–Kevin Martin, executive director, Peace Action
This is something that has been rattling around my brain for a while, but recent conversations with Phyllis Bennis, Judith LeBlanc, Joseph Gerson, Mario Galvan, and just this weekend, North Carolina Peace Action Vice-Chair Wally Myers and Chair John Heuer have helped crystallize how an umbrella message about the Fall of the US Empire might be very beneficial to our organizing.
First let me say this “frame,” if you will, owes a great deal to the writing of Johan Galtung, generally acknowledged as one of the founders of the field of Peace Studies. Here is a link to a presentation about the fall of US Empire Wally Myers did at the Military-Industrial complex at 50 conference in North Carolina two months ago (at which Judith spoke about our burgeoning work on cutting the military budget and Moving the Money to human needs), which cites Galtung’s work (very well presented/edited/excerpted by Wally!).
But the point of this post is not analysis or characterization of the US Empire, or even its fall (which Galtung predicts for the year 2020 – i.e. pretty darn soon!). Galtung and others – Phyllis Bennis, Naomi Klein, Andrew Bacevich, William Blum, Noam Chomsky, Stephen Zunes, Chalmers Johnson, to name just a few – have written plenty on this, especially on the military and political aspects, but also the economic and cultural aspects of the US Empire. My objective is to begin a discussion of the utility of using the Fall of US Empire ”frame” or “narrative” or umbrella, to be non-jargony, in our grassroots organizing.
First off, “Fall” is used intentionally by me, as a double entendre, meaning both decline but also autumn, as I believe the Empire is in its fall/autumn/perhaps even early winter phase of its rapidly shortening life-span.
The question is this: can we (peace and justice organizers) benefit from a non-ideological, assumptive, confident, non-threatening, perhaps even patriotic assertion (not an argument or explanation) that the US Empire is ending, and that what matters most is not that inexorable fact (though it won’t necessarily be easy or pretty or without continued war, militarism, recession/depression, coercion, etc.), but what comes next, and how we assure the blossoming of the US Republic (Galtung’s phrase) rather than a turn toward fascism, increased violence (maybe even more so domestically than internationally), repression etc. And, most importantly, how we can build our movements and organization and empower a new (and hopefully younger and more diverse) cadre of organizers and activists to create that new, more peaceful, just, compassionate society and Republic in place of the Empire.
Let me underscore this — my thinking is to assert that we are seeing the fall of US Empire and move on to what we do about it and what comes next. It doesn’t really matter if people agree with you about whether the US has been an empire (militarily, politically, economically, socially) or not, because it is ending, the evidence of that is overwhelmingly self-evident to anyone willing to open their eyes to the reality of the world.
If one has to or wants to argue with folks about this (and I think you can choose to not do that and just move on to people who do get it), it is easy enough to connect the dots that are in the news every day – endless wars, unsustainable military spending, loss of US prestige in the world, graveyard of empires in Afghanistan, absurdity of the “war on terror,” spread of democratic revolutions in the Middle East against thugs supported by the US, isolation of Israel despite unending, unconditional US support, budget cuts at state and local levels, attack on public sector unions as the “solution” to budget crises, unprecedented gap between rich and poor, Obama wants to cut low-income heating assistance by $2.5 billion, the cost of one week of the Afghanistan war, climate in severe crisis (actually that is probably a good litmus test, climate change deniers are not worth our time), etc.
I doubt the audience for this would, at least at first, be the general public, though there is a fair bit out there in the mainstream media about US decline, limits of US power, etc. And the word Empire does not necessarily automatically trigger charges that one who speaks it is marxist/commie/socialist/soft on terror, etc. (some will say that of course, again those folks are probably not worth the effort). Actually, some libertarians might be more open to this analysis/frame/narrative than liberal Democrats.
At least at first, the main audience would likely be peace/justice/civil liberties activists and organizers. In part it’s to counter demoralization/fatigue about the seemingly endless wars, caving in by Obama on nearly every issue progressives hold dear, etc. It could help bolster folks and give them credit and respect for the difficult struggle for peace and justice against long odds the last 11 years and point out we have had an impact and some victories and have helped turn the tide.
More importantly, this frame (maybe even a meme if we are really successful in using it, I don’t know) is meant to engage and empower people for creative solutions on what comes next, how we build a more peaceful, just, caring society in the wake of the fall of US Empire, especially as the probable alternative, a turn toward fascism, is such a frightening possibility (and evidence of movement in both directions, solidarity/democracy/justice vs. greed/fascism/oppression is the news right now, every day).
So before going any further, whaddya think? Again, this would not be some new “Campaign to Bring Down the Empire,” but more of a frame, one that can empower people and raise up what is best about our country and society – solidarity, compassion, a sense of fairness and justice, innovation, and a desire for peace – as we see to the end of what is worst about it – war, militarism, greed, exploitation, racism, injustice.