Last Sunday evening, about 40 local progressives gathered in a home at the foot of the Los Feliz hills. Sitting on folding chairs, couches and cushions on the living-room floor, they introduced themselves. “My name is Anne. I’ve been feeling really afraid,” said one. “My name is Bob and I‘m really scared,” said another. “I’m Jason and I‘m freaked out,” said a third. With each introduction came a new expression of fear -- not of further terrorist attacks, but of our reaction to them. They feared all the potential madness of a nation overcome by fright: the likely deaths of many thousands more as Bush’s war march progresses; further assaults on Arab-Americans, Muslims and anyone who looks a little different; restrictions on civil liberties and a crackdown on dissent. They so feared this latter possibility that, as I was leaving, one woman took me aside to let me know that people were afraid of having their names in print (those given above are false).
Local progressives‘ fears mirror the mood of the national left, as the statements gathered below demonstrate. In the days since the attack, anxiety, as well as grief and shock, has prevailed. But despite such fear, even by the end of Sunday night’s meeting, some degree of optimism had returned. A woman arrived from a peace vigil in Griffith Park, where “nearly a thousand” people turned out. There had been another vigil in Santa Monica, and another is planned for Thursday evening in Pershing Square. In New York, thousands gathered in Union Square under a banner reading, “Islam is not the enemy. War is not the answer.” Thousands more have solemnly marched for peace in Washington, D.C., in Portland, Oregon, and in many other cities. Despite the much-repeated figure that more than 90 percent support the war, it‘s clear that something is happening. Fear may be joined, however cautiously, by hope.
There is no shortage of people who are going to be worrying about -- call it prosecution if you want -- finding whoever did this. The real issue for the left, and for anybody who is trying to impact events positively, is to learn positive lessons and take positive actions. To kill innocent people is disgusting and venal no matter who does it.
An ethic isn’t an ethic if it doesn‘t apply to you. I try to calmly, to the extent that I can be calm, say to people, even if 20,000 people died in this, then it has to happen every month, once a month for five years, to catch up to what we’ve done to Iraq. I‘m not saying it’s not horrendous. It‘s every bit as horrendous as everyone says it is.
The right will try to exploit this for more police expenditures, more military expenditures. The agenda now is to prevent a slide into serious right-wing dynamics.
A priority is not to sink into despair. That’s a first priority. There‘s a lot of hopelessness among progressives -- we’re already a minority, and then to see 90 percent of the people calling for fierce retaliation. It‘s very hard to keep our sense that, yes, we can effect change.
Robert Borosage is the co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, and has been a campaign adviser to many progressive Democrats:
We‘ve been at war with several nations for several years, we just haven’t noticed it. We‘ve bombed the Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan and never called it war, but to them, it clearly was. This is the war coming home, and putting that in context is going to be a very hard thing to get Americans to understand.
There’s no question that we‘re going to strike back. Any administration would be drummed out of office if it didn’t. We can hope against hope that we strike back in a measured way, and I think it‘s at that point that we can have a discussion about how this happened, where this came from. The most useful thing progressives can do is share the mourning of the country and begin the discussion about context and where this came from. I’m somebody who thinks we ought to retaliate. While I agree that violence begets violence, I think that no country can allow this to take place. I would hope that we will react in a measured way and I fear that we won‘t.
The latest atrocities will doubtless be exploited to increase the programs of militarization, which are one of the greatest dangers to the world, especially militarization of space, and to impose tighter regimentation and discipline at home. The priorities are to resist such moves, including the attempts to silence dissent and protest, and the efforts to open the way to constructive alternatives, and to press ahead. The answers to your questions [about the danger of division and paralysis on the left] are a matter of choice, not speculation.