The Antiwar Movement: Which Way Forward?
By Bonnie Weinstein
The massive outpouring of opposition to U.S. policy around the world on March 20 was a tremendous victory for all those under attack by U.S. imperialism. Having been intimately involved in organizing the demonstration in San Francisco, I can tell you that its size exceeded our expectations. It proved that the issue of Palestine is understood in the antiwar movement to be linked to Iraq and Afghanistan and to the American imperialist plan for the world. More than 50,000 people filled San Franciscos Civic Center. The agreed-upon demands for this action were as follows: Bring the troops home now! End colonial occupation from Iraq to Palestine and everywhere! Money for jobs, health care, housing and education; not for war and occupation! The demand, U.S. out of Haiti, was added to the list.
The march was led by a large Palestinian contingent. And almost every speaker made the connection between Palestine and the war.
This is a concrete example of the power of a mass protest movement to bring these issues out into the open, giving the average person, the average worker, a view of events different from the lies they are fed by the capitalist media, which they instinctively know not to trust.
People are not stupid. They are not satisfied with the media hype and they dont believe it. Thats why so many people who are eligible to vote just dont bother. The spin doctors try to attribute this to indifference and complacency. On the contrary, however, its an expression of the fact that they dont buy into the whole capitalist political system. They know its rigged in favor of the rich.
Demonstrations like this most recent massive turnout prove that the people are not easily fooled. They can and do learn from the movement. Mass demonstrations are, in effect, massive educational campaigns and one of our most important organizing tools. Huge, peaceful demonstrations empower people to take a stand in their own defense.
Over 2 million people protested around the world on March 20. One million in Italy alone! Ninety percent of Spanish people opposed the war, and when they went to the polls, they voted for the candidate who said he would withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.
Opposition to the war and its effects are growing. In order to build and strengthen the world movement we need to create a democratic structure that can coordinate our efforts and unify our actions. We need to come together regularly, be open to publishing all views, and entertain new motions as issues present themselves. We need to make and carry out plans of action formulated by the majority. Democracy, real democracy, by definition is mass decision-making and majority rule.
The American antiwar movement is in a unique and pivotal position to paralyze the monster that is consuming the entire planet. And it is in the best position to bring about unity and solidarity among all the monsters victims.
Each of our demands should be formulated so that, if won, they would significantly and concretely improve the lives of the victims of war and occupation as well as preserve resources needed for the common good.
A well-organized and unified movement could help force our government to end the war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and achieve withdrawal of all aid to the Israeli government. Such a movement could even help force the withdrawal of all our troops throughout the world. A strong, democratically structured, international united front, based on a common set of demands, can be such a movement.
Let me list the four most important demands around which to unite and let me explain their importance:
1. Bring the troops home now!
If we could succeed in forcing the U.S. to withdraw all of its troops from around the world, it would prevent them from killing more Iraqi and Afghani people; moreover, the troops would no longer be dying for a cause that is against their own interests. The demand, Bring the troops home now, links the interests of the U.S. troops themselves with the interests of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today, everywhere our troops are deployed, the people hate them. The troops know it and they want to come home. We have to say to them, Join us! These people you were sent here to kill are not your enemies. Their interests are your interests. You are not fighting for freedom you are fighting for oil. Lay down your arms and demand to be brought home! Refuse to go! This is a powerful appeal and it can be irresistible when echoed by their parents, brothers and sisters, friends and the society as a whole.
The U.S. antiwar movement is obliged to demand that our troops be brought home. U.S. Out! This is the demand of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and it should be respected first and foremost.
2. No U.S. aid to Israel!
Central to the struggle today is the right of the Palestinian people to live in a free and democratic society that allows them the right to return to their ancestral homesa society in which each person can practice any religion he or she chooses, or none at all. Zionist Israels refusal to acknowledge this right of the Palestinian people exposes the regimes real intentions. The Zionist puppet state and its master rule the region for the purpose of controlling its oil. It was never about religious beliefs.
But simply calling for an end to occupation or colonization is not enough. We have a responsibility to challenge our governments involvement in the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. We have a responsibility to demand that every shred of support to Zionist Israel be stopped. Without the billions of our tax dollars pouring in to prop it up, Israel would be bankrupt and totally unable to wage war against the Palestinians.
In this respect, the United States has a special power granted by Congress. This law states that the weapons and military aid granted to Israel are to be used for defensive purposes only. If the U.S. wished, it is empowered by this law to remove all their F-16 fighter-bombers, all their Apache battle helicopters, their missiles, their fancy electronic systems, their maintenance systems and even the spare parts. We in this country should demand that the military aid laws be used to strip the Israeli defense forces of U.S.-supplied weapons of mass destruction. This would bring the oppression of the Palestinians to a screeching halt.
Not only would this be in the best interests of the Palestinian people, it would be in the best interests of all workers, both Israeli and Palestinian, who value freedom and a decent life. It would be striking a deathblow to the occupation of Palestine and the existence of the apartheid state of Israel.
Forcing the withdrawal of all U.S. aid to Israel would be a powerful first step in the ability of the Palestinian and Israeli working class to recognize their common interests, finally enabling them to join together in a fight against the U.S.-backed and financed Zionist regime and for self-determination, equality, justice and democracy for all!
3. Money for human needs, not war!
The hundreds of billions of dollars spent on war throughout the capitalist world affects every aspect of the social infrastructure. No matter what economic condition workers were in, they are worse off now, because of the phenomenal costs of the U.S. and world capitalist war machine.
The demand, Money for human needs not war, fits so closely with the needs and aspirations of the great majority of humanity that it needs little further elaboration. These interests are common to all, no matter where they live on the planet.
There are many issues within this one demand that can broaden the movement and raise the level of mass consciousness. The slogans, Schools not jails, and books not bombs, for example, connect the student movement with the struggle of the inner-city youth against the war on drugsa war that unfairly targets poor and non-white people, those most hurt by unemployment and the cutbacks in social services.
4. No racial scapegoating! Defend all civil liberties and human rights!
These demands oppose racism and insist upon democracy and human rights. The issues of immigrant rights and the rights of undocumented workers, no matter what country they are from, to live, work and enjoy the same rights and freedoms as any of us are an important part of the struggle for human emancipation.
Cases like that of Amer Jubran, a Palestinian antiwar activist stalked by the U.S. secret service and forced to take voluntary departure from the U.S., must be championed. Or consider the case of New York area human rights activist Farouk Abdel-Muhti. Task force officers carrying out the Absconder Apprehension Initiative arrested Farouk in his home on April 26, 2002. The January 2002 Justice Department memo directed agents to arrest immigrants with outstanding deportation orders, prioritizing 6,000 from Arab and South Asian Muslim countries. Farouk has been subjected to beatings and solitary confinement. He is was in prison for two years. There is no evidence of any wrongdoing on his part.
There are thousands of cases like Amers and Farouks, and thousands who have been jailed or deported in the name of Homeland Security and under the Patriot Act. Under these rules any one of us can be so charged and treated.
Consider the case of Lynne Stewart. She is the attorney who is being accused of conspiring to provide material support for terrorism for merely doing her duty as a lawyer to defend Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was charged and convicted of terrorism. Basically, Lynne, who is a noted attorney for the victims of oppression in this country and has been an activist herself for many years, is accused of talking out of turn and interfering with the jailers ability to listen in on the conversations between lawyer and client. This, our government says, is terrorism. How many lawyers are going to want to step forward and defend anyone if they, in turn, will be charged with the crime their client is accused of? Where does that leave the unjustly accused?
The corruption of democracy and human rights are systemic to capitalism. It is democracy for the rich and enslavement of the poor, plain and simple.
The antiwar movement must remain independent
The adoption of these four demands and the creation of a democratic structure will solidify the movement and establish a mechanism for struggle and victory for those who are suffering.
To succeed, the movement must remain independent of all ruling class politics and stand on the side of the oppressed and exploited of Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Haiti, among other countries. Our demands must center on the wants and needs of the masses of humanityall those who create, build, manufacture, maintain, store, distribute, transport, design, grow, harvest, feed, and care for the comfort and well-being of all of human society.
We cannot stand on the side of human emancipation if we support one or another representative of the ruling class just because he or she feigns sympathy for our plight. Independent organization and independent action are the only ways to ensure that the movements interests are in solidarity with the oppressed. Democrats and Republicans are the mouthpieces for capitalist imperialism. The one thing they cant tolerate is a truly independent and democratic movementwith workers making decisions for themselves.
Democracy is our safeguard
The Democratic Party, or any party based on preserving the capitalist system, cannot tolerate democracy in the movement because they cant and dont agree with the demands of the movement! They dont agree with Bring the troops home now. They are for their so-called war on terror, i.e., against anyone they call a terrorist. They support the prison industrial complex. They support the Taft-Hartley slave labor lawand on and on.
At every opportunity our goal should be to demonstrate our independence by organizing democratically and to show our unity and solidarity in massive, peaceful protests. Such protest should be designed to include and unify all those who agree with our demands and goalsnot only on the marches themselves, but also in every aspect of the organizational process and at every level of decision-making.
Such a movement will show those in the daily life-and-death struggle on the front lines that they are not alonethat millions of us in the belly of this beast stand with them and against our government, and all that it stands for. Massive outpourings of people around the world organized independently and democratically, in opposition to the crimes of imperialism, serve to strengthen the resolve among those most persecuted.
Democratic organizational structure can involve the masses in a movement powerful enough to disarm the warmongers.
What is important is that we show, by example, that the democratic process of decision-making is not only our most important tool for organizing a powerful and well-organized force for change, but a model for how all decisions should be made in a free and just society. It gives voice to varying opinionsincluding minority opinions; it affords the majority the opportunity to become thoroughly educated about the issues, and, most important, it allows the majority to rule. Democracy allows the majority to make decisions based on a well-rounded and educated opinion of what is in their own best interests. The more information you have the better your decisions become.
Where to go from here
How do we get from where we are todayfractured and dividedto where we need to be to make the kind of changes in the world we want?
First we must organize and continue to encourage education and open debate on all issues in an atmosphere that does not tolerate racism, sexism, red baiting or any such practicesan atmosphere that encourages free speech for all. Open public meetings that both educate and organize must be continually offered. We must use the Internet to its fullest extentespecially to make connections with the world movement.
Our strategy of building worldwide, massive, powerful, unified and peaceful demonstrations should be aimed at attracting more and more people into our ranks, to participate in our democratic process and exercise our rights of free speech and assembly.
We must begin to explore ways that we can unite our various organizations both nationally and internationally along democratic principles of decision-making. We must begin to normalize relations between coalitions on a local basis and organize by city, region, country and beyond into representative, democratic decision-making bodies. We must demand our right to protest any assault on our collective well-being. We must exercise our right to act in our own interests. An injury to one is an injury to all should become our collective conscience.