By Chris Hedges / Original to ScheerPost
On Sunday, February 19, I will be at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington at noon to speak at the anti-war rally, Rage Against the War Machine. There, I will be joined by Jimmy Dore, Dennis Kucinich, Ann Wright, Jill Stein, Max Blumenthal, Cynthia McKinney, Anya Parampil, David Swanson and other left-wing, anti-war activists I have shared platforms with for many years. I will also be joined by Ron Paul, Scott Horton and right-libertarian, anti-war figures whose political and cultural opinions I often disagree with. The inclusion of the right-wing has seen anti-war groups I respect, such as Veterans for Peace (VFP), refuse to join the rally. VFP issued a statement sent to me on Friday saying that “to endorse this event would have caused a huge disruption in VFP and had little effect on the outcome of the demonstration.” The board of Code Pink asked its co-founder, Medea Benjamin, one of the nation’s most important and effective left-wing and anti-war activists, to cancel her scheduled talk at the rally.
“The left has become largely irrelevant in the U.S. because it is incapable of working with the right,” said Nick Brana, chair of The People’s Party, which organized the rally with libertarians. “It clings to identity politics over jobs, health care, wages and war, and condemns half the country as deplorables.”
We will not topple corporate power and the war machine alone. There has to be a left-right coalition, which will include people whose opinions are not only unpalatable but even repugnant, or we will remain marginalized and ineffectual. This is a fact of political life. Alliances are built around particular issues, in this case permanent war, which often fall apart when confronting other concerns. If I had organized the rally, there are some speakers I would not have invited. But I didn’t. This does not mean that there are no red lines: I would not join a protest that included neo-Nazi groups such as Aryan Nations or militias such as The Proud Boys or Oath Keepers.
My father, a Presbyterian minister who was an army sergeant in North Africa during World War II, was a member of Concerned Clergy and Laity About Vietnam, an anti-war group that included the radical Catholic priests Philip and Daniel Berrigan. He took me with other clergy, almost all veterans, to anti-war rallies. There was much in the anti-war movement that he and other members of the religious group opposed, from the Yippies — who put forward a 145-pound pig named Pigasus the Immortal as a presidential candidate in 1968 — to groups such as the Weather Underground that embraced violence. He and the other clergy disliked the widespread drug use and propensity of some protestors to insult and bait the police. They had little in common with the Maoists, Stalinists, Leninists and Trotskyites within the movement. Daniel Berrigan, one of the most important anti-war activists in American history who was constantly in and out of jail and spent two years in federal prison, opposed abortion — a stance that today would probably see him deplatformed by many on the left. These clergy understood that the masters of war were their real enemies. They understood that the success of the anti-war movement meant forming alliances with people whose ideologies and beliefs were far removed from their pacifism, abstemious lifestyles and Christian faith. When I was about 12, my father told me that if the war was still going on when I turned 18 and I was drafted, he would go to prison with me. The jolt of that promise has remained with me my entire life.
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The demands of the Rage Against the War Machine rally are ones I share. They include Not One More Penny for War in Ukraine; Negotiate Peace; Stop the War Inflation; Disband NATO; Global Nuclear De-Escalation; Slash the Pentagon Budget; Abolish the CIA and Military Industrial Deep State; Abolish War and Empire; Restore Civil Liberties; and Free Julian Assange.
I know war. I spent two decades reporting on conflicts all over the globe, including many months in Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison, containing two million people including over a million children. I saw thousands of lives destroyed by United States military adventurism in Central America, Africa and the Middle East. Dozens of people I knew and worked with, including Kurt Schork, a Reuters reporter, and the Spanish cameraman Miguel Gil Moreno de Mora, died violent deaths.
We must halt the decades of rampant and futile industrial killing. This includes ending the proxy war in Ukraine. It includes drastic cuts to the funding of the U.S. war machine, a state within a state. It includes disbanding NATO, which was established to prevent Soviet expansion into Eastern and Central Europe, not wage war around the globe. If Western promises to Moscow not to expand NATO beyond the borders of a unified Germany had been kept, I expect the Ukrainian war would have never happened.
To those who suffer directly from U.S. aggression, these demands are not academic and theoretical issues. The victims of this militarism do not have the luxury of virtue-signaling. They want the rule of law to be reinstated and the slaughter stopped. So do I. They welcome any ally who opposes endless war. For them, it is a matter of life or death. If some of those on the right are anti-war, if they also want to free Julian Assange, it makes no sense to ignore them. These are urgent existential issues that, if we do not mobilize soon, could see us slip into a direct confrontation with Russia, and perhaps China, which could lead to nuclear war.
The Democratic Party, along with most of the Republican Party, is captive to the militarists. Each year, Congress increases the budget for the war industry, including for fiscal year 2023. It approved $847 billion for the military — a total that is boosted to $858 billion when accounts that don’t fall under the Armed Services committees’ jurisdiction are included. The Democrats, including nearly all 100 members of the House Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Republicans slavishly hand the Pentagon everything it demands.
The rally on February 19 is not about eliminating Social Security and Medicare or abolishing the minimum wage, which many libertarians propose. It is not a rally to denounce the rights of the LGBTQ community, which have been attacked by at least one of the speakers. It is a rally to end permanent war. Should these right-wing participants organize around those other issues, I will be on the other side of the barricades.
“I supported the Rage Against the War Machine Rally from the time of its conception and I support it today, even though I will not be one of the speakers because the organization I have been associated with for 20 years, CODEPINK, urged me not to speak,” Medea Benjamin told me in an email. “The CODEPINK staff felt that my participation would hurt the group’s standing with other coalitions committed to gay rights, women’s rights and anti-racism. They felt that Jackson Hinkle has taken stands that are anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-feminist and Islamophobic, and they were concerned about the sponsorship of the Libertarian Party’s Mises Caucus which, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, has ties to white nationalists.”
“So why do I support the rally?” she asked. “Because I am heartbroken by a war that is causing such death and destruction in Ukraine. Because I have real fears that this war could lead us into World War III or a nuclear confrontation. Because both political parties are complicit in giving over $100 billion to Ukraine to keep this war going. Because the Biden administration is pushing this war to weaken Russia instead of promoting solutions. Because we urgently need as many voices as possible, from a broad variety of perspectives, to speak out so we can be much more effective at pressuring Congress and the White House to move this conflict from the bloody battlefield to the negotiating table. The future of our world stands in the balance.”
Benjamin said although she will not speak, she will be at the rally “cheering on the speakers” and is planning a lobby day two days later, on February 21, for those who want to take their anti-war message directly to the offices of Congress. You can register for the lobby day here.
Ralph Nader, who has just founded the Capitol Hill Citizen, a newspaper focused on Congress, has long advocated a left-right coalition as the only effective mechanism to push back against corporate power. He argues that those on the left who refuse to join left-right alliances are engaging in “self-immolation.” This refusal, he says, fosters political paralysis, not unlike the paralysis in the face of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts in the 1950s against supposed Communists. Although many loathed McCarthy, the Republican establishment refused to join forces with the liberals and Democrats to end the smearing, blacklisting and imprisonment of dissidents. The left-right coalition is especially important if we are to rebuild labor unions, Nader points out, the only mechanism capable of crippling the ruling oligarchy. If we cannot reach across ideological divides, we will slit our own throats.
“A left-right alliance on issue after issue, whether it’s on a living wage, ending endless wars of aggression by the United States; whether it’s striking down hard on corporate crime, fraud and abuse; whether it’s universal health insurance is an unbeatable movement,” Nader told me when I reached him by phone. “Just think of a senator receiving ten constituents from back home and five are liberals and five are conservatives. How is a senator going to game them? How is a senator going to sugarcoat them? It’s very difficult. Any time there is a left-right alliance, as in the enactment over 30 years ago of the Federal False Claims Act to go after corporate fraud in government programs and contracts, it’s an unbeatable combination.”
Sponsored by leading Republicans and Democrats, the False Claims Act amendments of 1986 have been used by the federal government to recover more than $62 billion of fraud and mismanagement funds stolen by corporations with government contracts.
“If you want to prevail on Congress to fulfill its duties under the Constitution and never engage in wars or become co-belligerents without a declaration of war by Congress — the last war that was declared by Congress was World War II, and we’ve engaged in many wars since then and are continuing to do so — you must have a left-right coalition,” Nader said. “Because there is no coalition in Congress, both Republicans and Democrats are war parties. They support a Pentagon budget that gives the generals more than they ask for. They have done this for almost eight years, most recently giving the Pentagon $48 billion more than the generals and President Biden requested, instead of giving that money for public health to prevent pandemics, death, injury and disease.”
Those who will pay the steepest price for this paralysis are those killed, wounded and displaced by the war machine, including the over 900,000 civilians killed directly, and millions more indirectly, as a result in the post-9/11 U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Pakistan. But the left, mesmerized by a self-defeating boutique activism, also pays a price. As the empire unravels, the woke left, demanding moral absolutism, marginalizes and discredits itself at a moment of crisis. This myopia is a gift to the oligarchs, militarists and Christian fascists we must defeat.
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