David Rovics on progressive activism

11/10/10 Kelly Benjamin
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Tonight, David Rovics, considered to be one of the most radical singer/songwriters in the nation, is performing at Cafe Bohemia in St. Petersburg. His music has been featured on Democracy Now!, BBC, and Al-Jazeera. Earlier today, Rovics sat down with WMNF's Kelly Benjamin and spoke about the state of progressive activism in the United States.

"In the United States there was a growing anti-capitalist movement, it's hard to define it more specifically than that because it was basically a really diverse movement, but there was a growing anti-capitalist movement in the late 90's that after the Seattle protests in 1999 really was growing fast. With lots of growing pains, making lots of mistakes, but also having lots of victories and also attracting a broader base. That was largely derailed with 9/11, although it took a couple of years, capped off by the Miami FTAA protest in 2003 to sort of...die may be too strong a word, but basically collapse into fragments."

The tide turned?

"Yeah. But that was specific to the US. In other industrialized countries that have had similar kinds of movements and certainly in Latin America and other places, South Korea, places that have had massive social movements in recent years, those movements continue. Of course in Europe xenophobes are coming to power, there's a whole other story playing out there, but the movement, the anti-capitalist movement we had for a few years is continuing in Europe and it's very similar to the one that we had in terms of the dynamics and the contradictions and the source of elements of society that make up the movement and all that. It would look very familiar to anybody that was around for the one we had here. And the anti-war movement grew and declined basically in the wake of the anti-capitalist movement. That's not coincidental because it was also 9/11 that provoked the growth of the anti-war movement along with US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. But that collapsed in 2005."

What's your opinion on where things are going now? We just had, for progressives in this country, it was a devastating election cycle last Tuesday. As a radical and activist, what's your take on that?

"When asked that question I feel like a broken record because for decades I've just been saying the same thing. Which is just that people have to recognize that we live in an undemocratic, one-dollar-one-vote plutocracy, and react to the state accordingly and not pretend that we live in a democracy. We don't, not on a regional and national level. It's just all about, it's all so saturated with money, even on a local level it is, too. But at least on a local level when running for smaller offices a social movement could potentially come to power with enough people on the ground. Maybe that could happen on a bigger scale, too, even despite our basic lack of democracy. If that's ever going to happen, and I know some people I respect tremendously like Dennis Kucinich and Michael Moore disagree but it seems to me that we have to abandon any efforts to reform the Democratic Party and form a third party movement. And, of course, that would have to go hand-in-hand with a real extra-parliamentary movement as well."

In my opinion we're at somewhat of a low point in activism right now in this country. And I don't know if people got lazy because Obama got elected or what's your opinion on that?

"I would say,in terms of activism, people need to have a sense of optimism before they're going to stick their necks out. Most people, so there's always a hard core group of people who is going to be activists no matter what. But, in terms of a mass movement, and any kind of sustaining of a mass movement there has to be a constant sense that we are actually going to accomplish something, or we stand a good chance of it in a sense of 'we know what we're going to trying to accomplish, we're trying to stop the war or we're going to get the WTO abolished' or whatever it is, it's a clear goal and there's a sense that there's a lot of support for it and a sense that we can actually accomplish this goal. Absent that kind of sense of optimism, most people are going to stick to working their two jobs, keeping their head above water. They're not going to go spend their time risking arrest, protesting in the streets and all that. But in terms of the rise of the Tea Party and stuff like that I think we're in a real sort of ... moment where the progressive forces are absent in the streets to a large extent and the pseudo progressive forces in power are not coming anywhere close to meeting the basic needs of the population. And there are other forces also in power but who are more volatile and less interested in democracy than the corporate thugs that are running the Democratic Party. Those elements are rising and seeing the opportunity to consolidate an even more repressive and less prosperous version of America than the Democrats would like."

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