New Challenges for Social Justice Organizations
Bob Wing and Max Elbaum
The wake-up call is right there in the front page headline of the Dec. 11 New York Times: “Poll Has Trump Gaining Ground on Terror Fear.”
Prior to the tragic burst of terrorist murders in Egypt, Beirut, Paris and then San Bernardino, California, significant aspects of U.S. politics were beginning to move in a positive direction. Pressure from #BlackLivesMatter and Raise the Wage campaigns was forcing issues of racism and economic inequality to the forefront of public debate. Climate change denialism was increasingly on the defensive. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign was giving voice to a broad anti-corporate agenda. And the Republicans seemed to be lurching so far to the right that they might self-isolate or split.
But in the wake of newly revived public fears about terrorism, and the right’s orgy of war mongering, Islamophobia and racist demagogy, “A plurality of the public views the threat of terrorism as the top issue facing the country,” according to a Dec. 10, 2015 NY Times/CBS poll. “Americans are more fearful about the likelihood of another terrorist attack than at any other time since the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001.”
Given the misery and strife of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and the powerful influence of ISIS, repeated ISIS-inspired or ISIS-organized terrorist attacks in the U.S. seem likely. Though limited in scale compared to terrorism in other parts of the world, such attacks do what they are intended to do: attract outsized attention and alarm the public. And, in light of its timing, the San Bernardino attack was not only deadly, but also exposed a potential path to the presidency and control of all three branches of the federal government by the nakedly xenophobic, racist and militarist tendency now utterly dominating the Republican Party. Even a victory by one of the so-called mainstream Republican conservatives would be a calamity with Congress, especially the House, in the hands of far right.
The attacks are also increasing the militarist and law-and-order tendencies of Hillary Clinton and other mainstream Democrats, tendencies that once led them to endorse George W. Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq.
This essays calls attention to two crucial developments.
First, over the past six months or so the far right has taken dangerous steps even further to the right. They have legitimized the public expression of blatant racism and authoritarian policies toward Muslims and immigrants. The climate they have created has contributed to the recent shootings targeting Planned Parenthood and BlackLivesMatter protesters and led their supporters to brag about beating up opponents at campaign rallies. Their extremist policies and rhetoric have alarmed even many mainstream commentators, with some pundits even using the term “fascism.” Yet they are dominating the Republican Party to a greater degree than before and, in significant part due to playing the foreign terrorism card, are also garnering broader public support, threatening to shift the entire political spectrum another notch to the right.
And second, that first development urgently underscores, not for the first time, how crucial it is for social justice organizations to develop a strategy that integrates a sophisticated understanding of the intimate interconnections of war, terrorism, racism and inequality, and between peace and justice at home and abroad, if we are to mature as a major political force. Neglecting the central issues of foreign policy in the world’s only superpower is fatally narrowminded and politically self-destructive, especially when there is a direct line between U.S. foreign policy and terrorist actions in our own country. Racism and corporate interests animate our militarized foreign policy; U.S. militarism in turn, fuels racism, xenophobia, and inequality and a disastrous allocation of government resources at home.
Peace and social justice movements need to present a clear and credible explanation of the roots of extremist Islamic terrorism and an alternative path to preventing it. Otherwise, we cede the field to the rightwing on one of the most explosive issues of our time.
Individually, almost all progressives are antiwar. However, precious few of our social justice organizations reflect this in their mission, programs or organizing—and not enough of our peace organizations regularly cross over to domestic issues. Social justice organizations need to re-strategize.
Republican extremism has intensified the polarization already existing in U.S. politics. There is widespread revulsion at the naked racism of Trump and company. If galvanized by effective progressive action, this revulsion can lead to uniting a wide array of people to roll back the right’s momentum.
If we can do the necessary re-strategizing to accomplish this, we can avoid potentially disastrous results in the 2016 election and be in position to build the kind of durable progressive current that is needed well beyond the election.
Most of the progressive movement has failed to concretely address terrorism, leaving the issue to the right and far right, which are exploiting it spectacularly. We are also now paying a price for failing to sustain the antiwar movement of the early 2000s, and for allowing connections between domestic issues and war and militarism to dim on the radar screens of most sectors of the social justice movement.
Edited for length. Read the complete essay at: https://portside.org/print/2016-01-04/terrorism-and-trump-new-challenges-social-justice-organizations#sthash.ADIGsKTQ.dpuf
Suggested talking points for the left from the entire essay.
Terrorism in the name of Islam aimed at the U.S. is a monster of our own invention.
There were no terrorist attacks in the U.S. carried out by Muslims or Arabs prior to the first Iraq war of 1991.
Short-sighted, wrong-headed military interventions created the problem. The same approach cannot be expected to solve it. It will exacerbate it instead.
The only thing we can be completely sure of in this extremely volatile and complex situation is that, the more we bomb and invade, the more we create the conditions that encourage a turn toward terrorist tactics.
Our first priority should be strong opposition to the escalation of U.S., European and Russian military intervention in the region.
A second, critical priority is the support and protection of anti-autocratic, anti-terrorist voice and leadership in the region – including both Muslims and secularists – over the very long term.
A third priority is the development of multiple, long-term diplomatic initiatives aimed at isolating ISIS, protecting civilian populations and restoring a measure of stability to the region.
A fourth priority is to welcome and provide for refugees fleeing the horrors of war.
There are two scenarios that may warrant limited military action: (1) the pursuit and capture (not assassination) of specific individuals who have committed terrorist acts; and (2) multi-lateral action, under international law, for the protection of civilians subject to genocidal attack.
Terrorism in the name of Islam will persist until there is a qualitative realignment of religious, political and military forces in the Middle East. The U.S. cannot lead or force that realignment.
We should demand that our government develop solutions to the problem of terrorism that are not solely or principally reliant on military action. We have already proven, time and again, that militarism is the source of the problem, not a solution to it.
Previously posted at Portside.
Bob Wing has been a social justice organizer and writer since 1968. He was the founding editor of ColorLines magazine and War Times/Tiempo de Guerras newspaper. Max Elbaum, also active in anti-racist, antiwar and radical movements since the 1960s, was Managing Editor of Crossroads magazine and also one of the founders of War Times/Tiempo de Guerras.
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