Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Evening of Conscience

The World Can't Wait group held an "Evening of Conscience" Monday at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. The evening featured a video by Mark Ruffalo (reading a statement from Sean Penn), poet Elmaz Abinader, author Alice Walker (The Color Purple), rapper Boots Riley, and author Daniel Ellsberg (The Pentagon Papers). Look below the fold for photos and a report from the event.

Read more...The evening opened with a group of youth reading aloud the call for the October 5 protest. Trinidad, from Youth Movement Records, got the crowd fired up with a political rap. Larry Everest, the master of ceremonies for the evening, announced that over 170 protests are scheduled for Thursday, with more than 70 of those in "red" states. World Can't Wait also took out a banner ad on MySpace, resulting in more than ten e-mails per minute from young people wanting to get involved. Mark Ruffalo, appearing on a video, read a statement from Sean Penn, urging everyone to get involved and stay involved.

Berta Guillen of SEIU Local 87, representing the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of World Can't Wait, spoke about a Muslim teen being tortured by American soldiers, cluster bombs blasting Lebanese villages to rubble, the devastation of the 9th Ward of New Orleans more than a year after Hurricane Katrina, and the litany of reasons that, under the Nuremberg protocols, President Bush should be behind bars. The October 5 protest in San Francisco will feature speakers including Medea Benjamin, Jodie Evans, Thom Hartmann, and Daniel Ellsberg.

Dennis Bernstein from KPFA Flashpoints made reference to the canonical example of the limits on free speech: your freedom of speech does not include the right to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Dennis made the point that there is a fire in the theater of our democracy, so it is our moral obligation to shout.

Next up was Elmaz Abinader, a Lebanese-American poet, performeing two pieces, accompanied on saxophone by Kamal Hamachi Mansour, a 16-year-old Lebanese-Palestinian-American student at Albany High School. Elmaz quoted her mother: "I never thought I'd live to see us lose the Bill of Rights." Her piece "Between Me and Heaven" is a meditation beginning on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Alice Walker, best known as the author of The Color Purple, talked about the Code Pink march on the White House on 2003-03-08, in which she and Medea Benjamin and others were arrested by reluctant police when they refused to disperse. She read from The Other Side of War, asking, What does it mean to be a human being? "We cannot have peace in the world if we are not peaceful." What is happening in Africa and elsewhere is because men didn't listen to women, and women didn't listen to women either, and no one listened to the children and the poets. Alice has written a children's book, Why War is Never a Good Idea, but has so far been unable to find a publisher. "No more war, no more lies, no more torture, and definitely none of it in our name!"

Michael Lange introduced Boots Riley, speaking of some of the choices that face us today: "Ballot or Bullet — Freedom or Suppression — Live together as neighbors or Perish as fools"

Boots Riley, a political activist since his teens and a member of the rap group The Coup, performed a couple of numbers. The Coup gained considerable prominence because the cover art for an album that was scheduled to be released in September 2001 showed the band members in front of the World Trade Center towers as they burst into flames from a large explosion. The cover art was entirely coincidental: it was finalized three months before the attacks on 9/11, and there is no connection at all between The Coup and al Qaeda.

Allen Michaan, the owner of the Grand Lake Theater, introduced the final speaker, Daniel Ellsberg. Michaan was galvanized to take a more activist role after the December 2000 Supreme Court decision to stop counting the ballots in Florida.

Daniel Ellsberg is best known for leaking the "Pentagon Papers" to newspapers in 1971. The papers were a classified assessment of the military situation in Vietnam, in which the top brass candidly stated that there was no possibility of military victory in the Vietnam War. Ellsberg initially tried to get a Senator to introduce these assessments into the public record, since members are shielded from prosecution for anything they say on the floor of Congress. Two years of efforts yielded no results, so, inspired by the thousands of young men who went to jail rather than serve in Vietnam, Ellsberg gave the documents to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and 17 other newspapers. His courageous action hastened the end of the Vietnam War, although among his greatest regrets is that he waited two full years, while thousands of young soldiers and civilians died in an unnecessary and unwinnable war.

The amendment offered by Senator Arlen Specter (R–PA) to give "enemy combatant" detainees a single shot at habeas corpus, was defeated by a vote of 48–51. It only takes 41 Senators to sustain a filibuster, so why did those 48 Senators cave in and allow a right that has stood in our legal tradition for nine centuries to be brushed aside in the name of a war without end? Ellsberg sees the passage of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 — the bill that gives the President the authority to detain anyone without oversight and decide unilaterally what methods of interrogation are acceptable — as second only to the clause in Article V of the Constitution that protected slavery for 15 years, among the shameful moments in the history of the U.S. Constitution.

On the subject of slavery, Dean Harold Koh of Yale Law School says that the theory of "inherent rights" of the Presidency as advanced by George W. Bush's legal advisors (most notably John Yoo) would allow the President to reinstitute slavery or commit genocide with impunity, so long as he did so under the aegis of his role as Commander in Chief.

George W. Bush doesn't care about our freedom, and he has demonstrated disastrously bad judgment — it is not a good reflection on the U.S. electorate that Bush got almost half the vote. (Whatever you say about irregularities in the 2004 election, Bush at least got within stealing distance of winning.)

Ellsberg directed an appeal to anyone who might be in the position he held in 1969, with access to classified documents to provide a concrete paper trail: "Don't wait until the bombs are falling. Don't wait until another war is started. If you have documents proving that the government is lying us into war, don't delay." The leaks we have gotten so far have come too late and have come without the necessary documents to substantiate them.

He also outlined his vision of where the United States is heading:

  • "PATRIOT Act Plus"
  • massive detention camps with torture
  • resumed nuclear weapons testing
  • resumption of the military draft, to provide troops for a ground invasion of Iran
  • the total surveillance state
  • secret informers like in East Germany or the Stalinist Soviet Union
The reality today is that we have the NSA with no meaningful restrictions on its surveillance activities, and 14,000 secret prisoners. The Iraqi people overwhelmingly want us out — Sunni, Shia, and Kurds. We are conducting a war on someone else's territory against their wishes. We are using unjust means for an unjust cause. It took us ten years to get out of Vietnam — and Vietnam didn't have oil.

The October 5 protests must be non-violent in nature, because violence plays into the hands of those who would institute a police state. Likewise, George W. Bush plays into the hands of Osama bin Laden, and Israel plays into the hands of Hezbollah. "We have to be the sand in the machine to stop this juggernaut."

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