President Bush signed the disgraceful Torture Bill yesterday.
The campaign to repeal the Bush Torture Bill, aka the Military Commissions Act of 2006, begins today. (So does the legal battle.)
There are lots of theories about how we ended up in this sad position. Here’s mine: the problem with the opposition to torture, just like the opposition to the war, is that it isn’t visible enough.
I was a kid in Washington DC during the Vietnam War.
One thing I remember vividly about those times was how visible — in your face — the opposition to the war was. I don’t mean just the demonstrations, although those were important. I mean the small things, in a day-to-day way. People wore anti-war buttons. They put peace signs on their cars. They wore black armbands. The war was an issue in the home, in the school, in the community, on TV.
Today, in big media, Keith Olbermann stands almost alone; radio and to a lesser but real extent TV and even print avoid the major issues of the day in favor of fluff and missing white women. And the coverage you get is deeply inadequate: even after the fact the New York Times, for example, treated the resolution of the faux McCain-Bush division on the Torture bill as if the administration had conceded something significant while in fact the final bill that emerged from the Senate reflected the original administration wish list in almost every way that mattered. If you rely on the big news media for your information, you would not believe in a visceral way that the opposition to the war, to Bush, or to torture, is anything near as big as polls suggest it is.
And that means that people don’t speak out as much as they might because they don’t appreciate how many of the people around them are receptive. I’m not talking about activists — I’m talking about ordinary voters and non-voters. They are the new silenced majority.
We cannot repeal this bill without Democratic majorities in both houses, and a President (probably, but not necessarily a Democrat) open to repeal. That means, among other things, someone who didn’t vote for it.
But, as too many of the Democrats in the Senate have proved by voting for this bill, they (along with John McCain) cannot be relied on to do the right thing without outside pressure. And that pressure requires, more than anything, that the opposition to this attack on the fundamentals of decency and democracy be visible in a daily and constant way.
To make that happen requires a symbol. It has to be something visible. It has to be something simple that you can make at home — it shouldn’t depend on finding a supplier or waiting for an order to turn up.
The perfect symbol should be
- easy to make
- hard for principals to throw students out of school for wearing
I propose an armband. Not a plastic wristband — a real armband that you wear on your upper arm, over a shirt or jacket. Armbands are unisex, are easy to make, can be worn over almost anything, and are visible without being overly distracting or offensive. Buttons are a more traditional way of communicating a political message, but you have to buy the button from somewhere, it’s not something easily made at home.
So, an armband. But what color armband?
Around the time of the Moratorium, people wore black armbands. Those are easy to make — most people have some black construction paper or black fabric around the house. But they’re not unique: they carry both good freight (black is the color of mourning) a other freight that is not always helpful (Iraq is not Vietnam; many people who either supported the Vietnam war, or who today don’t want to be associated with its protestors would nonetheless oppose torture).
In any case, I think that mourning isn’t quite the right sentiment; something more active would be better — something which suggests that wearers want to reclaim basic American values. That might suggest that the ideal colors would be red, white, and blue, symbolizing the desire to return to traditional American values — no torture, fair trials. But the trouble with a red, white and blue armband is that it is a lot more trouble to make than a monochrome one. I am sure if I tried to make one with three stripes out of construction paper it would fall apart.
So that brings me to white. White is a practical color for an armband — everyone has white paper or fabric. Traditionally, it’s the color of purity, something we’d like to reclaim by removing this stain in the statute books. Again, though, there’s a uniqueness problem: the white band has been adopted as a symbol by many groups in the past and even the present. For example, Make Poverty History has an ongoing White Band Campaign — although theirs is one of those plastic things..
So at present I’m leaning towards a white armband. I’d appreciate comments, though, as to
- whether a visibility campaign makes sense
- whether a white armband is the right sort of symbol
- and especially, how one gets this to take off.