A couple of hundred newbies and seasoned politicos managed to breach the phalanx of trial lawyers in training at Brooklyn Law School last evening to attend a really fantastic event on the Mavi Marmara Flotilla massacre—the Turkish humanitarian aid ship attacked in international waters off Gaza on Memorial Day, leaving 9 dead.
Speaking were Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald, Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi and Gaza Flotilla survivor Fatima Mohammadi. Greenwald will be posting a video of it on his blog, which I enthusiastically recommend.
Afterward I had an opportunity to chat with Greenwald, whose writings and TV appearances have provided a rare whiff of sane commentary to a mass audience in the United States. He lives part-time in Brazil with his partner, giving him bragging rights over all of us on commuting nightmares. Naturally, techdud—that would be me—managed to record every fart and burp in the room during two hours, but I’m tearing my hair out trying to find what appears to be a lost recording of the five minutes I snagged with Greenwald at the end.
I won’t attempt to recreate it all—since you’re likely to think I just pulled it out of my ass—but I do want to comment on the sense of what he said to me as well as those in the room. And at the end I do post Greenwald’s recorded response to a young fellow wondering—like more than a few of us—if it will take riots to win some change.
Since Greenwald posted the snarky commentary last week by President Obama about liberal criticisms of his administration at a $30,000-per-plate dinner, complete with chortles, I asked Greenwald about the posture of the Obama administration regarding the left. Previously that sort of snippiness was outsourced to Obama’s Uzi-toting, potty-mouthed chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel.
Greenwald responded that under siege by the right, Obama and co. really do feel they are unjustly attacked by the left. Rather than blame their own inept policies, the administration is pointing fingers at liberals and the left for their lack of enthusiasm and will blame us if they go down in flames during the midterms.
When I asked him about the inevitable liberal drum beat over the coming weeks leading into November—that the barbarians are at the gates and we must circle the wagons and support “our team” (the Dems)—I thought his response was spot on (and will forever kick myself if I don’t locate his actual words).
Greenwald said that every election year we are told is the most important of our lives and this one will be no different. But that because there are only two political parties—according to his Wikipedia page, Greenwald doesn’t vote for either of them, making us kindred spirits—we are trapped in this narrative of one or the other. Inevitably it means that the Dems take us for granted because where else would the left go and so there is no weaker position than buying into that because it guarantees that the left will never get anything without a fight.
One last thing that I did capture on tape. A young man of about 20 was the first to ask a question in the room. Keep in mind that this was in a law school, not an anarchist co-op. He said quite simply that the electoral process isn’t working, the world is a mess, so “should we just wait for the rioting to escalate around the world in order for there to be change?”
Greenwald responded: “A lot of sunshine and optimism in that question. I think it’s a hard question to answer and a complex topic, so I’ll just try to answer it as follows. I think if you look at the current administration there are clearly rhetorical changes and symbolic gestures that are different than the prior administration and would have been if John McCain had been president. The sentiment, the sort of flavor and atmosphere when you talk about the Middle East would have been different. But the substance is relatively, in ways that matter, unchanged.
“So you can ask yourself whether Obama doesn’t really believe in the claim that things ought to be different or he’s pretending that they should for political advantage. Or it could be the fact that he does authentically believe things ought to be different but there are impediments that he is incapable of overcoming even using the power of the presidency in order to consolodate those changes that he thinks ought to be brought about.
“You see that today with these leaks from Bob Woodward’s book where he says Obama was supposedly internally extremely opposed to escalating things in Afghanistan yet he did it anyway. I think one of the important things is that there really are permanent important power factions in Washington that exist separate from and beyond and at times have even more power than an elected president has. The reason that their allowed to exert that power is that it’s essentially unchallenged.
“I think some of the things that Professor Khalidi was just talking about as far as the changes that we’re seeing and the reasons for optimism is that is these orthodoxies are starting to erode further and the way in which this power is exerted becomes more apparent, that’s when I think change can start to happen. You start to open up the debate and make Americans realize the extreme burdens that they’re undertaking not for their own interests, but the interests of a foreign country.
“And then when the population starts demanding real change—and you see this in a whole variety of areas in the United States over the last four decades—then I think it [change] becomes quite possible.”
Sherry Wolf is a public speaker, writer and activist who is available to speak on The Struggle for LGBT Liberation, How Can We Unite to Fight the Right and on Breaking the Siege of Gaza at your campus, community center or union hall for a moderate fee. Wolf is the associate editor of the International Socialist Review and author of Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation (Haymarket Books, named one of the Progressive’s “Favorite Books of 2009”). Contact Sherry at: sherrywolf2000 at yahoo.com or find her on Facebook. Check out the video of Sherry speaking with Cleve Jones and the cast of Hair at the National Equality March.