You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.
Letters to the editor

December 17, 2004 | Page 4

Rebuilding our movement
Lagos attacks right to dissent
Bush's CIA shake-up

Standing up to campus racism

Dear Socialist Worker,
The right wing at San Francisco State University is on the offensive.

On November 1, the College Republicans were tabling and campaigning for George Bush when they called four Middle Eastern women "terrorists." According to one of the women, "I walked over because I heard one of them call her a terrorist. One of the Republicans asked where I was from. When I said Iran, they 'oohed' and 'awed' and said, 'Ladies and gentlemen say hello to a terrorist.'"

They were even bold enough to call these women "sand niggers" and "camel jockeys." At the end of the heated exchange, one of the women's hands was even slapped by a Republican.

Following this incident, on November 3, there was a relatively spontaneous demonstration after the Republicans again pulled out their table. It started with a few people confronting the Republicans and quickly grew to be 100 people as the exchange became more heated. The police had to surround the Republicans to "protect their freedom of speech."

Meanwhile, a small group of students quickly organized a march around campus to call other students out of class. They were chanting "Racists off of campus now" and "No justice, no peace, U.S. out of the Middle East." At the height, maybe 300 people took part in the march, and the demonstration ended with a speakout in Malcolm X plaza.

Incredibly, the president of the university, Robert Corrigan, has brought the four women in for disciplinary action. In a November 11 letter to the student body, he denies the racism of the College Republicans, saying, "exchanging charges of 'racism' and 'anti-Semitism' with others because of their political affiliation rather than dealing with the substance of the political differences is a dishonest dead end."

In other words, he denies the problem exists and then blames the victims.

Unfortunately, the right has been much more on top of organizing national media for this incident than the left. The racist magazine has featured an article called "Jihad at San Francisco State," in which they describe the protest as pro-terrorist. The College Republicans have also been featured on conservative radio across the state, as well as CNN, saying how they were the victims of this situation.

Their media blitz has lead to the women receiving threatening phone calls. They have also been targeted by the Department of Homeland Security and called in for questioning.

The president of the University has asked the women to "apologize" to the Republicans and has put a "warning" on their records, which means that if they get another, they can be expelled.

At first, the women were told to keep quiet and let the political process work. These recent developments have shown clearly that this is a dead end. We need to confront these racists publicly, and in a unified manner as the left.

These women are not terrorists; they are students that are going to school whom I would call my friends. Targeting them, as the College Republicans have done, because of their country of origin or their religious beliefs (if any), is racist. We need a determined movement that brings together all those on the left to challenge these racist ideas and end racist scapegoating wherever it happens.
David Russitano, San Francisco

Back to the top

Rebuilding our movement

Dear Socialist Worker,
It was so refreshing to read your editorial taking the Democrat punditry to task for blaming their embarrassing loss on gay marriage ("Democrats search for scapegoats," November 12).

The sad part is that this argument has found resonance even among the left. Michael Donnelly declared on shortly after the elections: "Somebody's got to say it: gay marriage cost the Democrats the election." Worse still than the fact that posted the article was editor Alexander Cockburn's November 6 column, titled "Don't Say We Didn't Warn You," agreeing that "if the Democrats had wanted to identify a serious saboteur of their chances they should have homed in on Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco."

At the same time, it would be wrong just to look at the political punditry on this issue. The gay establishment itself has a lot of accounting to do for its own role in helping the Democrats bury the issue of gay marriage and conceding the fight before it began.

When the issue of same-sex marriage exploded on the scene last winter, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) organized a rally in support. Much to their surprise, some 2,000 to 3,000 people crowded into the courtyard in front of their headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The political message was clear: we're here to stop a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Almost no speaker took up the issue of fighting for gay marriage rights. Worse still, the HRC invited a handful of Republican politicians who actually wanted to tell the crowd why it would be wrong to push too far. They were heckled and booed off the stage, thankfully.

But the burying of the issue didn't stop there. A small coalition was thrown together in D.C. to organize a solidarity event with the first day of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts. Once plans were in place for a handful of same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses on May 17, and then to address a rally, the HRC and its local counterparts phoned up the cosponsors of the event, pressuring them to withdraw their sponsorship and encourage people not to turn out.

So beholden are the mainstream gay rights groups to the Democrats that they allow Democratic politicians not only not to promise us anything, but actively suppress any attempts to push for something more.

Fortunately, the energy, anger and hope that pushed the first days of the fight for gay marriage rights last spring are something that neither pundits, politicians nor patsies can control. It will be up to gay rights activists to re-cultivate the beginnings of that movement for same-sex marriage rights.
Jeff Bale, Phoenix

Back to the top

Lagos attacks right to dissent

Dear Socialist Worker,
I have been studying in Santiago, Chile, this semester. Since I arrived at the end of June, the city was seething with anticipation of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit and Bush's visit for the talks, which happened recently.

While the government and its media mouthpieces spent months preparing to receive the international visitors and make a good impression, bitter graffiti and protests all over the city made it clear that much of the population sees through the suggestion that the free-trade agreements negotiated at the meetings (to which they are obviously not invited) are for their own good.

APEC is a forum for the capitalists and their representatives in 21 governments to arrange trade deals that are favorable to profit. What they discuss at the meetings is non-binding, but it sets the tone for the neoliberal agenda in the economies involved.

For the Chilean government, hosting the summit is a huge honor. The media disgustingly brag about how Chile is being validated as an important nation due to Bush's visit; they are proud to be considered worthy of cooperation with Bush's economic vision and of earning status in the "First World."

So what does President Lagos of the Socialist Party have to offer his public, in exchange for practically giving away the country's resources? Political repression that smacks of the Pinochet years.

No protests against APEC/Bush were authorized, except one, which was negotiated long in advance. During the weekend of the heaviest protests (both at the permitted and un-permitted marches), the police arrested over 650 protesters--including international observers and journalists--and injured dozens with their brutality. I was shocked that at every demonstration, the cops were just waiting for trouble, both armed to the teeth and with their giant water tanks.

The Chilean authorities also reportedly handed airport customs officials a list of anti-globalization protesters who were not to be let into the country. At the same time, Bush had over 200 security guards to protect him from the people who did not welcome him, and prominent left organizations filed a lawsuit against Bush for war crimes. You may not have heard about this in the international media.

In the face of the repression, the left has been disoriented: What do you do when you don't have the right to the streets? Many times, the choice was to scuffle with the police in order to get media attention, but this obviously makes it difficult to build the movement, when the majority of the population isn't necessarily sympathetic to the cause.

Fortunately, during the buildup to the APEC summit, much of the organized left-liberal and revolutionary organizations were busy organizing the counter-summit, the Chilean Social Forum. I was excited by the possibility for the left forces to unite to discuss their vision for the better world they are fighting for.
Corrie Westing, Santiago, Chile

Back to the top

Bush's CIA shake-up

Dear Socialist Worker,
In the aftermath of the election, George W. Bush has worked to consolidate his power over the machinery of government by promoting those he perceives as loyal and removing from positions of influence those who objected to his policies in one way or another.

The replacement of Colin Powell with Condoleeza Rice is the most visible manifestation of this process, but it has also been evident in the weeding out of personnel at the CIA who spoke out against Bush--for example, Michael Scheuer, the anonymous author of Imperial Hubris.

By purging the individuals responsible, Bush hopes to avoid similar tough questions about his policies towards Iran, North Korea and other countries.

As a result, many progressives are worried that Bush's house-cleaning at the CIA under the auspices of political hack Porter Goss is a disaster for the left, and indeed the country--that with the leakers gone, it will be easier for Bush to see his agenda come to fruition.

The clearest articulation of this argument has been made by Chalmers Johnson. In a recent article for Mother Jones, Johnson uses the example of one-time high level leaker Daniel Ellsberg. Noting that Ellsberg helped to bring the Vietnam War to an end by "reveal[ing] to the public the systematic lying of three presidents," Johnson is apparently concerned that Goss's hatchet job will prevent such vital leaks from being made in the future.

So what should antiwar activists do? Forget about organizing mass movements and instead devote their time to infiltrating the CIA, NSA and FBI so that they can leak government secrets to the press at opportune moments? Should those of us opposed to the war want the U.S. to have better intelligence so that Washington can "pacify" Iraq, erect permanent military bases there and then move on to inflict the same horrors against the peoples of Iran and Syria?

Our task is not to defend the institutions of empire, but to destroy any legitimacy they may have in the eyes of the public.

A movement of millions united around explicitly anti-imperialist politics can reach the masses of the U.S. and convince them of the need to bring the troops home now. Indeed, this is just what happened in Vietnam: when combined with the courageous resistance of the Vietnamese people and dissident American soldiers, the antiwar movement, by vociferously and uncompromisingly demanding a withdrawal from Vietnam, put politicians in the position of defending the indefensible.

By contrast, a movement that calls for the strengthening of the institutions of American empire not only risks getting what it asks for--a more effective CIA--but buttresses the legitimacy of a political system that sends us and our children off to die for the profits of the super-rich.

Over the past year, many on the left made the mistake of defending empire under the guise of opposing it--by putting their energy behind John Kerry. Kerry, like the departing Colin Powell and axed CIA agents, objected to Bush's tactics not because they would extend American hegemony, but because he soberly recognized that they endangered the very basis of Washington's ability to control Middle Eastern oil.

The result of falling in line behind Kerry is that in many cases, those on the left have assimilated the assumptions of Washington's political establishment--to disastrous consequences.

None of this is meant to minimize the immediate dangers of Bush's actions. A CIA dominated by Bush cronies is frightening because it will make it easier for the Bush administration to propagandize the populace and pursue even more violent and bloody policies, both around the world and here at home.

But we can only fight Bush by building a movement that challenges the fundamental priorities of Washington, and by making it clear that the U.S. government and all its security agencies are involved not in fighting a "war on terror," but in fighting a war for oil, profits, and greed--a war whose costs are paid by the poor and working class, and whose spoils go to the wealthy few.

In that endeavor, there is nothing to defend.
Jeremy Tully, San Francisco

Home page | Back to the top