by Howard Zinn
Writer, Dandelion Salad
Originally published Nov. 6, 2018, written in 1976
November 3, 2020
Gossip is the opium of the American public. We lie back, close our eyes and happily inhale the stories about Roosevelt’s and Kennedy’s affairs, Lyndon Johnson’s nude swims with unnamed partners and, now, Nixon’s pathetic “final days” in office.
The latest fix is administered by reporters Woodward and Bernstein and the stuff is Nixon’s sex life with Pat, Nixon drunk and weeping, Nixon cradled in the arms of Kissinger (who did it, we presume, for national security).
So we get high on trivia, and forget that, whether Presidents have been impotent or oversexed, drunk or sober, they have followed the same basic policies. Whether crooks or Boy Scouts, handsome or homely, agile or clumsy, they have taxed the poor, subsidized the rich, wasted the wealth of the nation on guns and bombs, ignored the decay of the cities, and done so little for the children of the ghettos and rural wastelands that these youth had to join the armed forces to survive-until they were sent overseas to die.
Harry Truman was blunt and Lyndon Johnson wily, but both sent armies to Asia to defend dictators and massacre the people we claimed to be helping. Eisenhower was dull and Kennedy witty, but both built up huge nuclear armaments at the expense of schools and health care. Nixon was corrupt and Ford straightforward, but both coldly cut benefits for the poor and gave favors to rich corporations.
The cult of personality in America is a powerful drug. It takes the energy of ordinary citizens which, combined, can be a powerful force, and depletes it in the spectator sport of voting. Our most cherished moment of democratic citizenship comes when we leave the house once in four years to choose between two mediocre white Anglo-Saxon males who have been trundled out by political caucuses, million dollar primaries and managed conventions for the rigged multiple choice test we call an election. Presidents come and go. But the FBI is always there, on the job, sometimes catching criminals, sometimes committing crimes itself, always checking on radicals as secret police do all over the world. Its latest confession: ninety-two burglaries, 1960-66.
Presidents come and go, but the military budget keeps rising. It was $74 billion in 1973, is over $100 billion now (the equivalent of $2000 in taxes for every family), and will reach $130 billion in 1980.
Presidents come and go, but the 200 top corporations keep increasing their control: 45 percent of all manufacturing in 1960, 60 per cent by 1970.
No President in this century has stopped the trend. Not even FDR.
Yes, Roosevelt took steps to help poor people in the ’30s. Minimum wages. Social security, WPA jobs. Relief. But that didn’t change the basic nature of the capitalist system, whose highest priority has always been profits for the corporations and to hell with the rest.
Roosevelt was humane and wise, but, also, he had to react to signs of anger and rebellion in the country. He had seen the Bonus March of veterans to Washington under Hoover. In his first year, mass strikes- 400,000 textile workers out in the South and New England. Longshoremen tied up the whole city of San Francisco. Teamsters took over Minneapolis. The unemployed were organizing, the bootleg miners taking over coalfields, tenants gathering in the cities to stop evictions.
Roosevelt was a sensitive man. But something big was happening in the country to sharpen his sensitivity.
1976: the multiple choice test is here again. Sure, there are better candidates and worse. But we will go a long way from spectator democracy to real democracy when we understand that the future of this country doesn’t depend, mainly, on who is our next President. It depends on whether the American citizen, fed up with high taxes, high prices, unemployment, waste, war and corruption, will organize all over the country a clamor for change even greater than the labor uprisings of the ’30s or the black rebellion of the ’60s and shake this country out of old paths into new ones.
Originally published on Third World Traveler
1976, from the Zinn Reader, Seven Stories Press
What Else You Can Do
by David Swanson
Writer, Dandelion Salad
Let’s Try Democracy
Originally published Nov. 6, 2018
November 3, 2020
You’ve been radically misled to believe that the only thing, or the most important thing, or one of the super important things you can do is vote. Voting in a functioning democracy would be a fairly important thing to do, but wouldn’t somehow eliminate the thousands of important things that would also need doing. Voting in a broken democracy is a mildly important thing to do, for the reasons you know by heart, but also for this reason: Seeing so many people so eager to do something alerts everyone else to the fact that you give a damn.
“I’ve been waiting two years to do something!” This remark, common on Tuesday, must sound joyous to many ears. But if you study history and notice that change comes primarily from organizing, educating, protesting, marching, disrupting, disobeying, and creating things anew, and if you’ve spent the past many years trying to get more people to do those things, then all the “All I can do is vote, oh helpless me” comments may have you pulling your hair out.
There are circumstances in which you can do very little. We are moving in that direction. But we are not there. We are still able to speak, write, assemble, and agitate — and vote. I have to think that more of us would do more if we recognized the gravity of the situation. The planet’s climate can no longer be saved, but the agony can be slowed and eased. Nuclear apocalypse is closer than ever before, but can be averted. Fascism can be undone, but not without actions that extend far beyond voting.
I’m not against elections. I think we should have one someday, with no private money, with no corporate media, with no gerrymandering, with fair ballot and debate and media access and public financing, with substantive platforms, with hand-counted paper ballots, with election day holiday and free food and drink, with instant runoff, with automatic registration — elections meeting world standards. In fact, if I had my druthers, we’d abolish the Senate, enlarge the House, govern largely by public initiative, turn the president into an executive, lower the voting age, abolish the electoral college, and so forth. But even with the broken system we’ve got, I’m not against voting. I’m against imagining that voting is all you have to do, and that because somebody sticks an “I voted!” flag sticker on you, your country loves you and everything is going to be OK.
Your country is sending its military to the border to protect you from poor children hundreds of miles away who were made homeless with help from your country, because your country loves you. Well, not your country exactly, but the patriots in charge of it. They love you, although they would kill you in a heart beat.
Remember when your government proposed to kill you in Operation Northwoods? It was similar to the actual effort to kill you in Operation Tailwind, which had something in common with Operation Dick, as well as Operation Constitutional Scholar, not to mention the delaying of the end of WWII in order to use nukes, including on Hiroshima where captured U.S. pilots were killed alongside hundreds of thousands of mere non-Americans. Your country spends the majority of the money it makes decisions on each year on an enterprise that it knows endangers you. Its name is militarism. Its participants are killed first and foremost by suicide. They are your government killing itself.
Your country is first in the world in a number of things, including environmental destruction of various sorts, in which the U.S. military takes the lead; locking people up in prisons; and the most disastrous policies in the wealthy world on guns, healthcare, poverty, etc. If your country isn’t killing you quickly, it is doing so slowly; in other countries people live longer. Please don’t imagine that you have to defend this atrocity because you created it. You didn’t. You let it happen. But it is run by an oligarchy that we just go on year after year pretending is a democracy or a republic.
Congress has long since marginalized itself. Nobody even thinks to expect Congress to halt an attack on starving children from Honduras, not because nobody cares, but because it’s Congress, which its biggest fans and its own members admit has basically shut down.
So, I don’t object to one day spent on an unaccountable voting system, choosing this or that generic platform-free candidate. I don’t mind people getting their chance to vote against a president without the bother of having a second presidential candidate on the ballot whom they’d like to vote against as well. But don’t imagine it’s a substitute for impeachment. Don’t imagine it’s a fill in for nonviolent revolution. Don’t imagine that in this bus careening toward a cliff, it’s more than a change of windshield wipers.
When it’s done, we should all be curious — better late than never — to find out what the people elected intend to do and what we can compel them to do instead. Here are some questions I think we should pose to them:
- What would you like the U.S. discretionary budget to look like? With 60% now going to militarism, what percentage would you like that to be?
- What program of economic conversion to peaceful enterprises would you support?
- Would you end, continue, or escalate U.S. war making in: Afghanistan? Iraq? Syria? Yemen? Pakistan? Libya? Somalia?
- Would you end the exemption for militarism in Kyoto, Paris, and other climate agreements?
- Would you sign / ratify any of these treaties: Paris Climate Agreement? Convention on the Rights of the Child? International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights? International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights optional protocols? Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women? Convention Against Torture optional protocol? International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families? International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance? The Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities? International Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing, and Training of Mercenaries? Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court? Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity? Principles of International Cooperation in the Detection, Arrest, Extradition, and Punishment of Persons Guilty of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity? Convention on Cluster Munitions? Land Mines Convention? Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons? Proposed treaties banning the weaponization of space and banning cyber crimes?
- Would you halt or continue expenditures on the production and so-called modernization of nuclear weapons?
- Would you end weapons sales and the provision of military training to any governments? Which?
- Would you close any foreign bases? Which?
- Would you halt or continue the practice of murder by missiles from drones?
- Do you recognize the ban on war, with exceptions, contained in the United Nations Charter? And the ban on threatening war?
- Do you recognize the ban on war, without exceptions, contained in the Kellogg-Briand Pact?
- Will you end discriminatory bans on immigrants?
- Should actual, non-military, no-strings-attached foreign aid be eliminated, reduced, maintained, or increased? How much?
- 84% of South Koreans want the war ended immediately. Should the United States block that?
- Should NATO be maintained or abolished?
- Should the CIA be maintained or abolished?
- Should the ROTC be maintained or abolished?
- Should domestic police forces be trained by, collaborate with, and be armed by militaries?
- Should the U.S. military pay sports leagues, secretly or openly, to celebrate militarism?
- How large should the U.S. military’s advertising budget be, and how much should the U.S. government spend promoting the concepts of nonviolent dispute resolution and the abolition of war?
- Will you keep the United States in the INF Treaty?
- Will you impeach and remove Trump and Pence?
I’m sure you can think of dozens more concrete questions on various topics never asked or at least never answered during the election campaigns. They might include the election reform measures mentioned above. Remember that the way you use elections is not by electing people but by achieving the credible ability to unelect people.
Now, let’s get to work. There are thousands of great local, national, and global organizations that you should consider at least as important as any electoral candidate. Here are two I work for and recommend. Here is a tiny fraction of the powerful tools waiting to be picked up and put to use. Like all tools, they can be ignored or put to harmful use. Putting them to good use, together, strategically, is our only path out of catastrophe. I quote:
THE METHODS OF NONVIOLENT PROTEST AND PERSUASION
1. Public Speeches
2. Letters of opposition or support
3. Declarations by organizations and institutions
4. Signed public statements
5. Declarations of indictment and intention
6. Group or mass petitions
Communications with a Wider Audience
7. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols
8. Banners, posters, and displayed communications
9. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books
10. Newspapers and journals
11. Records, radio, and television
12. Skywriting and earthwriting
14. Mock awards
15. Group lobbying
17. Mock elections
Symbolic Public Acts
18. Displays of flags and symbolic colors
19. Wearing of symbols
20. Prayer and worship
21. Delivering symbolic objects
22. Protest disrobings
23. Destruction of own property
24. Symbolic lights
25. Displays of portraits
26. Paint as protest
27. New signs and names
28. Symbolic sounds
29. Symbolic reclamations
30. Rude gestures
Pressures on Individuals
31. “Haunting” officials
32. Taunting officials
Drama and Music
35. Humorous skits and pranks
36. Performances of plays and music
40. Religious processions
Honoring the Dead
43. Political mourning
44. Mock funerals
45. Demonstrative funerals
46. Homage at burial places
47. Assemblies of protest or support
48. Protest meetings
49. Camouflaged meetings of protest
Withdrawal and Renunciation
53. Renouncing honors
54. Turning one’s back
THE METHODS OF SOCIAL NONCOOPERATION
Ostracism of Persons
55. Social boycott
56. Selective social boycott
57. Lysistratic nonaction
Noncooperation with Social Events, Customs, and Institutions
60. Suspension of social and sports activities
61. Boycott of social affairs
62. Student strike
63. Social disobedience
64. Withdrawal from social institutions
Withdrawal from the Social System
66. Total personal noncooperation
67. “Flight” of workers
69. Collective disappearance
70. Protest emigration (hijrat)
THE METHODS OF ECONOMIC NONCOOPERATION: ECONOMIC BOYCOTTS
Actions by Consumers
71. Consumers’ boycott
72. Nonconsumption of boycotted goods
73. Policy of austerity
74. Rent withholding
75. Refusal to rent
76. National consumers’ boycott
77. International consumers’ boycott
Action by Workers and Producers
78. Workmen’s boycott
79. Producers’ boycott
Action by Middlemen
80. Suppliers’ and handlers’ boycott
Action by Owners and Management
81. Traders’ boycott
82. Refusal to let or sell property
84. Refusal of industrial assistance
85. Merchants’ “general strike”
Action by Holders of Financial Resources
86. Withdrawal of bank deposits
87. Refusal to pay fees, dues, and assessments
88. Refusal to pay debts or interest
89. Severance of funds and credit
90. Revenue refusal
91. Refusal of a government’s money
Action by Governments
92. Domestic embargo
93. Blacklisting of traders
94. International sellers’ embargo
95. International buyers’ embargo
96. International trade embargo
THE METHODS OF ECONOMIC NONCOOPERATION:THE STRIKE
97. Protest strike
98. Quickie walkout (lightning strike)
99. Peasant strike
100. Farm Workers’ strike
Strikes by Special Groups
101. Refusal of impressed labor
102. Prisoners’ strike
103. Craft strike
104. Professional strike
Ordinary Industrial Strikes
105. Establishment strike
106. Industry strike
107. Sympathetic strike
108. Detailed strike
109. Bumper strike
110. Slowdown strike
111. Working-to-rule strike
112. Reporting “sick” (sick-in)
113. Strike by resignation
114. Limited strike
115. Selective strike
116. Generalized strike
117. General strike
Combination of Strikes and Economic Closures
119. Economic shutdown
THE METHODS OF POLITICAL NONCOOPERATION
Rejection of Authority
120. Withholding or withdrawal of allegiance
121. Refusal of public support
122. Literature and speeches advocating resistance
Citizens’ Noncooperation with Government
123. Boycott of legislative bodies
124. Boycott of elections
125. Boycott of government employment and positions
126. Boycott of government depts., agencies, and other bodies
127. Withdrawal from government educational institutions
128. Boycott of government-supported organizations
129. Refusal of assistance to enforcement agents
130. Removal of own signs and placemarks
131. Refusal to accept appointed officials
132. Refusal to dissolve existing institutions
Citizens’ Alternatives to Obedience
133. Reluctant and slow compliance
134. Nonobedience in absence of direct supervision
135. Popular nonobedience
136. Disguised disobedience
137. Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse
139. Noncooperation with conscription and deportation
140. Hiding, escape, and false identities
141. Civil disobedience of “illegitimate” laws
Action by Government Personnel
142. Selective refusal of assistance by government aides
143. Blocking of lines of command and information
144. Stalling and obstruction
145. General administrative noncooperation
146. Judicial noncooperation
147. Deliberate inefficiency and selective noncooperation by enforcement agents
Domestic Governmental Action
149. Quasi-legal evasions and delays
150. Noncooperation by constituent governmental units
International Governmental Action
151. Changes in diplomatic and other representations
152. Delay and cancellation of diplomatic events
153. Withholding of diplomatic recognition
154. Severance of diplomatic relations
155. Withdrawal from international organizations
156. Refusal of membership in international bodies
157. Expulsion from international organizations
THE METHODS OF NONVIOLENT INTERVENTION
158. Self-exposure to the elements
159. The fast
a) Fast of moral pressure
b) Hunger strike
c) Satyagrahic fast
160. Reverse trial
161. Nonviolent harassment
168. Nonviolent raids
169. Nonviolent air raids
170. Nonviolent invasion
171. Nonviolent interjection
172. Nonviolent obstruction
173. Nonviolent occupation
174. Establishing new social patterns
175. Overloading of facilities
178. Guerrilla theater
179. Alternative social institutions
180. Alternative communication system
181. Reverse strike
182. Stay-in strike
183. Nonviolent land seizure
184. Defiance of blockades
185. Politically motivated counterfeiting
186. Preclusive purchasing
187. Seizure of assets
189. Selective patronage
190. Alternative markets
191. Alternative transportation systems
192. Alternative economic institutions
193. Overloading of administrative systems
194. Disclosing identities of secret agents
195. Seeking imprisonment
196. Civil disobedience of “neutral” laws
197. Work-on without collaboration
198. Dual sovereignty and parallel government
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include Leaving World War II Behind (2020), Curing Exceptionalism: What’s wrong with how we think about the United States? What can we do about it? (2018) and War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. Support David’s work.
From the archives:
Ralph Nader: What It Takes To Create Social Change Against All Odds
We Can Do Better Than Capitalist Formal “Democracy” by Pete Dolack
MFTN: I Call For A Constitution 2.0
MFTN: The Sabotage of Division
Chris Hedges, Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese: The Mechanics of Rebellion
Elections and Politics are the Games of Elites
The Biggest Political Delusion Of All Is In The U.S. Electoral Politics Itself by Paul Street + Nobody to Vote For by David Swanson + Politicians Robbing Us Blind
Shifting Systems With Nonviolent Strategy + Think Outside the Protest Box by Rivera Sun
The Problem is Civil Obedience by Howard Zinn + Matt Damon Reads from Howard Zinn’s Speech
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