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Oct 2001 • Vol 1, No. 5 •

How shall we respond to the beating of the war drums?


by Carole Seligman

October 7, 2001. US government spokesmen called for “ending states” as part of the “first war of the 21st century.” Today, they started bombing Afghanistan. They are beating the war drums. Bush’s speech to Congress ended with the odious “God is on our side” mantra of all his imperial predecessors. The corporate media is painting a false picture of near unanimous support by the American people for the war. To listen to the television networks and National Public Radio you might think that everyone in the US is in favor of military retaliation for the terrorist attacks on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But it is a mistake to confuse the massive outpouring of grief, sympathy, and financial aid for the victims and families of the dead for support for a military assault on Afghanistan and other countries of the Middle East who are not currently aligned with the United States. The media and government together would have us believe that a war frenzy has taken hold of the people.

Not all mourners seek revenge

Yet, there are real signs that this is a very false picture. First, several statements from family members of victims lost in the attacks have rejected the push toward war. Greg Rodriguez, who died in the World Trade Center attack, was an activist in New York CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) back in 1989 and 1990. He is described by those who remember him as “the first to volunteer for civil disobedience for the cause of ending the war in El Salvador.”

His parents, Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez, wrote to President George Bush, about their son,“...we read enough of the news to sense that our government is heading in the direction of violent revenge, with the prospect of sons, daughters, parents, friends in distant lands dying, suffering, and nursing further grievances against us....”

“Your response to this attack does not make us feel better about our son’s death. It makes us feel worse. It makes us feel that our government is using our son’s memory as a justification to cause suffering for other sons and parents in other lands….

“Let us think about a rational response that brings real peace and justice to our world. But let us not as a nation add to the inhumanity of our times.”

Derrill Bodley and Deborah Borza, the parents of Deora Bodley, the 20-year old student from Santa Clara University who died in the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 over Pennsylvania, spoke out against war “We must not retaliate in kind as if our cause allows us to... I shudder to think they chose (the name Operation Infinite Justice) because they think God is on their side." [S.F. Chronicle, Sept. 22, 2001].

Second, an anti-war theme has been advanced even during official days of mourning. In a massive Civic Auditorium event in San Francisco, Reverend Amos Brown, a political leader in the City and former member of the Board of Supervisors, gave a blistering anti-war speech during the official City ceremonies of mourning and got rousing support from the assembled crowd of mourners. In his speech he asked if “America did anything to cause the attack on the World Trade Center, such as bombing civilians in Third World countries?” The crowd gave a standing ovation, and some of the government lawmakers walked out. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein had just voted to give the war makers a blank check and also voted for a $40 billion appropriation to President Bush. Former Secretary of State Schultz was described as “shriveling in his suit” during Reverend Brown’s speech.

Antiwar protests organized around the country

Third, already antiwar protests and meetings to organize antiwar protests have occurred at over 150 colleges and universities around the country from Massachusetts to California. Some of these events have been massive, such as a Concert against War and Hate held Sunday, September 16, in Precita Park in San Francisco; a demonstration on the University of California Berkeley campus of 4-5000 students; a rally at S.F. State University of about 500 students; a Town Hall meeting against war and hate at a S.F. Lutheran Church of over 400 people.

San Francisco was the site of an enormous outpouring of anti-war, anti-racism, and pro-civil liberties sentiment on September 29, when well over 10,000 people, mostly youth, rallied and marched to stop the war before it begins. (As of October 4, the US has not bombed Afghanistan or other countries in retaliation for September 11.) The September 29 demonstration, called by the International Action Center and a new international coalition, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (International A.N.S.W.E.R.), received the backing of every peace and social justice organization in the Bay Area including the Town Hall Committee to Stop War and Hate, San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO, immigrant rights organizations, anti-globalization groups, Veterans for Peace, religious congregations and social justice organizations, students, and many, many others. The Washington demonstration was also reported at “several thousand.”

San Francisco will also be the site of another anti-war protest on October 20. Called by the Town Hall Committee Against War and Hate, the march will assemble at Justin Herman Plaza and march up Market Street to U.N. Plaza.

Three themes

Three slogans unite the new anti-war movement: 1) Stop the war. 2) Defend Arabs, Arab-Americans, Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent from attack. Oppose all racist scapegoating. 3) Defend civil liberties from government attack. Disparate groups from religious opponents to war and racism, to anti-globalization activists, to revolutionary socialists all seem to be advancing these three main ideas as central elements in response to the tragedy of September 11 and the US government’s response to it.

These three points of unity are exactly the right demands for the new movement because they address the needs of the masses of people and can unite the largest number of people in action. A fourth demand for government spending for people’s needs, such as jobs, schools, health care services—not war—should also be considered by the new movement as a conscious way to reach out to the growing numbers of unemployed and underemployed workers created by the economic crisis the United States is now entering.

The antiwar theme

Working people have no interests as cannon fodder for the US government’s coming attacks on poverty-stricken villagers in Afghanistan any more than they had any stake in shooting Vietnamese peasants and burning down their huts in the 1960s and 70s. Tragically, four million Vietnamese and 58,000 American soldiers died before a massive enough movement could be built to bring the American soldiers home and end their role as suppressors of the popular Vietnamese revolution for sovereignty against foreign domination.

The anti-racist theme

In a country built by immigrant and slave labor, and having won religious freedom, the scapegoating of Muslim immigrants is especially odious. Even the government, in trying to create an international coalition (including Islamic countries) around its war aims, is trying to look anti-racist and tolerant of national and ethnic differences at the same time as it stokes the fires of racial profiling and intolerance. The murders of a Palestinian, a Sikh, and a Yemeni, as well as countless acts of harassment of Muslims and Arab-Americans, including school children, are sickening antiracist Americans and fueling the growing movement against revenge and war.

The civil liberties theme

The open threats to deprive Americans of their civil rights in the interests of "security" represent an attack on all working people and their organizations as well as their right to free speech, assembly, and redress of grievances. Five years ago President Clinton got bi-partisan support in Congress to pass the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 in the wake of the terrorist bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. While that Act did nothing to slow down or prevent the horrifying terror of September 11th, it struck a terrible blow to the Constitutional right of habeas corpus, the right to judicial appeal. This affects everyone who is wrongfully accused of a crime and, as we know, this can happen to anyone.

Innocent prisoners now face huge obstacles to their rights to appeal wrongful convictions. Such is the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Pennsylvania death row inmate for 19 years. Another man, Arnold Beverly, has confessed to the murder for which Jamal was convicted and so far, Jamal has not been able to get the courts to examine the evidence even though it involves a confession! This is only one horrible example of how our government uses anti-terrorist rhetoric as an excuse to inflict damage to our civil liberties. This affects us all.

US Senators and Congressional Representatives are rushing to present legislation attacking our civil liberties and rights. “Liberal” Senator Dianne Feinstein has already submitted legislation to end student visas and deport foreign students. Her San Francisco office was the object of a protest demonstration this week. Immigrants from countries all over the world are reporting thousands of cases of harassment and intimidation. Nearly the entire working class is made up of immigrants and the children and grandchildren of immigrants, as well as the descendants of Africans kidnapped as slaves. Any attack on immigrants ends up being an attack on the working class as a whole.

Who supports terrorism?

There is near-unanimous opposition to individual acts of terrorism as a means to redress grievances. That is not even a point for debate in the new antiwar movement. Everyone seems to understand that in order to stop war, the very largest possible movement must be built. Our only real weapons in the struggle for justice and peace in the United States are these: the truth and the organization of masses people speaking the truth.

In this case, one truth that needs to be explained is the root of terrorism. Why do people around the world hate the United States so much that a cadre of terrorists could carry out such a horrific, yet audacious, act and kill 5000 people in a single, four-pronged assault? Already a burgeoning movement, the anti-globalization movement, has begun to unearth and expose the true character of the living conditions of the world’s people. They have exposed the enormous and growing disparity of wealth and resources between the rulers of the US and the peoples of the world, billions of whom live in abject poverty. These conditions foster and incite a response, even a horribly wrong response.

US state-sponsored terror

The history of state terror carried out by the imperialist countries, especially the US—the only state to wage nuclear war against civilians (in Hiroshima and Nagasaki)—has also been coming to light ever since the Vietnam antiwar movement began to expose this terror systematically. Thousands of Americans are aware that US foreign policy is one that depends on the use of state terror against civilians. That is why many church congregations, unions, and civic organizations, have adopted positions in opposition to the sanctions against Iraq which kill thousands of Iraqi children every month!

The campaign for US divestiture from South Africa educated many in this country about how the US economically and politically backed up regimes who regularly used terror, including murder of civilians, against their own populations. A similar educational campaign for US divestiture is currently being organized against the US policy of military and financial support to the state of Israel, which engages in terrorism against the Palestinians.

Anti-globalization movement should become an anti-war movement

The anti-globalization movement needs to convert itself into an anti-war movement because the war is a direct result of the whole process of capitalist globalization, whereby the imperialist powers, especially the US, seek unlimited world rule to extract the world’s resources for profit. War is the ultimate weapon for the capitalist globalizers. A failure to understand this resulted in the cancellation of the Washington, D.C. anti-globalization demonstration when the World Trade Organization cancelled its meeting in the wake of the September 11 attacks. If they had decided to continue to hold the demonstration and convert it into an antiwar protest (as the International Action Center did), the demonstration would have been huge, perhaps even larger, than the San Francisco protest.

The task now is to mobilize a united front of all who agree with the goals of stopping war, racism and scapegoating, and for civil liberties. Organizations must put aside their organizational differences and find the means for working together democratically to approach the masses of working people with the simple idea that war and racism are against their interests, and international human solidarity is in their interests. This perspective will have the best chance of stopping the new war the US has begun to wage.

September 29.

A Palestinian owner of a tiny grocery store in my San Francisco neighborhood was the victim of two attacks on his store in which the big plate glass windows were smashed twice since September 11 by cowardly, anonymous attackers in the early morning hours. Last night, two of my neighbors and I went door-to-door in the blocks adjacent to the store collecting money and signatures on a card of solidarity and distributing “Our Community is a Hate-Free Zone” posters for people to display in their windows. To my surprise not one of the people we approached said “No”. Everyone signed the card, gave money, and in about an hour we collected over $200. Most people took posters and displayed them, some right next to their American flags.

I had an intuition before yesterday, that the display of flags was, in large measure, an expression of human solidarity for the victims of the World Trade Center collapse more than frenzied patriotism. Rather cynically, the government and the corporate media started organizing the flag waving as the means for expressing that solidarity. We in the peace movement should not confuse the flag flying, however, with support for the war. Many flags are displayed in my neighborhood, but no-one has failed to stand in solidarity with the corner grocer. —Carole Seligman





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