After Iraq, What now?
essay 10 of the series
Building a Global Grassroots Infrastructure

April 28, 2003

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Grass/Infra/Infra-10.htm
The text part of this article is available on the Boston IMC website at
http://boston.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=14125

The mobilizations against the assault on Iraq are a historical watershed. Never before has such a massive, universal effort been mounted to try to prevent a threatened war. Its immediate failure -- our loss of this particular battle -- is a clear signal to the many millions of us who tried to stop the attack that we must rethink our means of struggle. Our goal, of course, remains unchanged: a world where everyone lives with dignity and in peace, unthreatened.

Winning the hearts and minds

      First, we should recognize the extent of our success in bringing together and being a part of a global struggle for a decent world. This means, at the moment, that there are, I would estimate, literally hundreds of millions if not billions of the world's people who are adamantly opposed to the U.S. government's drive for global military and economic domination. Gaining this degree of unanimity was no negligible achievement. The role of non-corporate media was essential. Without the internet, popular community radio and all forms of rapid, non-commercially controlled communication, the mobilization of world public opinion could not have happened. But it did happen. We ought to take heart from that success, a giant step towards remaking the world as it should be, and not according to the dreamers of empire in Washington.

Why were the hearts and minds of humanity not enough?
Photo by AP photographer Nabil on March 22, 2003, two days after the U.S. began bombing Baghdad. Processo is a Mexico City weekly news magazine. Caption: Washington doesn't believe in tears. For more info, see Your Taxes at Work

      Why was the U.S. government able to act in utter contempt for the near unanimity of the world's people that it not attack Iraq? And in total disregard of the opposition of a substantial majority of Americans that it not act unilaterally? Why did we, and do we, have to continue witnessing the unspeakable horrors to which people were, and are being subjected by the would-be world rulers?

      I think we would be making a great mistake if we were to conclude that we failed because we didn't try hard enough, because we were unable to mobilize even larger protests, to convince more people -- Americans in particular -- to join the marches, rallies, demonstrations, telephone call-ins and e-mails and faxes to officials. The U.S. government plans to continue its war to conquer the world, and we will be setting ourselves up for a whole series of failures to stop it if our conclusion is that as subsequent attacks become imminent we must simply increase the quantity of our efforts.

      The U.S. government was able to act at will for two somewhat separate but related reasons: 1) the American people could not constrain the ruling cabal to respect supposed U.S. democracy; and 2) the rest of the world's people could not prevail on the governments of their countries to act forcefully to prevent the attack.

Propaganda and the shaping of our thoughts

      I believe it is fair to say that outside of the United States there was a much clearer understanding of the nature of the impending assault than within the U.S. This is substantially due to corporate/government control of practically all the mass media in the U.S., which is quite successful in misrepresenting reality. All of us in the U.S. are subjected day in and day out to a stream of false "facts" and ideas intended to bolster our support for and loyalty to the government. Regardless of the efforts we may make as individuals to try to honestly understand reality, every one of us is affected by the ongoing lies and omissions of the mass media, by its framing of the discourse to focus our attention away from the crucial issues. In a word, we cannot avoid being, to some extent, brainwashed.

      Einstein spoke of each of us being subjected to "[a] kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion", he continued, "is a kind of prison for us, ..." In the preceding essay of this series, "Out of the Prison!", I wrote in part:

      "Why does the Israeli government do its utmost to prevent accurate news of its attacks in the occupied territories from being disseminated? Barring reporters, destroying cameras and electronic communications equipment, threatening and shooting cameramen, imposing military censorship on news networks, and so on, are all part of its strategic plan. Why? To prevent, as much as possible, accurate information getting out to the world. Why? The answer stares us in the face. Because the Israeli government knows, correctly, that the overwhelming majority of ordinary human beings would be appalled, outraged at what it is doing. So they try to hide most of it. And they do their utmost to disseminate lies to justify those of their actions that can't be hidden. "The same is true of every government. ..."[1]

[1] Essay "Out of the Prison!" available at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Grass/Infra/Infra-9.htm

      Clearly I see the problem of trying to know the truth as quite general, not just that of Americans living in the U.S. But in the U.S. it is particularly severe, in part because of the well-implanted myth that we have a free press. There is no official government censorship. No requirement that copy be submitted for government approval before it is published. In that critically important sense we do have a free press. Quite properly, that freedom is very highly regarded, so much so that it was incorporated (in 1791) into the very first paragraph of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom . . . of the press . . ."

      Failure of the U.S. press (and allied mass media - TV, radio, film) to live up to the pristine freedom that is constitutionally guaranteed comes from the fact that it is almost totally owned by super-wealthy capitalists or corporations.[2] Serving the selfish interests of the super-wealthy is in fact, though not in theory or myth, the government's primary task. In a culture dominated by big money all the major propaganda outlets, i.e. the mass media and the educational system, identify with, are served by, and serve the interests of the very rich. The system, or "the Establishment" as some like to call it, is one of structural corruption. The American people's ignorance of this reality is a major ideological propaganda achievement which enables the government to act almost at will.

[2] "There's really five companies that control 90 percent of what we read, see and hear." - Ted Turner, CNN founder, now vice chairman of CNN's owner, AOL Time Warner. He called rival media baron Rupert Murdoch a warmonger for what he said was Murdoch's promotion of the U.S. war in Iraq. Murdoch's News Corp. Ltd. owns the fast-growing Fox News Channel. He criticised Fox News for its pro-Bush stance, which has helped it overtake CNN as the most popular news network in the US. Reuters, April 25, 2003.
      The BBC director general and editor-in-chief, Greg Dyke, said he was surprised at the "committed political position" of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel, and "shocked" to discover that the biggest radio group in the US was using its stations to organise pro-war rallies. The global media giant Clear Channel owns 1,225 radio stations in the US, many of which took a staunchly pro-war line. The Guardian, April 25, 2003.

      One example of the depth of misunderstanding hit me recently. On April 5th, in near desperation, I e-mailed to many people "A call for the United Nations to act forcefully", which I regarded as a "Last chance for the United Nations to stop the U.S. assault [on Iraq] and to regain some credibility."

      An aquaintance who lives in the Boston area, age about 50, responded a few days later, on April 11,

George,

I hate to be a crank but where were you when chemical Ali killed 500 Kurds? Where were you when 85% of the Iraqui people were living under oppression as bad as Hitler for the past 25+ yrs?

I do not like war, there always seems to be a better way out. But the death of 2000 inocents to help free 15 million is something WE would do if we were in the same situation.

The one MOST Horrible fact about this war is it is THE FIRST WAR THE US HAS EVER INITIATED!

That is THE REAL CRIME. We have lost all credibility in the world and will take a long time to regain it.

R

      And I wrote back, an admittedly very sharp response:

Hi R,

      You managed, in your short note, to display a remarkable (mis)understanding of the reality of the world in which we are living. I suggest, for starters, that you read Robert Fisk's article from today's British newspaper, The Independent. He is one of the best, perhaps THE best, correspondent on the ground, an entirely trustworthy individual. His article is at http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=396743

      Ask yourself why you are so ready to mouth the latest lies from the White House. Did you already forget that the supposed "reason" for the savaging of Iraq was to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction? Then Bush switched to "liberating" the Iraqi people from their long suffering [due to the] dictator. And of course the corporate media immediately forgot about the weapons of mass destruction (and so did you, apparently) and trumpeted the evils of Saddam, which you dutifully repeated.

      I hold no use for Hussein or any other dictator. But you are clearly buying into the notion (the most recent excuse) that the attack was justified because of the terrible oppression the Iraqi people were subjected to. You must know that the chemical weapons to which your first sentence refers were supplied by U.S. corporations during the long period when the Saddam regime was an ally of the U.S. government.

      As for "freeing" the Iraqi people, that is so clearly in contradiction with everything you know, or ought to know about the beneficence of the U.S. The U.S. overthrew the Mossadegh regime in Iran in the early '50s and put the Shah into power. His Savak special police units were notorious for their torture of political prisoners. A year or two later the U.S. overthrew the Jacobo Arbenz government of Guatemala to protect the giant land holdings of the United Fruit Company in Boston, and put in a military dictatorship that murdered somewhere between 100 and 200 thousand Mayan peoples who sought only to live as human beings. You might want to read about that tragedy visited on the people of Guatemala, in Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala, by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, and in I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, by the well-known Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

      Guatemala was only one of the tortured victims of U.S. concern for people's well-being. In September 1973 the U.S. arranged the overthrow of Salvador Allende's government in Chile (C.I.A. and I.T.&T. were major players), and it goes on and on -- El Salvador, Nicaragua, Cuba, Panama (did you forget about that great drug smuggler and former U.S. ally Manuel Noriega?). And of course in Venezuela and Colombia and Ecuador and Bolivia, and not so far from where I'm living, in Chiapas, where U.S. military are "advising" the Mexican army how to carry out its attempted suffocation of the mainly indigenous people in the Zapatista communities in resistance to neo-liberal efforts to take over their lands.

      Well, I really hadn't wanted to get into this so much. If you want to be in charge of your own mind start by turning off the TV. Otherwise you make yourself a slave of the slimeballs who run the U.S. And quit relying on the corporate media. Their owners don't give a fuck about you or anyone else. That's the name of the "game", i.e. capitalism. And don't worry about being a crank. Write me what you think of what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinian Arabs. I'm interested to know.

Sincerely,
George

P.S. You wrote, "But the death of 2000 inocents to help free 15 million is something WE would do if we were in the same situation." It's not so generous to volunteer other people's deaths. Would you volunteer to be one of those 2000?

      People outside the U.S. are not so prone to overlook aggression by the U.S. government, because their news sources, unlike American corporate mass media, are not committed to building support for the U.S.. An indication of the reality of U.S. aggressiveness since World War II was compiled by Arundhati Roy. To her list of "countries that America has been at war with -- and bombed" -- since then, I added the president and his party at the time, and the final entry.[3]

    China (1945-46, 50-53) [Truman Dem, Eisenhower Rep]
    Korea (1950-53) [Truman Dem, Eisenhower Rep]
    Guatemala (1954, 67-69) [Eisenhower Rep, Johnson Dem, Nixon Rep]
    Indonesia (1958) [Eisenhower Rep]
    Cuba (1959-60) [Eisenhower Rep]
    Belgian Congo (1964) [Johnson Dem]
    Peru (1965) [Johnson Dem]
    Laos (1964-73) [Johnson Dem, Nixon Rep]
    Vietnam (1961-73) [Kennedy Dem, Johnson Dem, Nixon Rep]
    Cambodia (1969-70) [Nixon Rep]
    Grenada (1983) [Reagan Rep]
    Libya (1986) [Reagan Rep]
    El Salvador (1980s) [Reagan Rep]
    Nicaragua (1980s) [Reagan Rep]
    Panama (1989) [Bush Senior Rep]
    Iraq (1991-2001) [Bush Senior Rep]
    Bosnia (1995) [Clinton Dem]
    Sudan (1998) [Clinton Dem]
    Yugoslavia (1999) [Clinton Dem]
    Afghanistan (2001) [Bush Junior Rep]
    Iraq (2003) [Bush Junior Rep]

[3] Power Politics, Second Edition, by Arundhati Roy, South End Press, p.128.

      The terms of office are: Harry S. Truman Dem. 1945-1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower Rep. 1953-1961, John F. Kennedy Dem. 1961-1963, Lyndon B. Johnson Dem. 1963-1969, Richard M. Nixon Rep. 1969-1974, Gerald R. Ford Rep. 1974-1977, Jimmy Carter Dem. 1977-1981, Ronald Reagan Rep. 1981-1989, George Bush Rep. 1989-1993, William J. Clinton Dem. 1993-2001, George W. Bush Rep. 2001-

      That so many Americans believe in the fundamental goodness of the U.S. government, despite their readiness to acknowledge its "occasional mistakes", is an enormously successful propaganda achievement. Their perception of the U.S. as a model and promoter of democracy and freedom is an illusion, at odds with reality. Without this illusion they would recognize intended aggression for what it is, and refuse to support it. The disillusioning of as many Americans as possible, replacing their illusions with solid understanding, is thus an essential task of the highest priority for the anti-war movement in the U.S. if we are to turn the government away from its plans for world conquest.

How to do it? First, the inspiration

      Building a broad decentralized grassroots communications infrastructure in the U.S., locally based and nationally and globally linked, as is already well underway, is the key to the massive counter-propaganda effort that is needed. We must delegitimize the corporate mass media in people's eyes, by counterposing our own honest reporting and analysis, and diffusing it rapidly, widely and consistently, so that our network will become the de facto source of everyday news.

      The most inspiring accounts I know of that dramatize the impact a grassroots communications infrastructure can have are the NarcoNews reports on the role of community media in Venezuela, especially during the past year or so. Both attempts to overthrow the highly popular elected government, one momentarily "successful" for a day or so in April 2002, and another in the latter part of 2002 that hardly got off the ground, failed because the ordinary people of Venezuela knew what was happening and defended their constitutional government.

      According to Al Giordano, the NarcoNews publisher and one of the titans in the struggle for a truly free, non-commercial popular press, Venezuela now has the most highly developed infrastructure of community news sources anywhere in the world. This was the key factor that blocked the U.S. led attempted coup in April 2002 and continues to block ongoing efforts to destabilize the country and to recapture control by the very wealthy, U.S. allied sector. The first of a two-part report from Venezuela by NarcoNews Andean Bureau Chief Luis Gómez begins,[4]

On the dawn of April 11, 2002, the coup d'etat was already in march in Venezuela. During these dramatic hours, a group of supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution distributed 100,000 flyers in the poor neighborhoods of Caracas, calling upon the Venezuelan people to surround the Miraflores Palace with the goal of deterring and detouring "the opposition march that, with premeditation, leads to a coup operation." This march ended in armed confrontations. The opposition to President Hugo Chávez used that violence as the final pretext for the failed coup d'etat that cost the lives of many people who went out into the streets during those days to defend their democratically elected government.

      A year ago, on April 15, 2002, Al Giordano wrote, in a classic article "Three Days that Shook the Media",[5]

The failed coup d'etat against Venezuela marks a turning point not just for authentic democracy in our América, but also for authentic journalism.

The remote-control attempt by Washington and commercial interests - including various media giants within and outside of Venezuela - to topple the government of President Hugo Chávez by force has only made him stronger.

In poetic defiance of all the official and commercial media declarations to the contrary, the "Bolivarian Revolution" has survived. On the third day it rose again: The Chávez government emerges as more popular than ever, and Venezuelan democracy the strongest in América to withstand future authoritarian ambushes like the failed plot of these three fateful days.

One of the news agencies that had been so dishonest in recent days, Associated Press (AP), reported today a fact that, only hours ago, its reports did not even consider as a possibility:

"Never before in modern times has an elected president been overthrown by military commanders, his successor inaugurated, and then the ousted leader returned to power on the wings of a popular uprising."

The story also enters the history books as a watershed moment in the Authentic Journalism Renaissance.

AP, Reuters, the New York Times, and CNN, the worst offenders in the English-language media among many others, have had to radically adjust their coverage of the events in Venezuela precisely because online journalists worked overtime in recent days to break the information blockade and get the true facts to the international public.

These are "must read" articles, sources of inspiration for us, about the quarter-century old independent community news infrastructure that has been developing in Venezuela.

[4] "The New Voice of the Venezuelan People", by Luis Gómez, April 21, 2003, http://www.narconews.com/Issue29/article742.html
"Media Constructed from Below", by Luis Gómez, April 23, 2003, http://www.narconews.com/Issue29/article745.html
[5] "Three Days that Shook the Media", by Alberto M. Giordano, April 15, 2002, http://www.narconews.com/threedays.html

So after the inspiration, then what?

      To continue building our community-based, grassroots communications infrastructure, to vastly increase its size, we need a lot of material resources. We need possession of our own buildings from which no greedy landlords can evict us (the Indymedia Center group in Argentina was just evicted). We need all the equipment with which to gather, record, process and transmit news and information. We need, in short, to divert more material wealth out of government and corporate control into our own hands. How are we to do it?

      One thing each of us could do is to consider what possibilities we may have for cutting back on consumption of commercial products, e.g. corporate-produced entertainment such as Hollywood films, staged events, including major sporting events, amusement parks, Disneyland, expensive cosmetics and so-called beauty aids, television, cable TV subscriptions, all kinds of holiday costs -- travel, hotels, dining out and shopping as diversion, unnecessary expensive house furnishings, unneeded clothing, expensive packaged foods such as dry breakfast cereals, costly new cars, and so on. Every dollar we can keep from going into corporate or government coffers increases our options for building our grassroots communications infrastructure.

      One suggestion to consider for cutting down expenditures is to carefully rethink our participation in protest rallies, specifically those massive demonstrations that are far from where we live and that require substantial amounts of energy, time and money to take part in. Certainly there are many people who simply cannot afford to travel to such distant demonstrations. But for those of us who have the option, it may be that the more effective expenditures would be a combination of taking part in local community demonstrations and putting resources into building local community parts of the grassroots infrastructure, especially the communications infrastructure.

      I think there are good reasons for moving in this direction. It tends to focus us more on our long-term objective success rather than only responding to immediate crises. That helps us avoid a sense of frantic urgency such as we just experienced trying first to prevent, and then to stop, the assault on Iraq. It is not a turning away from our desire, or our attempts to stop the U.S. government's campaign for world dominance and the Israeli government's campaign to do away with the Palestinian Arabs but a recognition that we in the United States, by ourselves, do not yet have the objective institutional strength to successfully counter them. It is a way of building that strength and eventually being in a position to defeat their campaigns. It helps us avoid being subjected by the ruling cabal to a desperate roller-coaster ride from crisis to crisis, pouring our adrenaline into the effort, and then experiencing a debilitating sense of frustration and failure when we can't stop them, and are left, without adrenaline, and conscious of the horrendous human damage we could not prevent.

      I think nothing is more important for our success than local community-based "bottom up" authentic education (i.e. counter propaganda) carried out by a truly democratic grassroots communication infrastructure. The example of Venezuela can inspire us, but the task of course is ours. That is the way we can end the corporate media's control over peoples' minds. When the vast majority of us understand the reality in which we live, the major support of the U.S. government's aggression will have evaporated.

      Earlier notes in this series explore my changing consciousness over a period of some 35 or so years. In particular, essays 7, "Building the Global Grassroots Infrastructure: A task both local and global" and 8, "The Local Grassroots Infrastructure Trust" give information on a Trust set up with the specific purposes of building local community and transferring substantial wealth out of corporate and governmental control.[6] I hope it will prove successful in its own right and that it will inspire other similar efforts.

[6] Building the Global Grassroots Infrastructure: A task both local and global, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Grass/Infra/index.htm
and The Local Grassroots Infrastructure Trust, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Grass/Trust/index.htm

-- G.S., April 28, 2003

Todos comentarios y las críticas son bienvenidos.     <george.salzman@umb.edu>

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