There is a growing movement in America to end the war in Iraq and to demand accountability from government officials. Many of us are writing letters to our representatives, showing up at protests, making our opinions known through polls and editorials. Somehow, the message doesn't feel like it is getting through. We are still sitting in the same boat we were a year ago, wondering why the will of the people seems to be ignored in one of the world's largest and proudest representative democracies. The undercurrent to many a political discussion has become "well, something needs to be done, but what?" as we face the fact that even voting doesn't seem to be enough to bring about significant change. In the midst of this uncertainty and uneasiness, perhaps it is no surprise that the idea of a general strike on September 11 of this year has caught the interest and enthusiasm of so many, so fast. Intrigued by the wildfire spread of the idea through the country, I contacted the strike's organizers and asked them to talk with me about the protest, and the ideas and people behind it.
Celestina: You have proposed a general strike to take place in the United States on September 11, 2007. Your website sums this idea up with the statement: no work. no school. buy nothing. hit the streets. What, exactly, would you like to see happen on September 11 this year?
Strike 9/11: 9/11/01 was the official beginning of our Global War on Terror. Since that day, and in that interest, our present Administration has broken more laws, and told more lies than any before it. Confidence in our government is at an all time low, and business as usual doesn't seem capable of resolving the situation. This has lead to an urgent sense that something needs to change.
Millions of Americans and possibly billions more across the world do recognize this urgency. People just haven't found the right avenues to express it, in a massive, coordinated, and sustained way. We see this action as one against the injustices listed on the site but also one against our own fear, apathy, and cynicism. We want this to be an opportunity for citizens to reclaim a sense of power in defining their own destiny and running our own government.
On 9/11/07 we hope for a day of personal reflection and nonviolent dissent in recognition of the course we have been on since 9/11. Ideally, a critical mass of activists, students, and concerned citizens will be reached and other groups such as anti-war, civil rights, unions organizations will join in. 9/11/07 could also be the beginning of increasing passionate resistance over weeks or months or however long it takes to get justice.
C: Do you have suggestions for those who might want to participate, but who feel they cannot take time off from work, due to their being employed in the medical or other vital sectors?
S: We understand that not everyone can take the day off of work. Some work in industries that do not allow them to be absent, and others simply can't afford it. However these people can still participate by spending no money that day. We are hoping that the economic element of the strike might send another kind of signal to mainstream authorities about public discontent. And we don't mean for small business to suffer in the process. Buy your milk. But we hope that people will avoid unnecessary purchases for a day in a unified gesture symbolizing our investment in concerns greater than our own personal comfort.
C: How did this idea get started? Who came up with it, what were the circumstances, and what is your history with organized protest?
S: The idea was hatched out of talks between a small group (4 or 5 people) of activist friends in New York and DC. While we came up with idea, we are very committed to the viral and decentralized nature of this action. The way it initially spread on the internet was completely organic; we didn't try to push it at all. The themes are certainly too big for any one person or organization to claim as their own. So we do not want to be seen as the leaders of this action and we would like to remain outwardly anonymous in this process.
All of us have been politically active in the last 5-6 years, focused mostly on the same issues that are addressed with the Strike. We've been involved with the Iraq War protests of 2003, the RNC protests, the 2004 inauguration, and many other events.
C: Are you surprised at all by how your movement has picked up steam? Has it made you reconsider or reorganize in any way?
S: We are very surprised at how quickly this action has generated interest. The website has received hits from every state in the U.S. and from 120 countries. Our initial strategy going in may have something to do with the attention this particular action has received. Before putting up the site we decided that taking the opportunity to promote our own projects would detract from the perception of this action being truly popular. A certain degree of humility is required when addressing issues of national and global significance. We also decided to take great care in selecting the links and associations presented, in order to maintain the general scope of the site. We have not included anything we felt would greatly narrow the appeal of the action.
The interest has not caused us to change our strategy as much as it has reinforced our perception that people are ready for this kind of unified action. As mainstream channels of dissent are not functioning, people are looking for other means to express their dissatisfaction.
C: You have a wide range of issues that you address as the reasons for this protest on your website. Can you give me a quick run-down of what you feel are the most important reasons to strike, and why you feel it is important that we act now to address them?
S: This is an action for people who are presently alarmed by what they see happening. We presented issues at the site that we felt most directly relate the credibility gap we are seeing. But these issues should not exclusively define the action. Its more about all the lies, than any one of them. The initial post that got this all going reflects the action's thematic generality. It's been reposted across the internet with the call for action:
Hundreds of Thousands of Dead in Iraq.
Civil Rights and Habeas Corpus: Gone.
Executive Privilege: No Accountability.
Tyranny. Fascism. Lies.
The Time Has Come.
To Say NO.
While We Still Have a Chance.
A Day of Mourning, Reflection, and Dissent.
No Work. No School. Buy Nothing.
Hit the Streets.
No Business As Usual.
Why is important to address these issues? Because our rights and privileges are in no way secure. Taking our inalienable rights for granted, we risk allowing others to undermine them. This strike is a call for people to represent their respect for the democratic principle of informed consent. Without government transparency and accountability, and responsible journalism, the public are not assured a complete and accurate picture of decisions that greatly impact their lives. Yet we have a responsibility to those who have come before us and fought for our rights, to honor their sacrifice and what we have gained. Once again, taking for granted these rights, we will lose them.
C: What results would you like to see come from the strike?
S: The strike can serve many purposes. It's the day of reflection and actions mentioned above. But it is also an opportunity for people to promote the idea that unified public dissent can be positive and worthwhile. We're not sure that mainstream avenues of dissent have been working. Writing letters to congresspersons hasn't been cutting it. We need more overt and symbolic gestures of our collective dissatisfaction. This is one such opportunity. We hope that this example with encourage others to promote calls for further unified action.
C: We all know that one protest on one day, even if it gains a massive following, is unlikely to force change in the government. What are your thoughts on follow-up actions which could build on the energy of this movement?
S: We are all for continuing resistance, which may build organically or be scheduled with additional general strikes and actions in the immediate future. The general concerns being addressed can act as a bridge between different interest groups who all share a common investment in informed consent (Declaration of Independence), and the inalienable rights necessary for its actualization (First Amendment). We really do all agree on this, and so it can be a common locus for unified action. Once again, none of these concerns are our own. They are the concern of the people, us among them. These concerns are only becoming more urgent, as the people are getting more frustrated, and impatient with their government. The time for greater civic responsibility is at hand. In business as usual we risk loosing too much.
C: For those who are only now finding out about the strike and want to do more than just take the day off work, what are your recommendations?
S: We recommend that everyone become an organizer for this strike. Try to link up with people in your area, have meetings, network, discuss over the internet, and plan your own creative actions for the 11th. People can help out the strike by just continuing to organize, communicate, and spread the word.
Some visibility in our communities before the action would help promote it a great deal. We are flyering at different location around NYC, and will have some stickers to hand out and posters to put up soon. We each know our own communities best. What works in NYC, many not work in Newport. So it seems best that like the action itself our promotion of the issue is decentralized.