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Boycott the Inauguration: Saying No to Assassination

Almost forty years ago, during the famous Senate Watergate
Committee hearings which captured the Nation’s imagination
during the summer of 1973, Senator Herman E. Talmadge
questioned President Richard M. Nixon’s former advisor John
Erlichman, posing a scenario which at that time seemed
mercifully hypothetical even amidst wave after wave of
revelations adding to the growing momentum for impeachment:

SENATOR TALMADGE: Now, if the President could authorize a
break-in [of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office] and
you do not know exactly what that power would be limited,
you do not think it could include murder or other crimes
beyond covert break-ins, do you?

JOHN ERLICHMAN: I do not know where the line is,

Today, almost four decades after that famous dialogue, we
face the inauguration of President Barack Obama, who has
made it clear by word and deed where he does _not_ draw the
line: at assassination. While we may not currently have the
political wherewithal to impeach him, we do have the moral
wherewithal to boycott his inauguration and bear nonviolent
witness against the assassination of due process of law and
indeed our Constitution itself.

During the 1972 presidential campaign, Senator George
McGovern issued an invitation: “Come home, America.” He
urged us to come home from an immoral war, and from the
Nixon Administration’s repressive policies against dissent,
to what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has called “the beloved

By our social and political boycott of this inauguration
and the Obama Administration, we mean to say, “Come home,
Barack Obama.” Come home to the values of peace and justice
you have often voiced so eloquently. Come home to the
heritage of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou
Hamer, and Cesar Chavez.

* * *

Even before his election as President in 2008, Barack Obama
made his homicidal intent all too clear when he declared:
“We will kill Osama Bin Laden.” That was a declaration of
war against our Constitution, against the natural law of
moderate self-defense which prohibits killing when it is
possible to capture, and against the law of nations — the
very standards of law and morality which tell us that
terrorism is wrong and demand that terrorists such as Osama
Bin Laden be brought to a stern but humane justice.

From that fateful moment in his first presidential campaign,
Barack Obama became a partner of President George W. Bush in
demolishing one of the proudest and most sacred landmarks of
the Watergate Era movement for reform in government: the
prohibition against assassinations adopted after Senator
Frank Church and his colleagues documented the history of
covert assassination plots and attempts sponsored by the
United States or its intelligence agencies, and educated an
aroused public.

In his State of the Union message in 2003, President Bush
had hinted at a policy of assassination when he noted that
some terrorism suspects were now behind bars, while others
had “met a different fate,” and were no longer “a problem”
for the United States. Five years later, in his campaign
statement, Barack Obama turned Bush’s broad hint into the
prospective official policy of our Nation.

Regrettably, even some of us who found ourselves unable to
vote for Barack Obama in 2008 nevertheless suspended moral
disbelief and rejoiced at his election and victory speech.
Soon enough, however, innocent victims of his drone policies
in Afghanistan and Waziristan would provide ample cause for
lamentation and mourning. We side with them, not with the
policies that killed them.

Even as it preferred not to investigate the practice of
torture and homicide by the Bush Administration against its
prisoners, sometimes in secret prisons, the Obama
Administration firmed up its plans to carry the Bush policy
of assassination yet further, inaugurating an institutional
culture of “disposition matrices” and “kill lists.”

The willful, deliberate, and premeditated assassinations of
Osama Bin Laden and Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki stand
simply as the most publicized instances of an illegal and
immoral policy whose more anonymous victims in places such
as Afghanistan and Waziristan deserve and demand equal

As the courageous Russian socialist Julius Martov declared
in protesting the Leninist policy of assassination, capital
punishment, and the killing of hostages, including four
members of the nobility: the lives of those four nobles “are
worth no more than the lives of four workers. But they are
worth no less.” This early Soviet dissident endured exile
for the rest of his life as the price of conscience,
refusing to participate in the complicity of silence.

From a position of principled nonviolence, it is possible and
indeed necessary to love Barack Obama as a human being and
yet boycott his administration and its repugnant and inhuman
policies toward those it assassinates, whether by calculated
design or as the all-too-predictable results of “collateral

Our nonviolent social and political boycott of the Obama
Administration, unlike the campaign of assassination by
drone strike and night raid, should be tempered by a
recognition that our opponents are human beings with many
redeeming qualities and virtues — although not qualities
and virtues which in any way redeem these murderous

A boycott should never seek to deny an adversary the
necessities of life. President Barack Obama appears in no
danger of lacking for food, housing, or medical care —
unlike the children of Iran. We decry the death penalty and
other human rights violations in the United States and Iran
alike, but see the remedy in public advocacy and protest,
education, and the evolving standards of international law,
not in bringing about the starvation of children or denying
them life-sustaining healthcare and medicines.

A boycott should seek to delegitimize an adversary’s immoral
acts while leaving open the way for genuine and constructive
dialogue on the grievances at issue. If President Obama
wishes to reconsider his policy of “targeted killings,” we
will be glad to join in the dialogue and do our part to
guide him toward legitimate and nonlethal alternatives.
But we cannot take part in legitimizing the celebration of
the coming inauguration festivities while policies of
officially mandated murder remain in place.

A boycott should be a constructive exercise in what former
President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of
South Africa have called the art of “truth and
reconciliation.” But there can be no reconciliation without
first speaking truth to power. That includes the power that
will be on parade at the inauguration.

In wielding the moral weapon of a nonviolent boycott, we
should above all focus on the ideals and example of a
community organizer whose life and legacy are sacred to
Barack Obama as well as ourselves: Dr. Martin Luther King.

We must humbly but boldly ask: Would Dr. King have declared,
“We will kill Bull Connor”? Would he have launched a drone
firing a missile into an alleged gathering of the Ku Klux
Klan, killing five “terrorists” (as well they might be) and
twenty family members and friends who happened to be on the
scene? Would he have fatally shot rather than arrested an
unarmed suspect in the murder of Medgar Evers who stood
frozen before him, or repeatedly shot a seriously and very
possibly mortally wounded suspect lying on the floor and
writhing about, incapable of further resistance?

As Dr. King demonstrated, it is quite possible to adhere to
the principles of nonviolence and yet urge that law
enforcement agencies do their duty and protect the lives and
liberties of those threatened by invidious violence and
discrimination. He never, however, called for the police or
the National Guard to lynch the lynchers, or bomb the
bombers. He wanted, not “targeted killings,” but targeted
arrests. And this in the face of a century-long campaign of
lethal terrorism and lynching against African-Americans in
the wake of formal Emancipation which took more lives than
the horrendous events of 9/11.

That struggle is far from over, as shown by the legal
lynching of Troy Davis in Georgia on September 21, 2011.
Rather than firing drone-launched missiles in “targeted
killings” conducted in other countries, President Obama
should have launched a federal civil rights investigation to
halt the execution of Troy Davis and place the power and
prestige of his office on the side of life. Just as the
“finality” of Davis’s legal lynching did nothing to address
the real possibility that the actual killer of Officer Mark
MacPhail is still at large, so the drone killings of some
terrorism suspects and many random civilians in Afghanistan
and Pakistan do nothing to end the global injustices that
fuel terrorism. Rather, such acts erode the respect for law
and the value of human life which are the first bulwarks of

As one political activist in the United Kingdom explained,
politics is the art of changing the definition of the
possible. We are confident that making “kill lists” a
household phrase and a routine part of government was not
what he had in mind. And we are certain of our own ethical
obligation to help make such policies politically as well as
morally impossible.

Thus the inauguration of Barack Obama will mark the
inauguration of a social and political boycott against Obama
Administration rule by assassination, drone killings of
civilians, and the persecution of Bradley Manning, this
generation’s Daniel Ellsberg, while the perpetrators of
torture and “collateral murder” go free.

We must bear witness before the world that policies of
assassination are being nonviolently resisted at home as
well as abroad. We must peacefully but decisively shatter
the seductive prison of false consensus and “bipartisan
foreign policy” which would lock us into a world where
imperial acts of everyday lethality are a way of life.

With a gentle relentlessness, let us set ourselves apart
from the homicidal policies of this administration, but at
the same time come together in pursuit of the high ideals
which Barack Obama has so often and persuasively voiced,
and to which we hope he may return.

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Margo Schulter

Margo Schulter