At the same time you have Jewish Americans oftentimes
identifying with Israel for the wrong reasons ...
That's true. That's certainly the impulse. I just read an article
by Edward Said this morning in which he analyzes why Jewish Americans
are more supportive of the worst aspects of Israel than Israelis
are. There's a very large peace movement there and many people
opposed to Sharon's policies. American Jews have the identity thing.
I think it's more harmful because of the geopolitical nature of
the conflict, but technically it's no worse than many blacks I
knew in the '70s who identified with Idi Amin, for instance. Obviously
you're not automatically granted good political consciousness just
because you identify with your own people. It doesn't do everything.
It can't stop there. There has to be leadership like Malcolm X
once was or Stokely Carmichael; today, a Randall Robinson or a
Manning Marable or Cornel West or bell hooks, who guide and give
shape to solidarity, and are able to condemn those who would exploit
Then there are boundaries to that sort of ideal ...
Well, I think you pick and choose. What I would like to see Jewish
Americans do, for instance, is – not so much the Michael
Lerner/Tikkun thing of insisting on peace and insisting that the
Palestinians be nonviolent, too. There's so much violence there
already that this is not a very effective first step. It's exactly
what Sharon is calling for – that Palestinians be peaceful,
with the promise that then the Israelis will do something constructive.
I'd rather that American Jews identify with the forces of anti-imperialism
in Israel. Those who are for solidarity, you'll almost always be
identifying with a minority segment of the population. I think
that I had to face that in the 1980s when the struggle in Nicaragua.
Many indigenous folks here were used to support the Contras because
of the Sandanistas' questionable policies toward the indigenous
peoples. There were different groups among the indigenous representing
different ideas on how things should change, but to pick out of
that and identify with the US-sponsored Contras rather than other
groups who were there is what I see as a kind of misuse of identity
politics. It's sort of like having your cake and eating it too.
You'll be rewarded by the United States for your support but you're
still sort of expressing your own identity.
It's similar to what's going on right now in Afghanistan
and Cuba where you have Bush pushing for one type of reform and
drawing on supposedly "indigenous" support ...
Right. Of course Cuba's such a special case. I have a whole chapter
on Cuba in Outlaw Woman, about going there. I don't think there's
an analogy with anything, just the fact that it's survived, that
any kind of dissidence against Cuba automatically plays into the
United States' policy of isolating Cuba and overthrowing the revolution.
The people opposed to Castro's government would like it to be a
part of the United States. They would like to just give over sovereignty
to the United States. It's so special. In Afghanistan, I think
it's really interesting how the mainstream women's movement is
being used to support Bush's policies under the guise of saving
women. Here they've installed an equally rapacious group of people,
the Northern Alliance, and the Feminist Majority Organization and
Ms. Magazine editors and readers are all gung-ho about the role
that they can play in supporting US policy.
In your experience, do you think it's better to specialize
in one area of knowledge or activism, or to broaden and try to
cover all at once as some amazing figures such as yourself or
Chomsky are able to do?
Well, we can do that because we're old. You accumulate all of
this stuff. I think there's something to be said for intensive,
consistent work. I think it takes all kinds of people – the
generalists like myself or Chomsky, but the people I most admire
are people who are really involved in the actual work. I can think
of a few I know like Danny Schechter who is sort of a media watchdog
or Randall Robinson who has been arguing for reparations for years
or a woman I know does work accumulating data and taking testimony
about marriage and date rape or a woman who runs battered women's
centers. I think this is really the heart of a movement. Not enough
credit is given to the people who do these things, people who work
away for years organizing in a progressive way. I name these particular
people because within their own particular work, they also have
a larger view. I'm not sure how long anyone can keep doing that
type of work so intensely without having a larger vision of social
justice and changing the world. It gives me a lot of confidence
to know that these people exist everywhere. This isn't something
new. These are people struggling in the most dire of circumstances.
It's just amazing. I think our job as militant organizers is not
to try to form some national organization that will force all of
these people into a kind of mold, but to help with the linkages,
communicating, networking, putting people together, voicing their
concerns at the international level, and spreading information
about international solidarity with them. I think that's happening.
I think it's happening internationally. Those are building blocks
for the long haul of what we're trying to do. I think the younger
generation right now doesn't give itself enough credit for the
organizations its members have built that are just amazing, and
far more penetrative into the whole culture than even those of
the '60s. At the same time, there's been a kind of diminishing
of the '60s as a kind of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll era on the
one hand, or else – for those who are positive to it – it
was a golden age that can never be emulated or lived up to. Of
course it was neither of those. I think – in fact, I'm sure – there
are many more people politically conscious and knowledgeable about
these issues now than there were then. Except for a few huge national
demonstrations that took place then, there's really as much activism
now. It's just that you can't rely on the media anymore to report
that so there are other means for keeping up to date. Someone started
tracking all of the demonstrations against the war in Afghanistan.
They were just everywhere. Every day there were things going on
in the United States and in every little hamlet of the country.
When 50 people demonstrate in a town of 10,000 people, that's just
extraordinary. It was not newsworthy but we don't even know yet
the results of that and how important it is. I think we need to
be everywhere, to be outspoken. Especially at this time, to not
self-censor, to not try to soft-pedal things, but be forthright – at
least those who can afford to be. I think people have to protect
themselves in some ways, but many of us have nothing to lose.
I know we're living in sort of a different world after
9/11. In what recent events do you see an opportunity for activists
to reclaim some of what the government seems to be stealing away?
When it first happened, I had just come back from the UN conference
on racism in Durban, South Africa. I got back the night of September
10th and woke up to this news. All of us who were there – 50,000
activists from around the world, mostly people of color – were
so angry at the United States for walking out of the conference
that it seemed to me that we must have done it to ourselves. I
could see how people could believe in a conspiracy theory that
we must have done this ourselves. It fits so well to this administration's
advantage. What this administration and the whole right wing is
trying to do seems to be very authoritarian and police state-like,
and at the same time self-righteous. "We've been victimized." When
8,000 people died in Bhopal, India, for Union-Carbide, people did
not mourn. Why are American lives worth so much more? I could see
the writing on the wall, and I was awfully glad that I had this
book to work on. We had to delay it because nothing was coming
out in the fall. That kept me busy, but since I've been going around
reading and travelling through March and April into May, I'm finding
that the stuff that's coming out and being read, like Michael Moore's
Stupid White Men and Chomsky's 9/11, is a little inspiring. 9/11
is a best-seller in New York even though it's never had a single
review. It's from Seven Stories Press, which is even smaller than
City Lights. And then there's Gore Vidal's book Perpetual War for
Perpetual Peace and Howard Zinn's book on terrorism – people
are eating this stuff up. When I vowed not to pussyfoot around
when I give readings but be very bold about what I think, it just
opened this space for people to have discussions. Down at Midnight
Special Bookstore in Santa Monica, I swear the reading started
at seven and at midnight I couldn't get rid of these people. We
were sitting there talking and talking and talking. It just frees
them. People are afraid. I started seeing it as important wherever
I could just to break the ice and break the fear. People are self-censoring
a lot these days. You will be attacked. Some of my right-wing colleagues
at Hayward attack me when I post things on our listserv but I think
it's giving courage to some of the people who aren't speaking out,
who feel intimidated, and then I feel that this new anti-war newspaper
that we started is so much in demand. They just can't keep enough
copies in stock and it's on the Internet. It's called War Times
and it's bilingual, Spanish and English. It's a little tabloid,
and it's free. We just have to raise the money for printing and
shipping but it's very low cost. It was just an experiment to see
if this works. The third issue has just come out and it's everywhere.
People are welcome to translate it into different languages. It's
not copyrighted, just use the material for whatever they want.
It has really been encouraging to see that all over the United
States. Churches and schools are getting and using that newspaper.
Its writers are all fairly radical people. It's pretty blatant
about our beliefs on the Palestinian question and US interventionism.
It was originally meant for organizers; they thought 5,000 copies
would be enough. I think the first run went through 100,000 copies.
People like Noam and Michael Moore are drawing thousands and thousands
of people everywhere they speak. I think there's a real hunger
for this information. I think people really, really meant that
first question they asked, "Why do people hate us so much?",
and they still want to figure it out. It's just logical, you know,
to think "Well, there must be something there. They seem to
hate us." We're told all the time how loveable we are and
there's a disconnection there because people know that they're
kind of loveable. Most Americans haven't done any harm to anyone
personally and certainly not to someone in Afghanistan. It's kind
of hard to make the connections when there's such a void of knowledge
and information, and because they don't know why, they want to
find out what these "terrorists'" reasons are, even if
they're not valid, what are their reasons for doing this? I think
just that natural curiosity has made people open in a way that
they haven't been in the past. I think 9/11 did blow a big hole
in the smokescreen that camouflages the United States. It's interesting
how the right-wing dissidents who are so filled with white supremacy
and Christian fundamentalism who made up a large part of the militias,
these people are not the ones who are able to pick up the slack.
It's the left that's actually able to make some explanations for
this. I think it has put the right wing in kind of a disarray.
It has. At the same time, just from working at a bookstore,
I know that you have more people coming in and asking for copies
of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other right-wing tracts.
That's true. In Stockton, after I had talked and read from the
book for about an hour, this one woman piped up and asked, to what
extent do you think the Illuminati were involved with this. It
was a friendly question, that's what was scary about it. I said, "Ugghh,
to no extent." Then I spent about an hour talking about this
and I thought, I better remember to bring this up next time, because
people are probably assuming that 9/11 is part of these larger
conspiracies like "the Protocols." That's Pat Buchanan's
message. He's a real anti-Semite. He can be talking along – he's
against intervention in Afghanistan, he's for a Palestinian state,
he was against the Gulf War and you think, "Wow, Pat really
sounds good," but underneath it all there's this rabid anti-Semitism.
The right has no problems making alliances with groups
it hates; the left often times will not do that even with groups
it feels are slightly racist or slightly sexist or anti-Semitic.
I was wondering where you thought the boundaries are.
I think there are certain principles but I do think one can make
interventions and not just toss everyone away. For instance, young
white men are really sought out by the right wing for recruitment.
Trying to seek them out and educate them about anti-war or feminist
causes, and not just throw them away just because they're more
likely to be targeted by the right, is probably a good idea. Similarly,
women in the suburbs in the Central Valley, or are one generation
away from being rural, are targeted by anti-abortion rights groups
because they have certain tendencies but that doesn't mean that
the women's movement shouldn't try to attract them. What I think
we shouldn't do is pander to the prejudices that exist within these
groups but really confront them, but actually aligning with groups
that espouse white supremacy and the like, I think it's a bad idea.
They're usually very corrupt. They're usually not very spontaneous.
I think the militias were more spontaneous and had more potential,
but now they're all in disarray. White supremacists were really
trying to take them over but their initial sense came from the
whole rural movement against agribusiness coming in and taking
I noticed all the books behind you on Timothy McVeigh.
He's a name that's been sort or roused from the dead lately,
especially with Gore Vidal's new book.
I was very interested in McVeigh because he was not a nut. He
was an Army boy. He said very clearly that what he had against
the US government was that they made him kill people who he had
no problem with, that were not enemies. He was a tank gunner and
he personally had the highest kill rate of any single gunner. He
didn't even know how many unarmed Iraqi soldiers – the ones
coming in to surrender – he killed under orders.
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