Excerpts from an address by writer-activist Naomi Klein at the Navigating A New World Symposium, hosted by Random House Canada and U of T Bookstore, Saturday, November 6, at Convocation Hall.
I am going to try to give you a positive spin on the U.S. elections. Are you ready? Here's my positive spin: they are over. It's a very good thing, because a lot of very smart people have been pouring all their energy into a movement that described itself as the "Anyone but Bush" movement. The conference of the Environmental Grantmakers Association (which represents the people who give money to NGOs) a year ago decided collectively that their priority was to get Bush out of office. That was their only priority. Any (project) that was about voter registration was going to get funding, anything that was issue-based was not. They built an incredible apparatus in the U.S. during the elections to try and get Bush out.
Now, that would have been fine if there were candidates who were running on issues of global warming or the actual disaster of the war in Iraq. But there wasn't such a candidate - there was John Kerry. And all that energy and that outrage about the issues, about the loss of civilian life in Iraq, all of it was just swept into this movement, and people were told to all be good little Kerry supporters.
The reaction to Michael Moore's film was so emotional because people were seeing the bodies for the first time. People left the theatres crying and wanted to do something about it - and they were told, "Vote Kerry." Don't ask about the details, because of course Kerry was saying, "We're gonna send 40,000 more troops by the end of the month."
If I could, I would have voted Kerry. Part of the reason he lost was because "Anyone but Bush" is actually not a galvanizing slogan. What is galvanizing is "End the War." What is galvanizing is "Bring the Troops Home."
I was in New York during the Republican National Convention, when there was a huge demonstration. I hesitate to call it an anti-war demonstration. At the same time, Najaf, the holiest city in the Shia world, was under siege. There was fighting in cemeteries and stomping on graves. Nobody spoke about that. No one wanted to be seen as supporting the terrorists. The terrible tragedy was that the general "No Bush Agenda" was the slogan.
This was morally bankrupt. There there was a strategic decision to announce the U.S. war casualties as opposed to the death of (an estimated) 100,000 Iraqis. This was not made an election issue, because it was seen as being unpatriotic. Kerry just focused on the 1,000 troops who had died.
In countries that didn't join the coalition, like Canada, we have a different problem. The "Not as Bad as Bush" problem. Because we're so pleased that we didn't join to go to Iraq, we don't follow (other things too closely). I see how we are being assimilated, as General Dallaire said, into the fortress of the USA, through missile defence or by following the U.S. demands for our immigration and refugee policies to be brought in line.
We will have to choose, will be forced to choose, which side we're on, and I think we should side with those who are trying to isolate the United States and its quest for power.
If there's something concrete that we can do - and I would say we have our work cut for us - it is to force the U.S. to make good on its promise for democracy and freedom in Iraq. I am not talking about election scrutineers.
It means freedom (for Iraqis) to decide how to rebuild their country for themselves; it means freedom not only from military occupation but corporate. (It) also means freedom from debt. Iraq has a debt of something like $200 billion, and they should be free of the debt from Saddam and should also be free from the debt of their occupier.
A couple of weeks ago, the International Monetary Fund loaned Iraq half a billion dollars with a 107-page structural adjustment program attached to it. Freedom from debt is economic freedom, which means instead of reconstruction by some company like Halliburton, it's reparations going to the people of Iraq. Also the freedom to control their own oil.