There are times when a peace movement seems more an aspiration than a reality. In the run up to the 2nd Gulf War, it often seemed so. Originally published in New Ground 86, January — February, 2003.
by Bob Roman
The good news is that somewhere around 2,000 people gathered on the Federal Plaza in Chicago as part of a Midwest Mobilization Against the War. Saturday, January 11 was a miserably cold day, albeit sunny, and this was a comforting turn out under the circumstances. The crowd was addressed by mayoral candidate Reverend Paul Jakes, Aaron Patterson fresh from death row, representatives from the Puerto Rican and Palestinian independence movements and others, and introduced by an impassioned address by one of the primary organizers of the event, Chicago Anti-Bashing Network’s Andy Thayer.
This was a demonstration that needed to happen, given its proximity to Dubya’s January 27 deadline and other pending events. The event was organized by the Chicago Ad Hoc Coalition Against War and Racism (though the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network seemed also to serve as an organizational vehicle). Chicago DSA was one of 60 organizations endorsing the demonstration.
The Bad News
The bad news is that there were only about 2,000 people at the rally. For a regional mobilization in a major urban center, this was hardly a demonstration of broad support. And while people attending such events are very much disposed toward cheering whatever is said, they were addressed by a series of speakers whose agendas seemed tangential, at best, to the issue of peace, followed by a march on the Israeli embassy. The people leaving early as a consequence were a distinct minority, acting individually thus not particularly noticeable, but people did leave.
It seems the intent of the event’s organizers was to use the rally as a united front of identity politics. As such, its agenda was inevitably broader than just the war. For many of the organizers, the prospect of preventing a war may be secondary to building a movement to first opposing an ongoing war, and racism, and economic injustice then on to revolution? I can’t fault them for hoping this time will be different, but I hope they don’t confuse the cheers of the crowd with agreement and commitment to that agenda.
Given the organization of the rally, it was inevitable that the issue of Israel and Palestine would be a part of event. I wish I could say that the rally represented a break through in resolving the tensions on the left over this issue but it didn’t seem so to me.
On one hand, the power and impunity with which Israel has operated seems a perfect reflection of the power and impunity with which the United State has and is operating. It shouldn’t be a surprise that for much of the left, Israel, particularly under Sharon, has become as popular as the United States under Richard Nixon. On the other hand, for those for whom democracy, law and speech are important (and not just for American Jews with a sense of solidarity with Israel), this is at least disconcerting, particularly when coupled with a silence about neighboring dictators whose power and impunity domestically make Sharon and Dubya seem positively benign. But breaking that silence would then require a discussion about just what to do about them, and on this there would be absolutely no agreement. For example, for some of the left even the idea of the U.S. State Department implementing a democratic foreign policy is an oxymoron. At a rally, it’s far easier to just say no.
One place to start resolving these tensions might be to keep in mind that while the Palestinian American and Arab American communities are under attack, neither is anti-Semitism dead in this country. While it ain’t what it once was, examples are not hard to find. It wasn’t much more than a year ago that a Jewish friend of mine was told by a neighbor that what she needed was to be “chained to the back of a pick-up and dragged for a spell”. This awareness might be a first step but I’m at a loss for the next.
Labor and the War
On the same day as the demonstration, Gerry Zero and Teamsters Local 705 was hosting a meeting in Chicago to establish a new national anti-war organization, USLAW: U.S. Labor Against the War. While there was an open meeting on Friday, January 10, the Saturday meeting to actually establish the organization was a delegated meeting, the participants actually representing in one way or another unions that had taken a stand against a war with Iraq.
Aside from adopting a resolution establishing the organization, the meeting selected an organizing committee charged with getting more unions to adopt resolutions against a war with Iraq and to contribute money to the new organization.
Chicago Against the War
In a similar strategy directed at local government, the Washington, DC, Institute for Policy Studies, working through United for Peace and Justice, the National Priorities Project and Education for Peace in Iraq has begun a campaign to get local governments to adopt a resolution opposing a war in Iraq. As New Ground goes to press, nearly four dozen municipalities have adopted such resolutions.
In the Chicago area, Evanston, Gary and Chicago have adopted anti-war resolutions. The Oak Park Coalition for Truth and Justice (of which GOP DSA is a part) is leading an effort to have Oak Park adopt a similar anti-war resolution.
As legislation or even as specific expressions of opinion (the Chicago resolution was greatly amended, and it’s not untypical for local groups to craft their own resolutions), these actions do not mean a lot. But as a way of educating local political leaders and as a way of creating a buzz (important in professional politics), this effort is certainly useful.
Metastasizing Into the Mainstream
When Chicagoans Against War on Iraq was organized last fall, it began by organizing a Federal Plaza rally on October 2 that drew about half as many as the recent Chicago Ad Hoc Coalition Against War and Racism rally. It did, however, have a politically significant line up of speakers, including U.S. Representatives, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and well known community leaders and journalists.
Two months later, on December 7, Chicago Jobs with Justice’s Committee for New Priorities organized an afternoon teach-in on the economic consequences of a war on Iraq. They recruited a similar cast of political heavies, along with academics and a list of endorsing organizations, including Chicago DSA. They pretty well filled Teamsters Local 705’s union hall; several hundred people attended.
Both of these events serve to educate and to create a buzz. The Committee for New Priorities event was particularly strong on the education side (useful informational handouts were available in addition to the speakers). Because some of the participants were in government, there was also pressure to express an alternate policy. Unfortunately, the mainstream left is every bit as unprepared to deal with the question as the rest of the left. At both events, the best the professional politicians could do was call for a return to the status quo ante, the ante being before 9/11: a return to inspections and sanctions.
With few exceptions (possibly the Kurds), U.S. policy had been accomplishing (with the complicity of the Iraqi government) nothing but death, poverty and a new generation of Iraqis educated in hatred and resentment. A return to the status quo ante is not an acceptable answer. Even though there is absolutely no chance of consensus on the left on this subject, we need to start posing alternatives.
Has Peace a Chance?
By the time you receive this issue of New Ground, we may be at war. But I think there’s a reasonably good chance that we may not be. Part of it is that the peace movement is very much international in scope, and the American electorate has indicated a distinct disapproval of unilateral warfare. Part of it is that as far as the 2004 elections are concerned, war at any time up to around this time in 2004 would be fine. On the other hand, the logic of logistics would seem to argue for an early war as would the logic of empire. The latter demands something that international players would see as a U.S. victory. As North Korea has demonstrated, Dubya and Saddam are not the only players on the field; the longer the delay, the more opportunities Dubya has for being blind-sided.
In the meantime, every day without an invasion is an opportunity to organize against it. If we can link the war to the looming disaster in Republican domestic policy, we’ll have a powerful argument indeed.