The courageous witness of Cindy Sheehan and the nation’s response to it has not only moved the antiwar movement to a new level, it has widened it as well. Her speeches and encampment remind one of the Greek plays about war and conscience: Antigone and The Birds. As a gentleman on one of the lists I participate in noted (I paraphrase)-“If Cindy Sheehan can set up camp in a roadside ditch in Texas, there is no reason anyone who opposes this war cannot spend a few hours at an antiwar protest on September 24th.” But this is not enough.
It is not enough that George Bush sympathizes with Ms. Sheehan and believes in her right to protest. It wouldn’t even be enough if he took a moment to converse with her. The war would continue. The occupation and its accompanying theft and destruction of Iraq would not end. Children and parents would continue to suffer and die. And the men and women who put us there in the first place would continue to count their dollars. Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and their like will not suffer if Mr. Bush speaks with Cindy. Neither will the energy industry-an industry that is making greater profits than ever in part because of the instability created by Washington’s “war on terror.” It’s interesting to note that the original plan for this war hoped that Iraq’s oil revenues would not only pay for the US invasion and occupation, but that they would also bring great profits to the US energy industry after that oil was privatized. Yet, as we all know, the invasion did not turn out as expected and the oil companies are still making a killing.
To repeat, even if Cindy Sheehan does get an audience with that man in the Texas White House, the war will continue. Other US sons and daughters will kill and die, as will their Iraqi (and Afghani) counterparts. Why? Because this policy is bigger than George Bush. There are more than 535 men and women in Washington, DC who are also directly responsible for the continued slaughter in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are our government leaders. With very few exceptions, these men and women-Republican and Democrat-support the war. Five-hundred-thirty-five of them were elected by their fellow citizens and most of that number will do nothing to stop this war unless it means their job. It is up to us to make it mean their job. That means people need to vote them out unless they change their position.
Despite the obvious failures of the US electoral system-and I’m not just talking about the institutional barriers that make it almost impossible for third parties to get a hearing-it is sometimes possible to put pressure on that system to get something changed. One way is with lots of money and the other is with lots of protests and persuasion. Obviously, the latter method is not only the more difficult; it is also the only one open to the antiwar movement.
Every Congressional seat in the US is up for election in 2006. Therefore, every town and city in the United States can have an antiwar presence. While we of course hope that the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries will have begun for real by then, it would be plain foolish to expect that to be the case. Furthermore, there will still be a war on the planet disguised as a war on terror. Whether antiwarriors make these wars (which are part of the same imperial drive) the issue in the next year or so by running a candidate for Congress or by insisting that the current candidates talk about the war, there must be an antiwar presence. Those few legislators who oppose one or both of these wars must be encouraged. Those others who support the war must be made to answer for that support. Whether we do this politely or otherwise depends, of course, on the candidate and the situation. If we use an approach that addresses the voters and not the politicians, we have a chance to change the political landscape.
Why should we do this? Simply because for most US residents, the elections are politics. This is the only forum where they feel comfortable discussing such matters, even though these matters affect our daily fabric more and more. Nonetheless, we have been trained to think that politics only occur at the ballot box. It is a big step for most people to take their political mind beyond the voting booth.
That’s where the protests come in. It is the protests against the war that expand the political realm. Whether they involve one person or a million, it is protests that put politics into our private space. It is via the protests that we can make the domestic and personal costs of this war apparent to the public. It is via the elections that we can make those costs apparent to the politicians. It’s not one strategy or the other-it’s both of them together. If the protests grow, so does the pressure on the government. If the pressure grows on the government, the members of that government that face election every two years should and need to feel it the most. It’s not only time to put the politicians’ feet to the fire, it’s time to keep them there until they get the message. END THE WAR NOW!
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org