If you'd like to know what effective action against the government of the United States looks like, you should go to Baghdad. There you have it. If you can countenance suicide bombings, car bombs, firefights in the streets, then by all means, have at it. If, on the other hand . . .
In his essay on Ghandi, Orwell noted that it was a quirk of the British--more particularly: of the British imperium at that moment--that permitted Ghandi (the figure, not the man) to exist. The Nazis, Orwell said, would've shot him. Of course, if Ghandi had been an uneducated and unanglophone dalit, the Brits or his Indian betters would've shot him. But he was what he was and who he was. So it goes.
In the United States, those who sustain a countercultural disposition are routinely hounded from public life. We are not yet at the point where such folks have to disappear, but that owes largely to the narrow, self-policed range of allowable thought and opinion in our culture, which everyone from de Tocqueville to Twain to Mencken to Sontag have noticed and regretted. Still, there can be no doubt that in our age of secret prisons, black ops sites, "extraordinary renditions," superjudicial executions, immunized mercenaries, etc., an effective agitator would never make it as far as the mountaintop.
In the first place, clear your mind of the idea that there is going to be a revolution. There isn't. Clear your mind of the idea that an organized, effective "challenge to the system" can be mounted by citizens against the American state. It can't, and it won't. The fiscal and military resources of the state are too vast; its foundations too deep; its citizens too conditioned to life within to envision, let alone desire, life without. If you tried to overthrow the government, you'd be shot. If you tried to organize a general strike, you'd fail--not only because you could never achieve a sufficient number of people to effectuate such a strike, but because we live in a state with the capacity to render a million people taking to the streets in protest as a non-event. Perhaps you recall the extraordinary scale of the protests in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, London on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, or on several occasions afterward. Perhaps. But your neighbor doesn't.
On the other hand, America's underground "shadow economy" now accounts for more than 10% of the national economy. (See Eric Schlosser's imperfect, but very useful Reefer Madness, among others.) You're free to particpate. And, of course, you can stop traffic. This being disdained as "prickishness," lately, let me quote at length from the inspired original:
Real politics doesn't necessarily imply hanging “investment bankers” from lampposts – though that would be fun as well as salutary. It is not, however, essential, at the moment, and perhaps not ever. The elites know they are greatly outnumbered by the rest of us, and they are fundamentally frightened of us. All you have to do is stop traffic.The emphasis is mine. The sentiment ought to be yours.
Stopping traffic is, in fact, the minimum precondition for real politics, and thus of real democracy, just as the touch of skin on skin is the minimum precondition of real sex.
Interestingly, it has never been easier to stop traffic. Those Merry Pranksters in Boston a few weeks ago did it with a handful of blinking LEDs. Self-imposed “War on Terror” hysteria and police frenzy have made the armorbound, overgunned Talus of the enforcement state frightened of its own shadow – or, more accurately, of any point of light, no matter how transient and faint, that isn't its shadow. Anything Caliban sees in the mirror that isn't Caliban will have Caliban on the floor, chewing the carpet.
Buy a cheap knapsack or duffle bag every week. Stuff it with rags or old underwear and leave it in a subway station, or an airport, or just on a sidewalk. Tune in to the evening news and watch the fun.
They hate crowds. Go to Gawker Stalker and report Britney Spears running bare-tit down the street in front of the Israeli Consulate. Be sure to provide the address.
Carry a small can of black spray paint and use it on the lens of every surveillance camera you see. I know, it won't stop traffic, but it'll drive 'em crazy.
Drive really, really slow. In fact, get a couple of co-conspirators to drive really, really slow alongside you. When news radio reports a mysterious slowdown on the Whatever Expressway, take credit in the name of the Asphalt Liberation Front.
Create a dozen or so bogus accounts on some Web site that annoys you – may I suggest Daily Kos? -- and keep the troll-hunters wakeful and strung out. It doesn't stop physical traffic, but it stops, or at least impedes, the ideological traffic in exploded notions.
Don't allow your kids to do homework.
The main thing, though, is to stop being constructive. Don't waste a moment thinking about what “policies” might be better than the ones we have. The fact is that the institutions we have absolutely guarantee insane policies, and unless the balance of power between the elites and the rest of us is changed, then those institutions will continue to manufacture insanity day in and day out.
And there is, needless to say, no institutional way to change the balance of power. The institutions exist to maintain the balance of power – or, more accurately, to tip the balance of power ever more toward the elites. Changing the balance of power requires interfering with the institutions, and impairing or impeding their operation.
In short: stop traffic.