The 40-Year Plan:
'cause it ain't gonna happen overnight...
W e stir the pot. We the radical collective known as Laura hereby accept responsibility for pranks of democratic merriment. We climb billboards to deface military recruiting posters, break into abandoned buildings to hang signs, and gain entry to conventions to heckle politicians. We circulate pamphlets, sticker sport utility vehicles and organize street theater. We also participate in actions we cannot reveal at this time for security reasons. We have been questioned by the Secret Service, followed by the FBI and spent time in jail.
We seek to harm nothing but the attitude that permits one group of people to dominate another, economically or militarily. Bound by a shared contempt for mass murder and a commitment to intellectual honesty, we have met regularly during the past 14 months to plan and enact scenarios of civic joy. We agree that persecution and the risk of arrest outweigh the inner torment of passive acceptance of the evils of war.
We number many, yet we work in clusters of 15 or less. We team up with other affinity groups for major events, where we gather with hundreds of thousands of like minds. We are your neighbor, grocery store cashier, high school math teacher, television photographer and dental hygienist.
We adhere to the church of Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." We seek to challenge your perceptions of power and to incite you to question your very participation in your own oppression. We call upon all of you who hope for a better future, where we have candidates worth voting for, when we cease to fear our leaders, when those in power understand human suffering as universal, to join our struggle.
We invite you to help create a world where our protest is obsolete because we have vanquished injustice, conquered poverty, surmounted illiteracy and elevated the assurance of equal human rights as our highest priority.
We begin small. Find people who share your politics and who you think would be good conversationalists in jail. Set a time to meet.
If you organize by e-mail, don't talk about action specifics online, and you won't fret that the federal government will spy on you. If agents come to your meetings, be flattered that they think your activities merit attention. Be sure to set a new date to meet before closing the meeting, otherwise e-mails will fly for weeks before picking a time.
Pick a name. Using consensus to make even the smallest decisions, we unanimously agree to decisions, like naming our affinity group "Laura." The Sunday before America attacked Iraq, [March 20, 2003,] we sat in someone's living room, savoring fresh pastries from Baghdad, wondering if the bakery that made them will exist in five days.
We never call the meeting to order. We dismiss the hierarchy of "Robert's Rules of Order" and embrace a system where all voices have equal representation. In a democracy, the ends are the means by which you arrive.
Usually, meetings feature rotating positions: a facilitator who cannot voice an opinion, a stacker who tracks the people who seek to speak and a note taker. Notes exist to maintain order and refresh memories as to discussion content. We destroy all meeting minutes, so the following conversation represents the best of my addled memory.
"I say we name ourselves Laura," says J.
T. raises his hand. Stacker points to him, then to me.
"Why?" T. asks.
"Because for months, F. thought it was my name," said J. People laugh, thinking that F. is brilliant, but makes goofy mistakes.
"Well I like it, too," I say. "The first thing that popped into my head was my friend Laura. She hated war and just died from cancer. I like it being in her honor, too."
A reverent nod and hum of agreement travels around the room.
"Is this a proposal?" the facilitator asks.
"Yes," T. says.
Heads shake no.
"All in favor?" the facilitator asks.
A thumbs up signals "yes." A so-so hand wobble means relative unease, but not an outright "no." A thumbs down indicates displeasure that will send the proposal back for minor adjustments. A fist blocks the proposal, forcing the group to dismiss the idea. Blocks are rare.
Meetings can be interminably long, particularly if 50 people are participating, like when different affinity groups send representatives to larger council meetings. Consensus can be used effectively in pressure situations. It takes practice and patience, patience, patience.
We aim for the triumph of reasonable debate, and acknowledge the frailty of human discourse, that people get bored and daydream. We remain open to suggestions for improvement.
S ons and Daughters of Liberty, choose your tea party. We suggest something public, such as a sidewalk or a personal appearance of someone like former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whom many consider a war criminal. For example, the Connecticut Forum invited civilian Pentagon adviser Richard Perle to a conversation entitled "Personal Securities vs. Personal Liberties: the Big Dilemma."
The forum billed Perle as "one of the key architects of America's global security policies." That's putting it nicely. Perle advocated fiercely for the doctrine of pre-emptive warfare, and thus the invasion of Iraq. He stated plainly: "International law stood in the way of doing the right thing in Iraq." He lives in France, and keeps friends like Adnan Khashoggi, a Saudi-born arms broker also linked to Colombian drug dealing. Perle is a managing partner in the venture-capital company called Trireme Partners LLP, which has said it invests in companies dealing in technology, goods and services valued by homeland security and defense. Such companies can profit from terrorism through military hardware sales and other services. While working on behalf of Trireme and Global Crossing LTD, Perle chaired the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, an advisory group that assesses the country's strategic defense policy, raising questions about his possible conflict of interest. Perle stepped down as chairman in March 2003 and quit the board altogether in February 2004.
Knowing that Perle would speak Sept. 18 2004at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, we began considering actions in mid-August. We devised a two-pronged strategy.
First, we distributed a mock Connecticut Forum playbill to educate audience members about Perle's true nature. Once we selected the appropriate information, we threw a Forum logo on it and sent it to our allies in a corporate copy center for free printing. On that evening, our members dressed in suits and ties and skirts and jackets and stood on Capitol Avenue in front of the Bushnell, politely offering programs to patrons. We handed out more than 500. We judged it successful based on Forum founder Richard Sugarman's insistence to the audience that only one authentic, official program existed.
Second, we painted banners and smuggled them inside the theater. Our collective raised money to buy front-row balcony seats. A media double agent contributed an orchestra seat for our operative. When the emcee introduced Perle, our plant in the orchestra stood up, waved his arms in the direction of the unfurled banners reading "War Criminal" and "War Profiteer" and shouted "Oh my God, look at that!"
Hundreds of heads turned. A misguided patron removed one banner, while our operative protected the other for two precious minutes by confusing the ushers. Laura disavows any knowledge of those who heckled Perle that evening.
We meet soon after a successful action to swap war stories over beer. Keep your battle triumphs quiet though. A dose of security culture prevents paranoia. Some secrets allow you to fight another day. Don't discuss actions over insecure data lines and don't share actions with people you can't trust. If members can't share some less incriminating exploits with trusted acquaintances, they will never recruit new members, and the Laura Manifesto will fail.
Flawed people (that's all of us) create flawed institutions. Affinity groups, while loose and informal organizations, must remain wary of the demons that doom all collective efforts: ego, jealousy, resentment, carelessness, and inflexibility, to name a few. Laura struggles with this and more, and these skirmishes sap our strength, take our eyes off the prize.
While our actions have yet to shift the national dialogue to the universal, progressive values enumerated in the Magna Carta, expanded in the Declaration of Independence and echoed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Economic Bill of Rights, we will not lose confidence. We will not stop until we hear presidential candidates debating the First Amendment, until community defeats alienation, until we tire of each other.