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For this message, however, I mainly want to draw your attention to two
new essays on ZNet about issues of movement strategy. 
The first is a ZNet Commentary -- tonight's -- from Cynthia Peters
titled Talking Back to Chomsky. It is about the complexity of knowing
what to do and how to do it. 
The second is a very extensive Q/A from Stephen Shalom about the Iraq
occupation and movement responses. It is too long to place here in full,
so, instead, we include only the questions here. The full article is
highlighted on the site at 
Talking Back to Chomsky
By Cynthia Peters
Our social change movements have benefited enormously from the work of
Noam Chomsky. The incredible energy he brings to his speaking and
writing means that millions have been exposed to his analysis of U.S.
foreign and domestic policy. But he has one favorite rhetorical device
that always makes me nervous. He'll suggest that something is obvious.
Maybe he doesn't realize how much this puts people on the defensive. One
can't help but wonder, "But what if it's not obvious to me?" 

If Chomsky considers something to be obvious, and yet I puzzle over it,
does that mean I'm stupid? Take, for example, the question he gets asked
at the end of every talk. He says he gets letters about it every day.
When I worked at South End Press in the 1980s, we used to ask him to
include something about it at the end of his lengthy denunciations of
U.S. imperial policy in Central America and the Middle East. If you go
to these books, you'll find, after 600 pages of analysis, a short
paragraph about what I am talking about. 

It's the question of what individuals can do. 

And Chomsky thinks it's obvious. In an interview with David Barsamian in
the May 2004 issue of the Progressive, he says, "The fact is, we can do
just about anything. There is no difficulty, wherever you are, in
finding groups that are working hard on things that concern you." 

On the one hand, he is right of course. There is no alternative to
joining groups, which I take to mean organizing. And on my more hopeful
days, I think that indeed the problem is that too many people just don't
understand this obvious fact. They think that teaching kids to share and
depriving their sons of toy guns is political work. They think that
volunteering at the shelter and practicing "random acts of kindness" is
going to bring about social change. They think that wearing hemp and
riding their bikes to the food co-op can help build a better world. 

If lots and lots of people think this, and we can reach them and
convince them that social change is not going to come about via random
and individual gestures -- if that's the piece that's holding them back
from real organizing -- then we're in luck. Our mission is
straightforward. We just have to be like Chomsky and go around telling
people to get busy, the path is clear, the array of organizations to
join or create is obvious. 

But it strikes me that that is not what is holding people back. It
strikes me that it is not at all obvious what we should do, and that by
implying that it is, we risk making people feel stupid, when in fact
they are quite right to ask the question, "What should I do?" 

I have been politically aware and active for 25 years and yet I still
wonder about exactly what I should do. Here are some of the problems
that make doing social change work less than obvious. 

The Proportion Problem 

This is the problem that comes from having to operate in a world where
the injustices feel like they are not measurable on any conceivable
scale. This is the problem that leads you to think, "The horror of U.S.
imperial policies is so overwhelming, there's nothing I could possibly
do to make a difference in them." If you understand how the U.S.
military corporate machine works, you start to think of it as an
enormous beast, capable of mass annihilation just by breathing in and
out. Its sharp claws wreak havoc in the course of its basic
self-maintenance. A mindless action, such as a swish of the tail,
unleashes horrendous human loss and environmental destruction. 

The beast is terrible and mighty, and as a citizen of this beast you
wonder what you should do. You look around to find out what other
citizens are doing about it. You've heard Chomsky speak, after all, so
you know you should go join an organization. 

But you are so small compared to the enormity of the beast. There isn't
even a scale that could measure both you and the beast. "Joining an
organization" seems like magical thinking, and you gave that up when you
were six. 

You think to yourself, not irrationally, "There is no action that I can
take -- not even a series of actions, not even a lifetime of actions --
that could be any match for the task at hand." That is the proportion

The Strategy Problem 

But maybe you decide to be an activist anyway. The beast is man-made,
after all. If we created this thing, we ought to be able to take it
apart. Maybe you are wrong, not about how small you are in relation to
the beast (because there's no changing that), but in your assessment of
how much power you have or might have, especially if you join with

So you start looking around. Citizens have been studying how the beast
works, and they notice when it stretches out its claws, it hurts people,
kills them, displaces them, leaves them unable even to subsist. You see
that various groups are working desperately to mobilize a small handful
of people to get the resources together to trim one toenail of our
multi-clawed beast. This would ease the pain and suffering of the people
who come into contact with the claw. 

It barely seems reasonable to engage in this activity given the
potential ferocity of the limb to which the nails are attached, but you
are human and you see people will benefit at least a little by less
sharp claws, so you are moved to join the effort. 

But, wait, people are fighting about which toenail it would be best to
trim and since they can't agree, they have split up and are now
competing for toenail trimming resources. You hadn't been sure in the
first place about whether toenail trimming would be all that effective,
especially as the tail swishes, and the exhalations continue unabated,
but now you see that you probably won't even accomplish the toenail
trimming since there is so much disagreement about which toe to tackle. 

Meanwhile, others are trying to devise tail-swishing containment
devices. Still others are attempting to develop antidotes to the lethal
exhalations. Some others have discovered that the circulation of the
beast's blood automatically causes people to be robbed and demeaned.
They are urging people to tame the beast in such a way that its systems
can ultimately be dismantled and replaced, but they don't say how or
with what. 

So even if you overcome the proportion problem, and convince yourself
that it is possible to defeat the beast, you enter into a world of
social change activists all working in a disorganized fashion on
different body parts of the beast. People don't even speak to each
other, except when they happen to bump into each other standing in line
at the funder's office waiting to get their modicum of toenail-clipping
resources. You know there is an axe somewhere that would make quick work
of the toenail -- maybe even the whole toe! -- but that would require
planning and training in the use of axes. Oh well. That is the strategy

The Vision Problem 

But you see that it is possible to overcome the strategy problem. You
have studied social movements and have seen that people have developed
long-term plans and won gains over years of hard work. You are aware of
others who want to think and act more strategically. It dawns on you,
however, that in order to be strategic, you have to know what you are
trying to accomplish in the end. As you begin to discuss this question
with people, you discover that one of the reasons people aren't
strategizing about how to wield the axe is that they're afraid that if
they use it, the beast might fall down. 

"Lo and behold, isn't that the point?" you ask. Apparently not. At least
not for all those people who, whether they realize it or not, live by
special arrangement in the protection of this beast. They favor duller
claws -- perhaps even a fully de-clawed beast -- because direct gouging
is distasteful and all the screaming that it induces is disruptive.
These folks depend on the beast for certain privileges. 

They want its breathing and circulation and the power of its limbs to
remain intact, but they want the more bloody consequences of its actions
to be moderated. You realize with horror that some of your most
important allies in the de-clawing work, the ones who fund your project
and occasionally give you 0.3 seconds on primetime are not allies at all
when it comes to your vision of a better world. 

Besides you don't have a vision of a better world anyway. You are well
aware that "another world is possible." You've heard the slogans just
like every other anti-beast activist. But there are almost no venues for
exploring what this other world might look like, and it's hard to
imagine spending the time on it anyway. The claws are still slashing,
the tail is swishing, and the heart of the beast keeps pulsing
relentlessly on. 

You might as well get back to the toenail trimming, which at least has
visible results, minimizes real pain, and makes you feel like you're
doing something worthwhile. You'll have to ignore the true functioning
of the beast and perhaps you'll begin to buy into the rationalizations
that the beast is the only game in town. You don't want to make this
tradeoff, but isn't it easier than confronting the fact that your
supposed allies are actually beast beneficiaries? If you confront these
allies, might you not simply alienate them, jeopardize your access to
resources, marginalize yourself even more, and put at risk whatever
toenail trimming might proceed if you just kept your mouth shut? 

Let's say you are very stubborn. You make a strategic decision to relate
to the beast-rationalizers as need requires, but you will also pursue a
vision of a better world with other more like-minded anti-beast
activists. You have to. Years of experience have taught you that without
a vision, you can't have a strategy, and without a strategy, you won't
really get anywhere. 

Little did you realize, however, that this is the most risky journey of
all -- one that could launch angry disagreements and estrangement among
activists who have the most in common. You've seen how upset people get
when they can't agree which toe to put in the crosshairs, and here you
are asking people to come up with a shared vision for replacing the
beast's circulatory and respiratory systems. 

You are sorely tempted to step back from it all. Isn't it enough that
you overcame the proportion problem and did the obvious thing -- found a
group that was "working hard on things that concern you"? 

No, you discover. It's not enough. If you're really serious about taking
on the beast, you have to do much more. So you are faced with some
crucial decisions (none of them with obvious answers) about how and
where to use your energy, about which battles matter the most, about
building alliances across enormous divides, about how to engage in
strategy and vision even as you take baby steps to counter the worst
effects of the claws. 

In a Boston Globe book review (April 25, 2004), George Scialabba called
Chomsky "America's most useful citizen." I don't disagree. He has laid
bare the workings of the beast and explained its functioning -- critical
components of any social change activist's toolbox. But I wish he would
stop implying that how an individual responds to this beast is so
obvious. If we think it's so obvious, we won't prepare ourselves for the
problems, especially the three biggest ones explained above. We will not
be effective. And we won't begin to build the kind of movements that
will be a match for the beast unless we take these problems seriously
and address them. 

For more information on vision and strategy, explore the znet
(www.zmag.org) web site for starters, especially www.parecon.org. 


Where Do We Go From Here?
The Anti-War Movement and the Occupation of Iraq 
By Stephen Shalom

(Here are the Questions of the Q/A...the Extensive Answers and
supporting evidence and notes are online...)

Those who were united a year ago in opposition to the war on Iraq find
themselves divided on where we should go from here. Some suggest that
despite our opposition to the launching of the war, today we need to
support the occupation. Others urge us to support the resistance. In the
questions and answers below I will try to address the concerns coming
from both directions.

Even if the United States shouldn't have invaded Iraq, now that they're
there don't you think the troops need to stay to prevent harm to the
Iraqi population?


Would you support the U.S. occupation if the military stopped its
current brutal treatment of Iraqis?


What would be the effect of U.S. withdrawal on the security of the Iraqi

Does this mean that you think we should be calling for increased UN


But you said we should be seeking an international security presence?


Is there any reason to think that Iraqis will be any more willing to
accept a UN role?


How do you understand the supposed transfer of sovereignty that is
scheduled to happen on June 30?


Given that U.S. policy in Iraq is so heinous, should progressives adopt
the slogan "support the Iraqi resistance"?


But don't Iraqis, like all people under occupation, have the right to
resist that occupation by any means necessary?


Are you saying that we should only support those with whom we totally



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