by Joe Scarry
I think some people may have misunderstood me when I said that in 2014 the midterm election campaigns offer an opportunity for us to have an impact in our efforts to stop drone surveillance and warfare, and in other antiwar endeavors.
Some people have said to me, “I gave up on elected officials a long time ago. We have to take our message to the people!”
To which I say, “Yes! The people! That’s exactly who is going to be turning lots of their attention to the midterm elections in 2014! Let’s get in front of them; let’s be part of the conversation.”
In other words, let’s draw a distinction between election-2014-as-communication-context and election-2014-as-end-unto-itself.
Election 2014: Because people will be giving it their attention
Remembering the example of Willie Sutton — who said that he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is” — I would say we need to engage with the 2014 midterms “because that’s where the people’s attention is . . . .”
Given the inclination of the U.S. federal government to seize any opportunity to persecute dissenters, perhaps I should hasten to say explicitly that I am NOT recommending that anyone rob a bank!
What I am recommending is that we find out what people are giving their attention to, and then get ourselves into their field of view.
I’m reminded of an exchange in the Robert Altman film, The Player, in which two mutually-antagonistic movie executives are wrapping up a phone conversation:
GRIFFIN MILL: (played by Tim Robbins) [dripping with schadenfreude-masquerading-as-concern]: “Oh. Larry, I didn’t realize you had . . . a drinking problem.”
LARRY LEVY [ingenuously]: “Well, I don’t really, but that’s where all the deals are being made these days.”
This exchange has always stuck with me, because once you peel away the hopeless competitiveness and lack of compassion of these two characters, you are left with a grain of truth: if you want to succeed, you need to go where the conversation is taking place.
The question for us: are we willing to check our egos at the door and get busy talking to people?
Election 2014: The lure of party politics
My mother-in-law used to refer to things being “a snare and a delusion,” and I certainly appreciate the risk posed by elections. It’s easy to get sucked in, and pretty soon all of your time and energy is being sacrificed in the service of some candidate, or some party, or or some other aspect of the existing system.
Like Mercutio, most of us feel we have been wounded enough to be entitled to feel most “grave” and to say, “I am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’ both your houses!”
And we do need a posture that immunizes us from being dragged into party politics. At the same time, however, we need to be where the people are.
So . . . how are we going to do it?
One thing’s for sure: there’s a whole passel of advisers talking to Barack Obama every day about how things are progressing in key districts like the Illinois 12th. (And the Michigan 1st. And the Minnesota 8th. And … ) I’d like to be a fly on the wall when they tell him the candidate is complaining about the latest anti-drones campaign there.(“Why the hell are there protesters at my appearance in Carbondale with signs that say, ‘When will the DEMs stop being the party of Drone Execution and Murder’ ???”)
There has been a good sign in 2013, in that many people have become outraged about government surveillance. A recent Pew poll found that Americans are now more worried about civil liberties abuses than terrorism. I believe a big question in 2014 will be whether challengers successfully address the issue of NSA surveillance in their campaigns.
One issue that has a key place in the midterm elections in 2014, I believe, is surveillance. With each passing day, I am hearing more and more people say that the surveillance issue is something that a wide spectrum of people are deeply upset about. That includes people on the right as well as people on the left — people who don’t usually talk with each other, much less work together for positive change!