The Antiwar Movement is on the Rise!
By Carole Seligman
Now is the Time for a Real United Front Against the War!
The good news is that the Vietnam Syndromethe phenomenon of war weariness and downright opposition to U.S. foreign policy and war making among the American peopleis not dead. On October 26th massive numbers of people, in the hundreds of thousands, joined millions around the world in expressing their opposition to U.S. government intentions to invade Iraq. There is a widespread opposition among the protestors to trading bloodanyones bloodfor oil. And most of the demonstrators seem well aware that the United States is moving against Iraq in order to take over the rich oil reserves there.
Of course the good news of such an important mass action is in response to the very bad news that U.S. imperialism continues to press toward invasion. The fact that the demonstrations took place before the U.S. started the invasion, although it has been building up rapidly for the attackflying over Iraq and bombing whenever they sense Iraqs radar tracking U.S. warplanes, moving warships, troops, weapons and equipment into the regionis extremely significant. A growing number of Americans, perhaps becoming a majority, just do not want to go to war and sacrifice their sons and daughters in the process.
Interestingly enough, the huge outpouring of October 26th, came before the most startling admission in the Nov. 2 San Francisco Chronicle, that a British medical study confirms that about one-third of all the U.S. troops that served in the U.S./UN war on Iraq in 1991 are suffering serious neurological illnesses whose causes are still unexplained. The U.S. government touted the Gulf War for causing few American casualties (though it brought massive death and destruction on the Iraqi population, especially the civilians, especially the children). Recently the government has tried to claim that stress was the explanation for Gulf War Syndrome. The new study dismisses that explanation entirely.
This revelation can only increase the burgeoning mass movement opposing the war. Until this revelation, only people within the antiwar movement and a few independent-minded journalists have argued that the cause of U.S. veterans Gulf war illness might be the same as the terrible illnesses (including cancers and birth defects) amongst Iraqi civilians. U.S. weapons of mass destruction, including the widespread use of depleted uranium in U.S. armor-piercing weaponry, may be the culprit.
These weapons were used in two American wars in the last decade: the war against Yugoslavia and the war on Iraq. Now it seems that this poisonous weapon may have killed and maimed not only Yugoslavs and Iraqis, but Americans too. Of course, the U.S. government looks on its own soldiers merely as cannon fodder for its foreign policy objective: securing profit-making resources for the capitalist class. But, its corporate owned media mouthpieces, some of which are owned by the same companies that sell war materiel to the government want these weapons to be used up and re-ordered. The ruling class is working overtime to convince the American people that the government represents all Americans, not just the rich and the super-rich. This is the way they are trying to build support for the war.
So, in order to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people, as the antiwar movement did on October 26th, not only were the demonstrators resisting the governments arguments, but they were resisting the whole mass media propaganda machine that works hand-in-glove with the government to build support for its policies.
Despite the near media black out of the antiwar movements tireless work prior to October 26th, the demonstrations were not only massive, (200,000 according to organizers of the Washington, D.C. action; 80-100,000 by this writers estimate for the San Francisco action), but they were only two of many demonstrations in other cities all over the country. There were demonstrations of significant size (for the population of the areas represented) in Augusta, Maine; St. Paul, Minnesota; Anchorage, Alaska; Seattle, Washington; Montpelier, Vermont; Taos, New Mexico and many others. Besides the big numbers of demonstrators, and the geographic spread of the demonstrations, there was a grass roots character to them that was different from previous antiwar actions prior to the rise of the internet as an organizing tool.
What the San Francisco demonstration revealed was that no one owns the antiwar movement. It is extremely broad and diverse. Even the scanty media reports of the San Francisco and Washington demonstrations noted the diverse character of the participants. There were older people in their 70s and 80s, middle aged people, and youth. There were families with small children and new babies. There were unionists wearing their union jackets and caps (some of whose unions had passed antiwar resolutions). There were students, teachers, leftists, religious folk with their fellow congregants, people of all ethnicities, colors, and national origins.
The diversity was apparent not only in the people themselves, but in the huge number of hand-made signs. Though demonstration organizers printed up thousands of placards, tens of thousands of people brought signs that they had made by hand at home. Several people also carried signs they had downloaded from internet web sites, such as Regime change begins at home posted on the web by a dissident Democratic Party group, MoveOn.
The S.F. demonstration was a river of humanity flowing peacefully from the San Francisco Bay, up Market Street, the main thoroughfare of the city, to Civic Center, which was just barely large enough to accommodate the gigantic crowd. It took well over two hours for the whole march to flow into the Civic Center and most of the marchers had not yet arrived for the first hour or two of the rally. Thousands more didnt march but came directly to the Civic Center for the rally, or came to be countedto counteract the media pollsand left.
In Washington, organizers reported 25 solid city blocks filled with the demonstrators, another sea of humanity. The antiwar actions represented a far more significant demonstration of democracy than the Nov. 5th elections (mostly between the wealthy Democrats and the wealthy Republicans) could ever be, given the absence from these elections of any political parties representing working people.
Many of the demonstrators, judging by the signs and buttons, continue to foster illusions in the ability to avert war by electing Democratic Party or Green Party candidates. But, it is an extremely significant fact that these massive antiwar outpourings took place one week before the election. In other words, virtually no candidates of either the Democrats or the Greens represented themselves as antiwar leaders (even those few who voted against George Bushs pro-war resolution in the U.S. Congress). The marchers knew that in order to really register their opposition to the governments war plans, they needed to vote with their feet by demonstrating. They knew that pulling the lever on Nov. 5th could not register opposition to the war, since all candidatesRepublicans, Democrats, and even some Greenssupport a war against Iraq under some conditions, such as if the war were to have U.N. support.
Yes, there were both Democrats and Green Party candidates speaking at both the Washington and San Francisco demonstrations. Lots of them. But, none were responsible for leading and organizing the demonstrations. That was done independently of the capitalist political parties, even though these politicians succeeded in jumping on the bandwagon as they realized that the demonstrations were going to be huge (which was becoming apparent in the organizing centers of the demonstrations, places such as the offices of ANSWERAct Now to Stop War and Racismwhich received thousands of calls and volunteers and distributed tens of thousands of flyers to advertise the events.)
Organized on the internet
Both the Washington, D.C. and the S.F. demonstrations had large numbers of buses that brought people from distant places. These were organized by a wide range of local peace groups, churches, and student groups. How did they connect with the organizing? The answer seems clear. The internet was a primary organizing tool of the demonstrations. Basically, local antiwar individuals and small groups found the call for a mass national antiwar action and decided to attend and spread the word both over the internet and via leaflets and local ad hoc organizing committees. Personally, I received reminders of this demonstration from at least ten different organizations e-mailings. Im sure this is true for others and Im sure this is why even though ANSWER called the demonstration for Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, it took place across the whole country, just as the Not In Our Name antiwar demonstrations of Oct. 6th did. And, one week later on November 3rd, Boston had its own mass demonstration of 20,000 against the war.
Where do we go from here?
The September and October demonstrations against the impending war are clearly the beginning of a new, massive antiwar movement, a movement that is not owned or controlled by any of the many currents and organizations that came together to march against war. This movement already embodies some of the most important features that enabled the Vietnam antiwar movement to succeed in helping to end that war and defeat U.S. imperialisms war against the Vietnamese revolution for national self-determination. This movement is already organized around unified mass actionsstreet demonstrationsas an independent form of organization and protest. These actions welcomed all to participate, excluding no one.
The challenge for the movement now is to build an ongoing massive united front. A united front can be unified on the demand for No War on Iraq! It can unify massive numbers in street demonstrations in solidarity with the worldwide antiwar movement. It can unify in democratic decision-making bodies such as conferences and coordinating groups to plan the next actions so that all the components of the movement can take responsibility for the gigantic task before us together.
There are some pitfalls ahead that the new movement must guard against. The Democratic Party has already made its move to attempt to co-opt this new movement, splitting its votesome for, some against, Bushs war resolution. In this way, the Democratic Party assured the resolutions passage by a big margin, but preserved the reform credentials of some Democrats.
Others will try to co-opt the movement into the Green Party, which has already proven to be a left wing of the Democrats. Peter Camejo, California Green party candidate for Governor, has offered a way to reform the California election system so that people who want to vote for the Greens wont have to worry about forcing the Green candidates into the role of spoilers for the Democrats by allowing people to vote on the same ballot for first and second choice candidates.
Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate for President during the last general election, endorsed several Democrats in the November Congressional election. The Green Party is actually helping the Democrats and Republicans to keep a stranglehold on electoral politics in the grasping hands of the capitalist class. Until the working class goes into action in its own name, in defense of workers rights and lives, and until it breaks away from capitalist party politics as part of its struggle to defend itself, the antiwar movement must maintain a strict independence from electoral politics.
This war is not just a product of the Bush administration. It is a product of the capitalist system. It is a product of the capitalists greed for profit, for oil resources to make profits for the rich, for capitalist companies who make and sell weapons of mass destruction to the U.S. government and guns, bombs, planes, and every other fearsome tool to be used against the Iraqis, the Afghans and any other people in the world who want to control their own resources and countries.
The next step is the march toward becoming an antiwar majority in the U.S. population. During the Vietnam War, this process took seven to eight years. Now, it can happen faster. Our goal is to build an antiwar movement so gigantic that it can actually force the administration to back off its war plans. In order to do this, the united front is indispensable. It is the highest priority. All antiwar groups and individuals must find a way to work together, on an ongoing basis, to bring the antiwar movement to the next stage of mobilization. We can do it!