Truth to the Powerless
November 23, 2002
By Doug Pibel
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truth to power" is a fine old motto that's seeing new life
in these times of impending war, decreasing privacy, and government
by madmen. It's a catchy phrase, and has some truth to it.
The concept is, however, only useful in two situations. If
you assume that power doesn't know the truth, it helps to
speak it. But there's little evidence that the powerful, especially
in America, don't know the truth about what they're doing.
If you think that all the Bush regime needs is a little education
about the realities of war in general, and the risks of war
on Iraq in particular, go read the National Security Strategy.
These people are perfectly happy if the Middle East goes up
Or, if you believe that power has a conscience, it's useful
to tell it the truth. "You're not putting this over on me,"
you tell power, and it slinks away, hanging its head in shame.
If you think this might be applicable to the Bush regime,
I refer you to the July 4, 2001 exchange between a disgruntled
voter and the Former Governor of Texas, in which the latter
summed up his response to the former's complaints with the
punchy, yet well reasoned, "Who cares what you think?"
I'm not at all against speaking truth to power. Some of the
people in the Bush regime show occasional glimpses of conscience.
Well, one of them does, anyway - Colin Powell - and I think
that's just for show. There's little question in my mind that
The Leader Hisself has, at best, a tenuous grasp of the truth
(that is giving him a bit too much credit, isn't it?), but
it's also clear that he's not interested in broadening his
I'd like to suggest a little modification to the slogan.
How about: "Speak truth to the powerless."
It's not, after all, the people who are running the show
who are confused. It's pretty clear that they know what they're
after: power and money. It's everybody else - the people who
are going to be left poorer and more powerless - who are confused
about what is going on.
There's an odd disconnect, much commented on in alternative
media, and presented without comment by the establishment
media, between the truths Americans express in opinion polls,
and the truths presented by the talking heads.
On the one hand, the polls say that, on almost any single
issue, the American public is at odds with the course the
Bush regime is pursuing. Environment? We don't want to drill
in ANWR. War on Iraq? We'd rather not, really. More tax welfare
for the obscenely rich? We'll take a pass on that.
On the other hand, we receive floods of reports that gushing
admiration grows second by second for our Fierce Warrior Chieftan.
This notion is bolstered by the behavior of our elected representatives,
who vote overwhelmingly in favor of laws demanded by the Fierce
One. Our representatives are so awed by this great man that
they need no longer even read legislation, let alone debate
it. How can we lesser mortals question His power and rectitude?
It is time, and past time, to break the spell. There are
signs that the walls of subterfuge are cracking. William Safire,
one of the great propagandists of neoconservatism, finds himself
discomfited by the Bush regime plan to generate an all-encompassing
database. The denizens of freerepublic.com suddenly discover
that the government might track, not merely their internet
usage, but, heaven forfend, their gun purchases.
But those examples are still not the masses. The mighty beacon
of the New York Times shines into pitifully few nooks in America;
any Internet political-interest group is tiny in a nation
of 280 million people, half of whom do not surf the web.
Contrary to popular belief, the American public is not stupid.
Misled, assuredly. Poorly educated, no doubt. But very infrequently
unable to get it, if given the facts.
Which has to be the project. The public is uneasy; it knows
something's going terribly wrong. It just doesn't have the
facts; to the contrary, it is presented a daily dose of lies.
It's not really even a matter of having to shout down the
liars. It's more a matter of finding ways to say, "There's
a perfectly good reason you feel uneasy."
People look around themselves and see their friends losing
jobs, losing 401Ks, losing homes. Yet, around the blaring
war trumpets, they hear only that the economy is "fundamentally
sound," that we're in a "temporary soft spot." They're waiting
for someone to say, "What you see with your own eyes is real.
That stuff you're told that doesn't make sense? It doesn't
make sense because it's a lie."
It would be nice if our elected representatives would say
that. But, between the pall of political fear that seems to
have settled over DC, and the fact that those who do speak
out are muffled to the point of being inaudible, that's not
Which leaves it to those of us who get our news outside the
mainstream, who question, for good reason, the official story.
How, in the face of a captive media, do we do that? Perhaps
by taking our opinions beyond the internet. If we have the
opportunity to insert a few facts into a conversation, we
need to take it. This is no time to be shy.
We need to find ways to make anti-war demonstrations better
platforms for education. It's more fun, perhaps, to carry
a sign poking fun at the big boys (I plead guilty to this
myself); it may be more productive to aim the signs, not at
the media, not at the madmen, but at the people watching from
the sidewalk, wondering, "What, exactly, are these people
so upset about?"
The Internet is rife with printer-ready stickers, posters
and leaflets. We need to go beyond pulling those up on the
screen. Print them out and put them up. Hand out leaflets.
There are growing efforts on the net to coordinate action.
Find them and join them.
It does no good to bemoan the takeover of the mass media
by corporations. That will not change soon. We need to take
the tools we have, and use them the only place where we have
access: at the grassroots.
It seems a daunting, near-impossible task, given the high
volume issuing from the hard right. But the task is not to
convert the true believers. The task is to wake up the biggest
winners in the last election, the 61% who voted, "It's too
hopeless, it's too confusing, and I don't care."
The mid-term elections were decided by a scant one percent
of the mere 39% who voted. We don't need to rouse a revolutionary
supermajority; we need only galvanize a tiny fraction. That
doesn't require mass media. It needs only individual voices,
raised only enough to firmly present the truth.
The Constitution begins, "We the people." Maybe working person-to-person
is, after all, speaking truth to power.