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The anti-war movement seems to be at a crossroads these days. The rapid contraction of anti-war activism after George W. Bush left office caused many skeptics, including activists themselves, to wonder if most of the protesters had been more anti-Bush than anti-war. However, there are signs that the ranks of Americans who are determined to protest the evils of war, no matter which party controls the White House, is growing.
A December rally in Washington DC against the escalation of the Afghanistan War, which featured an impressive lineup of speakers including Chris Hedges, Cynthia McKinney, Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, and Ralph Nader, nevertheless attracted only a small number of supporters – probably less than 1000. The recent March 20th anti-war march in Washington DC attracted between 2500 and 10000 supporters. That’s still a far cry from the hundreds of thousands who would march during the Bush regime, but it may be a sign that the movement is recovering from its post-election inaction.
I remember hearing from people familiar with United For Peace & Justice (UFPJ), a nationwide umbrella group for anti-war organizations, that UFPJ leaders opted not to put their organizing muscle behind the March 20 protest. I’m out of the country and out of the loop, so I can’t confirm if that’s true. If it is true, I think it’s a big mistake for a self-described anti-war organization to downplay an anti-war protest. If anti-war group leaders view President Obama as more receptive to their message, that’s all the more reason for them to put pressure on him to do the right thing.
Ross Levin has a great post on how the 3/20 anti-war march in DC, which he attended and reported from, got significantly less media coverage than a significantly smaller Tea Party rally against healthcare reform across town.
It’s an open secret that the “grassroots” Tea Party movement is actually an astroturf operation, promoted by establishment media pundits like Rick Sanchez and Glenn Beck and funded by establishment political operatives like Dick Armey. Yet the mainstream media coverage treats the Tea Party protests like a genuine grassroots conservative uprising. My question is: can anti-war organizers convert this state of affairs into greater publicity for their movement?
Just the fact that anti-war rallies attract more people than tea parties won’t get them more coverage, but maybe if anti-war organizers made the “we’re bigger than the tea party” challenge integral to their actions, and communicated it to both the mainstream and independent media (as well as creating their own media), it would get more press and attract more attention from the general public.
Another idea (just throwing it out there): an “An-TEA-War PARTY protest”, in which anti-war protesters would mimic tea partiers by standing on the Capitol steps and screaming anti-war slogans at passing members of Congress. By holding signs saying “An-TEA-War PARTY”, these protesters could attract the Tea-Party-loving press.
Another idea: antiwar protesters could have simply marched past the tea party protest, in an attempt to highlight the media’s bias in giving greater coverage to a smaller protest. Intrepid protesters could even join the Tea Partiers and wave their anti-war signs for the cameras. Such tactics would probably require nonviolence training, since some tea partiers could get physical and it would not be good if the anti-war protesters retaliated.
One more demonstration idea: I’ve often thought it would be interesting if someone organized a march in the style of a 1930s labor rally. Everyone would wear suits or dresses, and carry black-and-white signs and banners with simple lettering and straightforward messages. To my mind, a protest like that could attract media attention and get people talking.
In case I’ve offended anyone who thinks the tea parties are cool, there is an encouraging initiative from Voters For Peace to broaden the anti-war movement to include folks who don’t usually show up for anti-war events. Here’s Sam Smith’s take on the effort:
“Last Saturday I spent eight hours with three dozen other people in a basement conference room of a Washington hotel engaged in an extraordinary exercise of mind and hope.
The topic was, by itself, depressingly familiar: building an anti-war coalition. What made it so strikingly different was the nature of those at the table. They included progressives, conservatives, traditional liberals and libertarians. Some reached back to the Reagan years or to 1960s activism, some – including an SDS leader from the University of Maryland and several Young Americans for Liberty – were still in college.”
I’ve read the foreign policy chapter of Ron Paul’s book, and I felt that he was right on the money about many things, like ending US wars in the Middle East, closing US military bases in other countries, and cutting off military aid to foreign governments like Israel and Egypt. In the same coalition-building vein, we can only benefit by more often invoking the anti-militarism words of people who conservatives revere, like Dwight Eisenhower and George Washington. I’ll add some choice quotations below.
Another great thing about Voters For Peace is that it’s involved in both grassroots activism and legislative pressure campaigns. To be effective, the anti-war movement must get serious about pressuring politicians. Pressuring politicians requires setting specific goals that they can be held accountable to. For the anti-war movement, that means war funding, since Congress can end the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan only by refusing to fund them.
The most effective pressure tactic would be organizing a nationwide voter pledge not to vote for any politician who votes for war funding. If you want a politician to pay attention, tell them they won’t get your vote if they don’t meet your conditions. The Democratic majority has voted solidly to continue the wars, but make them feel that their majority is at risk if they fail to end the wars, and that’s how you get real action.
In many districts, instead of voting for a pro-war incumbent in the general election, you can vote for a Green, anti-war Libertarian, or other independent. The anti-war movement needs to show politicians that only anti-war candidates will earn our votes from now on.
What are your thoughts?
“Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.
Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice? ”
“He who is the author of a war lets loose the whole contagion of hell and opens a vein that bleeds a nation to death. ”
“Believing that the happiness of mankind is best promoted by the useful pursuits of peace, that on these alone a stable prosperity can be founded, that the evils of war are great in their endurance, and have a long reckoning for ages to come, I have used my best endeavors to keep our country uncommitted in the troubles which afflict Europe, and which assail us on every side.”
“Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. ”
“Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose – and you allow him to make war at pleasure. ”
“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend… Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”
” In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. ”
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. ”