This is a seminal moment in the US. You wouldn’t know it from the media coverage in Britain — including the now Hutton-compliant BBC.
It’s something you can only fully appreciate by being here. I’ve been speaking to packed audiences over the last two weeks in the run-up to what look set to be mighty demonstrations in Washington and elsewhere this Saturday.
Two factors have melded together to expose a deep faultline in US society.
Hurricane Katrina has revealed the malevolent incompetence of George Bush’s administration on an appalling scale. In city after city people are still reeling in shock that their own government was not even capable of recovering the dead of New Orleans, let alone intervening to save life.
Spontaneously and repeatedly they draw the connection between the running down of public services and the spiralling costs of the Iraq war.
For many of those who did not already see it as a criminal adventure, it now appears, at the least, as a monumental blunder.
That sentiment is reaching up to the ranks of Democrat and Republican politicians who have largely been abysmally silent over the last two and a half years.
The savage meaning of the destruction of New Orleans was unwittingly underlined by the popinjay Christopher Hitchens as he crashed in debate with me in New York last week.
He finally lost all contact with reality when he bumbled through a defence of Bush’s handling of the hurricane aftermath, denying that the apartheid-style abandonment of New Orleans’s black poor had anything to do with racism.
The unnatural metamorphosis from butterfly into slug is complete. It starts with adducing specious liberal arguments in support of a war of aggression launched by the most right wing US president in living memory.
It proceeds through obscene attacks on the anti-war movement. And it ends up with apologetics for the inhuman treatment of the residents of one of America’s great cities.
The contrast with what is now an anti-war majority in the US could not be sharper. On the opening night of my tour,
anti-war activists appealed for aid at a packed meeting in Boston to take to the stricken population of New Orleans.
Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, has done the same. Even before New Orleans shamed the White House, she had almost single-handedly reinvigorated the movement calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
Her dignified camp outside Bush’s ranch over the summer became the rallying point for this new phase of the movement.
His refusal to meet her highlighted the callousness of the neo-conservatives. He cannot meet her now, he has left it too late — just as he left it too late to wake up to what was happening in New Orleans.
At every meeting I have done there has been a tremendously enthusiastic response, the audience reflecting the local make-up of each city, my new book making its own contribution to strengthening the movement.
And faintly news reaches us of that other beleaguered warmonger, Tony Blair, fawning at the court of Rupert Murdoch and accusing the BBC of “anti-Americanism” in its reporting of Hurricane Katrina.
Well, he cannot possibly mean this America, majority America, poor America, black America, immigrant America — the America that marches this Saturday.
We take to the streets this weekend in Washington and London just as the voters of Germany have delivered a stinging rebuff to another Blair ally… and have deserted Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrats too in favour of the new Left Party.
It says everything about the politics of our time that a Labour prime minister in Britain is holding a candle for the Tory Christian Democrats, the historic party of German big business.
Here in the US also, the gathering movement against the war and corporate power will find its way into the political and electoral arena. But unlike in Britain there is no Respect coalition, and the US badly needs one.
As Lenin noted, there are decades when nothing happens and weeks when decades happen.
The pace of events is so rapid that I feel we are living through such weeks. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Join Respect. Phone 020 8980 3507 or go to www.respectcoalition.org
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