May 22, 2003


Arundhati Roy spoke at the Riverside Church in Manhattan recently (an event you can see in video on the Democracy Now website), and she was the vision of a true leader of the 21st century. Not a manufactured image used as a face by a brutal corporate state, as Bush is, but a real human being who leads because she presents a viable alternative vision to this devastation being created by the Bush regime. Here was a poised, gracious, modest, genuine, gentle, eloquent human being speaking undeniable truths with an authenticity long lost in the mainstream of American cultural life. The setting was deeply resonant by virtue of the fact that the Riverside Church was where Martin Luther King first declared his opposition to the Vietnam War one year to the day before he was killed.

But the setting was further significant because New York is such a vat of humanity, a true center of democracy because of the human vitality that no one, not even the fascistic Giuliani, could stifle. Here is true democracy in action, not because of any government but because the human element is too strong, too diverse, too massive to be controlled by any governmental control freak.

It brings to mind the line from the film Casablanca in which the Bogart character tells a local fascist tough guy that there are places in New York City where Hitler might be better off not going. The hysterical Big Brother bluster of John Ashcroft seems pretty ridiculous seen in the backdrop of New York City, where the power of democracy is a physical fact.

Arundhati Roy offers a vision of a democratic power that is realistic and can bring down this fascist corporate regime. The millions who demonstrated against war on February 15 showed the democratic movement its own power. That was for us, Roy said. But it made no difference to the other side. The Bush junta did not modify its behavior significantly in response. We must, therefore, alter ours. We must take it to the next level. We must rethink the concept of civil disobedience. We should make a list, she said, of every corporation that profits from the Shock and Awe campaign and we should go after them one by one and dismantle them. This is not a far-fetched idea. These corporations are vulnerable because they are part of an economic system that is a house of cards. They are reliant on maintaining their profits, their flow of capital. They are also vulnerable because they are chartered by law, they are given the rights to do what they do through corporate law, which can be changed by a movement of the people.

The people do have the power to overturn this illegitimate attempt to establish global totalitarian dictatorship.

Here are some quotes from Roy:

"We need to reexamine our ideas of resistance. I think we need to think about this very carefully, because we saw perhaps the most spectacular display of public morality ever on the 15th of February when millions of people across five continents marched against the war. It was discarded with disdain. Those marches were important. Those marches were important for us to rally our forces, to understand our strengths.

But those marches didn't affect the other side. So we need to now understand that the time has come for civil disobedience to become real. It's no longer symbolic. The marches can only be the symbol of something else that's real that we are doing, you know? Our meetings in Porto Allegre, our marches, and our demonstrations are for us. But they are not weapons when using against them, you know? So we need to now change our way of thinking to be effective. It's enough of being right; now we need to win. And now we need to win not necessarily by confronting empire, but by taking it apart part by part, and disabling those parts.

I think we need to make a list of every single company that has benefited from a reconstruction contract in Iraq and we need to go after them and we need to shut them down. That's what we need to do ... It's beyond the stage of resistance songs and marches; those are for us. Those are important for us. But we need to pick these people off one by one because we can't confront empire. We can't confront it all together. We can't -- nobody can deal with America's war machine. But we need to reverse those sanctions, you know. We need to make people sanctions. We need to look to our strengths and do it right. We need to undo the nuts and bolts of empire."

--Arundhati Roy, interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales on May 12, 2003. For a transcript, see Democracy Now. To watch the interview online, click here or here.

It would be na´ve to imagine that we can directly confront Empire. Our strategy must be to isolate Empire's working parts and disable them one by one. No target is too small. No victory too insignificant. We could reverse the idea of the economic sanctions imposed on poor countries by Empire and its Allies. We could impose a regime of Peoples' Sanctions on every corporate house that has been awarded with a contract in postwar Iraq, just as activists in this country and around the world targeted institutions of apartheid. Each one of them should be named, exposed, and boycotted. Forced out of business. That could be our response to the Shock and Awe campaign. It would be a great beginning.

-- Arundhati Roy
at The Riverside Church in New York City
May 13, 2003

For the whole speech, see The Center for Economic and Social Rights.
For an archive of Roy, see Democracy Now.

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