Maybe it was the air — that magic time of year in Washington that, despite inducing some of the worst pollen attacks south of the Mason-Dixon line, induces even the most uptight suit to spend all day swooning over cherry and pear tree blossoms and warm scented breezes like a kid aching to skip school with spring fever. Whatever it was, The American Conservative spent the afternoon Tuesday in the belly of the 99% beast, and well, it was kind of groovy.
Not really in that syrupy hippie pop way Friend & Lover sang about – I think it’s so groovy now, that people are finally getting together! – and not all that unexpected, either. Fact is, as my colleagues and I have been finding out more each time we scale that vast wall of presumption and prejudice and into so-called “enemy territory,” we have a lot more in common here than in our wider ideological comfort zone. We may not look alike or even share the same political or social language, but when it comes to ending war abroad and the expanding police state at home, we find well, kinship.
C’mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try and love one another right now
That just might be the flowers in Dupont Circle talking, but there is certainly something to be said about sitting in a room with people in the middle of presidential campaign season who have absolutely no allegiance to Democrats or Republicans, nor to any politician, only to the straightforward mission of ending the war in Afghanistan and ending War as a Business, the dominant economic and yes, spiritual force that has somehow defined in the last 10 years what it means to be an American.
I was invited to speak on a panel entitled “Left/Right Alliance Coalitions Against War and Empire” as part of the NOW-DC (National Occupation of Washington, DC) Forum, by Come Home America’s John Walsh, a medical science professor by trade whose own personal politics have taken him from the progressive movement (point: everyone in this room hates labels, but I’m still trying to figure out how to tell a simple story without them) to campaigning for Ron Paul.
As a representative of TAC, I was set with Jacob Hornberger, president and founder of the Future of Freedom Foundation, a libertarian think tank here in Washington (and friend of TAC). Author and journalist Bill Blum was invited as the other left hand man. A rebel from way back, he’s written extensively about U.S foreign intervention and the warfare state since Vietnam, his 2000 title Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, was endorsed by Osama bin Laden — not to Blum’s chagrin. That tells you all you need to know about Bill.
For Hornberger and Walsh, too, dismantling the warfare state is fundamental. Everything else– whether it be how to pay for escalating health care costs or debating whether austerity measures might cripple or save the economy in a recession — don’t matter a sprig when millions of lives are urgently at stake abroad, and frankly, here at home, too. New laws that continue to tighten a noose around Constitutionally protected liberties (Hornberger noted specifically the new military detention rules in the NDAA), expanding government surveillance and the militarism of law enforcement — even the Drug War — has some antecedent in the Military Industrial Complex. One needs only to look at Dana Milbank’s column today on how post 9/11 anti-terror spending has led to a cottage industry of spyware used by both the government and the private sector to target ordinary Americans. Let’s tackle this first, we can get to our differences later, the two men declared.
Turns out that’s just what the tiny audience wanted to hear (we’ll admit it, we stole our audience from another group whose presenter didn’t show up. But I think they were happy that fate intervened). There was a self-described anarchist and Occupy denizen who many times broadcast his appreciation for what he was hearing with “twinkles,” (the upward wiggling hand signal, as opposed to “squids,” which is downward and conveys inherent disagreement). There was an Austrian-born woman who looked to be in her 80’s who said she had her hands in a dozen local causes and movements and found that the best way to empower people was by fighting City Hall. She described herself as ivy, an insidious but elegant plant that slowly wraps itself onto brick and wears it down. “That’s the worst thing for brick, ivy,” she said. “That’s what I try to be.”
There was an older war veteran perhaps from the Korean era donned in a Veterans for Peace sweatshirt, a young man who said he traveled from a small town in Colorado to feed his mind, and a few steel-haired ladies with sandals and t-shirts broadcasting their liberal (labels again!) politics who at first seemed doubtful of these conservative and libertarian types infiltrating the Quakers’ Friends Meeting House (a historic bastion of religious progressivism in the city). But after a while, they became more relaxed — smiling and laughing even at times — and more inclined to acknowledge what we were all thinking: that none of us really “fit” anywhere. Anywhere but here, that is.
The vet asked, do we have a strategy? Not really. Hornberger suggested that we keep finding one another, and plant “seeds,” not really endeavoring to change minds or worldview, but to cross these artificial boundaries (cross-pollinate?) and to keep talking about the issues as a matter of common cause. We can write, we can build coalitions and engage in more forums like these. We can promote ourselves as something different. A sanctuary for those who don’t fit, who can’t stomach the two-party system because it keeps us all locked in labels and the war machine still turning. Maybe at one point we’ll reach a saturation point, said Hornberger, and realize it’s the warmongers who no longer fit.
Perhaps it was the air, but I think we all left that Quaker multi-purpose room, furnished with old comfy chairs and children’s toys, an old oriental rug rounding out the homey setting, a little lighter for the load. So, I moved to leave some seeds behind too — I’m happy to say there might be a few issues left of The American Conservative in the front hall. Hopefully they’ll bear much more than an allergic reaction.
UPDATE: Here’s Jacob Hornberger’s take on yesterday’s event.
Above images courtesy of Shutterstock.