Many speculate that George Bush’s re-election was a reflection of a right-wing shift in popular consciousness. In response, many on the left have become demoralized and have stepped back from political organizing.
Conservative forces are not as popular as many suggest, but I fear that they are growing in confidence. Bush and his supporters need to be confronted by unapologetic opposition that can give confidence to the millions of Americans who want to fight back. Without this organized force, we risk a much more consequential rise of the right.
Students on campus have noticed the increased presence of Christian fundamentalists, anti-abortion activists, a new conservative newspaper and a couple loony activists with posters from reactionary websites. In January, some Madison communities were found decorated with anti-Martin Luther King posters from a website run by the neo-Nazi group Storm Front. Usually, students respond with heckling and these forces are ridiculed to the fringe, where they belong. But I’m concerned with the emboldened right wing, escalated attacks on Arabs and Muslims — particularly college professors and activists — and the backpedaling among liberal Democrats away from their pro-choice, pro-gay base.
I don’t mean to be alarmist, but I want to share some of my recent experiences as an activist in Madison to put things in perspective. In the last three months, a Klansman has confronted me and a black friend of mine was assaulted for organizing against the dress codes at Brothers and Johnny O’s. My roommate had her picture taken and posted on the Internet because she’s a socialist. Another had his picture taken and was told that it will be featured in the first issue of the new conservative campus newspaper The Mendota Beacon, coming out today. To be sure, the organized right wing is likely not responsible for each of these offenses.
Still, my biggest concern remains the confidence with which some of these far-right groups have begun recruiting and advertising (In October the Aryan Preservation Movement posted recruitment posters in the Williamson Street neighborhood). Madison officials, activists, police and students need to take these seemingly isolated events seriously. When the Klan last tried to march in Madison a few years ago, activists rightly refused to “allow them their right to free speech.” The Madison community rallied to show its opposition to the Klan, and they changed the location of the march. If we take any other approach to dealing with these chauvinists, we offer them the opportunity to grow.
This past fall, Madison’s East High School showed a production of “The Laramie Project.” This play tells the story of the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard. Fred Phelps — the deranged right-winger who says that 9-11 was God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of abortion and gays — organized a picket to share God’s disapproval. Activists responded correctly. More than a hundred of us surrounded them, shouted them down and ran them out of town after just 37 minutes of their bigotry.
Madison’s activist community needs to maintain this confident footing against such forces. This must include the latest cases of harassment haughtily claimed by the racist lunatics of protestwarrior.com (One of their signs reads “Black Children Belong in Black Schools” and countless others heap Islamophobia upon ignorance in a feat of stupefying idiocy). A couple of these “warriors” have made it their business to harass activists, post their garbage around campus and jump-start a McCarthyite binge to “out” the campus commies. These twerps are waging a self-glorified campaign of nuisance that goes beyond the acceptable bounds of discourse. As much as it pains me, we need to take these wing-nuts a little more seriously. That means reporting all cases of harassment — particularly in University Housing — and really considering what kind of threat the far-right represents.
In the process of stopping the most rightward forces, progressives are better poised to win real victories. On each major question (abortion, Iraq, etc.), Americans are divided roughly down the middle. With inequality running rampant, scapegoats will be crafted and the threat of the right may grow. However, the same conditions can give rise to the left, but only if we organize ourselves against their wars, racism, sexism and homophobia.
The left must organize against the extreme right while standing firm in its principles for equality and against all oppression.
Chris Dols (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in civil engineering and a member of the International Socialist Organization.