFFERENT COLOR
Thank you, thank you, thank you! Senator McGovern's "Questions for Mr. Bush" [April 22] speaks to my heart.
Bravo! We do have fascist madmen in the White House, and phrases like
"Axis of Evil" and "War on Terrorism" are going to be the end of us. I
am relieved that there are still intelligent men in the world working
for the good.
Melrose Park, Pa.
I voted for George McGovern in 1972, but I cannot agree with some of
the views in his editorial. He wonders if the Bush Administration's
bunker mentality suffers from paranoia, if the Bush team has become
obsessed with terrorism and if terrorism may replace Communism "as the
second great hobgoblin of our age." These questions reflect a deep
skepticism about the severity of the threat from Al Qaeda, a skepticism
shared by many writers for The Nation and close to denial in its
pervasiveness. Millions of other Americans, however, realized soon after
September 11 that our immense infrastructure is vulnerable precisely
because it is so large and diverse. Dams, bridges, tunnels, 103 nuclear
reactors, airports--all these and more must now be guarded against
Senator Ted Kennedy has co-sponsored funding for measures against
bioterrorism, while Senators Tom Harkin, Carl Levin and Paul Sarbanes
have chaired major hearings. Gary Hart chaired a commission two years
ago that warned of attacks such as September 11. These former colleagues
of Senator McGovern appear to believe that the terrorist threat is not a
hobgoblin, but all too real.
George McGovern was my hero when he ran for the presidency, oh so many
years ago. A more decent and capable man would be hard to imagine. The
weakness in his bid may, in fact, have been his honesty and
kindness--commodities not in much demand in a system that worships money
and power. McGovern argues for the nexus of poverty, oppression and
violence. He is far too generous in giving the Bush team the benefit of
the doubt that they will learn on the job and improve policies. I
started with Truman, and in my lifetime the presidency has never been
occupied by a smaller figure.
J. RUSSELL TYLDESLEY
I so wish George McGovern were our President right now.
CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR
If Fidel Castro rises to George W. Bush's challenge to hold "a real
election" and "to count [the] votes" ["In Fact...," June 10], will Bush
also challenge him to figure out a way to take office even if the people
don't elect him?
Thanks to Richard Falk and The Nation for daring to defy the
party line in the American media when it comes to Middle East coverage
["Ending the Death Dance," April 29]. Keep up the good work.
YUSUF A. NUR
Except for its criticism of the Bush Administration, Richard Falk's
article contains more sophisticated nonsense than almost anything I've
read. Bush is wrong, Sharon is wrong and Arafat stands by as young women
prostitute themselves as mass murderers. Meanwhile, Falk and The
Nation raise sophistry to new heights.
Even in the Arab press it would be hard to find such distortions,
misleading statements and open justification of suicide bombers as are
in Richard Falk's article. For example:
(1) Falk justifies suicide bombers as the "only means still available"
for the Palestinians. One can only react to such an endorsement of
suicide bombers with outrage.
(2) Then he equates the suicide Passover bombing at Netanya with the
Israeli incursion in the West Bank. The Israeli incursion may have been
wrong, but not all wrongs are moral equivalents. The suicide bombings
have no possible justification and are sheer terror.
(3) Falk says Arafat did not opt for terrorism. What a distortion.
Arafat's history of terrorism, from hijacking in 1968 to Munich in 1972
and thereafter is documented beyond contradiction. Has Falk forgotten
Arafat's financial support for and public tribute to "martyrs"?
There are numerous other distortions in the article, but worst of all is
Falk's blatant justification of suicide bombers. Just what is Falk's
affinity for terrorists?
JEROME J. SHESTACK
Richard Falk says, "surely the United States is not primarily
responsible for this horrifying spectacle of bloodshed and suffering."
Such a view is typical of coverage of the conflict across the spectrum
of the US press, from left to right. If we look solely at the
actions of the United States, it is clear that this country is
backing the occupation of Palestine with great vigor and enthusiasm.
Last December, the Defense Department signed off on a sale of fifty-two
F-16 fighter jets and 106 million gallons of jet fuel to Israel through
the Foreign Military Sales program, earning Lockheed Martin $1.3 billion
and Valero Energy $95 million.
If this doesn't constitute a green light to Prime Minister Sharon for
the siege of Ramallah, then it certainly enables it. There is some
controversy over whether Iran is backing the Palestinian Authority with
military aid; it's beyond dispute that Israel is armed to the teeth with
US-made weapons. If President Bush is genuine in his call for an Israeli
withdrawal, then he should suspend military aid to Israel immediately.
Of course the violence is not beyond our control.
Senator Jesse Helms, once head of the Foreign Relations Committee,
stated in 1995: "Israel is at least the equivalent of a US aircraft
carrier in the Middle East." There is no mystery here. Israel's military
aggression guarantees the maintenance of US global domination. As long
as we keep silent about the crimes committed in our name, Palestinians
and Israelis alike will continue to die.
Richard Falk begins on a false premise and goes downhill from there.
He claims simplistically that many analysts fault Arafat and the
Palestinians because Ehud Barak at Camp David made an offer Arafat
should have accepted. Actually, the argument is not that Arafat should
have accepted the offer but that Arafat should have negotiated and made
a counteroffer. Any counteroffer at all would have been welcome.
Instead, Arafat made a fool of Barak and President Clinton and crushed
the hopes that political moderates in Israel would be the driving force
for peace. Falk treats the most significant gesture on Israel's part
toward peace as rather trivial and similarly downplays Arafat's present
attempt to make Israel bargain against itself through targeting innocent
women and children.
Falk apparently feels that sophisticated people will agree that the
Palestinians have no choice but to send suicide bombers into churches
and marketplaces. However, there are certain tactics that cannot be
rationalized as part of a bargaining process. The Palestinians can
bargain by using publicity, civil disobedience, general strikes,
boycotts, marches and other peaceful methods to help obtain their goals
and popularize them. Instead, they violate the most fundamental notions
of civilized behavior. No one can endorse wholeheartedly Israel's
fiercely violent response. However, we can understand it and agree that
it is necessary for the self-defense of its citizens.
EDWARD C. SWEENEY
Richard Falk ignorantly states that the Oslo agreements concerned 22
percent of the original British Mandate over Palestine, leaving 78
percent to Israel. The original mandate over Palestine also included
what is now Jordan, which was essentially created by Winston Churchill
when the British client Sharif Hussein was booted out of Mecca. Will
Falk say next that the Six-Day War was a war of Israeli conquest? Or
that there was a Palestinian national consciousness in 1948? You should
JEFFREY A. GOLDMAN
New York City
Thank you for Richard Falk's bold and clear analysis of the current
morass in the Middle East, which provides some much-needed corrections
to the mainstream media's narrative of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It
was high time someone pointed out that Sharon is at least as much an
obstacle to peace as Arafat.
Indeed, nothing in Sharon's career, or in his actions since his visit to
the Temple Mount, suggests that peace is remotely a priority for him.
His only goal is to expand Israeli settlements so that the prospect of a
contiguous, viable state within which Palestinians can live in dignity
becomes ever more slim. He is basically continuing the same colonialist
project that he helped initiate as agriculture minister.
It is amazing that in this country, for the most part, people react with
such horror to the suicide bombings (which are indeed deplorable) but
take no notice of the Israeli settlements. The settlements are the
original violence to which all Palestinian action is a retaliation. To
pretend that violence originates with the Palestinians and that Israel
only retaliates out of necessity is a grotesque reversal of causality.
One hopes that Falk's bold piece will give at least a momentary pause to
many who are otherwise committed to perpetuating the official lies.
How long can pernicious myths persist? Richard Falk writes, "It was
Sharon's own provocative visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque that started the
second intifada." This is a blatant deception. On December 6, 2000, the
semiofficial Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Ayyam reported as
follows: "Speaking at a symposium in Gaza, Palestinian Minister of
Communications, Imad Al-Falouji, confirmed that the Palestinian
Authority had begun preparations for the outbreak of the current
intifada from the moment the Camp David talks concluded, this in
accordance with instructions given by Chairman Arafat himself. Mr.
Falouji went on to state that Arafat launched this intifada as a
culminating stage to the immutable Palestinian stance in the
negotiations, and was not meant merely as a protest of Israeli
opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount." Why does
Falk ignore the damning statements of a Palestinian government official
in an article that purports to get at the reality behind the image?
Thank you for Richard Falk's intelligent and balanced piece, which
places blame and responsibility for the madness in the Middle East right
where it really belongs--with Sharon. I am sick of the lies that assault
us endlessly in the nonexistent daily "news." Sharon is a butcher and an
intransigent, blind criminal whose actions could easily cascade into
World War III and destroy everyone on earth just to fulfill his own
sick, narcissistic sense of destiny. The parallels to Hitler are now
Superb! If only all American media had the guts to address the blatant
hypocrisy and bias the US government employs when dealing with the
Israel-Palestine crisis. Richard Falk has done an outstanding job of
delineating the injustices perpetrated by the Israelis and has revealed
another side to the story that should be reported on a far greater
I anchor my response in a personal observation. My whole intention in
"Ending the Death Dance" was to focus on the need for a fair solution
that brings peace and justice to both peoples. As a Jew I am profoundly
concerned with the future and well-being of the Jewish people. To
consider me "a self-hating Jew" because I am critical of the Israeli
government or of certain interpretations of Zionism is absurd, as if
being an opponent of the Vietnam War made me "a self-hating American"!
The most vital premise of democracy and cosmopolitanism is that
conscience trumps both obedience to the state and tribal loyalties, and
that international law should be respected to the extent possible,
especially by one's own country.
The harsh tone of the critical letters reveals a partisan unwillingness
to engage in serious dialogue; denunciation and distortion takes the
place of argument and discussion, thus reinforcing the gathering gloom
about how to resolve the Israel-Palestine struggle. Take Jerome
Shestack's provocative assertion that my analysis displays a "blatant
justification of suicide bombers" and an "affinity for terrorists."
Could I have been clearer than to assert early in the piece that what I
write is "not in any way to excuse Palestinian suicide bombers and other
violence against civilians"? Far from any alleged affinity for
terrorists, I condemned all forms of terrorism, and avoided the
distorted effects of treating only antistate violence as terrorism and
regarding state violence as "self-defense" and "security." As I argued,
George W. Bush has contributed mightily to this lethal distortion of the
meaning of terrorism by the way he phrased the post-September 11
campaign against global terrorism.
I essentially agree with Edward Sweeney's point that Arafat is to be
faulted not for rejecting the Barak/Clinton proposals but for his
lamentable failure to explain the grounds of his rejection and, even
more, for his failure to produce a credible counteroffer, providing the
Palestinians and the world with an image on behalf of the Palestinian
Authority of a fair peace. Arafat remains an enigmatic figure, as
disappointing to militant Palestinians who feel shamed by their leader's
deference to Washington as he is enraging to those who expect the
Palestinians to accept Israeli occupation of their territories without a
whimper of resistance.
Jeffrey Goldman's comments about the British Mandate of Palestine and
its relation to modern Jordan are confusing and wrong. The part of the
original Palestine Mandate that has been the scene of the
Israel-Palestine struggle has nothing to do with the sovereign territory
of Jordan. Jordan occupied the West Bank during the 1948 war, and
administered the territory until 1967, when Israel became the occupying
power as a result of the Six-Day War, but with the understanding
unanimously backed by the Security Council in famous Resolution 242 that
Israel was under a duty to withdraw "from territories occupied in the
recent conflict." The US government has all along backed this 1967
resolution as the starting point for any vision of peace between the two
My point was different and, I feel, important. By removing pre-1967
Israel from the Oslo negotiations, the Palestinians were conceding 78
percent of the territory of the Palestine Mandate partitioned by the UN
in 1947, leaving 22 percent available for a potential Palestinian state
(that is, 5,897 square kilometers versus Israel's 20,235 square
kilometers) and making the presence of more than 200 armed settlements
in the West Bank protected by IDF forces radically inconsistent with the
agreed goal of a viable Palestinian state. There is a second Palestinian
concession that should also be taken into account: In contrast to the
modern belief that legitimate sovereign states should be secular,
without religious or ethnic identity, the Palestinian leadership has not
questioned the Jewish identity of Israel even though it means that the
Palestinian minority of over 1 million will remain second-class Israeli
citizens indefinitely and that any Palestine that emerges will be an
ethnic state whether the Palestinians desire it or not. Israel has not
even contemplated comparable concessions to Palestinian aspirations.
Finally, Jordan Green's argument that the US government has seen Israel,
at least since 1967, as a strategic partner in the Middle East is
pushing against an open door. My only point was to stress that in the
setting of the conflict with the Palestinians, it is Israel that makes
the decisions on how to pursue peace and security, and although backed
to the hilt by Washington, "primary responsibility" lies with Israel.