I first became political in the struggle against the War in Vietnam. Very early in my awakening I remember going to a beautiful old church…for a draft card turn in, in downtown Boston. I think it was perhaps 1966. I was up in the balcony.
Students and others walked up to the pulpit and turned in their military draft cards as an act of resistance. I applauded, from the balcony, with many others.
When I was going home from that event, I had one of those moments that we all sometimes enjoy, a moment of clarification or insight. I realized I had applauded people for doing something I could do, but something I wasn't doing, and without having any compelling reason for not doing it.
Here was behaviour I appreciated, and that I had no persuasive reason to be avoiding, but yet which I wasn't engaging in. I decided to transcend that situation in the future. I decided never to applaud as a spectator what I could myself do and had no very good reason for not doing. If I admire some action, I told myself, and if I
can do it, and if I have no good reason to not do it, if I have nothing morally better on my agenda – then I should do it.
It was a very simple realization. And thereafter I became much more politically active.
In organizing on my campus not long thereafter, I remember repeatedly trying to elicit understanding and support for our anti-Vietnam war movement, and repeatedly encountering a strange resistance.
I described the motives and suffering of the war, and was asked in response:
"And what are you for?" "What goal would make war go away?" "Why do you think fighting against the war makes sense, given that war and all the associated horrors of our existence are inevitable?"
I thought the questions were absurd. They annoyed me. They seemed like avoidance, and I answered harshly.
We had to end the Vietnam War…I spoke, asserted, even hollered…later there would be time for ending all war forever, for ending all the horrors of our existence.
The fact that I and other anti-war organizers didn't have good answers for how all of society should be restructured to eliminate the causes of war and other pain was no excuse for not opposing the war, I felt.
I was technically right about that, of course, but as an activist I now believe I was horribly wrong.
This is an extract from Michael Albert's address to the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 2002.
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