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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Fight for America's Soul

Julie Brown

Following Sept 11th, the political pundits pronounced that the deep divisions that so fractured the nation in the 2000 presidential election had evaporated in the face of a common enemy. The pundits were wrong. The deep and philosophical fault lines that existed before the attack on the World Trade Center have re-emerged and could spell trouble for a president who has come to expect, if not demand, national unity and blind obedience.

One can not understand the small and under-reported anti-war movement without first appreciating the vast cultural divisions that were so readily ignored in the aftermath of the Sept 11th attacks. Many of the folks joining the anti-war movement are individuals identifying themselves as Gore and Nader supporters. Their politics are built on principles of multilateralism, civil rights, equality and tolerance. Their views on America vastly differ from the conservative Bush supporters in the South, Midwest and Rocky Mountain States whose views are rooted in nationalism, tradition and conservative religious doctrine. The domestic differences between the two groups are relevant because they go to the heart of three fundamental questions. What does America stand for, what is America’s role in the world and whose America is it anyway?

The cultural, or “values gap” that is so pervasive in America will be fought out on America’s streets. It is becoming clear that the anti-war movement is finally understanding that it can tap into the vast cultural divide. By bringing together unions, minorities, anti-globalization activists, progressives, students and civil libertarians the anti-war movement has found its foot soldiers and they have a huge beef with the administration. The only real question is who will be the winner and will the fight tear the nation apart as it did in the 1960’s.

The Anti War Protesters

I had the opportunity to organize an anti-war demonstration in Denver last fall. President Bush was in town raising money for Republicans and leading the charge for local congressional candidates. Nearly 5,000 Coloradans turned out for the rally and march to Adams Mark Hotel where Bush was giving his address.

What struck me about the crowd was its diversity. While there were students and community activists, I was surprised by the number of senior citizens, mothers and business people who drove in from the Denver suburbs in the middle of a work day to not only protest the war but to embarrass George Bush.

Talking to folks in the streets was enlightening. While everyone was there to protest a war, I listened to a long litany of “domestic” complaints ranging from the president’s policies on abortion to the economy, civil rights, the environment, scientific research and globalization. A fair number of citizens were still raging over the “stolen election.” Clearly, the 2000 elections had not dampened the resentment of many. As organizers we tried to get everyone to stay on message – “stop the war” - but many brought signs of their own protesting Bush’s positions on social issues. This has been a common occurrence at anti-war rallies all over the country.

The conservative and far right polices of the Administration will continue to bring peace activists and the disenchanted to the table where they are finding common ground much like the students and civil rights activists did in the 1960’s. Currently, the anti-war movement is not speaking from “one mind.” Many disagree on tactics and strategy. However, there are unifying themes and the single greatest theme is that George Bush’s domestic and foreign policies are threatening social programs, civil liberties and ultimately the security of the United States.

Dollars are being shifted away from important social priorities including education, health care and transportation in favor of defense spending and homeland security. Civil libertarians are outraged at the assault on civil rights. Anti-globalization activists and labor unions are angry over policies that ship jobs out of the country and exploit weaker countries. Liberals watch in horror as Bush cuts taxes on the rich while 43 million Americans go without health insurance. Community activists are trying to find dollars to prevent homeless shelters from closing and students look nervously towards Washington as members of Congress debate whether some sort of draft should be instituted.

As the military build up continues and fears of further attacks are fanned by cable news networks, Republicans who now control the entire federal government will continue to gut social programs, tilt the courts to the right and reverse some civil rights legislation. Al Gore won the popular vote primarily on social issues and many Americans are not willing to sacrifice rights and social spending for Bush’s version of “security” or fundamentalist theology.

The Conservative Heartland

President Bush enjoys wide support in the South, Rocky Mountain states and the Midwest. Americans living in this geographic region tend to be far more conservative, religious, nationalistic and trusting of the President. This area has often been referred to as the “Bible Belt.” While there are large cities in the South, there are fewer of them. Rural concerns dominate state legislatures and folks are decidedly more conservative on social issues. President Bush refers to this area as the “Heartland,” as if it is the standard-bearer of American values. In many ways it is a code for us versus them.

Heartlanders are willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt. It is inconceivable to many of them that a President would start a war for oil or corporate advantage. To them, George Bush is a man of character and is only doing what is best for the country. The Heartland is home to numerous military bases. Heartlanders favor heavy military spending partially because many Midwestern and Southern areas are dependent upon weapons programs, ship building and bases for economic viability. The military is revered in the Hearthland. The South has always had a love affair with the military whether it be the U.S. Army or the Confederate Army. The military is part of the culture.

Culture has always triumphed over economics here. During the ante-bellum period, the South idealized the agrarian farmer, rural life and homogenous and aristocratic society. The fact that it had little industrial capacity to build arms to fight the North was completely overlooked. Many historians believe this is what ultimately cost them the war. Not much has changed. Southern Republicans regularly bash Federal programs and domestic spending. The fact that the “Heartland” is far more dependent upon federal grants to sustain its economy seems to be lost in the flag waving and tax cutting mania in Texas and Mississippi.

Heartlanders have always believed they are a chosen people. This goes back to the Civil War where tens of thousands died trying to preserve their “superior” culture and peculiar institutions. Many still believe “city folk” are uncultured, immoral and ill-mannered. Hollywood is blamed for almost every social ill. Most believe they have stronger values than the rest of the country.

In surveys, most Heartlanders say they are religious people. In fact, voters who say they go to church more than once a week voted heavily for Bush. Hearthlanders find community and security in their churches and small rural communities. The Fundamentalist Christian movement is strongest in the Heartland.

The South and Midwest have more self proclaimed born-again Christians than anywhere else in the country. They oppose abortion rights, reject affirmative action, oppose stem cell research or any type of cloning, believe homosexuality is a sin, and regularly support measures to put God back in the schools. They are much more supportive of tough drug laws, the death penalty, and policies that regulate personal behavior. Fundamentalist Christians tend to be suspicious of foreigners and hostile towards cities and government programs unless they are price supports for agriculture, faith-based initiatives or defense expenditures.

Theology and authoritarianism is central to many lives. Many Fundamentalist Christians believe that churches, not the federal government, should administer to the poor. Many believe women should obey their husbands.

Moreover, evangelical Christians have aligned themselves with Orthodox Jews in Israel. Like many Israelis, fundamentalist Christians believe they too are God’s chosen people and defenders of the faith.

Christian fundamentalism is as strong in the “Heartland” as Jewish orthodoxy is in Jerusalem. Many find explanations and interruptions for today’s problems in the Bible. In fact many evangelical Christians believe that God gave the Palestinian lands to the Jews. They point to the Bible as evidence. Southern Congressmen in Washington often express these sentiments while debating foreign policy.

Heartlanders tend to be far more nationalistic and imperialistic even if few understand what that really means. They believe America should spread democracy and “American,” Christian values across the globe. The majority fail to understand that others do not want to live like Americans or that their definition of democracy vastly differs from what is practiced in America. Most believe America can do little wrong. After all, America is the shining example of fairness, enlightenment and morality. Who wouldn't want our values? Few will believe otherwise and this is central to the culture. Americans who protest against the Administration’s polices are labeled unpatriotic, communist and traitorous.

Electoral Mess

The cultural differences are exacerbated by a flawed electoral system that gives small states a disportionate amount of power in the government. This was quite clear in the 2000 presidential elections where Gore won the popular vote but lost the election. Worse, the District of Columbia, which is more populated than several states is not even entitled to representation. The electoral system favors the South and Midwest even if the North and West have far greater populations. As the cultural divide deepens, there will be fewer and fewer Democrats in the South and Democratic presidential candidates will find it increasingly tough to win Southern and Midwestern states.

The electoral system ensures the Heartlanders will control Congress for the foreseeable future. For this reason, the fight over America’s role in the world, its foreign policies and even who are the real Americans will eventually spill into the streets as anti-war, socially liberal Americans become more frustrated by a system that prevents the majority from winning national elections or influencing policy.

To be sure this is not just a North vs South conflict as there are liberals in the South and conservatives in the West. However, a look at the electoral map and even a cursory study of exit polls will convince the biggest cynic that America is in reality becoming two nations with different priorities and different views of the world.

Future terror attacks will unify the country but unification will be short-lived as Americans fight over their self-interests – civil rights, privacy, social programs and “values.” America can’t have guns and butter with tax cuts. It can’t preserve civil rights and freedoms while a domestic agency is reading citizen’s email and tapping their phones in the pursuit of potential terrorists. Americans can’t be free if the government is allowed to legislate “morality” and personal behavior and values. The nation will have to make a choice and anti-war activists are finally catching on to that. The movement will grow as anti-war activists enlist and embrace the concerns of community activists, civil libertarians, minorities, the unemployed, senior citizens and the disenfranchised.

The U.S. Congress abdicated its responsibilities when it gave George Bush a blank check for war. They put the fate of millions of people in the hands of an inexperienced, uncurious, impatient, and ill-informed man who in the words of his former speech writer is “quick to anger.” And while 50 percent of the country is terrified by this, the other 50 percent thinks he is a superb wartime leader. Half the country shares his missionary zeal to convert America and the world to his value system while the other half is beginning to take to the streets in an attempt to stop him.

Who will prevail in this contest is anyone’s guess. A war and a bad economy will play a big role but Heartlanders have never let economics or fear of civil war interfere with their cultural preferences, religious convictions or nationalist tendencies. They quit the union, fought against abolishing slavery, integration, the civil rights movement, and they were the last people to voice complaints against McCarthyism, Nixon or the Vietnam War. Many fear Americans have begun a long, painful fight for the soul of the country. The rest of the world can only hope the Left wins.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
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Index: Current Articles

17 January 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


No Rights For Humans
Anthony McIntyre


The Fight For America's Soul

Julie Brown


The Bloody Streets of New York
Mike Davis


The Left Betrays the Iraqi People by Opposing War
Nick Cohen


Missive To America
Annie Higgins


The Letters page has been updated.


12 January 2003


Political Violence and Questions of Legitimacy
Christina Sherlock


Acquiring Transmission Points
Anthony McIntyre


The Blood Stays on the Blade

Seaghán Ó Murchú


Identity Under Siege
Paul de Rooij


No War On Iraq
Davy Carlin


Picket In Support of Human Rights Activists




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