By Katrina Wilcox on 9/24/2005, 9:48am PT  
Special BRAD BLOG / Velvet Revolution coverage
of the Sep 24-26 Rally in D.C.
Guest blogged by Katrina Wilcox

Well ... we are off to raise hell and demand an immediate end to the war! While we are away documenting this massive show of strength by patriotic like-minded Americans, I leave you with this interview with Chris Floyd - author of one of the articles that opened my eyes to the need to stop them and hold them accountable NOW.

1. What caused you to become an activist and when was this?

I wouldn't really call myself an activist. That's a term of honor, it should be reserved for people out there on the streets, doing the hard work of organizing, building networks, unions, soup kitchens, halfway houses, health centers --- infrastructures for dissent and change, for justice and mercy. I'm just a commentator; at best, a synthesizer of the efforts of countless other people. I see my role as simply using the very limited talents I have, on the rather obscure platforms that I have, to try to "inoculate the world with disillusionment," as Henry Miller put it. To try to dig out a few shards of reality from the slag-heap of lies, corruption and ruin that the powerful have heaped upon us all.

To be absolutely honest, I wish I didn't have to deal with it. There are a great many other things that I find more interesting and meaningful than politics. But it's been forced on me by the times we live in. I don't mind a reasonable amount of corruption, chicanery, power games, hypocrisy. That's human nature, it's always there and always will be. I'm no idealist. I don't seek a perfect world. But when the corruption and abuse of power spike up to toxic levels, you can't just sit back and watch. If you've got the slightest bit of love or regard for your country, for your people or just people in general, for the whole millennia-long project of human enlightenment --- then you've got to speak out when forces and factions try to drag us back down into the mud.

But although today the toxic spike is at all-time high, this right-wing tide has been rising for almost 30 years now and I've been trying to speak out against it for almost that long. I could see it coming, could feel it in the air, way back in the Seventies. I used to watch these TV preachers late at night, back when everyone thought they were a joke --- Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, the whole sick crew. I didn't think they were a joke. I could tell they were introducing a new kind of poison into American society, a new kind of hate and intolerance and blind zealotry, demonizing their opponents, giving no quarter, no compromise, and telling the most outrageous lies and distortions to serve their purposes. I could see they were striking a chord with too many people, they were deliberately stirring up old fears and prejudices that, if left alone, would have eventually died off as any kind of active force in society. But they brought it all back, juiced it back to life like Frankenstein's monster. I saw too that they were harnessing religious fervor to very specific, secular, right-wing political causes.

I saw the other side of this two-pronged assault on American democracy start to take hold in those same years too. The Young Americans for Freedom, the fanatical tax-cutters, the slanderers of the poor, the war junkies --- little weedy twerps who got all het up fantasizing about killing Commies and building arsenals of big, throbbing nukes or what have you. This was the beginning of that right-wing conveyor belt that has produced hard-hearted apparatchiks like John Roberts and all the other Grover Norquist clones that infest our government and culture now --- stunted souls, people who hate the very idea of a "common good."

Then Reagan got elected. Now, I DID think his candidacy was a joke. I'd been reading his newspaper column for years. He was an idiot, a fool, a mean-spirited operator who kept himself deliberately ignorant while pushing the most virulent lies. A fantasist too, who claimed he'd liberated Nazi death camps, when he'd never left Hollywood during World War II. Of course, by the time he reached the White House, his brain was already deteriorating. But he'd been peddling his mental trash for decades before then.

I was glad when he got the Republican nomination. I remember saying, "Now the press will tear him apart." I thought they'd go after his established, indisputable record as a racist, a militarist, a corrupt bagman for corporate interests, a kept man of his sugar daddies, an out-to-lunch incompetent. But of course, the joke was on me on all of us. The press coddled Reagan like a month-old baby. The last vestiges of reality departed the political process at that point, and it's never come back. I knew then we were on our own; the heroes of Watergate weren't going to save us. The watchdogs turned into sycophants.

I remember watching a Reagan press conference. Somebody asked him a tough question about something. Reagan sputtered and fumed went a bit nuts, actually. He started babbling, "I know who you are. I know who put you up to asking that. I know the people behind all this, they'll get what's coming to them," words to that effect. It was a meltdown, a spasm of weird paranoia. The next week, Time Magazine ran a story on it: "A Touch of Irish Flint," they called it, painting Reagan as a charming, feisty character, larger than life, ready to mix it up with a twinkle in his eye, like John Wayne in The Quiet Man. It was all a lie, it was demonstrably a lie but nobody questioned it, not the press, not the Establishment, not the Democrats. After that, there was no hope that you could just get on with your life and trust that the "watchdogs" of the nation's institutions wouldn't let things get too far out of hand. You were going to have to be your own watchdog, you were going to have to dig out the truth for yourself without any institutional backing, without any leverage at all.

So I guess that's how I became an "activist," in the sense of someone trying to be aware and outspoken against the liars, killers, thieves and fanatics who were poisoning the country. But again, I wouldn't claim that term for myself, in the face of people doing real activism.

2. What compelled you to write The Nightmare Comes True: WMD Terrorists in Iraq?

I was compelled to write it because it was true: depleted uranium is a chemical weapon, and we're using it in Iraq, with dreadful consequences for civilians and our own soldiers. Nobody else was talking about it very much, especially not in print, so I thought I should give it an airing.

3. What message would you like every American to hear at this crucial time?

Boy, that's a tall order. I wouldn't know what to say. Maybe tell them the parable about Rabbi Hillel, the great Pharisee teacher who lived in the generation before Jesus of Nazareth. The story is told that a Gentile came to Rabbi Hillel and threw down this challenge: "If you can teach me the whole Law while standing on one leg, then I will worship your God." And Hillel answered, "Do not do to other people what you don't want them to do to you. That is the whole of the Law; the rest is commentary. Go, and study."

Later Jesus, like a bluesman or a folksinger, picked up on that older line and turned it around a bit in his own style, in the Golden Rule. It comes to the same thing. Or else I might give them this quote, from Italo Calvino, which I got from a Gore Vidal essay:

"The inferno is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

And if that didn't float their boat, I guess I'd just leave them with this, from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

"The wolfhound is right; the cannibal is wrong." What else can you say, really?

4. Given the chance to address Congress and the administration, what would you say to them?

I wouldn't say anything to them. The Bush Faction are not people who are going to be moved by soaring words into changing their position. There's no point in "speaking truth to power" with them. They are utter cynics. They know what the truth is; they know very well what they are doing to American society. And they don't give a damn. It's what they came to Washington to do. If they could be moved by appeals to reason, compassion, principle, logic or genuine patriotism, they wouldn't be where they are in the first place. Anyone among them who might respond to anything like that has already been weeded out long ago. I wouldn't waste my breath on any of them.

No wait, that's not completely true. I would say one thing to them, a single question: "If we gave you, say, $200 billion in cold hard cash, would you all just go away and leave us alone?"

As for Congress, what could you possibly say to them? You could only repeat what the Emperor Tiberius said about the Roman Senate, after watching them spend yet another session bowing and scraping obsequiously before him: "Men fit to be slaves." I suppose, though, you could lower your price for buying them off a thousand bucks each and a few golf junkets would probably do the trick.

5. What do you consider to be the most important problem facing America at this point? Do you have a solution?

The most important short-term problem facing America is ending the on-going atrocity and war crime in Iraq. But there is no good solution for that problem now. There never was; once the crime was committed, we were locked into a destiny of bloodshed and horror. I personally favor an immediate withdrawal: if you no longer want to be a criminal, then you must stop committing the crime. Doing it in some "better way" or "seeing the job through more efficiently" or any of the other nostrums offered up by the Democrats it's just ridiculous, it's meaningless jaw-flapping from well-wadded people who will never have to face the consequences of their actions. If something is a crime, then doing it "in a better way" is even more criminal.

That said, an immediate withdrawal will doubtless lead to more bloodshed and horror. Yet prolonging the occupation will also lead to more bloodshed and horror. I think, on balance, that the horror will be worse in every way if we stay. But there is no good solution, none at all. It's just triage: do you want to lose your leg or your arm?

6. Bringing about change in the government through letter writing, signing petitions, and making phone calls is not working. Do you have any thoughts or ideas on ways to accomplish real change?

I don't really know. The game is so rigged now that it's hard to see what would make a difference to those in power. Mass demonstrations do have an effect, although it's harder now because the media invariably ignores or under-reports them. I think the thing to do is just keep on plugging. Keep marching, keep organizing campaigns, keep trying in every possible way to get the truth out to as many people as possible. Because push is going to come to shove in America sooner or later probably sooner. The rapacious policies of the Bush Faction and the whole 30-year right-wing juggernaut are starting to hit home in a big way. They waged a war of decimation against the poor, and they won, while the middle-class looked the other way. But now it's their turn. The elitist policies are now devouring the middle class too. They're skating on the thinnest ice right now, living on debt, stretched to the margins. When economic crisis hits perhaps as soon as this winter, with gasoline and home fuel prices skyrocketing they're going to find that the safety net has been ripped to shreds, that the candy store has been given away to a few fat cats around the corner. They're going to find that the whole country has been turned into the Superdome and they've been left to fend for themselves. It's not going to be pretty.

That's when activists have to step forward with a positive vision for change, with a strong view and solid historical facts that help explain how things got this way, and how we can begin to get some of our democracy back. You will already have been doing all this, year after year, working in the shadows of seemingly unassailable power structures. But when the hollowness and the incompetence of these structures become manifest, as we've seen to some degree following Katrina, these "obscure progressive campaigns" that have been going on for years will suddenly find a vast new audience willing to listen.

That's the hope, anyway. Another likely scenario is that when the crisis hits, the far-right will move in with scapegoats and hatemongering and warmongering to divert people's anger away from the elite. We see a lot of that already, and when things get worse, we'll see even more of it. But that's why it's good to just keep on plugging with dissent and ideas for change, to have some kind of solid infrastructure in place to challenge the hard-right backlash that will come.

7. One such idea is for everyone that attends this weekend's rally to stay in Washington until the government is forced to change and bring the troops home, etc. Do you think that idea would work?

Do you mean something like the situation in Ukraine, where the crowds simply stayed in the streets of Kiev until the government fell? That's a nice idea, but I don't think it will work. First of all, those crowds were supported by Big Money, which provided food, supplies, entertainment, protection. Yushchenko and his reformers were all oligarchs themselves; he was once in the inner circle of the faction he threw out. And now he and his "revolutionaries" are falling out in disputes over corruption and power and how to divvy up the pie among themselves. Also, the Ukraine operation also had lots of covert and overt support from the US government and various NGOs. That doesn't mean the people's fervor for change and democracy wasn't genuine. It was. But you won't have that kind of support here, the sheer logistical underpinning to maintain a mass street protest for weeks on end.

Anyway, I would imagine that a great many people at the rally are working folks; they can't afford to hang around Washington until George W. Bush sees the errors of his ways and brings the troops home. You know that's not going to happen in any case. And even if they could stay, Bush would just disperse the crowd as a "security threat," after a suitable series of stories about looting, crime, drugs, etc. among the protestors.

8. Do you have any thoughts or ideas on ways to get the corporate media to get our message out?

They're not going to put our message out. What is our message, in the end? That big corporations and powerful elites have too much sway in our society and need to be reined in. That policies and politics should be aimed more toward the common good, not the bottom line. Why should the corporate media want to put out such a message? They are an integral part of this same rapacious and harmful power structure. They're not going to encourage their own curtailment, they're not going to threaten their own bottom line. Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of very good reporters in the mainstream media, writing very good stories about very important realities. It's not some kind of monolithic totalitarianism. But overall, the handful of good stories are going to be buried, diluted, overwhelmed by the howling storm of bullshit, sycophancy and witless diversion that comprises 95 percent of the corporate media's output.

All you can do is just keep trying to get bits of reality out there, even in highly distorted forms. Something of the truth will get smuggled across, and it will do some good. Look at the Cindy Sheehan campaign. This is a highly significant development, it's having some real impact, some deep resonance, despite all the media distortions, the ferocious vilification. The power of unarmed, unadorned, indisputable truth will always find a way to make itself felt to all those who are willing to hear it.

Chris Floyd