Arundhati Roy in Harlem May 13, 2003
walterlx at enet.cu
Mon May 19 16:15:37 MDT 2003
The Outlook India
Magazine | May 26, 2003
Text of a speech at Harlem, New York
Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy. Buy One, Get One Free
When a country ceases to be merely a country and becomes an
empire, then the scale of operations changes dramatically.
... I speak as a subject of the American Empire. I speak as
a slave who presumes to criticise her king.
This is the full text of the Center for Economic and Social
Rights (CESR)-sponsored lecture delivered by Arundhati Roy
at the Riverside Church in Harlem, New York, on May 13.
Historically known for its social activism, this is the
church where Nelson Mandela spoke and where
Martin Luther King Jr. first protested the Vietnam War.
Roy's talk was announced on CESR's website last month, and
all 3,000 tickets -- priced inexpensively, at her request,
to make them democratically accessible -- sold out within
hours. In response to the huge demand, free "overflow"
seating with closed circuit TV was arranged; when that was
filled to capacity (audience included U.N. officials,
well-known actors, activists and intellectuals), hundreds of
fans were turned away.
Roy's speech, honored with long standing ovations, and the
discussion that followed it, was broadcast on live radio in
five major U.S. cities; C-Span, a TV channel that usually
airs U.S. Senate hearings, will air the full address this
In these times when we have to race to keep abreast of the
speed at which our freedoms are being snatched from us, and
when few can afford the luxury of retreating from the
streets for a while in order to return with an exquisite,
fully formed political thesis replete with footnotes and
references, what profound gift can I offer you tonight? As
we lurch from crisis to crisis, beamed directly into our
brains by satellite TV, we have to think on our feet. On the
move. We enter histories through the rubble of war. Ruined
cities, parched fields, shrinking forests and dying rivers
are our archives. Craters left by daisy-cutters, our
libraries. So what can I offer you tonight? Some
uncomfortable thoughts about money, war, empire, racism and
democracy. Some worries that flit around my brain like a
family of persistent moths that keep me awake at night.
Some of you will think it bad manners for a person like me,
officially entered in the Big Book of Modern Nations as an
"Indian citizen", to come here and criticise the US
government. Speaking for myself, I'm no flag-waver, no
patriot, and am fully aware that venality, brutality, and
hypocrisy are imprinted on the leaden soul of every state.
But when a country ceases to be merely a country and becomes
an empire, then the scale of operations changes
dramatically. So may I clarify that tonight I speak as a
subject of the American Empire? I speak as a slave who
presumes to criticise her king.
So, as Lenin used to ask: What Is To Be Done?
It would be naive to imagine that we can directly confront
Empire. Our strategy must be to isolate Empire's working
parts and disable them one by one. No target is too small.
No victory too insignificant. We could reverse the idea of
the economic sanctions imposed on poor countries by Empire
and its Allies. We could impose a regime of Peoples'
Sanctions on every corporate house that has been awarded
with a contract in post-war Iraq, just as activists in this
country and around the world targeted institutions of
apartheid. Each one of them should be named, exposed and
boycotted. Forced out of business. That could be our
response to the Shock and Awe campaign. It would be a great
Another urgent challenge is to expose the corporate media
for the boardroom bulletin that it really is. We need to
create a universe of alternative information. We need to
support independent media like Democracy Now, Alternative
Radio, South End Press.
The battle to reclaim democracy is going to be a difficult
one. Our freedoms were not granted to us by any governments.
They were wrested from them by us. And once we surrender
them, the battle to retrieve them is called a revolution.It
is a battle that must range across continents and countries.
It must not acknowledge national boundaries, but, if it is
to succeed, it has to begin here. In America. The only
institution more powerful than the US government is American
civil society. The rest of us are subjects of slave nations.
We are by no means powerless, but you have the power of
proximity. You have access to the Imperial Palace and the
Emperor's chambers. Empire's conquests are being carried out
in your name, and you have the right to refuse. You could
refuse to fight. Refuse to move those missiles from the
warehouse to the dock. Refuse to wave that flag. Refuse the
You have a rich tradition of resistance. You need only read
Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States to
remind yourself of this.
Hundreds of thousands of you have survived the relentless
propaganda you have been subjected to, and are actively
fighting your own government. In the ultra-patriotic climate
that prevails in the United States, that's as brave as any
Iraqi or Afghan or Palestinian fighting for his or her
If you join the battle, not in your hundreds of thousands,
but in your millions, you will be greeted joyously by the
rest of the world. And you will see how beautiful it is to
be gentle instead of brutal, safe instead of scared.
Befriended instead of isolated. Loved instead of hated.
I hate to disagree with your president. Yours is by no
means a great nation. But you could be a great people.
History is giving you the chance.
Seize the time.
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