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About Face: A Review

by James Russell
New Clear Vision
January 4, 2012

Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier accused by the U.S. government of leaking documents to whistleblower website Wikileaks, served as one of many faces for the year’s sweeping protests (and even at pride parades, as I reported for Truthout). That Manning’s leaks showed that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are disasters gave fuel for a movement just hunting for a symbol. But understanding why Manning leaked the documents requires knowing the movement that adopted him.

About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War (PM Press, 2011), the oral history collection from the GI (Government Issue) resister organization Courage to Resist’s Audio Project, does just that. This distinctive entry into the literature and media about GI resistance is a collection of interviews, articles, and photos that share the stories of the soldiers, including many women and people of color, who refuse to fight or return to their service. By sharing their stories, the book humanizes this group of largely chance activists and their supporters who are driven by a desire to change their broken system.

The strategy of successful GI resisters could inform any burgeoning social movement. But, as publicizing is only part of the whole strategy, humanizing is only step one. Humanizing their cause evolves into something larger—the opportunity for the social movement to articulate its vision and to finally be heard.

If a movement is to be successful, it must evolve into a vast united front, as Mann argues in Playbook. Whether GI resisters or Wisconsin Republicans protesting their governor at the statehouse or climate change activists risking arrest outside of the White House, the chance activists who emerged this year onto a staid and tired activist scene came with a willingness to collaborate and gave energy and vitality to the protest once again. But they did not ignore the activists who saw that vision—the promised land, as Solomon describes it—long ago, they joined them instead. Indeed, as Talen and Savitri said to Truthout earlier this year, “the First Amendment is back.”

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