In No One's Army

A West Coast Call for Civil Disobedience

It may also be that New York's initial tactics had flaws: The "day after" call for a grand convergence on a single point (Times Square) was easily countered by a few police lines. At that point the protesters had a single choice: leap the barricades and cozy up to the billy clubs of Tompkins Square Park veterans, or stand in the downpour feeling grave.

In San Francisco, the action was structured like the coalitions that organized it. "Decentralized" is the watchword: There was no one in charge, and no single plan. A long list of locations—federal buildings, corporate offices, intersections—was posted to the Web and distributed on handbills during marches. Affinity groups autonomously chose where to go, and how to be. Beyond expressing the unacceptability of the almost elected regime's imperial adventurism, the tactics may have been about "shutting down the Financial District," under the rubric "No Business As Usual." They might have been about chaos, as often described by conservative commentators. I think it was about not being in the army.


Being in the army demands giving over your freedoms in return for something like efficacy. This can be discomfiting, but you get paid a little, and you're cradled within state power in its purest form. I have no interest in critiquing that soldier's bargain here. More troubling is when that logic is extended outward—for example, when journalists make the same deal, call it embedding, and imagine themselves still a free press. But again, that's Koppel's option. It is intolerable when citizens are inducted into the martial logic without a choice, are told they will accept the degree of freedom assigned to them; that it will be more efficacious that way; that the state will cradle them; and that to do otherwise is traitorous. And unethical. And arrestable.

That's the news these days. The degree of freedom you get is color-coded: Today you have an orange amount of freedom, which isn't as much as yellow. You should be grateful for days of yellow freedom, the likes of which we haven't seen since the "war" "started." Green freedom? Won't we have to change a lot of regimes before that seems even conceivable? We're all in the army now.

Unless we choose actively not to be. Many professionals of realpolitik would have you know that blocking an intersection in front of, say, ChevronTexaco headquarters (and this is merely a suggestion) will not win the heart and mind of the beleaguered commuter, as if it were somehow about hearts and minds and shock and awe. It is not. It's about stating, in terms that cannot be ignored, that one's freedom is not assigned by the guys with the guns. That is the very liberation the military is supposedly pursuing through the oil fields of Kirkuk right now—the idea that one might dissent without violent repression. The Oakland police have earned, if nothing else, their merit badges in irony.

The time is not past for resistance and dissent, and for the anxious and steadfast work song that accompanies it. Not as long as the government's unofficial crest is IraqBodyCount rampant; not as long as its farthest-flung outposts, the forward bases of the 101st Airborne, are nicknamed "Shell" and "Exxon," and, coincidentally, the great liberator and former Shell CEO Phillip Carroll stands to run Iraq's oil monopoly; not as long as freedom is a grant from armies and corporations, and the architects of the New American Century are preparing to sing their own song of Pyongyang, and their song of Damascus.

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