Rhetorical Challenges to the Iraq War

rhetoricality

The movement against the Iraq War began with incredible force. At this time, the leading anti-war narrative espoused the strength of a vibrant civil society in opposition to the Bush Administration’s march to war. Riding high from the successes of the alter-globalization demonstrations, most notably a recent European Social Forum, the movement emphasized the importance of global popular opinion as the voice the people.24 Numbers swelled, and on February 15, 2003, protest against the Iraq War drew anywhere between six and thirty million people in over 600 cities worldwide.25 The event was championed as the loudest and clearest message ever sent by civil society. One New York Times columnist was so amazed by the epoch-defining nature of the event that he wrote, “there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.”26 This intervention unfortunately failed to prevent the war. In hindsight, it is obvious that the message was transmitted clearly but did not have the intended effects on those who had their hands on the levers of state power.

Exasperated by the failure to prevent the Iraq War, the previously vibrant anti- war movement took steps to re-unify itself. So at the June 2003 United for Peace and Justice National Convention, a lengthy unity statement was constructed to build a united front to end the war.27 After Bush was reelected in 2004 and the search for weapons of mass destruction was officially called off, however, a number of groups became increasingly confrontational.28 The first step in the turn toward confrontation was to construct a line in the sand through a system of identification that ran parallel to Bush’s “with us or against us.”29 This polarizing identification had two important parts: ad hominem attacks on President Bush’s personality, and an ‘I Told You So’ narrative repeated by movement celebrities. To spread their message, liberals and progressives brought their case against the war before the court of public opinion. A small group of celebrities provided the public face of the criticism, with each wearing affiliations on their sleeves as if to point supporters toward the organization of their choice. Of those media personalities, the most vocal was Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed while serving as a solider in Iraq. Her presence at an action at a mass demonstration in the new phase in the anti-war movement in September 2005 is worth describing in detail. Continue reading “Rhetorical Challenges to the Iraq War”

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Ghost Stories

Transcript of a talk I gave December 10th, 2011, as part of an Occupy event entitled “Economics Justice, Economic Resistance.”

I. OCCUPY

I want to begin with two stories from the first weeks of the Occupy protests in New York City.

Think first of CNN’s Erin Burnett, who, in her segment “Seriously?!”, which covered Occupy Wall Street at Zuccotti Park downtown, asked the question, “What are they protesting?” What did she decide? That “nobody seems to know.”

Or, to use our favorite whipping boy, Fox News, look to the outtakes from their show “On the Record.” The Occupy interviewee, dogged with the question of how he wants the protests to “end,” artfully finds ways to refuse the question. His response? “As far as seeing it end, I wouldn’t like to see it end. I would like to see the conversation to continue.”

By now, I’m sure we have each come up with our own way to respond to this feigned ignorance. Some try to add to the seemingly endless list of demands. Others gesture to the Trotskyite desire for a permanent revolution. Even others try to simplify things down to a few key points.

II. GHOST STORIES

Today, I would like to propose something much more profound:

We need to learn how to tell ghost stories.

Continue reading “Ghost Stories”