Next Stop

Jeff Epton

Such optimism. Such scheming. Such giddiness. It has been nearly 40 years since so many have felt so compelled to fight back, to take on an imperial president and oppose a sweeping corporate agenda.

The antiwar movement, celebrated or otherwise, is the big story. The outcome of the assault on Iraq was no surprise. The war was over before organized opposition, which significantly delayed its launch, could stop it altogether.

But this antiwar movement is different. It refuses to demobilize. As many who took to the streets now realize, the war wasn’t the main issue, after all. It was, and is, the Bush administration. Consequently, this antiwar movement promises to be a feature of the political landscape, at least through the next national election.

Such endurance is not simply the result of some newly developed political sophistication on the left, though that might be a factor. Technology, or more precisely, the Internet and computer databases, have created a communication infrastructure that allows small groups of activists to stay in touch with larger groups of like-minded individuals, all ready to be mobilized on a moment’s notice for a finite purpose.

Internet-based initiatives, such as www.MoveOn.org and www.TrueMajority.org, are in regular contact with tens of thousands of responsive citizens. In Chicago, ’60s radicals Carl Davidson and Marilyn Katz have launched an anti-Bush Peace and Justice Voters campaign (www.noiraqwar-chicago.org) and are connecting with similar initiatives nationwide. Instant communication and far-flung coordination are now available to social justice movements. Peace, and more, may yet be possible.

And though congressional Democrats as a group supported the war, shared in the attack on civil liberties, and offered little resistance to tax cuts, the Democratic party appears to be moving toward a more determinedly anti-Bush agenda. Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley-Braun, Howard Dean, and Dennis Kucinich, all campaigning on partially or thoroughly progressive platforms, constitute almost half the field in the Democratic presidential primary.

The recent Take Back America conference, sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future, featured Jesse Jackson promoting a Democratic presidential strategy that opens the door to Greens and Nader voters.

Terrified by what the Bush administration has already done, and swapping nightmarish predictions of what comes next, progressives inside and outside the Democratic Party are motivated.

But the let’s-beat-Bush-express isn’t going to travel as far as its riders believe. In fact, a large number of progressive voters have ridden similar buses to nowhere before. It may seem that we are headed to the right place, but it’s only a sense of urgency that makes it so.

This Bush can be beaten, of course. Bush the elder, entering the 1992 campaign on the strength of his own Gulf War victory, looked like a sure winner for re-election. But a weak economy, combined with Clinton’s effective campaign strategy and winning personality, easily undid the Bush success story.

Clinton’s victory, though, turned out to set the stage for the disillusionment of progressives and a right-wing resurgence on behalf of George the younger.

This time around may be no different. Electoral success in 2004 will have progressives momentarily congratulating themselves that the worst has been averted, but betrayal, let down, and demobilization will be almost certain to follow. That is, if all we do is board the let’s-beat-Bush-express without a plan for where we go next.

Without a strategic vision, the place we get to when the bus ride ends is a guaranteed disappointment. Hopefully, it will be the United States without George W. Bush. But it won’t be election reform, it won’t be national health care, it won’t be peace, and it won’t be justice.

And it will be progressives, on the sidelines once again, wondering when our agenda is going to have its turn, and then, four or eight years later, watching as Jeb Bush, or maybe the photogenic, bilingual George P. Bush, ascends to the Imperial Presidency.

What’s the solution then? By all means, let’s beat Bush. But please, let’s not pretend that that is equivalent to a strategic goal. Fighting back is not a strategy, and neither is voting for a candidate who isn’t George Bush. Those are tactics—necessary first steps, perhaps, but no more. We should be asking where we want to go before we board the bus. In other words, what’s the route to where we want to go?

Do we want to defeat Bush and then launch a campaign for national health care? If so, where and when do we transfer buses? Do we want to take the Pentagon apart, rebuild the justice system, launch an anticorporate, economic justice campaign, and do something real? Can we put forward a vision for a transformed nation, around which we can build and sustain a movement?

Or, one more time, am I just going to be a progressive bozo on the next bus to nowhere, with you sitting beside me?

Jeff Epton is the former publisher of In These Times.
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