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Monday, October 17, 2005

Message Discipline - A Personal Account

I have given a great deal of thought to the topic of message discipline, and to the question of how inclusive or exclusive the antiwar movement should be. This is an extremely important issue, and so it is incumbent upon all of us to be as well informed and educated as possible, both about the various facts and lies related to the war, as well as about the organizations that organize or participate in the movement to end it.

It is with this in mind that I would like to present two examples of my own interactions with a couple of these groups.

I was at very early organizing meeting, shortly after September 11, 2001, of people who were concerned about the United States government's official response to the horrible and devastating attacks upon our soil. I was glad that a critical mass was quickly developing, and I was eager to participate in the movement. It was a passionate gathering of people and an emotional release for the folks who attended.

It was also an early inkling of the problems that we would soon face. It was quickly obvious that there were a number of people who intended to forcefully inject their issues and causes into the debate. I remember there being argument about the very name of the coalition that would become International A.N.S.W.E.R., and I remember my friend Lisa remarking to me that she was a bit turned off by the anti-Israel rhetoric. Nevertheless, I decided to give them a chance.

As the rush to war in Iraq was in full swing, and people were taking to the streets in cities around the world in protest, I attended an A.N.S.W.E.R.-sponsored march and rally in San Francisco. Both the size and the diversity of the turnout genuinely inspired me, and I was proud to be marching alongside such a colorful, creative, and dedicated group of people.

As the march made its turn off of Market Street and then another turn that would lead to the rally in front of City Hall, I began to hear people on bullhorns, thanking everyone for being there and asking for donations. We were asked to drop our donations into any of the large buckets and bins that several volunteers were holding. They were all wearing the same T-shirts, so it was easy to identify them. I reached into my pocket and dug up what I deemed to be an appropriate amount of cash.

As I got close enough to see the shirts that the volunteers were wearing, I was instantly disturbed. They read, "Palestine - From River to Sea." For those who don't know what this means, the river is the Jordan, and the sea is the Mediterranean. This is a motto that is popular among those who would like nothing more than to see the state of Israel disappear off the face of the earth, and all of the Jews with it. I quickly stuffed my money back into my pocket.

I must mention that I am from a Jewish family, though not a very observant one. When asked about my religion, I generally reply jokingly that "my parents think I'm Jewish." I consider Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to be a bellicose hate-filled war criminal, which is pretty close to the way I view most of the Bush administration. I believe that the Palestinian people deserve their own sovereign nation as much as do the Israelis, but to lump all Jewish people in with Sharon's militarism would be as misleading and offensive as lumping all Americans into Bush's.

My feelings about Israel and Palestine, however, are not the point. The point is that on a day that began with such pride and determination, I ended up feeling as if I'd been had.

Fast forward to September 2005.

Still buzzing with the energy from Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas, I swiftly made my plans to go to Washington, DC. I had been performing my song, "Sons and Daughters" at some events in the Bay Area, and it was receiving the same overwhelmingly positive response that it received at Camp Casey. I decided to get in touch with the organizers of Operation Ceasefire, the concert that was planned for September 24th, to ask if I might perform my song. It was a longshot, I knew, and so I wasn't surprised when I got no response from United for Peace and Justice.

When I mentioned in an email to Brad Friedman, who had broadcast his Brad Show live from Crawford, that I was going to DC, he asked if I would be performing at the concert. When I told him that I had tried unsuccessfully to contact the organizers, he told me that he had an "in" with them, and that he would help me out. He wrote a wonderful recommendation to them, saying that I was a "must" for the show. I was grateful for his kind words, and optimistic that I might get to share my song with a larger group of people.

As I followed up, I reiterated that I asked for a mere four minutes on the stage, and that I would be happy to volunteer my time helping to set up the show, as I have a great deal of event production experience (it's my "day job," so to speak). I was told that the schedule was full, and that there was nothing that could be done.

I wasn't surprised, however, and I was content to bring my guitar and sing at the Camp Casey tent, along with the many other talented folks that I knew would be there. I even learned Erik Folkerth's "Prairie Chapel Road," knowing that it had been a favorite in Crawford. We musical folks combined our efforts, at various hours of the day and night throughout the weekend, and there ended up being a number of memorable moments and a generally good time for all involved.

On the day of the march, as we waited for hours to get started, Zac Barton tuned in to CSPAN radio and briefed us as to what was going on over at the stage, and when the march might actually get started. As she "re-broadcast" the various speeches, they seemed to be about everything EXCEPT the war in Iraq. When she told us that a speaker was talking about the Philippines, I joked that they didn't have four minutes for my song, which IS about the Iraq war, but they had plenty of time for just about everything else.

These events leave me with the simple conclusion that in order to focus the message; you have to be the organizer. If it's your event, then you control the microphone (or megaphone). If you are a guest, then you need to observe the wishes of the organizers. It is with this realization that one must decide which events to attend, and which organizations to support.

I came to Crawford to support Cindy Sheehan, and I left with a feeling of solidarity with Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for Peace, as well as with those who took the time out of their lives to come to Camp Casey. I feel strongly that the combined message is exactly what is needed to end this war. As for the rest of what has been called the "Free Mumia" crowd, those who bring their own agendas and attempt to co-opt the masses into supporting or promoting them, I respect the causes (and I agree with many of them), but the timing is all wrong.

First we must end this war. Only then can we harness our momentum to attack the root causes of injustice that plague our nation and our planet.

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