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[casi] Tactics/Strategy. Fwd: Sargent / Press The Press / Feb 21

>Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003 16:53:28 -0800
>From: ZNet Commentaries <>
>Subject: Sargent / Press The Press / Feb 21
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>Today's commentary:
>ZNet Commentary
>Press The Press February 21, 2003
>By Lydia Sargent
>The only surprising thing to me about the mainstream media coverage of the
>worldwide anti-war demonstrations on February 15 is that it was more
>positive than usual. A few news reports actually communicated some of the
>politics behind the protests and a certain amount of respect for the
>people who had come out.
>This isn't saying much, I realize, but front page photos with headlines
>"Millions March Against War" (Boston Globe, 2/26/2003) and "From Melbourne
>to New York, Cries for Peace: Vast, Far-flung Protest Against War on Iraq"
>(NYT, 2/16/2003) almost made the media seem anti-war itself when compared
>with the skimpy, anti-left coverage of past years. Regardless of their
>preferences, it was hard to ignore over ten million people demonstrating
>Of course, I also watched three hours of coverage of the New York
>demonstrations broadcast on World Link satellite TV produced by a
>coalition of media groups, including WBAI, Pacifica, Free Speech TV,
>Working Assets Radio, and more. Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now," among
>others, hosted the televised event. This coverage was very well done and
>included many of the speeches and interviews with a broad cross-section of
>people (feminists, labor activists, etc.), proving that we can do it much
>There is no question that February 15 was an important day. It revealed to
>the world, perhaps even more than the anti-capitalist globalization
>actions, that there is an international movement of movements and that it
>is working in solidarity.
>That said--there are two main things that concern me. First, many of the
>people interviewed at the NY demonstration expressed the feeling, "now,
>the government has to listen and stop this war." (Oddly, in a kind of
>illogical dysfunction, most people speaking and being interviewed
>indicated that they thought the war on Iraq was inevitable.)
>A similar dynamic occurred during Vietnam antiwar demonstrations. People
>began to believe, despite all evidence, that one or two or three huge
>demonstrations would make elites stop pursuing their militaristic agenda
>and would actually stop the war. What happened, then, when such
>outpourings failed? Many people's post-demonstration emotional highs
>turned to resigned fatalism in a matter of weeks.
>Instead of seeing that progress was being made, people grew despondent
>over not being at the finish line. The same could happen here: the
>government rides this out, demonstrations get smaller and more isolated,
>the media becomes more contemptuous, and that's that. The alternative, of
>course, is for activists to have a more patient and long-term approach.
>Second, marching against this particular war and even stopping this war
>without building a lasting movement will not alone change broader imperial
>policy or imperialist institutions that will surely bring more wars. It
>will not alone change an economic system that wages war on a large portion
>of the world. Our movements need to diversify, deepen, and persist.
>But in addition to ongoing demonstrations and teach ins, the protests must
>become more varied, creative, militant, and disruptive. They must happen
>at all levels of society.
>If students strike on March 5; if hundreds of thousands of women join
>hands around the capital to protest war and campaign for peace on March 8;
>if teachers begin teaching about the war and the real reasons the U.S.
>wants to go to war; if ministers preach anti-war messages; if community
>groups canvas; if city councils pass resolutions and pressure state and
>federal governments; if petition campaigns are set up; if labor unions
>strike against war and for peace and justice (as is already threatened in
>England, Ireland, Australia and numerous other countries), then there will
>be a climate of social unrest that can stop a militaristic government from
>running its agenda.
>But there is something else that has to happen. We have to go after the
>media. For years activists have been complaining about and critiquing
>mainstream media. Even while making these critiques, many seem surprised,
>even upset, by the way our events and politics are covered in the very
>media we have long been describing as incapable, institutionally and
>ideologically, of ever giving our agenda any kind of legitimacy and
>credence, much less coverage--as if we don't believe our own analysis.
>We forget at times that mainstream media (when not informing elites) is to
>(quote Chomsky) "keep[ing] the rabble in line. [It] make[s] sure that we
>are atoms of consumption, obedient tools of production, isolated from one
>another, lacking any concept of a decent human life. We are to be
>spectators in a political system run by elites blaming ourselves and each
>other for what's wrong."
>Interestingly, given our analysis of how media exists to sell audience to
>advertisers for profit, how it replicates and incorporates the values and
>structures of corporate control in its own operations, and how it is owned
>by and serves the same elites that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and
>Powell represent, our media activism has often been confined to critiquing
>the mainstream media, coupled with attempts to get our 20 second sound
>bytes on the networks, as if that will solve the problem.
>Others have created "alternative" or "independent" media (not all of which
>is so radical) and they try desperately to distribute it with little
>money, in a society where methods of distribution are under the same
>control as the mainstream media itself. Many of these efforts have been
>incredibly successful (considering the odds), but many more have folded
>for lack of funds or from burn out. Those that have survived are kept
>small and can only be found by people who go looking for them, which,
>ironically most often happens during a crisis or a war.
>So it is time to direct more of our protests toward the media. What we
>want is for mainstream media to include peace and justice programming,
>prepared by the peace and justice movement, in their daily reports. If
>they do not agree to this demand, we picket their offices, occupy them if
>necessary, and shut them down.
>What on earth is the justification for their continued existence? There is
>no moral, ethical, or humanitarian reason for them to continue giving us
>casualty estimates (from 500 to 1,000,000), as if they were discussing the
>weather; or for them to debate calmly whether to assassinate the head of a
>sovereign country, and then to take a poll on it, for Christ sakes; or for
>them to act as if peace and justice are weird, idiosyncratic concepts that
>they can't quite grasp. (And, by the way, for ease of local organizing,
>mainstream media outlets are everywhere, in every city, every town, every
>campus, and every locale).
>During the 1991 U.S. Invasion of Iraq, 50 or so local activists (most of
>them involved in media) met together to form Boston Media Action (BMA).
>Based on the skills and inclinations of the people involved, we decided to
>work on three fronts:
>(1) To "Spread the Truth" through an aggressive poster and leafleting
>campaign throughout the area, combined with stepped up attempts to
>disseminate alternative media;
>(2) A Media Watch that would monitor local radio, TV, and print media and
>produce periodic reports to be distributed to activists;
>(3) A Press the Press campaign to ensure that peace and justice reporting
>and analysis by activists and writers appear regularly in local media outlets.
>Press the Press Campaign
>In January 1991, the BMA's Press the Press campaign began with a teach-in
>on the truth behind the propaganda and the real U.S. reasons for going to
>war. The event, attended by 500 activists, was filmed and recorded for
>purposes of approaching local public radio and television stations, as
>well as a local cultural newspaper to demand two hours a week of material
>prepared by BMA. At that same time we circulated a Press the Press
>declaration for people to sign, which would be submitted to the managers
>of these stations along with the tapes. The declaration included the following:
>"Whereas the mainstream media refuse to allow alternative views of U.S.
>motives in the mideast such as that the war was pursued to make the U.S.
>world cop with the bills paid by the American people and/or whatever
>country we can pass them on to; to dispel public desires for peace (called
>the Vietnam syndrome); to legitimate future wars of U.S. intervention; to
>undercut demands for a redistribution of income to education, housing, and
>the general betterment of U.S. citizens; and to retain U.S. domination
>over oil and oil pricing as an international economic lever;
>"It is therefore right and proper that peace and justice activists have
>programming on mainstream radio and TV, and reporting in print media, that
>includes discussions of peace, anti-militarism, conversion, and justice
>issues, presenting views of critics of the Administration's policy; that
>challenges the morality of war, domination, empire, and other inhumane
>relations serving the rich and powerful; and that presents alternative
>morality and vision that might better serve communities in need, and
>We submitted thousands of signed declarations and the sample videos to the
>local public radio and TV station, using them to lobby for programming. We
>also organized a one-day conference to gather more material and spread the
>truth. After a period of time, if we didn't get any response, we were
>prepared to picket the target media. If this had no affect, we were going
>to escalate to civil disobedience, followed by occupations. But the U.S.
>military had annihilated Iraq by the time we got past the first step and
>we were not able to continue the campaign.
>It is time to start a new campaign to Press the Press, this time
>nationally and internationally, in addition to continuing to create and
>distribute our own media. It should be a long-term, strategic effort aimed
>at changing existing repressive media institutions, just as we struggle to
>change repressive financial institutions and governments. This Press the
>Press campaign should also go after mainstream media distribution
>companies. The latter ensure that our peace and justice views are not
>visible in stores or on newsstands, TV, and radio.
>This campaign cannot wait. After the 1991 "Gulf War," TV Guide revealed
>that much of the TV war coverage was produced by a public relations
>company, who sold the war to the American people. When that news came out,
>why didn't we set out to occupy or shut down every single mainstream media
>institution in the U.S.?
>Because we didn't respond then, they continue to do it now, selling war as
>an exciting TV drama ("Showdown With Saddam"), selling fear, selling U.S.
>imperialism as our patriotic duty, even promoting it as a victory for
>feminism (complete with military fashion statements) because "with war
>looming, they [women] are closer to combat than ever." (NYT Sunday
>Magazine, 2/16/ 2003). Let's begin a campaign to Press the Press, because
>the news should keep us informed, not in line.
>Lydia Sargent is co-founder of South End Press and Z Magazine, where her
>column "Hotel Satire" has appeared since 1988. A longer version of this
>article appears in the March 2003 issue of Z Magazine, which will also be
>available online at
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