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Anti-War Movement Marches Uphill
by John Tarleton
NEW YORK--Eight NYU students crashed the stage October 9 at MTV’s Total Request Live to deliver an impromptu shout-out to “the people of the world” calling for the war in Iraq to stop before it starts. A day later some of the same students occupied Hillary Cinton’s Midtown office with great fanfare as the senator prepared to cast a "yes" vote for war.
“People are going to die for no reason and we did what we could to try and stop it,” said Justin Rowe, one of the students who planned the actions.
The students’ extracurricular activities followed days after Not In Our Name rallies around the country drew large numbers of Americans (including 20,000 New Yorkers) to protest for the first time the impending war with Iraq. A flurry of teach-ins, sit-ins, marches, vigils, die-ins etc. have followed not only in major cities but unlikely hotbeds of dissent like Augusta, Ga., Ellensdale, Wash. and Sandpoint, Idaho. With the economy tanking and the majority of Americans opposed to a unilateral attack against Iraq, a potentially broad-based peace movement has emerged a year into the “War on Terror”.
Can It Last?
11 years ago, public opinion was deeply divided throughout the country in advance of the first Gulf War. A burgeoning anti-war movement saw protests of as many as 100,000 people in San Francisco and 30,000 in Washington, D.C. On the day after the bombing of Iraq began, thousands of people shut down San Francisco’s federal building and then took over the Bay Bridge during rush hour.
But, a war that some thought would last for years (like Vietnam) ended in 46 days and the movement quickly collapsed after the Pentagon’s lightning-quick victory. The movement was also plagued by ideological disputes between the Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East (a front group of the stalinist Workers World Party) and the more moderate National Campaign for Peace in the Middle East, over whether it was appropriate to criticize the Iraqi regime for invading Kuwait and whether U.N.-imposed sanctions were an acceptable alternative to going to war. Other recent conflicts (Kosovo 1998, Afghanistan 2001) finished before strong anti-war movements could coalesce. This time around, anti-war organizers want to stay focused on resisting a common enemy.
“Everyone knows how urgent this situation is,” says Leslie Cagan, who was coordinator for the National Campaign for Peace in the Middle East. “The machinery we’re up against is so big that there’s room for everyone to support each other even it’s not possible to work under one national umbrella coalition.”
Anti-war organizing is also accelerating in communities of color, which contribute a disproportionate percentage of the troops in the U.S. armed forces and have the most to lose from a war that would devastate spending on domestic social programs. One group, the Harlem Anti-War Coalition recently formed after a September 14 teach-in at St. Mary’s Church sponsored by the Harlem Tenants Council (HTC). Organizers are uncertain how predominantly white peace groups will respond to new sources of leadership in the anti-war movement.
“It will be very interesting to see if people even want to talk about this much less do something about it,” says HTC executive director Nellie Hester Bailey, who began her career as an organizer in 1965 in Alabama with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
October 26 March on Washington
The next big protest will occur October 26 in Washington, D.C. Two more WWP extensions, International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and Racism) and the International Action Center (IAC), are organizing the event, which is expected to attract tens of thousands of people seeking to register their dismay with the war and Congress’s surrender in the face of the Bush Administration’s bellicose demands.
“The anti-war movement has to create the climate that will make politicians stand more strongly for an alternative course,” said former ‘60s anti-war leader and California State Senator Tom Hayden. “It is not only the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but the massive military buildup behind an unlimited war on terrorism that will concern us for the next several years.”
Grassroots anti-war movements can expect little assistance from the corporate media. In the five-month run-up to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the three major network news shows provided 2,855 minutes of coverage, 28 minutes of which was devoted to reporting grassroots dissent, according to Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), a media watchdog group. And while web sites like commondreams.org, alternet.org, anti-war.com, zmag.org, iraqjournal.org and indymedia.org and broadcast shows like Democracy Now! and Free Speech TV now offer a steady stream of critical reporting on the war, the media establishment pursues a more limited discussion. For instance, the October 14 issue of Time magazine featured a “debate” between retired General Wesley Clark (“Let’s Wait to Attack”) and former Reagan Administration official Kenneth Adelman (“No, Let’s Not Waste Any Time”).
“It’s at times like these we see really skewed ideas of news is what powerful people say it is,” says Rachel Coen, a media analyst for FAIR.
War and Corporate Globalization
A U.S. military occupation of Iraq would give it control of 112 billion barrels of oil, 11% of the world’s proven oil reserves. The U.S. bid to control Iraq’s oil follows a rapid post 9-11 military buildup across Central Asia, not only in Afghanistan but the oil and gas rich republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. The U.S.’s 18 million barrel per day petroleum habit is expected to increase by a third by 2015, according to merit.org, offering U.S. energy companies the prospect of reaping trillions of dollars in future revenues from today’s military campaigns.
Hayden suggests that the anti-war movement make common cause with the movement against corporate-led globalization that first burst into prominence in North America three years ago during the “Battle of Seattle”.
“It’s the same fight,” he says.
For that fight to be sustainable, Mark Haim, another ‘60s veteran and longtime community organizer in Columbia, Missouri, says its essential for activists to create an outward-looking “culture of resistance” rooted in alternative institutions and networks of mutual support that weave together people of different communities and generations. Haim helped organize a coalition of 17 local peace groups that has responded quickly to the Iraq Crisis by holding protests, teach-ins and town hall meetings that have drawn hundreds of concerned citizens. The coalition includes high school and college students, Greens, Catholic Workers, Quakers and Unitarians among others.
“I envision a resistance movement that will express itself in myriad ways beyond marching on Washington, D.C.,” Haim said. “ It would be for a whole different political-cultural paradigm. It would be a culture in which people are more overtly, politically active and see their daily actions through a political prism.”
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