testimony as panel member on
Hi. I am a writer and sometime musician who's against the war and who has taken action to oppose Bush's warmaking since the first week after 9/11. What I've done to oppose it is, at the very beginning, attend meetings to plan demonstrations and other organizing in opposition to Bush policies. I didn't keep going to those meetings very long because they made me too impatient, but I marched on many weekends--every possible weekend--those first few months and I've gone to both big Washington marches. The other thing I've done is express my reactions and beliefs in many interviews and by writing. The writing I've done has mostly been at my website, but the website has fairly good traffic for one of its type, and the things I've said have gotten some circulation, including turning up in newspapers and magazines.
When I was asked to participate in this day of discussion I understood it to be the first in a planned ongoing schedule of anti-Bush's-war activities by a new organization of writers and artists opposed to the Bush administration's aggressive policies.
I have to say that when I got the announcement for the event I was a little taken aback. It said:
"In addition to everything we do as citizens, we now call for action within the sphere of all public cultural activities as it becomes increasingly embarrassing and painful to attend events that don't even "reference" the current reality. The false dichotomies between politics and aesthetics can only be put to rest when history is made present and resistance enacted."
I don't really agree with that, support that attitude. I love Godard, if Lenin less, and appreciate what I know of Brecht, but I don't believe that aesthetics are ethics (and I'm not looking forward to a future where they are) in the sense that artists should ever need to feel obliged to include overt statements of ethics or morals or a political stance in their works. I don't like being told what I must do in my work no matter the political views of the person telling me. I do believe that aesthetic values and choices pretty much inevitably, automatically, have a moral import, that all works can be validly interpreted for the shading of their moral implications, but that's something else. Sure--when a situation gets bad enough a good case can be made that any other activity but strenuous opposition to the cause of the problem is frivolous. But I don't want to dictate for people when that moment arrives, when that line is crossed.
Frankly I'm not even sure I'm right in my political stance. I wouldn't try to intimidate other people into behaving as I do. But at the same time part of my motivation for expressing myself about the warmaking is that as a writer I do have a certain audience of people who presumably are interested in what I say. So that is part of my motivation, and though I may be inclined to express my views in some contexts I may not be in others and I trust my instincts about it. Because what else can you do? Some people devote their lives to helping others. But on the whole I think most problems are caused by people who are sure they know how other people should behave.
When I think about it there are probably two main things that drove me to be more active, to give more time and energy to political action after 9/11. The first was the "Not in my name" reaction, that turned out to be pretty widely felt. I saw Bush encouraging the worst in people by tapping their reflexive vengeful impulses to strike out after the attack--encouraging the cheapest type of blind jingoistic patriotism, when, since people feel like traitors if they don't back the president in wartime, it seemed probably more than coincidental that that was the sure route to popularity and power for the president, whose opponent in the election just one year previous had actually gotten more votes than he had. As it did many, it made me sick and angry to hear the manipulative, arrogant, threatening, bullying things he was saying as our nominal spokesman and I had to challenge them if I didn't want to be tainted by them.
The other spur to action was even more basic. I didn't feel like I could bitch about him in private as intensely as I needed to if I didn't try to do something about him. Otherwise the complaining lacked a dimension.
To me most of the process of political activism is boring. Sometimes it's even psychologically annoying. For instance I feel the same "not in my name" reflex often enough when I listen to the speeches at the anti-war rallies. The speakers are always throwing in their personal causes which I may or may not agree with if I even know what they're referring to and I end up feeling implicated the same way I do when President Bush talks as if he's speaking for me. I want to shout out "stick to the subject" or "boo" but I waited till now.
Even the writing, like this, though it's always an interesting challenge, and easier than taking a bus to Washington, uses time I'd rather spend writing other things. But we do live in the richest, most powerful, country in the world and it's reasonable that that would carry a little responsibility to rein in our self-indulgence and greed. And of course there are also the completely real and large rewards in self-respect that can't be gotten any other way than by trying to do the right thing. I don't really believe in "self-sacrifice" anyway. People do what they're inclined to. But I would encourage people by example to get the rewards they will by opposing Bush.
Organizing like-minded activists to show their opposition en bloc is the most efficient way, short of bribery, to have an effect on politicians, so that's why I'm here, which is what I have to say. Thanks.
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