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A few words from the Editor October 2003

“There’s no question that Saddam Hussein had al-Qaida ties...We’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th.”

-Associated Press
September 17, 2003

There’s no question George Bush has chutzpah. Here’s someone who technically deserted from the Air National Guard (at the very least was absent without leave) during the Vietnam War, who has spent the last seven months sporting a flight jacket and talking to crowds of sailors and soldiers aboard Iraq-bound warships about duty and honor. Now comes his assertion that he never said Iraq was linked in any way with Sept. 11.

Can Bush really be blamed that a recent poll indicated 70 percent of Americans thought Saddam Hussein was personally involved in Sept. 11? Just because the president couldn’t utter the word Iraq without mentioning Sept. 11 in some fashion didn’t mean he was asserting a real link existed. Should Americans take too seriously the unconfirmed claim that Sept. 11 leader Mohamed Atta met with senior Iraqi intelligence officials five months before the attack on the World Trade Center towers, even though that claim was being put forward by Dick Cheney as recently as Sept. 14, 2003 on Meet the Press? Our president would advise us not to do so.

Has Bush gone one bridge too far? It is still too early to tell. The edifice of the Bush state is clearly showing serious cracks. The mainstream press has increased its criticism of the administration’s policies, albeit in a pretty timid manner. The “no linkage” comments by Bush were buried inside a wire story about the “Saddam tape” rather than a story of its own about presidential credibility. Most of the big editorial boards are remaining mildly concerned about where Bush is taking the country rather than sounding the tocsin about a president who is looting the common wealth and causing young Americans to die in the name of corporate profits.

George Bush, however, should start taking the American public more seriously. The warrior persona — a hand-me-down from dad — is beginning to wear thin. Americans may still “support the troops,” but not at all costs. Statements last month by Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and other administration hawks that U.S. involvement in Iraq was going to take much longer and cost much more — how much time or money they weren’t willing to estimate — sent public support of the war dropping another 10 percent. Polling after those comments showed 61 percent of the American public is opposed to Bush’s open-ended, blank check approach to the war.

Something is happening out there. Progressive activists may want to claim their efforts are having an impact and that may be the case. Or the American public may be experiencing, in the jargon of Alcoholic Anonymous, the “moment of clarity” that makes recovery possible. Whatever it is, it is manifesting itself in a variety of ways. Michael Moore’s book, Stupid White Men, has been on the non-fiction best-sellers list for nearly one year and his film, Bowling for Columbine, continues to run in movie houses around the nation. A book buyer friend of mine noted, after a round of meetings with publishing house representatives, that the new crop of non-fiction is brimming with books critical of Bush and the war.
This may also be part of a broader sea change. Within the smaller world of Portland politics, public anger has not just flared over government policy but actually forced change. The strange and bumpy ride the Portland Police Bureau has taken over the past several months is the most visible example. Official lies — direct ones by the officers who killed Kendra James and lies of omission by the police leadership that produced a whitewashed investigation — drew far more fire than a crisis-weary Vera Katz anticipated. The coming together of different communities critical of the police in ways far more organized than ever in the past — and under the leadership of the African American and Latino communities — proved enough for the mayor to give an already badly damaged Mark Kroeker the heave-ho. Vera and her new police chief, Derrick Foxworth, felt sufficiently under the gun to go beyond that and announce that at least 50 percent of the recommendations made by an outside consultant who recently examined internal investigations of police-related shootings would be adopted immediately (albeit they’ve been a bit vague about how that is happening or to show the public anything is writing so far).

The departure of Kroeker is certainly a victory for the progressive community which played an important part in educating the public around this issue and helping channel their anger into constructive, strategic action (we did do the happy dance here at The Alliance upon learning the news). But it is far from a cure for what ails public safety in Portland anymore than the removal of Bush is a cure for what ails the nation.

The challenge progressives face is the same one we always face: moving people beyond focusing on individuals to the larger forces at play. We need to rid ourselves of posers like Bush, there’s no question about it. But we need to do so in a way that leaves people understanding that the struggle doesn’t end with the vote count. We must work to replace the current lot of elected officials - from city commissioner to president - with more progressive faces not because they will solve our problems but because they offer more space and opportunity in which we can organize, educate and mobilize.

At the local level, that point has been taken by those working on police accountability. In the wake of the Kendra James community meetings, a new group has been organized by community members ranging from the Albina Ministerial Alliance to the Liberation Collective. While the new Alliance for Police and Community Accountability is only two meetings old and still finding its legs, this coming-together of communities for the purpose of bringing about institutional changes is an important step forward in police reform and potentially in many other areas of concern in this city. APCA will only work, however, if it remains rooted in the communities that brought it forth and keeps those communities engaged in as many ways as possible, whether it is turning out the vote, pressuring public officials or taking to the streets.

So too, with efforts to drive Bush and company out of Washington D.C. We can do that within the very narrow confines of a presidential electoral campaign and the crisis we face certainly justifies that. But we will just be facing the same battle four years from now if we choose that course. We must work hard on beating Bush but seek to engage the public in a deeper discourse as often as possible, too.
The power we need to prevail in the short and long term will only come when people organize in a democratic mass movement. People seem to be awakening to the crisis around them. The question is, are we prepared to do the work that will bring that movement together? Are we prepared to not just shake our fists at empty buildings but to reach out to people who just might be more radicalized than we think? Let’s hope so.

—Dave Mazza




The Portland Alliance 2807 SE Stark Portland,OR 97214
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Last Updated: November 9, 2003