We Indigenous people are fighting to save the Amazon, but the whole planet is in trouble because you do not respect it
by Nemonte Nenquimo / Originally published in The Guardian, Oct. 12 2020
Featured image: Waorani leader Nemonte Nenquimo shows evidence of crude oil contamination in the northern Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest. Photograph: Mitch Anderson / Amazon Frontlines
Dear presidents of the nine Amazonian countries and to all world leaders that share responsibility for the plundering of our rainforest,
My name is Nemonte Nenquimo. I am a Waorani woman, a mother, and a leader of my people. The Amazon rainforest is my home. I am writing you this letter because the fires are raging still. Because the corporations are spilling oil in our rivers. Because the miners are stealing gold (as they have been for 500 years), and leaving behind open pits and toxins. Because the land grabbers are cutting down primary forest so that the cattle can graze, plantations can be grown and the white man can eat. Because our elders are dying from coronavirus, while you are planning your next moves to cut up our lands to stimulate an economy that has never benefited us. Because, as Indigenous peoples, we are fighting to protect what we love – our way of life, our rivers, the animals, our forests, life on Earth – and it’s time that you listened to us.
In each of our many hundreds of different languages across the Amazon, we have a word for you – the outsider, the stranger. In my language, WaoTededo, that word is “cowori”. And it doesn’t need to be a bad word. But you have made it so. For us, the word has come to mean (and in a terrible way, your society has come to represent): the white man that knows too little for the power that he wields, and the damage that he causes.
You are probably not used to an Indigenous woman calling you ignorant and, less so, on a platform such as this. But for Indigenous peoples it is clear: the less you know about something, the less value it has to you, and the easier it is to destroy. And by easy, I mean: guiltlessly, remorselessly, foolishly, even righteously. And this is exactly what you are doing to us as Indigenous peoples, to our rainforest territories, and ultimately to our planet’s climate.
It took us thousands of years to get to know the Amazon rainforest. To understand her ways, her secrets, to learn how to survive and thrive with her. And for my people, the Waorani, we have only known you for 70 years (we were “contacted” in the 1950s by American evangelical missionaries), but we are fast learners, and you are not as complex as the rainforest.
When you say that the oil companies have marvellous new technologies that can sip the oil from beneath our lands like hummingbirds sip nectar from a flower, we know that you are lying because we live downriver from the spills. When you say that the Amazon is not burning, we do not need satellite images to prove you wrong; we are choking on the smoke of the fruit orchards that our ancestors planted centuries ago.
When you say that you are urgently looking for climate solutions, yet continue to build a world economy based on extraction and pollution, we know you are lying because we are the closest to the land, and the first to hear her cries.
I never had the chance to go to university, and become a doctor, or a lawyer, a politician, or a scientist. My elders are my teachers. The forest is my teacher. And I have learned enough (and I speak shoulder to shoulder with my Indigenous brothers and sisters across the world) to know that you have lost your way, and that you are in trouble (though you don’t fully understand it yet) and that your trouble is a threat to every form of life on Earth.
You forced your civilisation upon us and now look where we are: global pandemic, climate crisis, species extinction and, driving it all, widespread spiritual poverty. In all these years of taking, taking, taking from our lands, you have not had the courage, or the curiosity, or the respect to get to know us. To understand how we see, and think, and feel, and what we know about life on this Earth.
I won’t be able to teach you in this letter, either. But what I can say is that it has to do with thousands and thousands of years of love for this forest, for this place. Love in the deepest sense, as reverence. This forest has taught us how to walk lightly, and because we have listened, learned and defended her, she has given us everything: water, clean air, nourishment, shelter, medicines, happiness, meaning. And you are taking all this away, not just from us, but from everyone on the planet, and from future generations.
It is the early morning in the Amazon, just before first light: a time that is meant for us to share our dreams, our most potent thoughts. And so I say to all of you: the Earth does not expect you to save her, she expects you to respect her. And we, as Indigenous peoples, expect the same.
Nemonte Nenquimo is cofounder of the Indigenous-led nonprofit organisation Ceibo Alliance, the first female president of the Waorani organisation of Pastaza province and one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world.
The modern surveillance state is unparalleled. Many people are legitimately afraid of state repression.
But this fear can easily become paranoia and paralysis. As a result, some people will not get involved in radical organizing at all. Others will stay involved, but their paranoia will drive people away. The result? Our movements die.
How do we combat this? By creating a “security culture” in our groups.
What is Security Culture?
Security culture is a set of practices and attitudes designed to increase the safety of political communities. These guidelines are created based on recent and historic state repression, and help to reduce paranoia and increase effectiveness.
An Introduction to Security for Activists, Organizers, and Revolutionaries
What is the “Firewall”?
Here at Deep Green Resistance, we are an “aboveground” organization with a firewall between us and underground action. That means that our primary work is legal (although this varies depending on jurisdiction). Our members also take part in non-violent direct action of the sort common among aboveground movements. This is in contrast with “underground” organizations that conduct clandestine, highly illegal activities. We advocate for this, as we think coordinated underground action is the best chance for saving the planet.
We do not plan or carry out underground actions. We do not even know about these activities, except when public communiques (see our underground action calendar for examples) are made. Our role is to be the public organization advocating for and explaining these actions. We call this separation the firewall between aboveground and underground activities. Maintaining a firewall is essential for security and effectiveness.
Assata Shakur was a member of the Black Panther Party (an aboveground organization) and the Black Liberation Army (an underground organization). She was active in the early 1970s and was eventually arrested. She escaped prison in 1979 and went on the run, eventually reaching Cuba. In 1987 she published the excellent book Assata: An Autobiography, which contains the following quote on the importance of a firewall.
“One of the [Black Panther] party’s major weaknesses was the failure to clearly differentiate between aboveground political struggle and underground, clandestine military struggle. An aboveground political organization can’t wage guerilla war anymore than an underground army can do aboveground political work. Although the two must work together, the must have completely different structures.”
More information on the importance of a firewall and security culture can be found in the Deep Green Resistance book, available here.
Rules of Security Culture
Note: The following rules were created based on the legal and political situation in the United States.
Don’t Talk About…
- Your involvement or someone else’s involvement with an underground group.
- Your or someone else’s desire to get involved with such a group.
- Your or someone else’s participation in illegal action.
- Someone else’s advocacy for such actions.
- Your or someone else’s plans for a future illegal action.
- Don’t ask others if they are a member of an underground group.
- Don’t talk about illegal actions in terms of specific times, people, places, etc.
Nonviolent civil disobedience is illegal, but can sometimes be discussed openly. In general, the specifics of nonviolent civil disobedience should be discussed only with people who will be involved in the action or those doing support work for them.
It’s still acceptable (even encouraged) to speak out generally in support of monkeywrenching and all forms of resistance as long as you don’t mention specific places, people, times, etc., but only if this is legal in your own jurisdiction. Even if voicing support for monkeywrenching is legal in your area, be aware of possible repression or consequences so you can make an informed decision about what level of risk you would be comfortable with.
Never talk to police officers, FBI agents, etc.
- It doesn’t matter whether you are guilty or innocent. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. Never talk to police officers, FBI agents, Homeland Security, etc. It doesn’t matter if you believe you are telling police officers what they already know. It doesn’t matter if you just chit chat with police officers. Any talking to police officers, FBI agents, etc. will almost certainly harm you or others.
- If you talk to a police officer, you give him or her the opportunity to testify against you based on what you said or what they say you said.
- Simply and politely say you wish to remain silent. Ask if you are being detained or are under arrest. If you are not, then walk away. If you are arrested or detained, repeat to everyone who asks you that you wish to remain silent and that you wish to speak to a lawyer. Say nothing else but your name, address, and birth date.
- Most convictions, whether people are guilty or not, come from people talking, not from investigative work.
- Don’t snitch. A snitch is someone who provides information to the police or feds in order to obtain lenient treatment for themselves. Often, snitches provide information over an extended period of time to the police. Sometimes this occurs after they are arrested and asked to become informants. In return, they may receive money or have their own illegal behavior ignored by the police. Learn more about one prominent snitch.
- Learn about interrogation tricks and threats.
- Watch Don’t Talk to Cops – Part I and Don’t Talk to Cops – Part II on YouTube.
Never allow a police officer, FBI agent, etc. into your home if they don’t have a search warrant
- If you invite a police officer into your home, they have consent to search your home.
- If they come to your house to ask questions, do not let them in. From inside your door, or from outside with your door shut behind you, politely say “I wish to remain silent.” Ask them if you are under arrest or if they have a search warrant. If they say no, go back inside your house and close your door politely. If they come in anyway, don’t resist arrest. Say “I do not consent to a search.” Take note of who they are and what they do.
- Learn the laws in your country/state/jurisdiction: learn what you can and can’t say; learn what acts are legal and illegal; learn what previous activists have been tried for and what is permitted legally.
- Find out the details of activist and protest lawyers/legal advocates in your area: if you go on an action, make sure you write their telephone number on your body in a permanent marker.
- Link in with experienced activists: they will have a wealth of experience and knowledge about the landscape of activism where you are, and can teach you what are the local logistics and strategies for staying safe.
Myths of Security Culture
Myth # 1
“Hiding my identity aboveground makes me safe.”
“If I read the DGR website I will be on a government list.”
“I don’t want my name on a registration list for a DGR workshop so they won’t know who I am.”
- Any action involves risk. Nothing can guarantee safety. Any effective aboveground action can lead to repression. Security culture makes us more effective.
- Aboveground movements protect themselves almost exclusively through numbers and public solidarity.
- There is no way to effectively do aboveground work and keep your identity hidden. Nor is it beneficial or necessary to hide your identity to do aboveground work (in most cases).
- Aboveground movements can only build numbers and public solidarity by being public, open, and expressing support of the movement in order to attract others.
- Operate on the assumption that all internet and phone communication is monitored. However, since aboveground movements have nothing to hide, except occasional nonviolent civil disobedience, we must use the internet and phones to communicate in order to be able to organize effectively.
- One of the main roles of the aboveground is to be the public face of the movement. We stand publicly and say “I support this strategy and I advocate for DGR,” for example. This important work cannot be done if we are constantly trying to hide our identities.
- There are perfectly legitimate reasons for wanting to keep a low profile, but hiding your identity completely while engaging with any movement is practically impossible. If you have reason to not want attention from the government (for example, if you are not a citizen), then the best way to be as safe as possible is to not engage with any movement.
Myth # 2
“We have to identify the federal agent, police officer, or infiltrator, etc. in the group”
- It’s not safe nor a good idea to generally speculate or accuse people of being infiltrators. This is a typical tactic that infiltrators use to shut movements down.
- Paranoia can cause destructive behavior.
- Making false/uncertain accusations is dangerous: this is called “bad-jacketing” or “snitch-jacketing.”
Myth # 3
“Police officers have to identify themselves. Police officers can’t lie to you.”
- Undercover infiltrators could not do their job if they had to identify themselves.
- Police officers are legally allowed to lie to people – and do so routinely – to encourage compliance, both on the street and especially in interrogation. Police officers and other agents also present false evidence, including pictures, video, and audio to trick people into talking about other people.
- Government agents of all kinds can threaten you, your family, and your friends. The best defense is to not talk, not believe them, not cooperate, and ask others for help.
Myth # 4
“Security Culture guarantees my safety.”
- Security Culture makes you safer, but any effective action can lead to repression.
- Nothing can guarantee safety, but Security Culture makes us more effective.
- Strict separation between the aboveground and any underground that exists or may come to exist helps protect people.
Security Culture Breaches
Behavior, not people, is the problem
- There are many behaviors that can disrupt groups or make them unsafe. Whether someone is a cop or not does not matter. Focus on addressing the behaviors.
- Some of the behaviors to watch out for are sexism, abusive behavior, gossip, and creating conflict between individuals or groups.
What to do if there are breaches of Security Culture
- Educate (tactfully and privately) and point people who breach Security Culture to further resources.
- Don’t let violations pass or become habit.
- Chronic violators have the same detrimental effect as infiltrators. It is important and necessary to set boundaries. If a member consistently violates Security Culture, even after being corrected, they should be removed from the group for the safety of everyone.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Do you have lawyers willing to help us/advise us as we act?
A: We are currently building legal support for this purpose. We need volunteers for this and other tasks.
Q: What should I say if someone says: “I want to form an underground, join an underground, start a safehouse, etc.”
A: Say: “We are an aboveground organization. We do not want to be involved in underground work to maximize everyone’s safety and effectiveness. We do not answer anyone’s questions about personal desire to be in or form an underground.”
Q: What should I do if someone breaks security culture?
A: In case of minor issues, use education. Speak up right away, or pull the individual aside afterwards. More major issues or repeated violations may require you to end a relationship or remove a problematic individual from a group.
Q: Are you involved in “the underground”?
A: No. For the safety and effectiveness of all parties, DGR is an aboveground organization. We recommend you do not say “the underground.” This could imply you are in contact with an already existent underground organization. Instead, use, “an underground (which may or may not exist)” or a similar phrase.
More security questions or concerns?
This piece, republished from Counterpunch, explores the current uprising against police brutality in the context of the struggle against capitalism and asks: what are the most effective forms of struggle going forward? Join the conversation in the comments section.
by Vincent Emanuele / Counterpunch
“We fought a military war; our opponents fought a political one. We sought physical attrition; our opponents aimed for our psychological exhaustion. In the process we lost sight of one of the cardinal maxims of guerrilla war: the guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win.”
— Henry Kissinger
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
— Sun Tzu
Over the past several weeks, hundreds of thousands of Americans have taken to the streets in the wake of George Floyd’s hideous murder. Police stations have been commandeered and torched, corporate stores destroyed and set ablaze. In Seattle, people have constructed the ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,’ otherwise known as CHAZ, which encompasses several city blocks, a police station, apartments, and storefronts. Protests and actions ranging from nonviolent marches to small-scale rebellions and uprisings have taken place in over 2,000 cities across the United States.
Before the uprisings, the U.S. was crumbling under the weight of its bloated empire, vicious economic system, and ossified political institutions. Not only has Trump’s response to the pandemic been criminal, to say the least, the political system at every level has failed to respond to the crisis.
The U.S. has been exposed as a failed state.
GOP Senators wheel and deal stocks, including ‘Human Capital Stock,’ as White House adviser Kevin Hassett put it. Meanwhile, Democrats respond to the current crisis with half-measures and symbolic (and absurd) acts of solidarity. So far, the pandemic, which has killed over 115,000 Americans, accounting for 25% of the world’s total deaths due to COVID-19 (the U.S. has only 5% of the world’s total population), continues to spread like wildfire, yet most of the country has gone back to business as usual. Prior to the pandemic, over 140 million Americans lived in poverty.
Now, with 40 million additional Americans out of work, with no end to the pandemic or job prospects in sight, those numbers have and will continue to increase dramatically. Millions of Americans are incapable of paying their bills; tens of millions endure mounting student loan, credit card, and personal debt; and hundreds of thousands face evictions in the coming weeks. At the same time, Wall Street loots trillions from the Treasury and Federal Reserve.
From the very beginning of the pandemic and economic crisis, the state has refused to enact even small-scale economic measures or social programs that would benefit poor and working class people. As a result, tens of millions remain jobless, with no hope in sight. On July 31st, the CARES Act provision that provides an extra $600 a week to Americans receiving unemployment benefits will expire.
People are tired, angry, and rightly so.
Unsurprisingly, many corporate media commentators suggest that systemic racism and policing are the driving factors of the current wave of protests and rebellions. Without doubt, those are the issues that sparked our current ‘Movement Moment,’ but they’re not the only factors playing a role in the uprisings. Class is front and center, though ignored in mainstream political discourse, which seeks to frame everything through a racialized lens. If the corporate media spent some time in the streets, they’d understand that the uprisings have as much to do with class as they do about race.
Corporate Media Lags Behind
During the initial days of the Minneapolis Uprisings, the independent media outfit Unicorn Riot (UR), which describes itself as a “decentralized, educational non-profit media organization of artists and journalists,” was my preferred outlet for on the ground reporting. Journalists at UR don’t necessarily provide commentary as much as they document events in real-time. Outlets such as UR report directly from the streets, with the people, long before or after the corporate media outlets arrive or leave. Young people appreciate and trust UR (UR started during the Standing Rock protests), so they’re given access to moments and events that cable news journalists cover from miles away, if at all. While protesters were smashing up CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta, UR was documenting those actions on the ground, talking to people in the street (CNN commentators were hiding in their studio bunkers high above the streets, shocked that non-Trump supporters also hate their guts).
It’s hard to downplay what Unicorn Riot does: namely, report from streets and document what’s happening from Ground Zero without commercial breaks or talking heads to provide out of touch commentary. Corporate media outlets lack legitimacy. When they do show up to a protest or uprisings, they misinterpret or outright lie about what’s happening. UR, on the other hand, shows up, starts their livestream, and allows anyone and everyone to grab the mic and speak to those watching at home.
Their work is phenomenal and necessary.
At one point during their live broadcast, hundreds of thousands of people were watching the uprisings in real time, along with hundreds of thousands watching live on mediums such as TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. In Minneapolis, hundreds of protesters got on camera and spoke at length about the horrors of capitalism, why they’re angry (issues ranging from poverty to housing, gentrification, climate change, corruption, and wars), and why they were in the streets with such fervor (because they see no hope in existing political institutions). I haven’t seen any such interviews on corporate news outlets.
The uprisings do make one thing very clear: Americans under 35 years old are not getting their information or commentary from traditional news sources such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, or even cable channels such as CNN or MSNBC. The Old Guard was caught flat-footed. Professional class liberals, major NGOs, prominent progressive and leftwing thinkers and writers admit they were shocked at the scale of the uprisings. This isn’t surprising. Professional class commentators live in a different world, socially, culturally, and economically, than the younger generation. And that gap only widens with time.
Poor and working class teenagers and Americans in their 20s, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, receive most of their news and information, for better or worse, via social media and various other digital platforms/modes (podcasts, videos, memes) — those are the entities shaping young peoples’ consciousness and ideologies. Young Americans are much more sophisticated than many older people assume. The recent wave of protests and uprisings show that to be the case. Likewise, poor and working class Americans are much angrier than the professional class could possibly understand. There’s an entire underbelly of seething anger and resentment just beneath the surface of our society: the 50% of Americans who don’t vote
Their voices are now heard loud and clear. Bernie’s campaign asked, “Where are the young people?” They’re in the streets, Bernie. And they’re more radical than you. And their voices will only grow angrier with time, as they realize the current government is incapable of responding to their needs and that Wall Street would rather see them die than enjoy healthcare or UBI. The younger generation, as always, is way ahead of the eight ball with their demand to ‘defund the police.’
Defund the Police
Right now, activists and organizers throughout the U.S. are debating what it means to ‘defund the police.’ This demand is very strategic, and for many reasons. Not only does it allow for a conversation about the redistribution of material resources, it also responds to the demands of those on the ground. For better or worse, this is the demand that organically arose within the context of our current struggle. In other words, leftists can choose to ignore or ridicule this demand (I’ve seen both), or they can respond to popular demands and find strategic ways to connect those demands to broader class issues and larger institutional change. If leftwing organizers and intellectuals are interested in meeting people where they’re at, but not leaving them there, it would be wise to take the latter approach.
Since others have written at length about the details about what it would mean to ‘defund the police,’ there’s no need to rehash those points, though the details are interesting and important. Leftists who shrug off this demand for not going far enough, or not encompassing enough class politics, are missing the boat in terms of how powerful this demand could potentially prove to be.
Capitalism has three primary weapons: 1) capital itself, which can engage in capital strikes, divestment, capital flight, and broader forms of economic warfare, 2) the police, who break strikes, arrest protesters, and protect private property, and 3) the military, who also protect property and break strikes, but whose primary function is to express power on an international scale, securing and opening new markets, protecting business interests abroad, and so on.
Defunding the police not only saves black, Latinx, and poor white lives, it also takes away one of capitalism’s primary weapons.
Without overfunded and highly militarized police forces, it becomes much more difficult for the state to protect fossil fuel infrastructure, banks, government buildings, corporate headquarters, and a host of other potential targets. Nonviolent protesters would no longer face the wrath of racist and militarized police departments. Communities would no longer live in fear of being pulled over, harassed, arrested, tortured, or killed by the cops.
Defunding the police also provides an opportunity to dismantle one of America’s favorite sacred cows. The fact that the majority of Americans side with the protesters is a profound ideological, political, and cultural shift. The police, much like the military, regularly rank in the top five in terms of the jobs and institutions most respected in U.S. society. Dismantling the police is a significant step toward eventually dismantling the U.S. Empire. Redistributing funds from police departments to social programs could serve as an example and model for how to proceed with defunding the military, the logical next step. Since the police have limited funds (the NYPD’s operating budget for 2020 is $5.6 billion), the only way to actually meet the needs of poor and working class people will be through a radical defunding of the military, coupled with the nationalization of critical industries, and a broader redistribution of wealth from corporations and the rich to social programs and the poor.
Defund the Military
The U.S. Empire operates 800-1,000 military bases stretched across the globe. The U.S. ‘Defense Budget’ for 2020 is $721 billion, but if we tally the cost of maintaining its nuclear stockpile, intelligence/spy agencies, Veterans Affairs budget, homeland security budget, international-affairs budget, and its share of the national debt, the total cost of maintaining the U.S. Empire in 2019, according to William D. Hartung and Mandy Smithberger, was $1.25 trillion. Without question, a tremendous amount of resources could be redistributed by defunding and dismantling the military. According to the National Priorities Project, the $712 billion the U.S. spent in 2018 to maintain its empire could have provided 49 million Americans monthly relief payments of $1,200 for one year, or 20 billion COVID-19 tests for one year, or 209 billion N-95 respirator masks for one year, or 9 million elementary school teacher salaries for one year, or 20 million Head Start slots for four years, or 300 million children receiving low-income healthcare for one year.
Overall, the total cost of Uncle Sam’s post-9/11 ‘War on Terror’ comes to $6.4 trillion, money that could’ve been used to pay off the $4 trillion in outstanding consumer debt Americans suffer. Aside from the potential social and economic benefits, it’s equally important to note the massive amount of death, pain, and suffering that would be prevented by dismantling the U.S. Empire, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted over 50 years ago. Since King’s assassination, millions have died as a result of U.S. militarism, with tens of millions forced from their homes and turned into refugees.
Yes, there’s much to gain from dismantling the empire, not the least of which being America’s soul.
Seeing as more and more Americans are beginning to understand that the primary task of police forces within the U.S. is to protect property and repress popular rebellion, it’s a great time to connect the same critique to the U.S. Empire, which performs the same function on the international stage. The U.S. Empire crushes international revolts and anyone who dares to dream of alternatives to global capitalism and so-called ‘American values.’ Doing so, however, would require activists to fundamentally challenge U.S. nationalism, an inherent component of the imperial project, both at home and abroad. Even amongst poor Americans, there remains a sense that Uncle Sam is a force for good in the world, and that the U.S. military ‘protects our freedoms.’ Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
The concept of American Exceptionalism must be challenged head-on if we hope to transition to defunding the U.S. Empire. It’s not surprising that the U.S. government has deliberately hidden not only the financial cost of war, but the images, pictures, and stories of its post-9/11 wars. After all, most Americans would be quite upset if they saw the death and carnage unleashed in their name, with their tax dollars. Important distinctions exist between the military and police, as my friend and former Army Ranger, Graham Clumpner put it:
“The U.S. military doesn’t have the same relationship with Americans as police departments do. Americans interact with cops all the time, and usually those interactions are bad. Cops also sign up for careers. Military personnel sign up for 2-6 year contracts, with the overwhelming majority leaving after their first enlistment ends. The contradiction is that the military is much more powerful and destructive than domestic police forces, yet it’s much easier to organize dissent within the military than it is to organize dissent within police departments. U.S. history shows this to be true. GIs have mutinied throughout the history of this country, from the Revolutionary War and Civil War to the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We should build on this tradition.”
If activists in the U.S. seek any level of partnership and solidarity with individuals inside existing repressive state institutions, they should look to the military before they look to the police.
Additionally, it remains unclear how the military would respond to a call for genuine Martial Law, whatever that may entail. Certainly, many active-duty troops and veterans are not motivated by the idea of patrolling the streets of America. In fact, “a majority of U.S. veterans believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a mistake,” as recent polls show. An even larger majority of U.S. veterans are opposed to a potential war with Iran. Indeed, more and more U.S. troops understand they’re being asked to fight unwinnable, illegal, and immoral wars, and they’re sick and tired of it. That’s a good thing. Troop morale is low after 19 years of war and civil unrest at home. Antiwar activists should build on this momentum, which will require a new antiwar movement, one led by U.S. veterans, the families of U.S. veterans, and the primary victims of Uncle Sam’s wars: Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, Libyans, and so on.
Defund the Empire
Without the military and police at its disposal, the repressive arms of the state, American capitalism would be amputated, if not crippled. Political movements in the U.S. would greatly benefit, as would revolutionary political movements abroad. The cause of Internationalism would benefit. The planet would benefit, as would human beings in general. In short, there are countless upsides to dismantling the police and military.
Hell, why not extend the same treatment to the FBI, CIA, DEA, NSA, ICE, and a host of other repressive, violent, and inherently undemocratic agencies? Defund them all. After the police, military, and national security state is defunded, and their resources redistributed, why not defund the fossil fuel industry, Israel, Wall Street, the prison-industrial complex, and every other subsidy and corporate handout the state provides to entities?
Violence, Nonviolence, and Resistance to Capital
Discussions concerning violence and nonviolence always pop up during ‘Movement Moments.’ Usually, conversations about violence are overplayed, unhelpful, and totally detached from reality. This time, however, such conversations have entered mainstream political discourse for perfectly good reasons: Americans are engaging in more militant actions than at any point in recent memory. Police stations have been occupied, ransacked, and burnt to the ground. Government buildings have been stormed by leftwing activists and occupied by armed rightwing militias. Gun stores are empty. And Americans are stocking up on ammo. The situation in the U.S. is ripe for political violence.
Some on the left are actively promoting armed struggle, but the left in the U.S. isn’t prepared to engage in guerilla warfare against the military or the police, nor is the left prepared to face off against rightwing non-state actors. The left is disorganized, small, undisciplined, and fragmented. Even if the left generally agreed, which it doesn’t, that armed struggle is strategic, reasonable, or ideal, it wouldn’t matter because the left in the U.S. is simply incapable of waging an armed campaign against the military, police, or rightwing militias.
That said, coordinated, sustained, and dynamic nonviolent actions, including massive acts of civil disobedience, strikes, walkouts, and direct actions such as blockades, occupations, and various forms of sabotage could create a series of crises significant enough to bring the current regime to its knees, if not topple it. At this stage in the game, an overemphasis on weapons, self defense, and militant posturing could prove detrimental.
The U.S. military is far more fragile, unorganized, and ideologically incoherent than many Americans realize.
Even leftists have a view of the U.S. military as an omnipotent force capable of locking down the entire country, maintaining the empire abroad, and imposing martial law throughout the fifty states. Nothing could be further from the truth. According to the Department of Defense Manpower Data Center, “There were a total of 1.3 million active duty military and more than 800,000 reserve forces as of September 2017 . . . Total active duty personnel for the five armed services were approximately 472,000 for the Army, 319,000 for the Navy, 319,000 for the Air Force, 184,000 for the Marine Corps and 41,000 for the Coast Guard.” About 1.1 million Americans are in military reserve units, which only train periodically and lack the combat skills or experience to effectively engage in serious counterinsurgency efforts.
Remember, only a tiny fraction of soldiers (15%) and marines (12%) perform infantry functions — most active duty troops are ‘Personnel Other than Grunts,’ otherwise known as POGs. They drive trucks, fix vehicles, run supply warehouses, conduct logistical operations, set up communications networks, work on computers, answer phones, file paperwork, conduct ceremonies, and a host of other non-combat related tasks.
The U.S. military doesn’t actually have the manpower to keep the country locked down.
Sure, one could argue that the U.S. military has the capacity to carpet bomb the entire country and turn the landscape into rubble, true, but it’s not clear whether or not the military would actually respond to such orders, or initiate such actions, especially if massive numbers of Americans were engaged in nonviolent acts as opposed to offensive guerilla assaults. Again, if the left can effectively organize within the ranks of the military, the odds of such calamity decrease significantly. That’s why the work of groups such as About Face: Veterans Against War and Veterans For Peace is so important. Their efforts should be supported.
Right now, members of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and United Electrical workers’ union (UE) are organizing non-unionized workers in a wide-range of industries. Their efforts should also be bolstered and supported. Defunding the police and military, at best, allow us to amputate capitalism, but the ultimate goal is to decapitate capitalism, and the only way to do that is through highly coordinated actions that include massive numbers of people, particularly workers who have the ability to shut down business and bring society to a halt. It also requires a vision of what we want after capitalism (a topic for another day).
Students, mothers, nurses, teachers, the disabled, and unemployed have a role to play. Bus drivers, healthcare workers, retail, and restaurant workers as well. Workers in the most critical industries: railroads, trucking, warehouses, shipping, and factories, will play a vital role in determining how things play out over the coming months and years.
If the current wave of rebellions can result in long-lasting revolutionary organizations and institutions that operate coherently and cohesively with national and international movements, while building up bases of support at the local level through deep organizing efforts, there’s a serious opportunity for radical political change in the U.S. If not, it’s easy to see this entire wave of protests dying out, being stomped out, or morphing into a spectacle of violence utterly void of substance and detached from reasonable political ends. Now is not the time for posturing. Now is the time for deep organizing.
Vincent Emanuele is a writer and organizer born and raised in America’s Rust-Belt. A former US marine and Iraq War veteran, Vince refused orders for a third deployment in 2005 and immediately began working with the anti-war movement during the Bush years.
Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash.