Readers respond to Michelle Goldberg's "Peace Kooks."

By Salon Staff

Published October 17, 2002 8:17PM (EDT)

[Read the story.]

Michelle Goldberg's article is a classic example of Red-baiting. Guess what? Many great movements for social change in this country have been led by radical socialists and communists because they happen to be among the most dedicated and organized of people in the movement.

When she talked about going back to the sixties antiwar movement, did she realize that those humongous demonstrations in the late sixties and early seventies were organized by the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party? This Trotskyist party was the central force in the National Peace Action coalition that led these actions. They wanted to build the largest antiwar movement possible because they believed in stopping U.S. imperialism. They fought for the central slogan of "Bring the Troops Home Now" and having massive peaceful demonstrations.

Goldberg I guess believes that these radical groups are somehow fooling the people marching against the war, but as long as everyone agrees with the central slogan of these marches of stopping the war, who cares who leads it?

-- Joanne Gullion

While I too disagree with the more radical positions ascribed to Not In Our Name and the International Action Center, I have questions for Gitlin. Where is your more moderate protest organization? What are you doing to lead the hordes of people who want to work through the U.N. to stop both the more dangerous weapons development of Saddam Hussein and the war with Iraq under Bush's plan? To complain about the efforts of people who are doing something to stop the real dangers of the Bush administration, without suggesting a viable alternative, gets the liberal wing nowhere.

I will be marching on Oct. 26, and if the folks onstage are too radical for my tastes, well, so be it. I'll be making my stand for some semblance of foreign-policy sanity in a forum where hopefully many other like-minded people will be making similar statements. Going to the protest led by IAC may tar me with too radical a brush against the efforts to rein in Saddam Hussein. Not going to the protest will most certainly tar me with the apathetic and complacent brush of those willing to let our young people die in a ridiculous and unnecessary war to enrich the president's cronies and detract from crucial domestic concerns. I'm willing to take the chances on the former instead of being scared into the latter.

While I appreciate Salon's efforts to add color to the picture of the protest movement, I find it somewhat disappointing that its first article about the people's efforts to protest Bush's horrible warmongering concentrates on the least credible aspects. There are thousands of people across the country making the sensible argument that war should not be made -- why focus on the tiny percentage of radicals?

-- Ellen Fulton

I just had a rare moment of synchronicity. Minutes after finishing Michelle Goldberg's article on how many antiwar demonstrations are being organized by the political lunatic fringe, I got a phone call from the Democratic Party asking me for money. Actually, I should correct that last statement. It wasn't the Democratic Party who called me, but a telemarketing firm it hired.

What's the connection? Simply put, fringies like the IAC are the ones organizing political action when the purported opposition party, the Democrats, do not. Instead, the party I've supported my whole life has become a checkbook organization. The only time I ever get any request from the Democratic Party is a call like the one tonight, a request for money.

Many of my friends would like to do something to demonstrate their disgust with Bush, their frustration with the administration's clumsy attempts at coercive diplomacy, their fear over the disintegration of many hallowed civil liberties. However, all of us lack an organizing vessel into which we can pour these feelings, giving them form and direction. If I want to express my outrage (and I do), where do I go? What impact would having me show up alone at my congressman's office have? If I spent the day standing in the mall parking lot, holding a sign proclaiming my opinions, who would pay attention to me? I certainly wouldn't waste my time calling the "constituent services" person at my legislators' offices. I've done it, and I've quit after speaking to one bored clerk too many. I know my opinions have been less than duly noted by my elected representatives.

My wife and I have practically had to beat down the Democratic Party's door to help during elections. When we have helped, the experience was depressing in oh so many ways. It's worth an exposition of our experiences in this vein someday, just to show how low the party has sunk in its esteem for its volunteers and its own vision. And there's no follow-up, no request for further help from us.

So, where do people like me go? Nowhere, unless you accidentally stumble into a demonstration like the one in Central Park. However, as soon as you find out who's really behind it, you're outta there. I've stopped friends from going to events like these before, pointing out that they might not want to be associated with the likes of Ramsey Clark, the poster child of witless leftism.

I supported the first Gulf War. Hell, I supported Reagan's bombing of Libya. However, I vehemently oppose Gulf War II. So what? I'm a Democrat, but at this terrifying moment in our national history, my outrage is just a whisper in the clamor of war rhetoric. I have no way to join my voice to those of others. Instead, the Democratic Party calls to request a handout for the state elections.

So, Terry McAuliffe, I guess this letter is really directed to you. Want to hold a rally? I'm there. Need people to organize a teach-in? I'd be glad to help. Need someone to recruit people for these types of events? I'll help man the phone banks. Democracy depends on discussion and action, and I'm ready to contribute to both.

Do you want to ask me for money again? Screw you.

-- Tom Grant

The far left has always been central to the antiwar movement in this country. Students for a Democratic Society, mentioned in the article, was heavily influenced by Maoism. Communists and Trotskyists were central to the antiwar movement in WWII. The Socialist Party and the Wobblies organized against WWI. Trotskyists and the Socialist Party helped organize against the Vietnam War. Trotskyists were central to the Gulf War antiwar movement. Communists will be central to this movement as well.

Why? Because they have the organizational skills and resources to create large organizations quickly. They have prior experience organizing and leading movements. The problem is not that communists are leading the charge but Ms. Goldberg's Red-baiting. If the far left weren't at the center of the antiwar movement, there would be no antiwar movement.

-- Marc Luzietti

The end of the article "Peace Kooks" appears to undercut its premise. At first the article, in terms of its title and blurb, suggests that the left "fringe"-- the IAC and Refuse and Resist -- has hijacked the antiwar movement, the implication being that the peace movement associates with these kooky leftists to its own detriment. By the end of the article, however, we find out that since ordinary people who were less radical participated in the antiwar rally in Central Park anyway, these voices were heard through individual interviews of crowd participants -- a common way for the press to cover demonstrations.

I and many others have no problem working with the Answer Coalition and Not In My Name -- even if these groups were started by "radicals" who have some problematic politics -- as long as the message of the demonstration is right. During the last Iraqi war, the IAC had to have a rally in Washington separate from most other peace groups, because their message was that they supported Saddam Hussein as well as being against the war. This time they modified the message so that there could be a real coalition. Those on the left, which includes the most uptight liberal and the fringiest radical, have to start learning to work together to fight the common enemy and not each other if we are ever going to effect real change. This is something the right has learned much too well.

-- Cheryl Guttman

Ms. Goldberg makes a lot of sense in her article. It is ironic that many of the same folks being flimflammed by the "bizarre extremist groups" are the ones who bought in to Ralph Nader's rhetoric a few years ago about both major political parties sharing the same belief systems. Does anyone really believe that Al Gore would have us in the same mess? A different mess maybe, but it would likely have to do with ballooning deficits to pay for prescription drugs, not mowing down Baghdad for the sake of cheap gasoline and Bush 41's so-called honor and ballooning deficits.

No matter, there is at least one thing that would be different if Nader's hyper-inflated ego hadn't put W in the White House; Jim Jeffords would still be a Republican.

-- Richard Stovall

I got to the third paragraph of this article and had to scroll back to the top of the page to see if I was reading an Andrew Sullivan rant. Ms. Goldberg uses none other than Todd "Why, when I was a kid..." Gitlin as a sepia-toned barometer of peace movement bona fides. Todd Gitlin is to the left what William F. Buckley is to the right -- nostalgia ain't what it used to be. I bet Ms. Goldberg still thinks the Democratic Party is a real alternative to the Republicans.

-- Daniel Jasper

My first experience with the "peace kooks" was on the quad at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich, right after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. A group of Chinese students had gathered spontaneously to share news and protest what was going on, and who should appear but the campus Maoists, all of them white, hippie-wannabes passing out cheap socialist newspapers and carrying signs, incredibly, supporting the Chinese government. Real arguments broke out, and I was left with an enduring image of the misguided ideologies catalogued so well by Michelle Goldberg in this piece.

Flash forward to San Francisco, 2002, my current home, and I'm still seeing that kind of fringe movement controlling the rhetoric of every rally I attend.

My conclusion is that it's a breakdown of rhetoric. A failure of language. There is a vacuum at the center of the left, a lack of anyone who can articulate resistance in today's terms, for us, now. That's why the most effective speeches we hear are often by '60s figures like Martin Luther King Jr. And it's why the right, which does have a simple message (War, Oil, Money) controls the agenda, while the left flounders behind a many-headed gaggle of extremists, anarchists and snake-oil salesmen.

-- David Hadbawnik

Salon Staff

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