Discussing the movement’s tactics

April 11, 2008

This discussion of Socialist Worker's editorial "A media blackout on Winter Soldier" (April 4) took place on an Internet listserve among Campus Antiwar Network activists and supporters. We are reprinting the debate, with the permission of the writers.

David Goodner: I disagree with Socialist Worker's spin on the six antiwar activists arrested for laying down in the Catholic Church with fake blood splashed on their bodies. SW characterized them as "boneheaded," "unrepresentative," "belligerent fanatics" performing a "stunt."

While you could make a legitimate criticism that six people do not represent a mass movement, and that their actions may not do much to build a movement, vilifying them to make a point about Winter Soldier makes no sense and does not compute.

There's no reason to compare the two at all. Those on the Christian and Catholic left have always played a role in social movements, from the civil rights movement to the anti-School of Americas movement, and the religious left usually feeds and houses a lot more poor people than secular leftists do, too.

Anyone familiar with how social movements achieve mass popular support would know that the Black Panthers, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Mahdi Army, the Catholic Workers, etc., blend civil disobedience with fulfilling unmet social needs, a lesson we should all take to heart, and all praise is due to the six activists who performed that action.

SW's trend of marginalizing direct action and religious-based social movements on the left is troubling. Those people are at least doing something, and while legitimate criticisms about the efficacy of their tactics should be raised and discussed openly, calling them unrepresentative, boneheaded, belligerent fanatics performing a stunt goes too far, and does not serve a productive purpose. A different framework of constructive criticism would have been much more effective than senseless name-calling.

Yeah, the media blacked out Winter Soldier, but there's no reason to implicate Catholics against the war with the media blackout of Winter Soldier. The Catholic Church has long been an institution of oppression, but that is all the more reason to applaud the actions of people who are challenging the church to live up to the ideals of social justice they claim to believe in. Secularism is a form of sectarianism.

David Judd: I think you're getting the article backwards. It makes a point of noting that the Catholic Church "has opposed the war since before it began." It's these six activists who disrupted a mass who were being hostile to the church, not SW.

SW suggests their actions were "boneheaded" because Catholic mass is a bizarre enemy for the antiwar movement. What makes you think that these activists represent "the religious left"?

Charlie Jenks: I agree with David Judd's excellent points. Further, I'd add that a point of the article is that acts such as this--which were indeed "unrepresentative"--are perfect tools for the mainstream news media in its attempts to "promote the stereotype of protesters as belligerent fanatics."

SW wasn't calling them "belligerent fanatics." That's how the media portrayed them. The action, with the inevitable coverage of it, produced a taint on antiwar activists in general.

The concluding point of the article was the need to build an organized movement. The Campus Antiwar Movement is trying to do just that among students. Can one imagine CAN planning or carrying out the action performed by these six people? Or could one imagine a Catholic Worker doing it? Certainly not.

David Goodner: I see what you guys are saying, but why didn't SW criticize Code Pink when six women put blood on their fingers and heckled Condoleezza Rice? Code Pink regularly engages in small direct actions like that, and I have yet to see them criticized for it.

There's plenty of legitimate criticism to throw around at the "Catholic Schoolgirls for Peace," but I think we should avoid inflammatory language and stick to constructive criticism.

Also, Catholic Workers would probably have used their own real blood to make more of a dramatic, symbolic point. It's too bad some little kids got scared, but at least bombs aren't being dropped on their heads, like in Iraq. And that's something all American parents should be thinking about more.

Graham Shaw: I think that we need to draw a line between the Holy Name 6 action and the Code Pink action that you referenced. Though both employed similar tactics, the targets and messages were different. Because Condoleezza Rice is so intrinsically intertwined with the war machine, it made a clear political point about her culpability in the imperialist project of the U.S. The message that was sent to onlookers was direct and relatable, whereas the Holy Name 6 action failed to do so.

The Catholic Church has vocally denounced the war for faith-based reasons. And although I agree that we should strive to activate and educate people who oppose the war for any reason, this was not the way to do so. It alienates the antiwar movement and makes it inaccessible to folks who accurately saw the message as unclear.

We need to strive to build a movement that these people, who do oppose the war, can picture themselves getting involved in.

I don't want to question the personal motivations of these activists, but I do think that it is important to learn from the outcome of that specific action.

The questions we need to be asking ourselves in light of this event are: Are we targeting groups/companies/individuals/schools/etc. that are complicit in the war? Are we making our movement accessible to the broader layers of people who do oppose the war, in order to build the mass movement that is necessary? What will be the general response to our messages (it would be silly not to acknowledge the fact that, for the most part, the media is not on our side and serves to paint the antiwar movement, and radicalism in general, as an alien force outside of the mainstream)?

David Goodner: For what it's worth, it appears that at least half of the six are, in fact, devout Catholics. Their choice of targets makes more sense in that context.

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