Back to the barricades

By GREG COOK  |  October 22, 2008

On the other hand, there’s been much talk lately of conservative ideas trumping liberal ones over the past four decades — with little acknowledgment of the role played by conservative violence and government-sponsored extra-legal assaults.

Since World War II, there’s a through line from police and civilian attacks on civil-rights activists, to Southern politicians’ brazen defiance of federal civil rights regulations, to Chicago cops rioting against war protestors at the 1968 Democratic Convention. That year, right-wing fringe figures assassinated preeminent civil rights and anti-Vietnam war leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

Conservative violence continued with attacks on abortion clinics and the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. This lineage plays as undercurrent to recent threats against Barack Obama — like a man yelling “off with his head” at a McCain-Palin rally in Pennsylvania on October 8.

Crime and violence weren’t the sole territory of the right, but fringe left groups like the Weathermen and the Black Panthers attacked the bottom of the right (cops and buildings), while the fringe right exterminated liberal leaders. After the ’68 Chicago convention, five protest organizers were convicted of inciting a riot. (The verdicts were later overturned.) The result: a generation of major liberal leaders murdered or sentenced to jail. How could a movement not sputter with its brightest leaders eliminated?

Still, protests won civil rights for African-Americans and other minorities, for women and homosexuals. The presidential candidacies of Obama and Hillary Clinton, the vice presidential candidacy of Sarah Palin, and last Friday’s Connecticut State Supreme court ruling legalizing gay marriage attest to this. But protests against the Iraq War have been largely shrugged off by the Bush Administration and the mainstream press, and the protests themselves have been sporadic.

The advent of the Internet has also radically changed the playing field. It has become a major tool in left-leaning organizing, fund-raising, advocacy and critique — from  and Howard Dean  to Daily Kos and Barack Obama — engaging millions of people, but in a way more removed from the public square.

Luna says, “I think we’re starting to see a new wave [of engagement] due to the different realities we’re entering now” — our wars, economic crisis, the lack of health care. “But I still think it’s not to the same extent” as the Vietnam era.

Zinn says, “Obviously the anti-war movement is not as strong now as it was in the strongest years of the movement then. But I don’t think it should be compared to the high point of resistance, which was 1969, ’70, ’71. I think it should be better compared to the early years of the Vietnam War, because it’s still a developing movement.

“It’s taking longer this time for the American people — although obviously there’s been a change in the American people, two-thirds of them are now opposed to the war, where two-thirds were initially for the war. But still they’re taking a longer time for the anti-war movement to develop and a longer time for soldiers, veterans to organize.”

“If we’re going to compare them,” Zinn adds, “I think we have to compare them at different times in their development and see what’s happening now as a step on the way to a larger movement against the war.”  

You can read Greg Cook’s blog at

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