Readers respond to Michelle Goldberg's "Rage or Reason" and Katharine Mieszkowski's "Wild in the Streets."

Published March 28, 2003 9:06PM (EST)

[Read "Rage or Reason" by Michelle Goldberg, and "Wild in the Streets" by Katharine Mieszkowski.]

Here in Lawrence, Kansas, there's a "tent city" in one of our public parks where trustafarians can hang out, play hacky sack, enjoy a relaxing drum circle and make s'mores against the war. I'm sure there's plenty of overlap between them and the people who made one of my co-workers late returning from lunch last week by shutting down Massachusetts Ave., our main street. She hadn't given this war thing a moment's thought before she couldn't get her car through the intersection, but now she's really thinking about it.

This isn't political action, it's performance art, providing catharsis to the performer and annoyance and discomfort to everyone else. Yes, minor inconveniences mean nothing when weighed against the casualties of war. But what is this sort of thing doing to alleviate anyone's suffering, or to persuade anyone that the war is unjust?

I respect a planned, announced, organized protest that I can choose or not choose to be confronted with, but having my way blocked, vomited upon, or doused with fake blood without warning does not persuade me of anything except the infantile egoism of the people involved.

I felt the same way a couple of Easters ago, when a different wing of the activist community sent a diaper-clad man soaked in fake blood careening into my path on Mass. Ave. to alert me that God let his only son get nailed to a tree a couple of thousand years ago, so I shouldn't kill my own (unborn) kids.

Thanks for the educative impulse, everyone, but kindly keep the blood, vomit and feigned deaths to yourselves, and your passionate rhetoric out of my lane of traffic.

-- M. Rodenbeek

Working in New York City and commuting from the suburbs every day by car, I can tell you that in the last two weeks, traffic has been bumper-to-bumper for miles on end. It has not been easy for anyone who drives into the city, trying to get to work. I've started leaving an hour earlier to compensate for the delay.

But what causes the delay? Not activists. It's Operation Atlas -- NYC's plan for securing the city, which includes roadblocks on the bridges and tunnels. Whether the activists are on the streets or not, our lives have changed.

The traffic being disrupted by the activists who are trying to preserve our democracy and the lives of our soldiers and Iraqi people is nothing compared to what Orange alerts have done.

I don't mind being inconvenienced. I go to sleep a little earlier -- it is no sacrifice to give up watching "Friends" and "Will & Grace." I wake up just a little earlier than normal. There is absolutely no comparison between the hassle of a little traffic jam to the fight for freedom and saving lives.

The nation's eyes are on the American public at large to see where the will of the people will take us in the future. I'm far less concerned about the odd disgruntled commuter who is angry about traffic than I am about the welfare of the soldiers and the American citizenry, who see that the activists are trying to save us all.

-- James Healy

Saturday I passed a funeral procession, then ran into a big traffic mess caused by a protest in Harvard Square. While I was lucky (I was just taking a nervous and excited 7-year-old to a Cub Scout camp-in), I would be furious if I, for example, missed my mother's funeral because a couple dozen idiots decided that standing in a busy intersection was the only way to get their message across.

Public gatherings play a vital role in any open democracy. Thousands of protesters gathered in Golden Gate Park, and on the Boston Common and Central Park and throughout this country, would send a clear message to the Bush administration. Blocking traffic is a cheap, adolescent ploy and has nothing to do with opposing the war -- in fact, I suspect it works strongly against the alleged goal. How else could you get San Franciscans to oppose protest?

-- Robert Stafford

It is interesting that Goldberg and others compare present day direct action to the '60s. I disagree.

To me, the '60s were characterized more by mass marches, with civil disobedience being linked mostly to the civil rights movement, where it was a great success.

Marches are tired, they don't work, the media barely pays attention and we all get dragged into numbers debates.

The gay rights/AIDS movement rightly realized that the era of marches is over. ACT UP and the Women's Action Coalition were born under creative, direct actions that inconvenienced people and got much needed attention to their issues. When people are dying and the people in power aren't listening, as is the case now and was the case early in the AIDS crisis, it is OK and necessary to inconvenience the average citizen.

It is also, frankly, the only way to get the media, that is obsessed with adversarial story lines, to pay attention.

-- Paige Brown

Shutting down the downtown intersections with predictable results in this most tolerant of big cities is mainly about feeling the power of a mob.

It changes nobody's mind, and it impacts the politicians in Washington not one iota. Mainly, it allows people who otherwise feel powerless to feel some temporary power. Thus it is a useful form of therapy.

But at the expense of a citizenry who are trying to get to work, do their jobs, and who already distrust the Bush administration and oppose military action in Iraq, wouldn't it be more responsible to express one's anger over the war in private groups, or in private spiritual or therapeutic settings? And then take some action that would actually change things?

Blocking public intersections is much easier, but such a masturbatory form of expression.

-- Arthur Barton

Todd Gitlin has made a career out of riding the student protest wave in the '60s and '70s, then trying for the rest of his life to bash it for the Democratic Party.

The basic political lesson of the Vietnam War movement is that the majority and leadership of the Democratic Party supported and built that war.

Many years later, nothing has changed. Now in my 50s, I see my own daughter wending her way through the streets, protesting with other high school students a new war. And the Democrats are still in the same political position they always were, if not more to the right.

The labor movement has started to stir against this war -- in fact the AFL-CIO and the Labor Party are on record opposing a unilateral war against Iraq. We have needed a mass party for peace in the United States since before Vietnam and we still do. An amalgamation of the Greens, the labor movement and the minority communities would make the basis for a mass peace party in this country.

That is the only way that this long national nightmare of imperial wars will end.

-- Greg Gibbs

If it weren't for the pathetic, motley crew which was the "left wing" voting for Ralph Nader in the last election, we wouldn't be at war.

Al Gore would be president, and the Democrats wouldn't have handed Republicans the election and then whined that they'd been caught stealing. As usual, the left continues to paralyze itself -- divided between tantrum-throwing activism which grabs on to a concept of politics 30 years out of date and the kowtowing of Democratic politicians who have greeted the Bush administration's agenda with all the outrage of sleeping lambs to the slaughter. Two years from now, these same politicians will be losing another election because they have no real backbone, and these convulsive "activists" will continue to be the laughing stock.

-- Amy Gray

I am concerned that the antiwar movement might become the left's version of the failed impeachment campaign against Clinton, when radical Republicans' hatred for Clinton blinded them to the folly of pursuing an impeachment that most people simply didn't think he deserved. In the following election, there was a backlash of public opinion against Republicans (they lost five House seats and gained no Senate seats).

Similarly, the left's hatred of Bush shouldn't blind us to the popularity of this war among the U.S. population. We should instead work to educate people on the many ways the Bush/Ashcroft/Rove team is undermining the Constitution, reducing freedom, hurting the economy, and alienating allies.

Let's keep our eyes on the 2004 presidential election. Communicating with fellow citizens (and with your congressional representatives) on the real dangers that Bush poses to our democracy is going to pay off way more than blocking rush-hour traffic trying to stop a war that has already begun.

-- Brett Spyker

I think the left can and should have an important role in this discussion. Seeds of a cogent democratic alternative to Bush's foreign policy exist, and they start at home. The left should be screaming every day that this president refuses to take even the smallest step to reduce our dependency on foreign oil. Gas-guzzling SUVs subsidize terrorists and anti-American regimes. The left should remind Americans that this administration is working to stifle the freedom of speech that we are pushing for in the Middle East. Democracy and freedom of speech will never thrive in Iraq if we allow Ashcroft to destroy them on the home front.

Many other liberal/Democratic views could be incorporated into a coherent liberal foreign policy in the post 9/11 world. The left doesn't have to become pro-war, but it has to become pro-engagement. Because right now, the rhetoric is dated by about 30 years. If that doesn't change, the left will have no serious role in this debate, and given the shortsightedness and greed of Bush and his corporate advisors, that would be a real tragedy for the whole world.

-- Ethan Perlson

Despite justifiable rage at this unjustifiable war, reason must prevail if those opposed to this war are to avoid irrelevancy.

Civil disobedience can be effective and should be practiced if applied with careful forethought. Beyond this, it becomes self-indulgent. Worse, it alienates many whose support is vital to stopping the war.

Short of a whistleblower or major undeniable gaffe by the administration, the only way to stop Bush is to prevent him from keeping the office he currently holds. This is only accomplished through the ballot box. Period. There is no other way.

Those opposed to this war must do the following if they are indeed serious about stopping Bush:

1. Turn out the vote. Throw their full weight behind massive get out the vote and voter registration campaigns.

2. Formulate strategic viral campaigns to inform and persuade the "rank and file" mainstream American public that their interests and those of the current administration diverge completely. Go after soccer moms, business owners, senior citizens, and the like (yes, even conservatives) to convince them, in suitable and appropriate ways, that the country in which they grew up will not be the country which they and their families will inherit. America will exist in name only, betrayed both by its leadership and a public that led itself astray.

3. Realize how television warps reality. Propaganda wardens for the potentate (FOX News, O'Reilly and their ilk), as well as a cowed fourth estate, regularly seize upon the bizarre and extreme to reinforce notions that antiwar activists are counterculture hangers-on romantically pining for the '60s. Imagine the president of your local PTA rallying the call against war. How would the propaganda wardens handle that?

Massive political pressure from a variety of fronts (hence the inherent need for viral campaigns) by the American public on Congress can put the brakes on the administration's course: withholding funding, holding committees of inquiry, using subpoenas to compel officials to answer tough questions, and building intense media pressure through press coverage and conferences are all measures Congress can take if the will exists for them to do so.

Get loud. Get arrested. Then get real. Time's short.

-- Gus Gonzales

By Salon Staff

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