In your recent email I was troubled by the phrase, "we have felt as though our government has not listened to our pleas for peace" as a justification for choosing tactics resulting in your arrests for antagonizing people who have no direct influence on the issue at hand. I believe that embracing this widespread belief, and these tactics, are the first step toward rejecting the democratic process. My concern about this rejection comes from the belief that, as Winston Churchill said, "democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."
As you know, our democracy functions on the basis of representative government, balance of powers, and regular elections. I think we're all appreciative of the fact that our government does not make decisions, whether they are, for example, pro-life or antiwar, based on which side uses the harshest rhetoric, has the most people arrested, or "feels" the most passionately about the issue.
In this context it seems clear that the "government" has, in fact, listened to your pleas for peace. Of course each elected representative listens differently. Some have readily rejected your ideas, while others, even some of those running for President, champion your cause. In October, after days of debate, the Senate voted 77-23 and the house 296-133 to authorize President Bush to attack Iraq if Saddam Hussein refused to give up weapons of mass destruction. Clearly the antiwar position was listened to, and 146 representatives voted against the measure, but, in keeping with the rules of our democracy, the measure was adopted.
I appreciate that you wrote, "we have felt" the government was not listening to you. What I'm drawing your attention to is the reality these real feelings are not reflected by the actual facts. The government did listen, and then democratically rejected, your position. If, in the future, the majority of the American people determine that the vote in favor of the potential use of force was a mistake, then those who voted for the measure will pay a price in the next election. That's democracy.
When people "feel" they have no means by which to change their government it is common, understandable, and (I would argue) even sometimes appropriate that they resort to terrorism as a means to communicate and force change. Certainly few in our country are critical of the Boston Tea Party or the American Revolution despite the fact that the British surely perceived these as acts of domestic terrorism. Like the civil rights protests encouraged by Dr. Martin Luther King - and every successful protest movement within a country that remained a democracy - these campaigns carefully chose tactics and targets in order to highlight specific unjust laws and individuals. They did so recognizing that for their demands to influence a democracy their actions needed to successfully persuade others of, and not just self-righteously publicize, the rightness of their cause.
In recent days, protestors have "made their voices heard" by blocking traffic and access to buildings that are almost entirely unrelated to the purpose of the protests. Ironically, these antagonistic protests, which lack the creativity necessary to gain significant public support, will only serve to make you "feel" more isolated and unheard. The reason for this is self-evident. Causing widespread frustration among common people is sure to persuade people to disassociate themselves from your position. Does anyone think abortion clinic bombers help the pro-life movement win votes? Does anyone think that Ted Kaczynski helped the environmental movement? In the end the much coveted publicity resulting from these events serves only to turn people against your position and cause the democratic vote to become even more lopsided. This is exactly the opposite effect that the civil rights movement had on our nation. due to no small degree to the thoughtful rhetoric and tactics of Dr. King and others. Your claim to stand in the persuasive legacy of Dr. King does not ring true. Further willingness to abandon attempts at democratic persuasion and further targeting of common people or, as is the case with many protestors, causing damage to buildings and vehicles, will stand you in the legacy of Timothy McVeigh.
As I listened to the recent Washington Mall protest, sponsored by A.N.S.W.E.R., I saw the spirit of the undemocratic left. Speaker after speaker at the rally repeated the mantra, "We will shut this country down [when the war begins]." This, to me, is a prime example of the most disconcerting aspect of the worldview that seems to be growing on the left. The threat to "shut this country down" is a terrorist threat that shows a loss of faith in the processes of democracy. If those leading antagonistic and unfocused protests could give their publicity machines a rest they would recognize the need to focus their protests on those with direct influence (for example, their representatives, Senators, the White House and Pentagon) and to do so in creative ways that maximize the possibility for public persuasion. They would realize that their current tactics and rhetoric are actually serving to strengthen the position of those to whom they are in opposition.
The left has already ceded vocal public concern about human rights abuses in Saddam's Iraq to those on the right. If the left continues to choose to abandon the democratic process, in the name of publicity or a lack of creativity, it will certainly become increasingly marginalized and fracture as a movement. The historic left has contributed too much to our society, and has historically raised too many critical concerns, to let this new left run it aground. That would truly be an injustice.