Monday, March 23, 2009

Ask the President About Accountability!

By: Harry Waisbren

Ask the President is a new service developed by The Nation, The Washington Times, and the Personal Democracy Forum that lets you vote on what question you would like to "ask the president". It's still very new, but there are certainly indications that this kind of project will succeed at having the winning question really asked of President Obama during a press conference. As a matter of fact, this kind of project has already been successful, as a very similar enterprise on Obama's transition website had their winning question asked by George Stephanopoulos.

The winner of that contest was a question about whether Obama would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate things like torture and warratnless wiretapping, and it was poised by Bob Fertik at Especially in light of this kind of early success, I am very excited to support them in similar efforts and will be doing all I can to convince other student activists to do the same!

The next Obama press conference is this Tuesday, and has a new question they are working on this time:

To vote for the question, simply click the green hand button at the top of the screen. It's also very easy to post the link in you Facebook profile and have everyone checking your news feed see it, and I hope that you send it out to any Facebook or Google Groups you are a part of that have poeple who may be intersted in helping!

This is an incredibly easy way for activists like us to help a cause we care about, yet it could have a major effect. Even if Obama tries to hedge if this question is asked, it will become more and more difficult for him to do so each and every new time it is poised. I think we all agree that Obama needs to be pressured MUCH more about ensuring accountability for those who have decimated our democracy, and this is a quick and easy way to help out. 

1 in 4 Americans already believe that the Bush administration committed war crimes, and some of our country's most respected lawyers are openly calling for President Bush to be prosecuted for murder. This is an extremely mainstream issue that needs much more attention, with even more evidence seen in how, when polled, 71% of Americans already believe there should be an investigation by either criminal prosecutors or an independent panel into the actions of the Bush administration. As the Washington Post's Dan Froomkin argues, our nation really was ruled as a "secret dictatorship", and now we need to both rapidly accept what happened and act accordingly.

It may not seem like much, but taking part in a campaign like this can really make that big a differnece if we can successfully break the silence and bring this into the public discourse! Just think, if 1 in 4 already believe Bush committed war crimes, what will happen when there are--finally--investigations and open prosecutions revealing the horrors of what we have done?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Our Spring Break speeches

By: Harry Waisbren

Yesterday we held our press conference for Our Spring Break out by the capital where I had the opportunity to be introduced as "Our Spring Break's inspiration". Definitely corny, but it is undeniably satisfying as an activist to know that my work and words are appreciated. Plus, it was more than a treat for me to be able to meet David Swanson who spoke right after me. I'm definitely very hopeful that I can work with him (and everyone else who has taken part in Our Spring Break) long after this event, and we'll be utilizing the Break Silence wiki specifically to ensure it!

Anyways, below you'll find the text of the speech I gave describing our motivations for the event:

On April 4th, 1967—a year to the day before his assassination—Martin Luther King delivered a speech entitled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, a speech whose words perhaps ring truer now than even in its own time.

We here today see within King’s far too seldomnly referenced words a vision for our country; a diagnosis of the societal ills that continue to hold us back; a method to achieving his dream.

Yet his prescribed way towards societal redemption remains so controversial, that to this day we still have yet to reconcile the true meaning of his words, much less the fiery controversy that ensued upon his utterance of the

On the day marking the beginning of the last year of his life, King expressed—without equivocation—that "A time comes when silence is betrayal. He called out that that time had come for us in relation to Vietnam. Today, we call out that that time has come for us in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Just as he observed then, we must give voice to the voiceless; we must search to understand the arguments of those we call “enemy”. We must not take the easy way out, we must not engage in non-resistance against active dehumanization. Yet like King, we are left “as deeply concerned now about our own troops there as anything else”.

Then and now we recognize that “We are adding cynicism to the process of death”. This is because our soldiers, as King professed, “must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved”. And indeed, our soldiers do know. Yet still they die, knowing their country would have them give their life for a lie.

That day, King declared that “we must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible.” Today, that prescription remains more true than ever, and I am proud to say that we are working in accord with his dictum. We strive to utilize to the fullest any and all of the new media technologies that we have at our disposal. Such innovative tools aid the match of our actions with words in an effort to amplify what we say, to fortify the actions that we take, and to make the ongoing amnesia regarding King’s call to Break Silence more difficult to maintain.

Yet why are we redoubling our efforts? Why do we push forward amidst the ongoing transitioning of the anti-war movement; amidst a period of change for the country and world at large?

The source of this inspiration also, naturally, links back to King. Like Vietnam in his time, Iraq has become, as he said: “but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit A malady of our country’s spirit that allowed the rise of the horrors seen in Vietnam then, in Iraq now, and likewise, perhaps , if not now, soon in Afghanistan…

In order to heal this malady, King charged that “we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values”. This revolution of values would be demarcated through our “shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.

As King did, We recognize that--without a doubt--a person-oriented society would never let the most patriotic among us die, generation after generation, amidst such cynicism. A person-oriented society would never let our veterans live—and suffer—alone as they struggle to make peace with what they were compelled by our government to do. Most of all, such a society would never condone the active betrayal of our country’s troops. And make no mistake—there is an ongoing betrayal of our country’s best and our brightest; a betrayal occurring despite their blatant exploitation by cynical politicians; politicians who personally profited off their suffering in order to continue an illegal and immoral war.

Then as now, we find ourselves “confronted with the fierce urgency of now. As he said then and as it remains true today, we must “recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

Hostility to a society that has made the youth of our country watch—in slow motion—as we make the same mistakes of a generation past. Mistakes we were actively learning about in history books. Mistakes that have led to far too many of our fellow students to fight, and die, while knowing it was all for a lie. Mistakes that make dedicating a spring break towards fighting to truly achieve King’s dream—more than worthwhile.

Beyond Iraq, this is a time to Break Silence!

Thank you very much

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Civil Disobediance at the Pentagon for Our Spring Break

By: Harry Waisbren

I learned an awful lot about non-violent direct action this morning during the first action I was able to attend for Our Spring Break. The action was taken by the Council for Nonviolent Resistance and it included about 10 middle aged activists who walked willingly into an arrest amidst their attempt to deliver a letter to our secretary of defense. We met up with them early this morning where I was able to film a few short interviews. Here is one participant describing her involvement:

Here is another great discussion I had with an older woman who describes this event and grassroots activism at large in the context of her past activism during Vietnam:

After we had finished we took the metro and got off at the Pentagon stop. Despite my foreknowledge that I was not going to remotely risk arrest it was still a nerve wracking experience watching this commence amidst heavily armed officers. My nervousness quickly dissipated though shortly after the soon to be arrestees engaged the police who had asked to see an entrance badge if they were to move forward. It was clear that we were with them, and the police asked us to walk behind a short fence into the “free speech zone”. Ironically, this grassy area also happened to double as their “Sept. 11th Memorial Garden”. Such a set up could only be created in a post-Patriot act America, that’s for certain!

Anyways, as the police’s requests for the activists to move continued to be denied they began issuing warnings that they would soon be arrested if they did not comply. This acted as a signal of sorts as they all simultaneously sat down, refusing to stand up and then going limp when the police attempted to lift them. This action also seemed to act as a signal for the reinforcements to come in, as at least 10 Pentagon police officers zoomed to the scene on foot and motorcycle. As they were being carried off, an African American officer walked up to us and began quite an intriguing conversation that I do not believe I will be forgetting any time soon.

He began his engagement by telling us that he was severely against the escalation in Afghanistan. I was surprised by his honestly, as I was not expecting a policeman on the scene to be able to have such an honest discourse in this kind of scenario. He came up to us with purpose though, as he very apparently and very honestly was trying to find out what it was that we thought we were accomplishing. He was presupposing that such an action was useless if not counterproductive, and he did, indeed, have a point. His question of whether we think “[Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates really knows” about what was occurring had an obvious answer (absolutely not), but he made an even better point about the perceptions of such an action.

The officer kept on repeating the point that those watching considered the activists who had just been arrested to be “Freakos”, and that their direct action merely would reinforce the negative stereotypes in the minds of onlookers. He repeated the term Freakos so many times that I quickly came to the conclusion that it must be accepted jargon for activists taking part in such displays at the pentagon, regardless of its negative implications. However, the officer also made the specific and surprising point that he often saw employees of the pentagon stop and read banners and signs of protesters in the free speech zone. He even described seeing people shake their head and walk up and shake the hands of those in the memorial garden. I did not expect to hear an honest—especially a positive—assessment of such activities, yet I do not entirely agree with his premise that such actions are entirely counterproductive.

Below is another video interview we had with Gordon Clark and my fellow Our Spring Breakers Yael and Adam. Within it we went over some more of the specifics of what we had just gone through, as well as began to delve into the question of the effectiveness of such actions:

I often harp on the problematic nature of activism that reinforces stereotypes of activists as “dirty hippies”, and this event was a vivid display of all the inherent problems with such activism. However, as I described to the officer, there is a difference between civil disobedience predicated on gaining people power versus that aimed at personal empowerment. Perhaps these activists wanted to be arrested—regardless of whether it convinced even one person—as it made them feel better about themselves. Such a thought process would be part and parcel of their doing something they believed in despite paying a personal price to do so (as a matter of fact, they wanted to pay such a price).

Although...considering the degree to which such an action can reinforce all of the worst negative stereotypes of dissent, I left asking myself how and whether or not we should judge these activists and this kind of activism? In the end, all of us need to look ourselves in the mirror at night, and if that is what they were doing, then they were clearly doing what they had to do. Furthermore, those inclinations would deserve the respect earned by anyone standing up for their beliefs against the odds. However, if their motivations were less personal in nature, and included such things as bragging rights, popularity, or even a sense of superiority, then this certainly would not apply. They would be harming the movement through a selfish desire at self-aggrandizement. Selfish actions are still selfish even if they exact a personal price. However, likewise, if it was a largely unselfish action that was merely poorly planned, that certainly would not deserve any sort of scorn either.

In the end, I do not consider myself remotely capable in this instance to cast blame or decide this one way or the other. I commend their actions today at least, as even if the only thing they did was cause me to consider nonviolent direction action even more deeply it was a valuable experience for me at least. However, I would be the one acting selfishly if I do not act on what I have learned in this situation and work to ensure that such actions do not run such a risk of counter-productivity. Fortunately for my personal capacity of looking at myself in the mirror, this is precisely my plan, and if I am successful at all I hope that I can help as many others as possible on the way as well!

UPDATE: I have recently started corresponding with one of these activists--Pete Perry--about this action in particular in the context of the larger issues I referenced in this post. Pete rightfully pointed out that I was perhaps overly harsh, especially in light of this event achieving media attention through the AP wire. Pete posted his perspective about the action on his blog, but stay tuned as we have been discussing cross-posting and other ideas about how we can further expand on the utility of this action in particular. This project will be designed to be part of a larger discussion about how we can make non-violent direction action more effective, and we could definitely use more voices in this integral discussion if you are interested in taking part!

Monday, March 16, 2009

My Spring Break at "Our Spring Break"

By: Harry Waisbren

Well I have once again descended upon Washington, DC (the second time in a matter of weeks after Power Shift) for Our Spring Break---the anti-war alternative Spring break I have helped coordinate as a member of Campus Progress' Iraq committee---and while traveling I have been mentally going over why I am so motivated for such a trip. By definition, Our Spring Break is not the a stereotypical Spring Break for a college student, but I am left without a shadow of a doubt that this is exactly what I would like to be doing this break.

You could not possibly tempt me right now with a sunny beach or a sight seeing adventure or even down time on a comfy couch. Yet I do not consider myself to remotely be an aberration of a college student, rather, I believe that I am entirely a typical college student who has been lucky enough to have had the life experiences to make me both appreciate and recognize the world around me.

One of these primary experiences of mine has been my ability to learn about and work with Iraq war veterans who are now against the war. When you speak to these true patriots, you feel a sinking feeling inside amidst the recogntion that all of our tax dollars and tacit complicity contributed to their ongoing troubles. It is our country's collective complicity that has led to more of our soldiers dying from SUICIDE than in combat, it is our shame that 1/5 of our veterans suffer from PTSD or major depression, and it will be our burden to take care of the new generation of homeless veterans that are already in desperate need of our help.

When you learn of such things or witness the expression of them first hand as I did during Madison Winter Soldier you can't help but be changed. All of a sudden you recognize the litany of things that we take for granted in this life, and you feel a profound empathy for those whose very patriotism has brought them to such dire straights. Following such a profound realization, the "typical" college Spring Break activities seem like extravagencies, as far too many of our country's bravest men and women are left only dreaming for a typical sort of life.

Then again, I don't mean to knock sucking the marrow out of life and living it to the fullest. It would denigrate that which our soldiers fight for to give up on our personal happiness. But for me, there is no where else I would rather be right now, as it is precisely my knowledge that I am doing my part to ensure that this NEVER happens again that will make the good parts of life that much sweeter!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mad Progress TV: Breaking the Silence on Alternative Energy

By: Harry Waisbren

On this episode of Mad Progress TV entitled Breaking the Silence on Alternative Energy I interview Nate Toth, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and clean energy advocate. In this half hour episode we discussed how Nate's time in the Navy colored his feelings about climate change in light of the emphasis placed on guarding oil pipelines amidst their knowledge of how Iraq did not pose the sort of threat our politicians were claiming.

I highly suggest you check it out, and definitely let me know what you think!

Obama's Weekly You Tube Address

By: Harry Waisbren

In this week's address, President Barack Obama makes key announcements regarding the safety of our nation's food. 

"We are a nation built on the strength of individual initiative.  But there are certain things that we can't do on our own.  There are certain things that only a government can do.  And one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat, and the medicines we take, are safe and don't cause us harm."

Watch Your Weekly Address below to learn more about the President's measures to make the food that lands on America's dinner tables safer. 

Check it out below:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

You're Welcome America airs tonight!

By: Harry Waisbren

A broadway performance from Will Ferrell as George W. Bush. What else needs to be said? Well, a dual interview of Bush vs. Bush from Ferrell in this promotional video probes that question and finds that anything Ferrell does in this character just might immediately become legendary:

Friday, March 13, 2009

In Their Boots road trip

By: Harry Waisbren

I just received the following facebook message from the In Their Boots Facebook group from Sandra Keats about the upcoming In Their Boots road trip. I'm a huge fan of their show and an even bigger fan of ensuring veterans get more media coverage (which I've been trying to do on my WYOU community access/web video program Mad Progress TV), so I'm looking forward to covering this and taking part as directly as I possibly can!

Here's a copy and paste of the Facebook message, and check out past episodes here:

Hello Friends of IN THEIR BOOTS!

I am pleased to announce that IN THEIR BOOTS is hitting the road for a 10-month national tour to highlight Iraq and Afghanistan veterans’ stories and explore ways to improve care for our service members and their families. Our first stop is in San Francisco, Saturday, March 21, 2009!

Last year, IN THEIR BOOTS produced 12 documentaries and garnered substantial media coverage in its effort to raise awareness for the sacrifices service members, veterans, and their families are making as our country continues to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here is a summary of our work from 2008:

In 2009 we are set to produce 10 more documentary films, and we are taking them on the road. We will premiere one in a different city each month for the rest of the year. Join us in San Francisco to kick off the national tour with the premiere screening of "Broken Promise"—the story of three Iraq War vets who fell through the cracks of the system, and the Northern California program that saved them. Here is a sneak preview:

The Details:
Saturday March 21, 2009
2-4 PM
The Roxie Theater
3117 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion led by Fred Gusman, the founder of the Pathway Home. Mr. Gusman will be joined by veterans from his program, as well as other experts from veteran service organizations to discuss how The Pathway Home model can help the VA to better serve veterans who struggle with mental health.

The event is free and open to the public. Due to limited seating an RSVP is required, but does not guarantee admission. For more information and to RSVP please contact:

Nathan Havey
310-204-0448 x231

We look forward to seeing you there!

Heading to DC for Our Spring Break

By: Harry Waisbren

I am headed to our nation's capital for a Campus Progress sponsored anti-war alternative spring break entitled Our Spring Break this Monday, and saying that I am merely excited would be quite the understatement! I have been working with the lead organizers on this project as a member of the Campus Progress Iraq committee for a few months now, and especially after meeting them in person I have been convinced that Robby Diesu and Paul Blasenheim in particular are going to become increasingly integral youth activists for the progressive movement moving forward.

Granted I was just in DC a few weeks ago for Power Shift, but that phenomenal event (which I will be writing more about in the days ahead) only got me more psyched to get back there and continue organizing the ambitious new media projects I have been working on. Power Shift, unlike any other youth organizing project I have been a part of, truly embraced new media as a way to engage and motivate the 12,000 students who were able to make it (and countless more following from home). I was able to take part through a web-video project entitled Break Silence that I have been working on for some time now, and this gets me back to why this trip will be such a boon for everything I've got going on.

The Break Silence project is very wide and high reaching, and I am hoping it can develop enough to encompass the giant and unacceptable gap that exists between student activism and the phenomenal online organizing occurring throughout the internet (especially within the progressive blogosphere). It is more than unfortunate that the activists with the maximum amount of time to participate and the most knowledge of new media are not being engaged for the most powerful and important progressive activism going on in the country, and I'm hoping to do my part to fix this problem!

I'll be blogging much more about this in the coming days as I attempt to utilize Our Spring Break as a case study for how this can be accomplished, so stay tuned!

Friday, March 6, 2009

March 8th edition of Forward Forum

Social justice and the involvement of young people will be a common thread on this week's Forward Forum, airing at 2pm on Sunday on WTDY, Madison 1670 and streaming live at .  

Dennis Graham with Launchpad join us to tell us about an upcoming high school band competition at Waunakee High School.  Launchpad is a statewide, alternative music competition for  Wisconsin high school students who are in bands formed outside of  the traditional music classroom ensembles. Launchpad and other  Wisconsin School Music Association (WSMA) programs help young people  discover and expand their full music potential.   The program raises money for Wisconsin schools and the winners get a gig at Summerfest, record a CD and a Les Paul guitar.   See .

Longtime co-host Harry Waisbren, just back from Washington, joins us to discuss his latest adventures in broadening activist connections between campus and community.

And then John and Stephanie will open up the phones for you to discuss the pressing issues of the day nationally and locally.  Please join in our discussion by calling 321-1670.

And be sure to return to our blog for archived links to recent past shows .

See you on Sunday!