Imperatives for the New year

Category: Life & Society Views: 4249

Those of us who follow the Gregorian calendar are marking the passage of one year and the inauguration of another; as always, there seems to be an irresistible human urge to mark such times with a spate of commentary about "the year in review," "what the next year holds in store," "new year's resolutions," and so forth. 

Far be it from me to buck the trend. 

First, a bit of the year in review. 2005 was not, as the editor of the Nation put it on her blog, a "year of sweet victories." Weighty as are public financing of elections in Portland, Oregon, and the defeat of anti-homosexual bigot Fred Phelps's granddaughter in municipal elections in Topeka, Kansas, here are a few of the things to weigh them against:

  • The inauguration of a massive campaign of suicide bombings in Iraq. The over 500 such attacks in Iraq, the majority of them this year, exceed the number of all other such attacks in all countries in all modern history. At the same time, extremism is growing and internationalizing itself at a rapid pace. 

  • The emergence of massive sectarian strife and the inauguration of a full-fledged police state in Iraq under American tutelage. 

  • 2005 was the hottest year on record. New scientific results show that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is greater than at any time in well over 10,000 years. Rapid climate change is emerging as a likely scenario. 

  • The destruction of New Orleans, with minimal sustained political protest against the callousness and incompetence of the official response, little attention paid to the almost complete lack of reconstruction since then, and the abortion of a dialogue on race that had barely started. 

  • An earthquake in Pakistan that leaves 3 million people to face the cruel winter of Kashmir without shelter and with minimal international aid. 

  • The exposure of phenomenal amounts of cruelty, arrogance, incompetence, authoritarianism, and tyranny from the Bush administration without, in the end, imperiling its 40-45% base of public support - and without creating public support, either for any systemic alternative to the status quo, or even for the feckless Democratic Party.

Of course, I could go on. But I agree with one part of the aforementioned post - a new year is a time to accentuate the positive. Not by over-blowing it or by not being mindful of the negative, but rather by taking a clear-eyed look at the world, at the political opportunities contained therein, and then deciding on what you need to do - what use is summing up the past year if you make no New Year's resolutions? Among the greatest positives of last year are: 

  • The emergence of a real political imperative for action on global warming and the decision in the teeth of U.S. opposition to continue negotiations on carbon emission reductions. 

  • The continuation and expansion of the Bolivarian struggle in Venezuela and the possible addition to it with the election of Evo Morales. 

  • The near-total collapse of U.S. public support for the continued occupation of Iraq.

And here are a few imperatives for action by U.S. progressives in the next year:

  • We've barely gotten in the game on climate change. The past year has dramatically opened up public space on this issue. Progressive activists have created a Climate Crisis Coalition, but a lot more activism is needed. 

  • Active solidarity with emerging struggles in South America - especially in Venezuela and Bolivia, where they have state power and can attempt really significant changes. At the same time, we need to start learning from those experiences how to build a broader and more expansive vision of democracy and political engagement that we can bring back to the United States. 

  • Creating a serious dialogue about public health in the United States. It's not just a matter of 45 million uninsured; almost everyone in the country gets significantly worse health care than they would elsewhere.

Last, we must reinvigorate a disoriented antiwar movement. We needn't concentrate so much on telling people what they already know, or on debating the specifics of withdrawal plans with Nancy Pelosi and Donald Rumsfeld; rather, we need to use the occupation of Iraq to show what is wrong with U.S. political culture and with the U.S. role in the world - and also, most crucially, to start articulating a different vision for both of those things.

Rahul Mahajan teaches at New York University. He has been to Iraq twice and reported from Fallujah during the siege in April. He maintains a blog Empire Notes

  Category: Life & Society
Views: 4249
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Older Comments:
For us Americans its not just a question of the usual imperatives. Rather, it is what we do, or what we choose to not do, which may in fact imperil and indeed spell the end of the very essence of all that once made this country great. There was a time when the quality of our values and our humanity reminded us of, and kept alive our American revolution, of which we were once so proud. Now, ours is a nation hated and reviled. Our only friends now, are those very countries whom we once criticised and actively opposed for those same ruthless, vulgar and misanthropic policies fueled by greed and lust for power, which we now espouse. In considering our blood soaked history saturated with savagery and racism, it should have given us pause, to reflect upon our misdeeds and with each year an even greater commitment to make amends and be representative of the civilised society we aspire to be. But instead of humanity and humility we find ourselves given to self-delusional visions of righteousness and grandeur. We are convinced of the superiority of our "democratic ways" and even more so, feel the need to shove our Judeo-Christian values down everyone's throat. We have in fact turned into intolerant, greedy, hateful, violent, murderous, vicious monsters with an insatiable thirst for blood and gore and thrive on the misery and destruction of others. A monstrous ugly behemoth, trampling on God's earth, crushing all. We are devoid of compassion, humanity and any goodness. Worst, we justify it all with a hypocrisy and wickedness that would put the devil to shame. We are devoid of life. We are devoid of character. We are devoid of God. We, by our inaction and our tremendous capacity to accept the injustice, the cancer, the vile venom of an illegal US government forced upon us. We are responsible for having lost, for ever, the land our forefathers fought and died for. America, ladies and gentlemen, is dying, a slow and cruel death, and we are responsible.