A student holds a sign with the name of a soldier killed during the Vietnam War.

Students from Toronto join the March against Death in Washington D.C. on November 14, 1969.

(Photo: Angus Taylor/ via Wikipedia/ CC BY-SA 3.0

A MAD For Our Times

A call for a national organizing, mobilizing effort inspired by the March Against Death during the Vietnam War that could start after Labor Day 2024 and go to the Saturday before the general election.

We who call Planet Earth home face unparalleled catastrophe because we live in ways that do great harm to the natural world, of which we are only a part. Knowledge that the planet could be destroyed by nuclear bombs in one hour has contributed to a nihilistic, exploitative, deeply held approach to daily life that avoids accountability for militarism, racism and materialism.

The exploitative approach to life has wrought a climate crisis. The anthropocene is here, with melting ice, rising seas, extreme weather events, wildfires, drought, crop failure, famine, the sixth great extinction. The future for Planet Earth is fearsome, with two ominous and very real threats to all life, nuclear annihilation and climate collapse. All the nuclear states seem willing to sacrifice all life on Earth in a deadly brawl for global hegemony.

Time is running backwards, in the U.S., as hard-won political and social reforms (voting, civil, abortion rights, environmental protections) are upended directly by legislation, illegitimate Supreme Court decisions, or the more insidious lack of needed funding. LGBTQ rights, Social Security, and Medicare face renewed right-wing assaults; if recent events rolling back abortion rights are a harbinger, basic rights and needed social programs may well be upended. Campaigns to roll back rights are infused with vitriolic hate speech, unleashing a rising pattern of violence against women; doctors; scientists; immigrants; refugees; Black, Indigenous, and Asian Americans; Jews; LGBTQ communities; and poor folks, which history shows is lethal.

Civil society struggles for basic rights that need to be protected should be vigorously renewed.

Urgently needed bills fail to be passed decade after decade (or are not even written or attempted) by an unscrupulous Congress mired in conflict, intent on tax cuts for the wealthy and funding the Pentagon, instead of improving society. Needed legislation includes: universal healthcare, assault weapons bans, child tax credit expansion to reduce poverty, codifying women’s rights including women’s bodily autonomy and abortion rights, immigrant rights, jobs programs, childcare, affordable housing, environmental and worker protections, renewable energy (rooftop solar) on a large scale, nuclear weapons abolition, restoration of voting rights, ending U.S. weapons sales and support for wars, cutting the gargantuan Pentagon budget, infrastructure repair, education, and debt relief for graduates of higher education. The unresolved needs of civil society are cast aside with deep, lasting, and dire consequences.

Civil society struggles for basic rights that need to be protected should be vigorously renewed. Social security, one of the few social benefits we have in the U.S., is always under threat, yet could be expanded and strengthened to lower the retirement age. To wage such struggles, alliances might be formed that unite all strands of these long struggles for economic, racial, and social justice so that we might live with greater dignity and freedom. And similarly, while unparalleled global cooperation for climate crisis mitigation is urgently needed, nations seem determined to cooperate only in military alliances by waging wars that cannot be won. Wars are disastrous (mass displacement, killing and wounding young people in battles for increments of land, destroying homes and habitat, using fossil fuel best left in the ground). A global movement for disarmament is needed.

What might be done?

Over the next year, across the U.S., work to unite all civil society groups and organizations in ways that have never been attempted much less done, across the traditional breakdown lines of race, class, age, gender, and (inter)national interests to organize a sweeping repudiation of the political parties and politicians that fail us decade after decade.

To accomplish this, we might look at the March Against Death that took place over two days without pause in Washington, D.C., in November of 1969. People assembled at Arlington National Cemetery and walked to the Capitol, carrying names of U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam and Vietnamese villages that were destroyed in the war on placards, with lit candles after dark. Placards were placed in coffins at the Capitol in a significant repudiation of the damage the war was doing. An excellent resource in the form of a report by Bradford Lyttle is online. The march took place as part of a series of protests that included the Second Vietnam Moratorium Day. The 1969 protests are understood in retrospect as having prevented the possible use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam by the Nixon Administration.

Organizations currently working on issues such as gun violence, police reform, civil rights, women’s rights, peace, environmental and economic justice, agricultural policies, climate crisis, workers’ health and safety, and clean air and water could mobilize their folks to march during designated days with placards identifying all that should be remembered. The losses we suffer would be illustrated by a stunning evocation of the high cost of “business as usual” as we march for an end to the scale and scope of preventable death and destruction in our country and the death and destruction we export with our militarism.

After marching (not necessarily from Arlington National Cemetery), but definitely ending at the Capitol, where our elected representatives fail us term after term, groups could assemble for larger-than-usual lobbying sessions of politicians to push for stalled legislation to be passed and call for additional vitally needed reforms. At the end of weeks of marching a large mass rally could be held calling for the change we need. Local actions, lobbying, and walks could be ongoing as each group took their struggle to Washington.

The timing of such an organizing, mobilizing effort could be from after Labor Day 2024 up to the Saturday (Nov. 2, 2024) before the election. At best, it would unite us in the urgency of our collective crisis and lead the way toward the social transformation we have needed for decades.

If tens of millions of people across the U.S. engaged in sustained protests to demand basic rights to healthcare, housing, clean air and water, education, climate crisis measures, and disarmament that grew larger during weeks of actions, a political climate for long-overdue social change could be built.

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