A New Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority (1969)
Opponents of the Vietnam War have worked to end it in many ways, some through conventional politics, some by supporting draft resistance or attacking university complicity in militarism. Others have carried resistance further, destroying draft files and developing opposition within the armed forces. We believe that resistance to many forms of illegitimate authority is necessary to bring health to this country and make it a constructive force instead of a terror in the politics of nations.
Therefore, we support those who resist by refusing to register for the draft or submit to induction impeding the operations of draft boards and induction centers expressing antiwar views while in the armed forces, or refusing to obey illegal a, immoral orders, or absenting themselves without leave conducting rent and workers’ strikes, boycotts, and similar direct actions aimed at ending exploitation in the fields, in factories, in housing organizing against harassment by police, by the FBI, by the courts, and by Congress organizing sit-ins, strikes, and any principled actions at schools and universities, to end racist practices and direct complicity with militarism
The Vietnam War has reminded us that major decisions can be made in the United States in cynical disregard of the clearly expressed will of the people and with little concern for those most affected, at home and abroad. The war has also illustrated the readiness of the U.S. to use violence to impose the social arrangements of its choice and to destroy those who attempt to achieve popular control over their affairs. Closely linked to the government, providing its top personnel and shaping its policies, are the centers of private power, the great corporations that control the economic life of the notion and, increasingly of the world. They are governed not by popular will but by corporate interests as determined by a narrow autocratic elite. The government’s resort to force to impose decisions of a ruling elite is one sign of failing democratic institutions and thus of the illegitimacy of the state. Both the use of police and the military and the absence of democratic control over major institutions underscore the illegitimacy of the authority that sets public policy in the U.S. and establishes the framework for social life. But it is not enough to decry the exercise of illegitimate authority; if it is illegitimate, it must be resisted.
Resistance to the war and the draft has brought peace groups into conflict with police, courts, and universities. This is not surprising, for the war has its roots deep in our society and to oppose it seriously is to attack a wide range of evils and the institutions that sponsor them. A brief review of five areas of illegitimate authority follows.
1. The war on Vietnam is neither a unique folly nor an error in judgment. Since the end of the last century, U.S. power has been used for economic, political and cultural exploitation of smaller and poorer nations. The accelerated pacification, the most ferocious non-nuclear bombing in history, and the deceitful maneuvering in Paris are recent manifestations of a global strategy aimed at building an integrated world system dominated by the U.S. Thus seen, Vietnam is one of a long series of interventions in the affairs of many nations: Greece, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Iran, Laos, Thailand, the Congo, the Philippines, and others. Motivated by a mixture of private interests and misplaced convictions, the Pax Americana continues to inflict suffering and subservience on much of the third world.
2. The Vietnam War has also brought the human and economic costs of the garrison state at home. It has allowed an insatiable military organization to claim over half of the federal budget, directly and indirectly. (A tenth is allocated to health, education, and welfare.) Beyond that, President Nixon has promoted the MIRV and the ABM, both bellicose gestures towards China and the Soviet Union as well as extravagant subsidies of aerospace industries. The Pentagon has insisted recently that military expenditures, even after Vietnam, will remain at current levels, in order to resupply and modernize the armed forces. And in states and cities, a martial mood prevails as police and national guardsmen arm themselves with new weapons, gas the Berkeley campus from helicopters and, there and elsewhere, shoot at citizens, particularly the poor and the young. Dissidents in the army face heavy sentences; and for young men generally, the draft remains the prime symbol of social obligation. In brief, the violence of the state has come increasingly to threaten or control the lives of U.S. citizens.
3. This triumph of illegitimate force has continued to enrich the rich. Cost-plus defense and space contracts have guaranteed affluence to a handful of corporations and subsidized their growth, while the real wages of workers, after inflation and spiraling taxes, have diminished. The non-unionized and the unemployed are, obviously, the worst victims. Welfare programs, ill-conceived to begin with, have been cut back or left languishing, more an insult than an aid. Real welfare programs have been reserved for the wealthy: tax loopholes, the oil depletion allowance, airline subsidies, form subsidies, highway projects, urban renewal, subsidies to elite universities, and so on. In the past government policy has characteristically preserved or increased the distance between rich and poor. The policy of permanent preparation for war is no exception.
4. Like wealth, control over institutions has been unequally distributed and irresponsibly used. The mistreatment by police of the people they supposedly serve has been only the most blatant example. Schools have failed to educate the children of poor and working class families, thus guaranteeing their impotence in a technological society: in most inner cities, fewer than half the students who enter high school graduate; in New York City, where blacks and Puerto Ricans make up about half of the student population, only a fifth of the graduates of academic (i.e., college-oriented) high schools are black or Puerto Rican – and only a fifth of those graduates go on to college. Yet attempts by parents to improve the schools through community control have been fought bitterly by New York’s educational bureaucracy. Or to take a rather different instance, heavily subsidized highways have displaced families and foreclosed possibilities for mass transport systems that might serve all – hardly a surprise, given the dependence of the nation’s largest corporations on the automobile. Industrial wastes, oil leakages, and municipal sewage rob citizens of beaches and streams and, with the fouling of the atmosphere, literally threaten the continuation of life. In short, most people have little control over the conditions of their work, their education, their protection, their means of transport – indeed, the air they breathe and the water they drink.
5. The most powerless have been people of color. U.S. history has included the systematic conquest and slaughter of American Indians, the enslavement, degradation, and murder of Afro-Americans, the callous exploitation of Chicanos, the detention and robbery of Japanese-Americans, and the use of atomic weapons, napalm gas, and crop-destroying chemicals against people of the third world. Consequently, U.S. citizens inherit a notion in which white privilege and white power are part of the natural order and structure of society. People of color die at a disproportionate rate in warfare or peace. They are unemployed disproportionately, receive inferior education disproportionately, are humiliated disproportionately. Despite the recent recognition of some mystical, undefined racism by official government commissions, the living conditions of non-whites have remained intolerable. Every effort by non-whites to gain power, even in their own communities, has been met by violent opposition; militant blacks, determined to bring about the promised changes, are harassed, jailed, killed, or forced into exile. In many ghettoes, there is virtual war between blacks and predominantly white police.
Two years ago, the first Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority focused on the war and the draft. But we cannot oppose the war without opposing the institutions that support and maintain it. Imperialism, militarism, economic exploitation, undemocratic power, racism: though the words may seem stale, they describe the exercise of illegitimate authority in the United States today. Again, we call upon all to join us in the struggle against illegitimate authority. Now is the time to resist.
In reversing the convictions of the Boston Four, the First Circuit Court I Appeals left open the possibility that signing the original Call to Resist or this New Call could, in conjunction with other acts, be viewed as illegal. We believe it Is the government’s actions, not ours, which are illegal However signers and contributors should be aware that their actions might be found illegal.
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