Madison, Wisconsin. “One function of local government is to inform the national government what the views of its citizens are about issues of national moment.”
Those words were spoken by University of Wisconsin at Madison Professor of Sociology Maurice Zeitlin in 1968 explaining the rationale behind a Madison citizens’ referendum for the immediate cessation of US hostilities during the Vietnam War.
On April 2, 1968 after more than 37,000 American soldiers had been killed, a mere 43 percent of Madisonians voted in favor of the referendum when Madison was a furious hotbed of activism. Today, anti-war sentiment in Madison presents a resolutely more decisive, healthy anti-war proclamation. “It is important to use all available means to prevent this war, and the devastating human suffering it will cause. This is a very serious national effort that may well stretch out over a decade with an occupation,” said Barbara Smith of the Madison Area Peace Coalition (MAPC).
The city of Madison Common Council joined some 13 municipalities, in such locales as Syracuse, New York to tiny boroughs in Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, in officially denouncing early this morning the Bush administration’s desire to preemptively strike Iraq_message, don’t kill in Madison’s name and we will find a way to stop you.
The resolution was passed on an 11 to 2 vote. Seven Council members did not vote. Only one public speaker spoke in opposition to the resolution.
The sadly revolutionary act of passing such a resolution at a community level seems historic to many here in the face of a national political climate where the people feel disenfranchised from their national government and a supine congress (although many here point with pride to the work of Sen. Russ Feingold D-Wisconsin and Rep. Tammy Baldwin D-Madison).
People here are pissed. They don’t want to go to war. The Bush administration is acting on behalf of the American people without hearing their voices. “We are deeply concerned that the current rush to war is subverting our democracy. Americans are not getting enough information about this issue…It is urgent that local leaders step in to provide a forum for citizens to express their opinions”, said MAPC’s Smith, a major supporter of the Madison Common Council resolution and an organization with genuine political clout at the city level.
The resolution gives voice to Madison citizens’ objections to the war and their frustration with the seemingly inevitable path to killing, where the citizens are for now consigned to the position of muffled backseat drivers. “A preemptive strike by the US violates our commitments under the UN charter, goes against established international law, sets a dangerous precedent for the world community, and further isolates the US from the rest of the world”, reads the resolution in part. “Hastily implemented unilateral actions would risk the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians without guaranteeing the safety of US military, the inability of Iraq to respond, or even the likelihood a new Iraqi regime would adopt national or international priorities more acceptable to the US.”
So what if 13 cities and the DC of Columbia have voiced opposition to the war? Is there actually a peace movement? Does this speak to a widespread commitment to peace? “Passage of this resolution will help build a grassroots movement against the war. It is significant that City governments declare opposition to war. We need to send as many signals as we can that this war is unwanted and unneeded, and a City Council vote such as this adds a certain credibility to that message”, said Melea Carlvin, member of the University Wisconsin at Madison’s Stop the War coalition.
The clear effect of the resolution is that it does not do much good for the 500,000 Iraqis who have died under the harsh UN sanctions. Resolutions also will not comfort the tens of thousands of Iraqis who will die in the near future as the consequence of compliance to this rush to war. So the questions arise–has the citizenry ever had the power to halt the march to war? Can we stop them now?
Many here feel that even without seeing 37,000 body bags, we can rise above the Bush administration’s callousness and cowardice killing Iraqi people and indeed halt a war. Eighty-five years ago people were thrown into jail for merely protesting the entry of the US into World War 1. Thirty-five years ago 37,000 American soldiers were killed, and even in the political hotbed of Madison, only 43 percent voted against a referendum to halt the war then.
But now the eyes of political insight are wide open to the verities of war, and the public relations people hiding the war from public view are abundantly aware of this truism.
“A referendum such as that passed in 1968 would pass overwhelmingly here now,” said Allen Ruff, a veteran peace activist and historian.
And yes there has been a bombing campaign in Iraq; yes we just killed 1,000s in Afghanistan, and the toll continues across the globe.
Standing and doing nothing is not an option. The Madisons, the Berkleys, the Cambridges and New York will lead the way in this peace effort again. But along with these enclaves come Syracuse and a diffuse peace movement that will find a way to halt the destruction of war and until then speak to the international community that the war is waged not in their name.
(Ted McManus provided research for this article)
Lori Korte is a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. She can be reached at email@example.com. Mike Leon is a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. His writing has appeared nationally in The Progressive, In These Times, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org