The left wing of the antiwar movement has some very serious problems, mainly our inability to recognize that the antiwar sentiment in the United States is resonating far beyond the confines of the so-called “left.”
We cannot step back and effectively analyze the failures of the antiwar movement without peering under the hood of John Kerry’s campaign in 2004. In essence, I think the majority of the left made a huge mistake on this issue by not opposing the Democrats; the movement supported a pro-war position by not opposing Sen. Kerry, who promised to continue the occupation of Iraq. There was no pressure on Kerry to alter his position on the war. No bird-dogging protests along the campaign trail. No outrage over his flip-flopping-let’s-send-more-troops-into-battle rhetoric. Silence during election season is complicity. So let’s be loud.
Despite his good intentions, Dennis Kucinich also failed us four years ago as well by abandoning his antiwar platform in favor of Kerry’s pro-war candidacy. There is little reason to believe ol’ Dennis won’t do the same thing again this year if Hillary is the nominee. It was party politics before issues. Kucinich, unfortunately, wasn’t an activist but a pawn in the Democrat’s game. And the antiwar movement, or at least those who supported his bid, felt the damaging tremors for months afterward. Kucinich has been running in Iowa for almost nine years and is barely pulling in 1% of the vote. So what’s the point?
The backlash to the Iraq war in this country is much larger than Kucinich’s fan club, yet there is no real visible “moving” movement on the ground to end it. In many ways this is our fault as we are not willing to reach out to antiwar folks across the lines. A movement will never move forward with archaic sectarian factions or unyielding adherence to entrenched political philosophies. We must overcome our unwillingness to collaborate and collectively organize.
Case in point being the most visible and enthusiastic antiwar candidate in the country, which we consistently ignore: Rep. Ron Paul. Whether we agree or disagree with Paul’s libertarian solution to every problem, we cannot disregard that his campaign is exploding owing to a broad coalition of people who oppose the war on terror. Paul has built a viable campaign, one that must move beyond the Republican primaries and into the general election. We can’t let Paul become Kucinich of ’04. The more independent antiwar voices we have running against the war machine the better we’ll all be. And Paul has millions in his coffers to push an antiwar agenda.
This is not about Rep. Paul as an individual per se, but about his grassroots following. He’s exciting many newcomers to the movement and that must be welcomed. We certainly don’t share the same views with all who have latched on to his campaign, but on the issue of the Iraq war we are in total agreement. One doesn’t not have to be a member of the left to oppose empire.
As a movement that allegedly grew out of WTO protests in Seattle, which was an unimaginable coalition of interests (labor, environmental, protectionist), one would think the left would be at the forefront in calling for such an alliance again today.
Whether we’re beer-drinking rednecks from Tennessee or pot smokin’ hippies from Oregon, we need to come together. And working to keep the movement away from supporting a pro-war candidate like Hillary Clinton is an important endeavor. One we shouldn’t shy away from over the course of the next 11 months.
Rep. Paul’s call to end the war needs to be supported. We need to monkeywrench the war issue so the media and the big party candidates cannot ignore it. There is a lot of work that must be done and we cannot be locked in the logic of old if we are to succeed.
Ending the war in Iraq will take substantial pressure from all sides of the political spectrum. From conservative veterans to radical peaceniks. Let’s embrace this new reality. The antiwar movement is larger than the left, in fact so much so that we may be at the whim of a real grassroots resistance instead of at its forefront. And if that means bringing this ugly war to a screeching halt, I’m all for it.
JOSHUA FRANK is co-editor of DissidentVoice.org and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the forthcoming Red State Rebels, to be published by AK Press in March 2008.