Saturday, July 26, 2008

Todd Pritsky Response to Piece

July 17, 2008

I'd Give It A 42, But I Can't Dance To It

Cintra Wilson asks the hard questions in Salon:

Code Pink welcomes anybody "willing to be outrageous for peace." But despite its emphasis on "joy and humor," its ruckus-raising techniques often cause me and my liberal community, who tend to agree with its politics, to regard them with distaste and embarrassment. Why did these shrieking middle-aged women in pink novelty hats believe this manner of protest was going to be effective in Congress, let alone in an almost completely co-opted media climate that seems hellbent on ignoring them?

I don't know Cintra from Lilith, but I see she's a celebrity writer who writes for Salon frequently. Good thing she came to this story with no clear agenda. Why, she didn't say 'cackle' even once!

But allow me to pose a follow up question that she for some reason failed to ask: why do allegedly anti-war liberal community members, who write about doing rather than, you know...doing, think that their own distaste and embarrassment is at issue when people are working hard to end the war? And why do they never seem to suggest alternative tactics when clearly the whole sitting around hoping or just voting for Democrats every cycle hasn't achieved their stated objective?

I look around and see the war is in its sixth year. How's all that status quo stuff working out, liberals? How's all that writing snarky articles about shrieking women in pink hats instead of supporting the people on the streets accomplishing your aims? Tried anything else recently?

I love peace, but why would any adult human who ever owned a nice belt want to be seen with this eyesore? Why does the peace movement have to dress and act like an irritating children's birthday party? More to the point, how was this peace demonstration supposed to convert the hearts and minds of the executive powers across the street, when the main event -- the tent city, and Code Pink, its most vital supporters -- didn't even bother to show up?

More to the point, how was this article supposed to convert the hearts and minds of the executive powers? Did the author propose solutions? Did the author offer support to people who have put themselves on the line for five years? Did the author consider that if more people actually joined in the action it might actually be more effective?

Murphy cataloged the "legitimate" work the group does behind the scenes (which, I had to admit, I had failed to recognize in my blindness from the glare of their prom dresses).

I like the scare quotes. Because clearly Code Pink doesn't actually do anything so legitimate as writing sarcastic articles for Salon. I also like how Cintra admits her ignorance and then blames it on party dresses rather than her inability to use teh Google to look up the Code Pink site. In fact, she seems to revel in it whilst focusing on the fashion statements!

"There's a huge gap between being against the war and doing something about it as a citizen," Murphy added.

Gael: 1. Cintra: 0.

Although I didn't say it, it occurred to me that apartheid and Darfur were issues that were comfortable to Congress -- and to mainstream media -- because of their high-level celebrity endorsements: Darfur had Bono, apartheid had Springsteen, AIDS had Elizabeth Taylor. It was mainstream media stars -- and the mainstream media that built them -- that ultimately allowed these issues to get enough momentum for serious support.

Indeed, the crisis in Darfur was solved once Bono weighed in. Apartheid ended not because of various colleges and corporations divesting and the nonviolent resistance within the country, but thanks solely Springsteen's participation in recording Sun City. And AIDS has been cured because Liz got involved!

Whereas the war? There are no celebrities interested in it. Ask Danny Glover, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, John Cusack. They just shrug their shoulders and sip their lattes.

I confessed to both women that I never would have known about Code Pink if they didn't disrupt congressional proceedings in pink tiaras. "That's right," said Benjamin. "Without the tiaras, you wouldn't be here. You know: 'If it bleeds it leads.' Code Pink is a manifestation of crisis, of a lack of democratic vehicles through which we can express ourselves. We're a manifestation of a broken system. You might not like the way we manifest it, but we'd like people to reflect on how broken the system is."

What a stunning confession. And so nice that Cintra then realizes that guerrilla theater, disruption of default behavior patterns and getting--GASP!--media attention is kinda the way to get people to notice what's happening. It's almost like all that stuff she mocked in the opening graf had a point.

I was beginning to feel a bit like a big-mouth bass: Lured by a bright pink artificial fly, doing the hula on the surface. It struck me how necessary pink tiaras were in the informational black hole that enables the inscrutable machinations of Washington to move forward without public scrutiny. A successful movement depends on a media that will grant it public legitimacy. Without it, the peace movement is left to masochistic zealots like Benjamin and Murphy: They crash Congress every day and destroy their own dignity for just the tiniest effect -- a nearly inaudible yelp from the dust speck of peaceful Whoville.

Perhaps some day people in the media like Cintra might realize that while they write with feigned detachment and bemusement about important matters like dissenting against war, they could communicate the message Code Pink is trying to get out. Perhaps supposed liberals, rather than intellectualizing about the bestest, most guaranteedest method of effecting change, could try doing something for, uh...a change.

And how have Medea and Gael destroyed their own dignity by acting empowered? I submit that dignity comes from doing what you believe in, not from snarkilicious supposed progressives writing on spec.

I came away from the Code Pink house believing that guerrilla theater is more critical than ever. For activists, Benjamin and Murphy represent the thin pink line separating the American peace movement from muteness, invisibility and depression unto disbandment.

Oh, so she thinks Code Pink does have value? Gee, that only took two pages of dismissive cynicism to get to!

Code Pink may have lost a little heart, temporarily, but the ladies haven't lost their way, or their flair: I was touched that Benjamin went out of her way to compliment my fishnet stockings.

And once again, it's really all about fashion, not the activism. Thank Dog we have a celebrity writer covering the anti-war beat.

Look, sarcasm is great. I've been known to use it myself sometimes, even when discussing the war--no, really! But while Cintra et al decry actionists who go out and engage in tactics that make them uncomfortable, I would suggest they turn their rapier wit and wry skepticism toward the architects of the war, and think about how they can support the variety of anti-war organizations that are doing yeoman's work to achieve the goals they supposedly share.

When mentioning Code Pink works with other organizations like UFP, instead of asserting without substantiation that Pinkers try to steal credit from them, howsabout discussing they also work with Veterans for Peace and IVAW--members of which I've met at the regular Wednesday potlocks at the DC house--amongst other groups, both national and international? Why not learn more about how small organizations do outreach in various ways? Or educate yourself and your readers about nonviolent tactics, stragtegies, and successful implementations?

What has Cintra done to end the war she says she hates, if she hasn't engaged in guerilla theater? Vigils? Counter recruitment? Civil disobedience? War tax resistance? Haunted war enablers? Used her platform to engage in sedition? Advocated for a general strike?

As I've said in the past, I don't expect moral purity from anybody. However, when you're going to attack people actively doing something, I think it behooves you to reflect on your own actions and inaction first, and think of solutions instead of just mocking, deriding, dismissing, and otherwise pulling out the rug from under those who are at least trying to throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks. Maybe even do a little research to see what traditions these people are continuing.

It's interesting that Code Pink (not to mention Cindy Sheehan) are so readily identified as "the peace movement" when they're really just components of a diverse tapestry of individuals and organizations working together oft times as a loose coalition to end the war. Why is it that women and mothers, like Las Madres in Argentina, are the ones who have to always seem to be the ones getting the ball rolling? Why do so many concerned people wait for somebody else to take that first step? It would be grand if more people would engage in the streets instead of passively, snarkily and counterproductively remarking from the sidewalk on what's happening in front of them.

In the interest of edumacation, here are a few links:

And remember: Action is always going to be more controversial than inaction.



JimPreston said...

Nice work!! Why don't we see more of this kind of legitimate discussion in the papers? You know, where people actually examine each others' arguments, perspectives, goals, and tactics. I find it refreshing.

Army Sergeant said...

Perhaps a middle ground piece would have been perfect. The woman does have a point, though it's perhaps poorly expressed. It is hard for many people to come to the anti-war movement while it looks so outlandish.

As a member of IVAW, I've worked with many Code Pink members, particularly in the all-important area of GI Outreach. However, I have to say that they were at their most successful when they took the pink glam off.

Code Pink helps IVAW in many ways-but at the same time, some of its more outrageous actions make it harder for us to recruit, especially in the heartland.

Guerilla theater can be helpful in its time-but I'm not sure it's needed to call attention to issues anymore. The public is aware of these things-but they're not working towards them, in many ways because they fear aligning themselves with people they find no common ground with.

Anonymous said...

Well said, NTodd. If I could write better, I would have said it exactly the way you did!

Army sergeant, you have some good points, but I disagree with you that people don't come to the anti-war movement because of the outrageous actions of Code Pink. People don't come to the anti-war movement because it's just too damn hard to do. People are demoralized because they feel they have no power. The Democrats were given a mandate to end the war in '06 and have failed to do so. THAT'S why the anti-war movement needs Code Pink more desperately now than ever.

Believe it or not, most of these women would rather not be doing these outrageous things. Most of these women (me included) would rather have their votes, letters and phone calls actually count for something. Most of us would rather have a government "of the people, by the people, for the people." But we don't. We live in a country where, currently, you're only heard if you have a lot of money or you grab media attention.

Code Pink is one of the few groups that realizes this fact. And they don't have a lot of money.

ntodd said...

"People don't come to the anti-war movement because it's just too damn hard to do."

Pretty much. Sure, they'll use CP's antics as their excuse, but that's because they need an excuse to justify their own inaction.

Hmm, another post I must blog, methinks...

LaFajita said...

These days I don't come to the peace/anti-war movement because age issues, health issues, and outrageous-cost-of-gas issues have all conspired to push me to the sidelines. Still, it was good to see people again last Friday. I was disappointed about ending up in an overflow room, as were many of us, until we realized we could be a bit rowdy up there and not get shushed. I've been to Superbowl parties that were less fun. All this and Cindy Sheehan, too! Couldn't stick around, couldn't find the VFP party, but nonetheless a good time was had by moi. Thanks for letting me hang out.