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In their first eleven months as a congressional majority, the Democrats show no progress toward fulfilling the campaign promises that won them votes from the antiwar majority last November. If anything, they have accomplished less than nothing, since their rubber-stamping of Bush’s troops surge last January raised the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to more than 160,000 for the foreseeable future.
Not surprisingly, a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on October 2nd showed just 29 percent of respondents approve of the job Congress is doing-a 14-point drop since the Democrats took control last January (and even lower than Bush’s paltry 33 percent approval rating). The same poll showed seven in 10 respondents want Iraq war funding decreased, “with 46 percent wanting it cut sharply or entirely.”
Yet the party’s presidential front-runners seem strangely unconcerned about alienating antiwar voters through their own waffling and inaction. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did not even bother to show up to vote against war funding on September 27th and October 1st, which handed Bush $150 billion more for U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition, some congressional party leaders have become openly hostile to antiwar activists. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi bitterly complained to the Washington Post on October 10th about antiwar protesters camped outside her home, “If they were poor and they were sleeping on my sidewalk, they would be arrested for loitering, but because they have ‘Impeach Bush’ across their chest, it’s the First Amendment.”
But United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the nation’s largest antiwar coalition, remains undeterred from maintaining its amicable relationship with Democrats, however miserably that strategy failed in 2004 when pro-war neoliberal candidate John Kerry was the party’s anointed candidate. UFPJ’s third national assembly, held in Chicago on June 22nd-24th, declared as a priority “engaging in the 2008 electoral season to project a peace and justice agenda.”
No decision was made on how to proceed in the strong likelihood that no major candidate offers a peace and justice agenda. Given that most states have joined in the rush for early primaries, the Democrats’ corporate-backed nominee should be in place by the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2008. If past practice is any indication, UFPJ can be expected to go into hibernation to weather the contradictions of the coming election, as it did in 2004, to the detriment of the antiwar movement. But those contradictions are already in full display.
UFPJ has called for regional antiwar mobilizations on October 27-an anticlimactic date, since it follows Congress’ recent debate (and approval) of war funding. Yet UFPJ promises the protests will show the “breadth and depth of antiwar sentiment” across the U.S.
But organizers for the Midwest regional protest, to be held in Chicago, boast on their website that invited guest speakers include Obama, Senator Richard Durbin and Mayor Richard Daley. This list of elected officials came as a surprise to many local antiwar activists and endorsers who were not privy to the information before it was posted publicly. CodePINK’s Chicago coordinator asked pointedly, “The stated rationale for inviting Senator Obama to speak is that he is our Senator. We’re mobilizing the Midwest, right? Is Ohio in the Midwest? Representative Kucinich is not listed as a potential speaker despite his stellar anti-war position. Presidential politics here?”
Some organizations (including the 8th Day Center for Justice, the International Solidarity Movement and the International Socialist Organization) revoked their endorsements, while Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) has called for an [anti-]imperialist feeder march. All cited the same misgivings:
Senator Richard Durbin has consistently voted for Iraq war funding, including an additional $150 billion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on October 1. Along with Clinton, Durbin also voted for the Bush administration’s September 26th resolution designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as “an international terrorist organization,” which paves the way for a U.S. military attack on Iran. Barack Obama, while currently touting his 2002 antiwar credentials, has consistently voted to fund the Iraq war (the one exception occurred this past spring, when passage was already assured) and, like rivals Clinton and John Edwards, he has refused to pledge that U.S. troops would leave Iraq by the end of his first term in 2013. Obama did not show up to vote on the Iran resolution on September 26th.
Mayor Richard Daley opposed the Chicago City Council’s passage of a September 2005 resolution calling for a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. In addition, Daley approved of police arrests of over 800 Chicago antiwar protesters on the night the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003. Under Daley, Chicago schools have become the most militarized in the nation-the only city to use public school facilities to host army, navy, air force and marine academies.
October 27’s Chicago organizer Carl Davidson has refused to cave in to this growing dissension among antiwar activists alarmed at the direction of the coming demonstration. Davidson replied to his critics on Chicago Indymedia, “I’ve repeated, time and again, that we are building a left-center coalition around ‘out now’ and related slogans, and if you are in agreement with that basic orientation, welcome aboard.”
“Out now” is an appropriate slogan for an antiwar protest, but this message can easily become diluted in the context of today’s do-nothing “antiwar” Democrats. A “left-center coalition” might or might not work for the next Democratic Party nominee (Gore and Kerry, using “triangulation” politics, both failed to motivate voters desiring a genuine departure from the political status quo). But it certainly spells disaster for the antiwar movement, which is dangerously close to rendering itself irrelevant. As the Iraq occupation approaches its fifth anniversary, the politicians responsible from both major political parties must be held accountable. Otherwise, the next stop is 2013-and beyond-and more Iraqis and U.S. troops will pay the price.
SHARON SMITH is the author of Women and Socialism and Subterranean Fire: a History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org