Thursday, March 04, 2004
Know which way the wind blows
The film raises a lot of issues, and I'm still processing, so I don't really know what I think.
The star of the film, for me, was Mark Rudd. He made his name as the leader of a student takeover of the President's office at Columbia University in the Spring of 1968, and was one of the leaders of the Weathermen faction that took over Students for a Democratic Society at that group's convention the following Fall. These days he teaches math at a community college in New Mexico.
Near the end of the film there's a segment in which Rudd discusses his mixed feelings about the past. He remains convinced that the governmental policies he and his cohort were reacting against were wrong and had to be resisted, but he now seems shocked by his own arrogance in choosing the violent route taken by the Weather Underground. After admitting that he remains deeply distressed by the state of the nation, he shakes his head, looks into the camera and says, "I just don't know what needs to be done."
Rudd is grappling with an issue that has occupied me, on one level or another, for years now.
The problem begins with the perception that the world is fundamentally broken. Not merely unjust, but so distorted that justice is impossible unless the basic structures of our social institutions are radically altered. I don't really know when I came to hold this view. I do know that the Bush Presidency has brought a lot of people closer to my side of the street.
What are you supposed to do once you percieve the world in this way? The Weather Underground thought that violent revolution was the answer. That's pretty close to what I thought in my early 20s, not that I did anything about it. It's probably my good fortune that nothing comparable to SDS existed in central Kansas at the time (and don't throw MAPJ at me).
I've grown skeptical of violence as a mechanism for political change. Small scale violence gives your civil neighbors an excuse not to engage your ideas. Large scale violece requires a level of brutality and organization that virtually guarantees the ascension of tyrants.
On the other hand, purely civil protest is helpless in the face of real power unless, as in Eastern Europe in 1989, the protest is so massive that the legitimacy of the state is thrown into question. And that kind of scale is impossible in the face of a state that is truly interested in suppressing dissent.
Thus, the dilemma.