The national crypt meets "an embryonic civil society"

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Okay, I admit it. I was worried. But then I visited our government’s new and reassuring terror website,, meant to prepare us for any number of hideous eventualities. I found to my relief that, in the “kit” they suggested I put together, along with the peanut butter (hated since childhood) and canned goods, were “comfort/stress foods.” Those days in the basement — well, actually, being apartment dwellers, we’re really kinda in the air and nothing much to be done about that — are bound to be better with Milky Ways, strawberry shortcake, and take-out sushi. Just for comfort, of course. And let’s throw in a few bottles of beer, which we know we’ll be able to open because Tom Ridge’s people have — I mean this — thought of everything, or at least cribbed it from civil defense pamphlets of the 1950s, including that “non-electric can opener” (though they probably should have indicated that it be one with a bottle opener on the other end). Things don’t really sound so fearsome looked through their eyes as we await well, you can click onto your choice: “biological threat,” “chemical threat,” “explosions,” “nuclear blast,” and “radiation threat.”

Just for the heck of it, I chose “nuclear blast,” and got this good advice — see, previously, if there had been a nuclear blast in the neighborhood, I had kinda been considering staying outside to watch, but the folks were a few steps ahead of me: “If There is a Nuclear Blast, ” they wrote in arresting bold typeface, “take cover immediately, below ground if possible, though any shield or shelter will help protect you from the immediate effects of the blast and the pressure wave.” Then they urged me to “quickly assess the situation,” which I considered useful advice indeed. Finally, they wanted me to “plan to speak with your health provider in advance about what makes sense for your family.” I’ve already called my doctor for an appointment and I’ve been practicing ever since how to begin: “Well, doc, on that nuclear blast that might happen in the neighborhood, how about those handy-dandy Potassium Iodide pills?”

To add to the mood of the moment, I recently came upon the following document from our national crypt of fear:

“Interoffice Memorandum:
To: All Staff
From: Administration
Subject: Security

This past Friday, the government raised our nation’s security alert to high — with specific warnings to organizations located in major cities Security is everyone’s concern! What can you do?

*Please wear your photo identification and have it in view at all times.
*Present your photo identification when entering the building
*Use designated entrances
*Alert Administration of any security concerns

Thank you for your cooperation.”

This past Friday, the government raised our nation’s security alert to high — with specific warnings to organizations located in major cities Security is everyone’s concern! What can you do?

*Please wear your photo identification and have it in view at all times.
*Present your photo identification when entering the building
*Use designated entrances
*Alert Administration of any security concerns

Thank you for your cooperation.”

So here’s your quiz for the day, what organization sent out that useful memo?

You probably guessed some middle-level government agency, but, as it turns out, it was a nursing home. Undoubtedly, it’s those rumors floating around about the Osama Bin Grey Panthers.

Anyway, government-induced hysteria is a great thing and I happen to know people who are indeed stocking up, or won’t go in New York’s subways, or you name it. But I’m of that other school, the one that thinks it would be safer to throw the windows open, take to the streets, and act like this world is ours, not theirs. Let Tom Ridge take up residence in the basement, what we need is air and light.

With that in mind, here are a bevy of reports, on the unprecedented global demonstrations of last weekend and the changing world they’ve left behind. When my daughter attended the big Washington demonstration some weeks ago, she found herself marching with a group of demonstrators from Colorado who, she said, just kept chanting, “This is the way democracy looks!” It’s my favorite chant so far, and it sums up the pieces to follow. All of them — a cheeky piece from the Sydney Morning Herald of Australia, a thoughtful assessment from Sandy Close, executive editor of Pacific News Service, and a consideration from Jonathan Schell of the Nation suggest a strange and winning combination: Demonstrations of remarkable individual variety which globally manage to look and sound the same. What could be better? A vast movement of the global us in which our individual I’s remain not only distinct but distinctive. It was perhaps put best by Ruth Rosen in the San Francisco Chronicle, what we may be seeing is “an embryonic civil society” forming at a global level.

Already the demonstrations have left behind a changed world. In Europe, governments, as in Spain, that have chosen support for the US over the wishes of their own people are being pressed in the opinion polls and sooner or later may be pressed to the wall in the voting booths. The UN vote, considered a slam-dunk by the Bush administration barely a month ago, seems far more improbable now. In Turkey, the new government has gone back to the bargaining table based on popular feeling, if for less than glorious purposes. Even our President was forced to emerge and acknowledge our existence (a small triumph under the circumstances). Our government may take Iraq by storm despite the best we can do, but in the course of it lose much of the rest of the world at the polls. Tom

Wave of Hope Rises in a Sea of Madness
By Peter FitzSimons
The Sydney Morning Herald
February 20, 2003

It’s been four days now, and still it hasn’t let up. In the wake of the largest demonstration on Australian soil – last Sunday’s peace rally at Hyde Park, which I attended – the critics have lined up with an awesome variety of baseball bats to give us pathetic peaceniks the earnest thrashing we so desperately deserve. ‘Cos this time we’ve gone and done it, haven’t we? We’ve played right into Saddam Hussein’s hands, when any dummy can see that what the world is crying out for right now is more guns, more soldiers, more bombs, more violence, and more attempts to completely nobble the one institution charged with preventing wars, the United Nations.

Once we’ve got rid of the UN and abolished all form of international law, the world will be a much safer place. Why can’t we see what is so blindingly obvious to them?

To read more Sydney Morning Herald click here

Not in My Name
By Sandy Close,
Pacific News Service
Feb 19, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO–Critics on the East Coast, on both sides of the political spectrum, dismiss the current anti-war protests as a naïve political spasm in danger of being hijacked by hard-line sectarians (once called “outside agitators”). But something about the style of recent demonstrations here in San Francisco suggests the emergence of a new kind of civic participation — one that is not definable as “left” or “right,” but grounded in a distrust of political leaders and traditional “isms.”

Whereas 40 years ago, protestors marched beneath banners like “Students for a Democratic Society,” “Revolutionary Communist Party” or “Vietnam Veterans Against the War,” what’s most striking about today’s demonstrators is the singularity of their messages of protest.

PNS Executive Editor Sandy Close writes from San Francisco.

To read more Close click here

The Will of the World
By Jonathan Schell
The Nation
March 10, 2003

February 15, 2003, the day 10 million or so people in hundreds of cities on every continent demonstrated against war in Iraq, will go down in history as the first time that the people of the world expressed their clear and concerted will in regard to a pressing global issue. Never before–not during the Vietnam War, not during the antinuclear demonstrations of the early 1980s–had they made known their will so forcefully by all the means at their disposal. On that day, history may one day record, global democracy was born.

Several elements unexpectedly (isn’t the spontaneous expression of a people’s will always unexpected?) snapped into place, like the components on an assembly line.

To read more Schell click here

Global protest, new world politics
By Ruth Rosen
February 20, 2003
San Francisco Chronicle

Juan and Yumi carefully wheeled their baby stroller through the huge crowds that squeezed along San Francisco’s Market Street to protest a war in Iraq. Their 9-month-old baby slept soundly, unfazed by the cacophony of chants that filled the air.

Unable to move forward, we soon struck up a conversation. “I can’t vote,” Yumi told me, “because I’m an illegal immigrant from Japan. So this is the way I can protest an unjust war.” Juan (who asked that I change their names), was born in this country of Mexican parents. He is outraged by the Bush administration’s contempt for the rest of the world. “It’s unconscionable not to come out and demonstrate against this war. There is no immediate threat to our country.”

To read more Rosen click here