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March 19, 2003

Timothy Burke worries virtuously about “avoiding the blog echo-chamber effect.” Here at Electrolite we’re less worried. Crank up the reverb! Here’s Burke being absolutely right:
This is not the time for the usual self-indulgent let-a-thousand-flowers bloom, let the nutty Spartacist have his turn at the podium, let Sheryl Crow talk about how war is bad for flowers and other living things, approach to political action. This is not a festival or a be-in or a happening. It’s not a space for creative frolics and really cool paper-mache puppets.

The war is coming, unless Saddam Hussein blinks in the next 24 hours. None of us can stop it. Give that up right now: you cannot stop the war. Don’t even try. Don’t even fantasize that you can.

You can only prepare to exact a political price from the people who led us so poorly to this point, and to do that, you need to make the war a bigger issue than the antiwar.

[…A]ll the plans for direct action that involve “no business as usual” gimmicks like blocking traffic, chaining oneself to fences and the like are pure, unadulterated narcissism. They’re about anointing yourself a virtuous, righteous person and performing your virtue on the public stage. You want that, come by my office and I’ll give you a little “I’m a Good Person Because I’m Against the War” badge to pin on your shirt and I’ll applaud you every time I see you walk by.

The “direct action” visions circulating out there now are not about building the largest possible coalition of opposition to the Bush Administration, not about building a political consensus, not about laying the groundwork for 2004. If you really care about opposing the war, you need to put your own selfish needs to proclaim your virtuousness aside and keep your eyes on the prize. Large public gatherings that are respectful, quiet and rhetorically modest would be a good thing, sure, but for the moment, little more than that. […]

Prudence, patience and planning are what’s needed now. That’s what has worked for the Republican grassroots: ever since Barry Goldwater’s defeat, they’ve been organizing steadily, laying down deep connections with actually existing communities, thinking about what kinds of rhetoric carries water in the public sphere, and disciplining or ignoring errant nutcases and fringe elements. If you want to exact a price for this war, led in the way that it has been, you’re going to have to be similarly focused.

“Organizing steadily, laying down deep connections with actually existing communities, thinking about what kinds of rhetoric carries water in the public sphere, and disciplining or ignoring errant nutcases and fringe elements.” Seems to I recall when people left of center knew how to do that. A first step toward recovering the ability would be learning the different between enacting a political idea and implementing one. [01:56 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Timothy Burke:

Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 02:41 PM:

Okay, someone has to sound clueless here. What's the distinction you want to draw between "enact" and "implement"? Apart from my liking the sound of the former better, I'm not seeing much difference. Enlighten me?

Zed ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 02:46 PM:

I had been supposed to attend a meeting in San Francisco tomorrow night (concerning comedy improv, nothing to do with politics.) It's been cancelled, stated reason being that we're likely to be at war by then. I'm not clear on the connection. Maybe the organizers want to be home glued to CNN. But I think it not unlikely they expect downtown San Francisco to be impassable due to direct action.

I have a great deal of admiration for many people who have taken direct action. And I certainly sympathize with their motivations in this case. But I agree with Burke and Raimondo. Right here, right now, the consequences wolud be disastrous.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 03:07 PM:

It's almost certain that some of the people you'll see burning American flags and chaining themselves to fences will be bought-and-paid-for agents provocateurs.

If you're going to be doing that sort of thing, at least get the cash up front.

skimble ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 03:22 PM:

I agree with Patrick. Bring on the reverb 97 bigtime.

Every musician knows that's how you get a bigger and more thrilling sound.

Echo is good. Feedback has meaning, as proved by Jimi Hendrix.

Jennie ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 03:40 PM:

Bruce Baugh asked about the distinction between "implement" and "enact" in Patrick's posting. The American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.) gives two definitions for enact: The first is to make into law -- probably not the intended meaning. The second is To act (something) out, as on a stage .

The online version at Bartleby wouldn't give me a definition for implement , preferring instead to give me 94 definitions which used the word implement; however the Usage guide gave the following definition: to put into practice .

So the difference would appear to be the difference between putting on a show of your political ideas and putting your ideas into practice.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 03:49 PM:

Jennie nails it.

Perhaps I should have said "acting out" rather than "enacting." You get the idea.

Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 03:54 PM:

Thanks, Jennie and Patrick! I slouch corrected, or at least better informed.

Michael ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 04:17 PM:

I agree entirely with Burke here, but would like to add my own interpretation of things: I attended a small liberal arts college in Ohio widely known for holding loud ineffective protests about pretty much anything. I admire the protesters' and direct actioneers' resolve, and respect their commitment to action, but as others keep saying: IT'S COUNTERPRODUCTIVE!
Every movement needs radicals. They get things going, attract attention (there is no such thing as bad press, it92s all media exposure...up to a point), and make those of us working towards change within the system look calm, rational, and credible. We need radicals. We just don't want to *be* them, or to have so many that the rest get drowned out.

vachon ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 04:28 PM:

To react mutely when CNN announces "it's started" is unconscionable. I'm not saying firebomb the McDonalds, but I am saying REACT. Loud.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 04:43 PM:

Vachon, no one here has been arguing that we shouldn't "react." Perhaps you meant your comment for a different weblog?

Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 04:47 PM:

Vachon, I strongly agree. I just think that Timothy and others are saying "React in a way that will win the hearts and minds of those who are (even if they don't yet know it) open to persuasion, rather than driving them into the arms of the war party."

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 04:51 PM:

Humm. Howard Dean is looking better and better. At least he believes it's ok to dissent, even in times of war. (http://www.deanforamerica.com/index.cfm) As soon as we sell the house and get our money out of it, I'm seriously considering sending him the maximum allowable contribution. Perhaps I'll even volunteer.

(And he's the liberalish governor of small New England state whose wife is a doctor. Hmm. Why does this sound familiar?)


Invisible Adjunct ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 05:32 PM:

Mary Kay,

I don't this is about whether or not it's ok to dissent. As I read Burke's piece, the right to dissent is a given. What he's talking about is: what of dissent will be effective? and what kind of dissent might be not only ineffective but actually and positively counterproductive?

I think Burke is exactly right about the need to take a good long look at Republican grassroots organizing. Unless of course we really believe the right's line that they are the ones who truly represent the needs and interests of the "average American"? I for one don't believe it. But I do sometimes wonder whether some of my co-travellers over on the lefty progressive side aren't more interested in building their own republic of virtue than in speaking to (and also listening to!) a much broader constituency -- support from which broader base is the only way that our concerns will ever move into the mainstream from the margins on which, it seems, some would like to remain. In any case, if we cannot take a critical look at our own political tactics and have open (and yes, sometimes uncomfortable) debate about them, then I'm afraid we really are sunk.

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 06:29 PM:

While the enact=Act_out element of the enact/implement distinction is important, don't forget that political type will gleefully make laws to solve problems without seeming to care much about how effective those new laws will be.

It's often the same pointless "we must do something" response as ic chaining oneself to a railing.

Does Dubya have a racehorse entered in the Derby?

Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 07:56 PM:

Mary Kay, apart from the one guy, nobody here is saying that dissent is wrong. I don't know about how Timothy feels about it, but I believe that Patrick would agree with me that more dissent is good. I want to change more people's thoughts and feelings. I don't want the public at large to believe that that the left hates them and holds them in contempt while the right loves them and respects them. To that end, I want more effort that shows both the administration and public that one may object to current policy while loving the best in American ideals and history and respecting one's neighbors and fellow citizens - not agreeing with them in everything, not rushing to live just like them, but appreciating merits in their lives and folkways and wanting to protect them in the face of a force that is ultimately hostile to everything but itself.

beltedswiss ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 09:06 PM:

It's puzzled me for a long time that no liberal organizations seem to have taken up the cudgel (put their think tank into heavy rotation, funded a few columnists, etc.) the way that the conservative organizations have done. Or at least hired a good team of publicists. I promise that when I win the lottery I will focus my attention on this, but aren't there any more rich progressives or liberals willing to think in the longer term? Coordinated activity isn't a sin.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 09:27 PM:

Ooops. I've been too elliptical again. I don't think anyone here, including Timothy Burke is trying to quash dissent. Donating money to a possibly viable Democratic contender for President is *my* way to dissent. I phrased things badly. Sorry.


Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 10:18 PM:

Oh! Okay, thanks for clarifying, Mary Kay.

vachon ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 10:55 PM:

Patrick: I meant my post to be here. I get the impression from Justin Raimondo and others that it's ok to be against the war, just don't make an embarassing rukus or inconvenience the commuters. Just go back to collating those voter lists and dialing the dems for dollars to make sure the good guys win next time.

Is it me, or is this protest by Xanex?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2003, 11:26 PM:

I get the impression that you're not really interested in reading very carefully.

bad Jim ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 04:45 AM:

Large public gatherings that are respectful, quiet and rhetorically modest would be a good thing, sure, but for the moment, little more than that

They build community and morale for the participants, visibility for the cause when done in a public place, and maybe even a little consciousness-raising. A sizeable demonstration on a major highway entices a few score of motorists to honk in sympathy and enjoy a little vicarious participation. Nothing useless about that.

Sure, all that community and morale won't do much for the future without follow-up, but everyone has to start somewhere. Call it recruitment.

sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 01:47 PM:

Readers of this post and the comments appended thereto may be interested in the CommonWeal Institute: http://www.commonwealinstitute.org/.