Editor's note: Poet, essayist, and political activist Adrienne Rich died on Wednesday at the age of 82. The following is an essay of hers Common Dreams ran in December of 2002. It reads as well now as ever. Thank you, Adrienne.
A sense of the larger picture is growing among US citizens, notably, though not only, among a young generation, along with a revulsion against official and corporate contempt for the will and welfare of ordinary citizens, for the value of human life itself. The antiwar movement of this century is a movement to reclaim democracy and to push it further. It has no token national leaders; it is various in its formations and organizing principles, often originating and working locally, yet in touch with other groups. It is connected through free giveaway papers like the San Francisco-based, nationally distributed War Times, through Internet sites and e-mail correspondence, through teach-ins, vigils, strikes, newsletters, cell phones, radio, cartoon strips, art and bumper stickers, benefits and much else.
Links between militarization, racism, economic and gender inequity, perversion of the criminal justice system and the electoral system are made not because of laundry-list sectarian opportunism but because, more and more, the actual connections are being laid bare by the activities of the current Administration and its corporate family. The origins of this antiwar movement and all it implies lie in the extremism of a long-unresponsive government, a stumbling and incoherent empire, most of whose citizens don't want an empire at such cost, if they want one at all.
To be "antiwar" is not a simple position. It means disentangling the strands that connect the weapons industry with the lack of will for diplomacy and coherent foreign policy. It means understanding what the militarization of a society costs, economically and socially and in terms of civil liberties, the propaganda of violence as both heroism and efficient solution. It means probing the official versions to reveal how and why we are being driven toward aggression. To be "antiwar" is to be for public debate and knowledge, the foundations of democratic polity.
To be "antiwar" is not a simple position. It means disentangling the strands that connect the weapons industry with the lack of will for diplomacy and coherent foreign policy. It means understanding what the militarization of a society costs, economically and socially and in terms of civil liberties, the propaganda of violence as both heroism and efficient solution.
A new growth in public consciousness and political intelligence challenges an autocratic government from within and is seen as dangerous to vested interests. Like every past movement for humanization, for the amelioration of suffering, this antiwar movement will be attacked not only by the right but by onetime liberals who fear the costs of real peace and justice more than they dislike the costs of empire. Regime Change Begins at Home: Vote, said one bumper sticker during the last election. Regime change is a very large order indeed, and will involve a long process of public education and self-education, of demanding and rewarding courage in elected officials and of political work beyond the ballot. Demonstrations are the tip of the iceberg in this process.
Making clear how issues are connected has been the great work of the progressive movements of the past forty years. Keeping issues separate, silencing those who try to connect them, has been the great strategy of media and of presidential power. The fear of socialism, even of the word itself, suggests how our social imaginations have been abridged and hampered. For the question of the future is, ineluctably, After regime change, what? What are we for? What do we want to see happen? And how do we want to make it happen?