Bob Wing, Editor of Colorlines

root - Posted on 01 January 2000

A personal correspondence between ColorLines
Editor Bob Wing and a friend

by Staff Writer

September 14, 2001

Dear " ",

I decided to take you up on your suggestion that I put some of the
opinions I expressed at last night's meeting on paper. I am by no
means an authority on military or foreign affairs and these are just
my personal opinions, but for what they're worth, here are some notes.

I believe the Sept. 11 attacks are ushering in a major rightwing
offensive, both global and national. It is likely to be sustained for
some time and become a historical watershed. The rightwing of the
ruling class and its ultra-right allies could not have asked for a
better opportunity to aggressively move to reshape the world in their
image. In the absence of a major countervailing force, they have
serious grounds to feel that they will be successful. Appealing to
the American psyche, which sees its relatively peaceful surroundings
as a birthright (when it is really a national privilege), the
rightwing seeks to capture the moral high ground, whipping up
patriotism and "anti-terrorist" fervor. Wielding its superior
military and financial strength, Washington will seek to rally its
First World allies into a world "anti-terrorism campaign," bring its
erstwhile and vacillating allies into line, and destroy or mortally
cripple its enemies, especially in the Middle East and South Asia.

In some ways, this is reminiscent of the late 1940s and early 1950s.
But this time there is no socialist camp, no equivalent revolutionary
national liberation movements, and little domestic left opposition.
This means the ruling class has much greater maneuverability. They
can exert powerful military force abroad when necessary; and sugar
coat the undermining of democratic rights at home under the notion of
national consensus and the defense of democracy and freedom.

Although progressives have been thrown deeply on the defensive, there
are also openings to be part of the public discussion, if we are bold
as well as very careful. We must be bold in building extremely broad
coalitions, bold in attempting to enter the biggest media and
political platforms. If we craft our messages correctly, we have many
allies, and we should aggressively pursue working with them. We
should not self-isolate. Peace, international solidarity, religious,
anti-globalization, student, and civil rights groups should be
approached. We should also use this opportunity to get labor,
women's, anti-racist, and community organizations that tend to eschew
international issues to get involved. This new situation will affect
everyone to the core. We should actively build broad coalitions, not
be content to hang on the left, hold "small but militant
demonstrations" and expect others to come to us. We should try to get
to the forefront of the fight for peace and basic democratic rights,
spearhead largescale education campaigns, and get government bodies
on record for peace and against unwarranted racist attacks on Arabs
and South Asians.

But we must be extremely careful about our public messages (and our
internal rhetoric), lest we isolate ourselves and even make ourselves
vulnerable to physical attack. We need to demonstratively express
deep grieving over the death, destruction, and loss of security felt
by most Americans. Most of us genuinely feel this, but sometimes we
do not express it properly. Almost everyone in the country knows
someone that was somehow directly affected by the attacks, and all of
us know in our hearts that life will never be as safe as it once
seemed. Symbolism and emotions tend to run higher than rationality at
times like this, and if we do not understand this, it will be
difficult to get a hearing on other issues.

We need to avoid leftwing rhetoric and revolutionary posturing, be
concrete and address actual issues on the public agenda and not make
premature anticipations or apocalyptic predictions. Internally we
need to try to see as far ahead as possible and try to go deep
analytically in order to be as prepared as possible, but externally
we need to speak to facts on the ground, avoid concepts or images
that are adamantly rejected by even peace loving people, and avoid
prematurely polarizing with potential allies. All this while still
drawing firm lines against the right.

I believe, at this time, we have two main entryways into the broad
public discussion. By far the most important is by addressing the
issue of why this attack happened and how to respond. Even the
mainstream media is increasingly addressing this question, in its own
ways. I believe our main message should be that U.S. life will become
increasingly insecure and dangerous unless this country improves its
international behavior. In the era of globalization, peace at home is
linked to peace abroad. And increased insecurity would likely result
in lost civil liberties. We need to oppose a precipitous response by
the government to the September 11 attacks and urge restraint. We can
no longer allow our government to make war on others withou expecting retaliation, whether one thinks that retaliation is fair or
not. Peace and freedom are increasingly globalized, or not. We need
to oppose U.S. isolationism and aggression. Our loss of life should
lead not to an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, but to join
others who have experienced war in the aspiration for peace.

In taking on these issues, we should studiously avoid leftwing
shorthands like "chickens come home to roost" (which will be read as
a justification for the mass deaths of innocent people) and "no
justice, no peace" (which will be read as a justification for further
attacks). Peace, No Violence, etc. are much more directly to the
point. What we are talking about is a new kind of peace movement.

The second main entry way is through opposing attacks on Arabs and
South Asians in the U.S. Such attacks are already underway, and are
even being widely addressed by political leaders, civil rights
groups, and the mainstream media. Again, building broad coalitions
and using popular language is key. We should appeal for peace,
fairness, and oppose violent racial stereotyping. I actually think
that the more farsighted sections of the ruling class will want to
stem these attacks so that their broader offensive does not lose the
moral high ground. Minimally, they must make a nod in this direction.
We should take full advantage of this opening.

While responding immediately to these huge events, we also need to
embark on deep thinking about the implications for the future.
Apparently, war, like capital and labor, has now been globalized. We
are into war without borders. New and readily available technology
means that very small groups, even individuals, can wreak mass
destruction. The U.S. may be relatively invulnerable to direct
assault, but it is eminently vulnerable to attack by small groups.
And it has aggressively alienated millions of people, at home and
abroad, some of whom will surely take advantage of the new means at
their disposal. Israel is making the assassination of opposing
political leaders a central part of its war strategy-others are
likely to respond in kind.

This is not an altogether new situation. Most of us have known this
for some time and expected some kind of significant attacks within
the U.S. But now the genie is out of the bottle-and in a most
spectacular fashion. It is no longer theoretical. What are the
implications of this new situation for our attitude and strategies
towards war and peace, how do we distinguish between the government's
overbroad definition of terrorism and actual terrorism? How will the
ruling class and public react and what platform can we stand on? What
about the copy cat lunatic fringe and ultra-right fanatics who until
now has confined themselves to comparatively small-scale shootings
(except for Oklahoma City)? How do we break the fragmentation,
disorganization and isolation of the left under these harsh

Finally, we should all be prepared for events to move fast. In
particular, when the U.S. mounts its counterattacks (which I believe
is likely to eventually include the murder of Saddam Hussein), a wave
of jingoism (and racism) is likely to sweep the country. We need to
work hard ahead of this wave, prepare to weather it without getting
too terribly isolated, and smartly fight our way through it. We're in
for hard times, and our allies abroad even more so. We will all be
struggling to find our bearings. We will make mistakes. Let's be
tolerant of each other, keep our eyes on the real enemies, and seek
clarity and unity. Let's think big and get organized. Maybe we can
build something for the long run.

I hope this is helpful to you in some way. Feel free to share it with
others if you deem it useful.

In peace and solidarity,
Bob Wing
Editor of Colorlines



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