This Is What History Feels Like

This Is What History Feels Like

Repeat after me: This is what democracy looks like!

Repeat after me: This is what history feels like!

A movement the think tanks thought unthinkable.


This is the text of a speech given by Tom Hayden in Los Angeles on March 15.

Repeat after me: This is what democracy looks like!

Repeat after me: This is what history feels like!

A movement the think tanks thought unthinkable.

A movement that corporations cannot brand.

That the entertainers cannot distract.

And the politicians cannot avoid.

Empire versus democracy is the choice. What’s left of the empire meets tomorrow in the isolated Azores while democracy meets in the streets. Think of it–the pretenders to empire cannot meet on the European continent. Only an island protects them from the humiliating opposition of millions of citizens of Europe.

George Bush is more isolated than we realize. Six recent surveys show that support for his re-election is below 50 percent, and this month for the first time a national poll shows him trailing a Democratic alternative by 48-44 percent. In case you don’t know that, it appeared on page 29 of the LA Times just one week ago.

The nature of the state itself is at stake as these three unpopular leaders make their plans: Is the state really democratic, accountable to the people who elect its politicians, or has it been hijacked by permanent special interests and turned into a facade that really belongs to the corporate and military masters of globalization? Not textbook theories, but our actions in the days ahead, will answer that question.

The Bush Administration has provoked this global reaction by its belligerent bullying of the UN Security Council, as if its members could be pushed around like Florida election officials or intimidated like the Dixie Chicks.

And now, by its overreach, it risks its fall.

But long before this day, the movement was already stirring in the cracks and crevices of the world.

A movement that was expressing the dignity of No and the joy of Yes.

No to fundamentalism and yes to human rights.

No to slavery and sweatshops, yes to the living wage.

No to war and yes to the Mideast peace process.

No to pollution and yes to renewable energy.

No to WTO, IMF, World Bank and Halliburton, and yes to another world is possible.

No to Code Yellow, yes to Code Pink.

We’re gathering again today to say, “Mr. Bush, what is it about NO you don’t understand???

“Mr. Bush, is this what you mean by a faith-based initiative?

“Mr. Bush, if you don’t listen to our no, if you keep bashing the Europeans, if you keep joking about French fries, your white bread is gonna be French toast.”

We will know soon enough if democracy is powerful enough to stop this war. While we hope for peace we must now prepare for war.

We must be prepared for a long confrontation. As yesterday’s statement by Mr. Bush reveals, this conflict is not only about Iraq, it is about the whole Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The occupation of Iraq will mean prolonged conflict, casualties, tens of thousands of troops and will cost in the billions.

The economic consequences of fighting an open-ended war with an open checkbook means billions lost for healthcare, education and investment in our inner cities.

The empire’s plan is bold: winning the war, rewriting the map of the Middle East, killing Osama bin Laden and coming home with flags flying to push the Republican agenda on tax cuts, healthcare and Social Security. Bush’s fundamentalist coalition of Christian evangelicals and Jewish neoconservatives seems to anticipate the second term as the Second Coming.

Our movement must be bolder: we must multiply our voices and numbers, empower people like never before, engage in creative civil disobedience, link the war to its effects at home and create a political climate that threatens George Bush with a one-term presidency like his father.

We must turn our exuberance into the hard work of outreach. We must respect our differences. Everyone has a role to play. Our goal must be to reach a majority. We must hold our unity as precious and deflate the forces who will discredit our views, attack our patriotism and sow divisions in our ranks.

In a time of war, we must send a message to our servicemen and women:

We want you safely home. Our conflict is with our government’s policy, not with you. We ask you to remember that thousands of Gulf War and Vietnam vets were exposed to uranium tailings and Agent Orange by governments that lied to them. We don’t know about others, but we will be fighting for your educational benefits, healthcare and veterans’ rights upon your return home.

In a time of war, we must send a message to our media:

You need to take seriously the maxim that in war, truth is the first casualty and patriotism turns easily to prejudice. Your loyalty should be to the truth, not to the Murdochs or Molochs or moguls that monopolize and sensationalize what we see and hear. You may be embedded with our troops, but you must not be in bed with the White House and Pentagon.

In a time of war, we must send a message to our political class:

Where have you been hiding? Why has there been no debate on the floors of Congress while the dogs of war are barking? Has politics become all checks and no balances?

There has never been a greater political climate for peace candidates. The gap between rank-and-file Democrats and party leaders has never been greater in this generation. Among Democrats three weeks ago, the numbers were 79 percent to 18 percent against taking military action soon, and for giving UN weapons inspectors more time. It was 63 percent to 30 percent among Democrats against a war that would inflict substantial American or Iraqi civilian casualties. We must encourage those few precious voices that are emerging and tell the Democratic Party that we want profiles in courage, not compromise.

We must encourage those few precious voices that are emerging among the candidates, for their message can reach millions. But building this movement, like building peace, is too important to be left to politicians.

This movement has already forced George Bush to go to the United Nations; this movement has delayed the march to war; this movement has made it possible for leaders around the world to stand up against American pressure. This movement has burst onto the stage of history. If we continue building this movement, a politics of peace will follow.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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