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Tip O'Neill from the Grave: Blackwater is Local

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Most of us accept Tip O'Neill's adage that all politics is local. Yet, most of us want to play on the big stage, push for change from the top down. Sometimes it works, but real movements for social change are very local. Think about the 1960s civil rights movement that ultimately transformed this country because one person after another sat at a whites only diner counter or was beaten by the police or marched on Washington. And the Vietnam anti-war movement that included kids on college campuses getting shot, millions standing up and saying no. Or the right wing revolution that brought millions out of their churches to take over their school boards, city councils and eventually the congress and the White House.

Nothing has changed. All politics is local. Let's look at Blackwater, now the top story on both blogs and in mainstream media. Eighteen months ago, Blackwater was invisible to most, a part of the giant war machine that Bush built. Author Jeremy Scahill, Iraq for Sale and a few others started telling the Blackwater story both directly and in the context of the larger issues around outsourcing of and profiteering from war.

For most of the mainstream media and the public, it all hit home last month when thirteen or more Iraqis were killed by Blackwater in the light of day. It was local. These were not terrorists or soldiers or insurgents or high level officials. They were just people, trying to live in a city already nearly unlivable. And they encountered a bunch of thugs on the loose, operating, as Arianna points out, as an extension of American diplomacy. America was popular with Soviet citizens at the height of the Cold War because we helped individuals to learn about the real world via radio. We were a home for artists and thinkers who wanted to be free. Our Embassy and consulates reached out to Soviet individuals for art exhibitions, concerts, talks. Even when Soviets did not like our government, they almost uniformly liked us.

It was local.

But even this "local" Blackwater event is thousands of miles away, not in our backyard, right? Think again. Sunday, two hundred or so people turned up in the high desert/ranching country of eastern San Diego County to take on Blackwater, their bully neighbor-to-be. As I've written here before, Blackwater intends to open an 824-acre base near the pristine town of Potrero. And while Blackwater says it wants to train police officials, not just mercenaries, do we really want Blackwater training the LAPD on crowd control? As the LA Times story today makes clear, the last example our police need is the shoot first and don't ask questions mentality of Blackwater.

Maybe Blackwater just wants to use that base to guard our border with Mexico. That's pretty comforting, too. I for one will sleep better at night knowing that a bunch of over muscled, steroid taking, machine-gun toting guys will be ready to start the first war we've had with Mexico since 1848.

The local residents of Potrero will have none of it. Aware that the Democratic front-runner's top advisor was paid by Blackwater, and seeing that their own Senators will not so much as comment on Blackwater's plans for California, the people are acting. They've gotten a measure on the local ballot to recall the four members of the Potrero planning group who were bamboozled by Blackwater and quietly voted to recommend that the base be built. Nine thousand people have signed Courage Campaign's petitions to Senators Boxer, Feinstein and Governor Schwarzenegger to stop Blackwater here in our state. The Sierra Club is working through the environmental review process to demonstrate that not only would Blackwater's base be a fire hazard to a tinder-dry area, but that it would damage irreparably the environment and animal and plant species that go with that destruction.

I was amazed at what I saw on Sunday. Not only was the event brilliantly organized with Congressman Bob Filner on hand to talk about legislation he wants to get passed in DC (so far without any other takers among the Democratic leadership), but the Blackwater boys were on hand. There they stood at our event and across the street at their own. Big guys. Big muscles. Big sunglasses. You get the picture. Just the neighbors you want in your own backyard.

If Blackwater is allowed to build a base in California, not only will we damage the environment, but we will aid and abet a criminal company. I do not hyperbolize. The Iraqi government wants to prosecute Blackwater. Multiple cases against Blackwater are in various stages within the American judicial system. If Blackwater opens here, we can be sure of two things: 1) they'll make more money and get stronger; and 2) people will get hurt or worse.

As with civil rights, the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq, the people are leading the fight against this mercenary army. We at the Courage Campaign will continue to support and expand the work of the local heroes in Portrero. While they have yet to hear from most of our leaders on this, friends of the people such as Assembly Majority Leader Karen Bass are picking up their cause, because, as we know, all politics is local.