LIVING FOR CHANGE
Organizing in the Age of Obama
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, Nov 3, 2009
Are bigger rallies what we need in this period when industrial society is collapsing and global warming threatens all Life on Earth? Or are alternative forms of organizing necessary and possible?
I raised this question in my recent column about the thousands of rallies on Saturday, October 24, demanding that world leaders at the Copenhagen Summit take more drastic actions to slow down global warming.
In response to the column, veteran peace activist Stefa Shafer offers civil disobedience as an alternative. She writes:
“I participated passionately in the anti-Iraq invasion protest rallies from January 2003 to February 15, 2003.
“After the tremendously significant international turnout for the February 15 rally, I independently went to Iraq to join a collective of human shields from around the world who went to sit on UN-identified bomb sites to help fortify the anti-invasion initiatives going on seemingly everywhere.
“After the meticulously-organized and massively-resourced war effort out-maneuvered humanity’s call for justice and peace, I stayed in Amman, Jordan, at a small hotel used by human shields and independent journalists coming from and going to Baghdad. There I met many human shields who had sat it out in Baghdad through the month and a half of heavy bombing until the war was declared officially over.
“Having met and listened to most of the human shields who left Baghdad, I became convinced that direct action, like sitting on bomb sites, is a powerful method of protest. The shields, mostly from North America and Europe, sat at sites that would be normally bombed at the beginning of a war: electricity grids, food silos, oil refineries and communications centers. While the electricity grid was bombed immediately in Basra, where there were no human shields, they were not bombed in Baghdad. The lack of electricity shut down the water supply and cholera broke out in Basra at a time when it was very difficult, if not impossible, to get medical help.
“The White House, Pentagon, 10 Downing Street and the UK Ministry of Defence had been sent maps of the human shield sites. Although intense bombing went on all around the sites, where shields were present none were hit. One French shield told me after the war that his spine still tingled when he recalled being so close to bombs around the sites that he felt his arm would be blown off if he moved it. At one communication centre, they were down to one remaining shield so a delegation went over to escort her to a site where there were more people. Within hours after there were no shields left at the center it was bombed. This kind of civil disobedience works but the numbers have to be built up.
“I went ahead to Baghdad during the occupation and co-created a peace group with some Iraqis.
“I could write a book on what I’ve learned about protest activism and the carnage of war. I gave up on marching for peace when it became clear to me that governments are only emboldened by seeing in action how polite and powerless we, the public, are. We’ll still vote and still accept the governments’ decisions in spite of the fact that what we believe to be just, legal and decent is violated by the government. The well-known case of the US official torture program is the best example. Even though people are in theory against torture, it still goes on.
“What baffles me is that our protests of the invasion and occupation of Iraq were powerful before the invasion and dwindled as the carnage and atrocities mounted, including the government’s well publicized, defiant use of torture. That’s the opposite of how it unfolded in the Vietnam anti-war movement which got stronger as images of carnage reached the public. Have we as a culture been turned inside out or upside down in the last 40 years?
“Marches backfire. I’m available for unrelenting civil disobedience if the numbers are strong enough to get to the finish line.”