Thursday, March 27, 2008

Five Years in Iraq

Last Wednesday, March 19th, marked the fifth anniversary of the U.S invasion in Iraq. As on previous anniversaries, protestors from all over the country gathered to express their aversion to the war. It seems to me, though, that the nature of these protests has evolved: smaller crowds, more arrests, and certainly more aggressive tactics.

One compelling example came from Syracuse, NY.  Protesters created a mock Baghdad street scene with people dressed in camouflage lying “dead” on the ground while others crouched, weeping over the bodies. Twenty people who were participating in this event were arrested for blocking traffic. Right here in DC several more were arrested for jumping barricades put up around the IRS building and sitting in front of the entrance.

Why were there so many acts of civil disobedience this year? Perhaps because protestors feel the need to shake people up! In an article written by the Associated Press for MSNBC, Laurie Wolberton of Louisville, KY (whose son just returned from his first tour in Iraq) believes that American economic problems are causing citizens to forget about the war:

"We're not paying attention anymore," she said. "My son has buried his friends. He's given eulogies, he's had to go through things no one should have to go through, and over here they've forgotten. They just go shopping instead."

Is it true that we’ve become disinterested? If so, what does that mean for a non-violent resistance movement? For people who are passionately against US military involvement in Iraq, the fact that people aren’t listening just means that they have to speak louder.  As protesters look for more creative ways to get people’s attention, I wonder if these acts of civil disobedience will become even more prominent in their strategy; and perhaps even escalate into violence. 

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Stephen's More Serious Side

On January 22, Stephen Colbert welcomed Ambassador Andrew Young as a guest on "The Colbert Report." The civil rights activist and former mayor of Atlanta explained how he worked with Stephen's father to negotiate a strike at a hospital in Charleston during the Civil Rights Movement. While the comedian joked about how he could use this example to negotiate the Writers' strike, the two touched upon some important principles of nonviolence. Ambassador Young attributes his success with negotiation with the practice of "working it out so that everybody wins and nobody gets credit." He even brought up Gandhi's tactic of giving your opponent a face-saving way out.

One of the most interesting parts of the interview was when Stephen asked Young "How is going on strike the right thing to do?" Young replied simply that it is not and that it is only an option when you cannot talk. I thought this was a very interesting point to bring up. We have discussed strikes as a technique in nonviolent campaigns, but I never really considered before how they can have really serious consequences such as the case when hospital workers go on strike. What happens to all the sick people who need to be taken care of but the hospital cannot accommodate them? The fact that people's lives were at stake added to the pressure for Stephen's father and Andrew Young to work out an agreement between the hospital and the black workers on strike.

I found this episode of "The Colbert Report" to be particularly moving because it was clear that the host had a lot of respect for what his father was able to accomplish with the hospital strike. I also enjoyed how he was able to evaluate this historical demonstration of a nonviolent campaign and then compare it (although jokingly) to the Writers' strike that was going on at the time. Colbert joked that he would not be able to assist with ending the strike because he likes taking credit for things. Young ended the interview with a great punchline when he expressed that he really hoped that the Writers' strike ended soon because Colbert's show desperately needed its writers back.