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.
Michael Albert is the editor of Z Magazine:
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.
Medea Benjamin is the director of the San Francisco–based activist group Global Exchange, and was a Green Party candidate for the United States Senate:
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.
Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a longtime critic of American foreign policy:
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.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is a labor activist and co-chair of the Black Radical Congress:
There’s a danger that in response to the political right going on the offensive and waving the flag, there will be those who come to believe that any protest or agitation will lead the broad mass of the people to misunderstand our message. That would be a tragic mistake. We need to continue the fight. It‘s a time for profound education, mass profound education. We need to be posing questions, we need to be challenging the juggernaut that’s moving forward. There‘s a lot of good people who are really angry and confused, and we’ve got to talk to them.
They say we‘re all going to have to get used to greater security, but some of us are going to have to get more used to it than others. The points of identification for potential terrorists will be people of color, who could be from the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, the Arab world, North Africa, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, the Sudan, and many African-Americans. Many people are going to be under scrutiny, and that’s something that, particularly, white Americans don‘t appreciate.
Jim Hightower is a nationally syndicated columnist and radio commentator:
The fires were still burning when officials were already talking of the need to strike a new balance between personal liberties and internal security, when of course a there can be no internal security without a tenacious defense of those personal liberties. Bush said our nation is being tested, and indeed it is. The test is less military than it is about our democratic will.
Of course we’ve got to take steps, we‘ve got to pursue these guys, and I don’t know what is appropriate. This is not a time when brute force is going to be the answer, and in the zeal to punish we can‘t become the very thing we’re trying to punish. If we on the left or we as a nation allow the conventional wisdom and the powers that be to shut off legitimate protest against a legitimate target, then the terrorists have won.
MarCUS Raskin is a co-founder of the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-wing think tank, and has written extensively about the national-security state:
If there is something like a declaration of war, what this does is change dissent and difference into conspiracy and sedition in the minds of those who are running the war. We have to make clear that we‘re not standing against the people who died, but are standing with them.
There is a way of making clear that those who did this will be punished, but it’s also got to be clear that the U.S. should look at the way it‘s lived in the world for the last couple generations. If the left begins to take very strong positions on this, people in leadership positions will find themselves in trouble. There’s no question about that. The question is if people will be willing to put themselves at risk in that way.
Matt Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine:
We have to say that violence is not the way, and we are urging people to step back and try to calm down and not get carried away in blood lust. We are very concerned that George Bush will kill thousands of innocents to avenge the killing of thousands of innocent people, and we are mindful that a military response of that kind will further water the roots for more terrorism. I do believe that whoever did this must be apprehended and prosecuted, but I do not believe we should go to war against an entire nation.
I am very afraid that the terrorists have already won a major victory, and that is that our civil liberties will fall by the wayside. I‘m getting e-mails already saying “fuck you.” One reads, “You leftists will be abolished one way or another soon.” It’s going to be ugly.