At the start of this week about 100 representatives and leaders of the anti-war movement met in Washington, DC, to discuss primarily how to create the strongest internal unity, particularly regarding the September 24 national anti-war mobilization to be held in Washington, DC.
Facilitated by a prominent African American minister, an African American imam, and a Native American civil rights activist, the discussion sometimes delved into negative past interactions between the national anti-war coalitions, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER); possible communication disconnect between local member groups and the leadership bodies of these coalitions; and the potential neglect of the global justice movement (given that the annual International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings are taking place in Washington that same weekend, and events already are being planned by anti-corporate globalization groups such as the Mobilization for Global Justice, 50 Years is Enough, and Jubilee 2000).
Much of the 3-hour meeting, however, focused on the possibility of unifying around a common theme for the anti-war calls to action, and the marches and rallies for that weekend of action.
In order to justify the following proposal for future political direction of the anti-war movement, it is necessary to assess the barriers and opportunities the movement faces at this moment.
In very recent months there have been exciting, almost unbelievable occurrences that open up major space for the movement. The Downing Street memos present the necessary evidence that clearly demonstrate the Bush Administration’s deliberate misleading of the U.S. Congress in order to pre-emptively attack Iraq. Incredibly, the memos have inspired previously reticent bipartisan members of Congress to begin inquiries into possible impeachment of Bush and his neocon cronies.
Opinion polls now show that upwards of 60% of the U.S. population is not in favor of the occupation of Iraq. When public support fell to such numbers in the Vietnam era, the tide soon turned successful for the anti-war movement.
Military recruitment is in severe crisis. ABC and other mainstream news sources report that the regular Army missed its recruiting goals for three straight months entering May, falling short by 42% in April. The Army was 16% behind its May goal of 80,000 recruits in fiscal 2005.
The Marine Corps missed its goal for signing up new recruits for four straight months entering May and was 2% behind its year-to-date goal. It is aiming for 38,195 recruits in fiscal 2005.
These precipitous declines in new recruits, particularly the decrease in numbers of people of color, is worsened by the often spontaneous yet highly organized counter-recruitment campaigns being borne in towns big and small, and on college and high school campuses across the country.
These crises have forced unconvincing whitewashing public assertions from Bush and Cheney that the U.S. military is somehow winning in Iraq and bringing democracy to Iraqis. Although still sorely lacking in volume and substance, corporate media are increasing their coverage of the problems facing the Bush Administration and its military.
All of this undoubtedly presents a system full of cracks. This is the system of U.S. imperialism, whose path is paved by U.S. military plunder, intervention, and threat across the globe: from Iraq to Palestine, from Venezuela to Cuba, from Syria to Lebanon, from North Korea to Haiti, from Latin America to Africa.
Each of these targeted countries and regions comprises an arm, a leg, a bone, an organ of U.S. imperialism. Put together they embody an ugly, beastly creature, some parts of which are stronger than others. Importantly for us here and now, the weakest body part of all is that of Iraq.
Iraq is now the achilles heel of the beast, the U.S. government’s drive for empire. Battered, raw, exposed, this point must be focused on by the anti-Imperialist Left in the United States: Efforts must continue to strike away at this concentrated weakness.
It is a crucial moment and a critical decision. Not because the Haitians, the Palestinians, the domestic poor and abused are any less deserving of liberation, but because ultimately a victory of the Iraqi people against the U.S. war machine is a victory for liberation struggles around the globe. A military defeat in Iraq will infuse confidence into struggles everywhere, as it did when the U.S. military was forced to withdraw from Vietnam. And the U.S. military is indeed losing, despite the unconvincing bravadura recently displayed by Bush, Cheney, and the other warmongers.
Thus, the focus on Iraq and bringing the troops home is ultimately strategic, “strategizing” being a mode of practice in which a unified Left must re-adopt in order to win back the gains and confidence it lost through reactionary right-wing assaults since the McCarthy era.
Bearing the weight and responsibility of all the deserving struggles in the world disadvantages the Left at this moment for two reasons. Most importantly, it creates severe barriers to entry into the movement, ultimately limiting the numbers of people we must be mobilizing in the streets. Taking noble and justified stances such as unconditional support for the Iraqi resistance and Palestinian right of return shuts the door of engagement between the movement and groups such as Iraq Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out. These groups, as we learned in Vietnam, must be the backbone of today’s anti-war movement in order for us to succeed in our quest for peace.
Taking on too many themes and messages also casts a negative light on the movement by the corporate mass media. The Fourth Estate has become increasingly unable to competently develop and present any message beyond a 10-second sound-byte, instead mocking those who try to build cohesive and comprehensive communication.
In addition, forcing a laundry list of the numerous targets of U.S. Empire onto each demonstration and event necessitates complex ideological battles with potential members of the anti-war movement. Instead of narrowing the entry point at the start, we instead must open the door widely, building the trust that will in turn open minds and hearts, and it is when we are side by side on the streets that we can more successfully make the tedious effort of politically dialoguing with new recruits to our movement, explaining connections, history, agendas, and positions.
What can be seamlessly integrated are the concerns and issues of the global justice, anti-capitalist movement. Costs of the war and occupation of Iraq, the appointment of Paul Wolfowitz, and the anti-imperialist nature of the anti-war movement are aspects congruent to both movements. A fusion of the anti-war and anti-capitalist movements in the United States will unquestionably strengthen both, boosting the U.S. Left immeasurably.
Calling for “Bringing the Troops Home Now” is not dumbing down the message. It is being patiently and wisely strategic. In a game of chess against a master — and we are indeed facing a most organized and efficient systemic evil — we can win only by being as methodically focused as our opposition.
The immediate urgency for unity within the U.S. anti-war movement demands that we build the largest, broadest mobilizations possible — with the unquestionable long-term intention to 1) build trust among ourselves; 2) educate about the absolute linkages among global struggles; and 3) make the promise to continue hacking away limb by limb that of the Imperial Beast. Only when we unify strategically and deliberately for the long-run can we create the glorious world we all know is possible and necessary.
VIRGINIA RODINO is a Director of Democracy Rising and a member of the Administrative Steering Committee of United for Peace and Justice. The arguments put forth in this essay solely reflect the thoughts of the author.