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A New Kind of Citizen
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, Dec. 16-22, 2007

A few weeks ago I spoke for the 30+ time to students in Professor James Chaffers’ class on Urban Design and Social Change in the University of Michigan Department of Architecture.

Jimmy and I started visiting this class in the early 70s. After he died, I continued on my own because they give me an annual take on how some UofM students are grappling with our changing reality.

This year I began the discussion by recalling two presentations by Jimmy that are especially meaningful in this period as we confront the interconnected crises of global warming, the imperial presidency, and our criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq.

In 1991 he startled the students by saying, “I don’t believe nobody can run this country better than me.” When they responded with nervous laughter, he continued, “I’m saying that you better think that way. You need to stop thinking of yourself as a minority because when you think like a minority you’re thinking like an underling. Everyone is capable of going beyond where you are.”

In 1976, following the presidential election in which Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford, Jimmy opened the discussion with a speech which has been reprinted in the little pamphlet Towards A New Concept Of Citizenship.

The election campaign, he said, “exposed the limitations of our present concept of citizenship because neither candidate confronted the American people with the reality that we have been turned into masses who believe that consumption and possession are what life is all about. Because we believe that technology and rapid economic growth are the solution to every problem, we are intervening with Nature itself with the result that we live in constant danger of the whole planet being destroyed.”

It was this faith in technology and in rapid economic development to solve all problems, he said, which “enabled the people of the United States to go their own way for so many years pursuing economic development and material needs even when we knew that this was taking place at the expense of blacks and other people of color .”

“It was this philosophy which made it possible for us to go into Asia and into Latin America, supporting dictatorial regimes, regardless of how these regimes were trampling on the dignity of their peoples, as long as they gave us ready access to their raw materials and were ready to join in our cold war with communism.”

“It is this philosophy which enables our oil consortiums to make deals with so many Arab rulers even though the people in these countries are like feudal subjects, without any role in making decisions as to what is going to happen to their national resources.”

Jimmy said all this in 1976, twenty-five years before 911. But he also pointed out that “we are coming to the end of this joy ride because the Third World is standing up and because the world’s natural resources are limited.” (As Malcolm put it, after JFK’s assassination in 1963, the chickens have come home to roost).

Therefore “We are at a transition point in the whole world and in our own country…when we have to stop blaming our problems on the politicians or the system - and begin to do what we find hardest to do – confront our own individualism and our own going along with the system. When we are ready to do this, we will be ready to begin the struggle for the new theory and practice of citizenship which is so urgently needed In the United States today.”

This nation, he reminded the class, was “founded by a great revolution which inaugurated an age of revolutions all over the world because it gave men and women a new concept of themselves as self-governing human beings, as citizens rather than subjects, not as masses but as people who could and should think for themselves and accept responsibility for making social, economic and political decisions.”

From this year’s discussion my sense is that the students in this class are feeling the need to become engaged but don’t know where or how to begin.

Winter Soldiers and Sunshine Patriots
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Dec. 16-22, 2007

The Bush administration came to office with the intention of dismantling government. Using a combination of budget cuts and privatization of services, it systematically destroyed any sense of common responsibility. Now, to a startling degree, what’s left of the government is rejecting Bush.

Nowhere is this clearer than in his role as Commander in Chief. The rejection of Bush and his doctrine of perpetual war is happening at almost every level in the military.

It has been widely reported that the greatest barrier to an invasion of Iran has been the military leadership. Admiral William Fallon, head of the Central Command, and General George Casey, the Army’s Chief of Staff, have consistently rejected the idea that the U.S could contain or cope with the violence it would unleash by such an attack.

Military leaders in Iraq have been resisting pressure to tie Iraqi violence to Iran. Many correspondents report that military commanders are going to great lengths to do just the opposite, making clear that there is no evidence to link violence in Iraq with Iranian interference. Some are even willing to suggest that Iran has been influencing Moktada al Sadr to play a greater role as peacemaker.

Every day more soldiers are voting with their feet. According to an Associated Press report released in mid-November, the number of AWOL Army soldiers has increased 80 percent since March of 2003. The Army says 4,698 soldiers deserted their posts in fiscal year 2007, an increase of over 2,000 from 2006. GI Rights advocates say the number is far higher. Of course, soldiers go AWOL for many reasons, and the majority of them don't denounce the war. However, an increasing number publicly oppose the war, even though this could mean harsh punishments or jail time.

This spring Iraq Veterans Against the War will be holding the largest gathering of U.S. veterans of service in Iraq and Afghanistan to share their experiences in a public investigation called “Winter Soldier.” These soldiers, along with survivors of the war from both countries, will provide public testimony of what they saw and experienced. The group takes its name from Tom Paine saying, “Winter Soldiers are those who stand up for the soul of their country, even in its darkest hours. With this spirit in mind, these Winter Soldiers are standing up to make their experiences available to all who are concerned about the direction of our country.”

This week we also have seen the opposite of these winter soldiers. We are witnessing the actions of what Paine called the “Sunshine Patriots.” These false patriots are walking the halls of Congress.

This is a moment of extraordinary crisis for our democracy. It seems some members of Congress have been complicit in torture.

According to ths week’s Washington Post this week, since 2002 leading Democratic lawmakers have received “about 30 private CIA briefings, some of which included descriptions of waterboarding, overseas rendition sites and other harsh interrogation methods.” Officials present at the meetings told the Post that the reaction from legislators “was not just approval, but encouragement.”

The degree of complicity in Bush’s crimes by Congressional leaders, including Nancy Pelosi, is coming to light. Calls are mounting for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate not only the recent destruction of tapes by the CIA, but the relationship between Bush and Congressional leadership in both parties.

Our country has reached the point where many in our military have a greater understanding of our democracy than those in Congress. Saving the soul of our country will take more than winter soldiers.

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