“Antiwar groups retreat on funding fight” read the headlines. The story underneath describes a retreat by MoveOn and other liberal elements of the antiwar movement who, after failing to get a withdrawal deadline passed in the US Congress in 2007, are now merely trying to prevent the US and Baghdad governments from signing n agreement that would keep US forces in Iraq until 2018. This strategy, its supporters believe, can still provide a difference between Democrats and Republicans to voters in the upcoming elections.
This scenario is exactly what happens when an element of the antiwar movement ties itself to a party invested in keeping a war going. Unfortunately for the antiwar movement in general, this strategy is pervasive throughout much of the movement and has rendered the current movement against the war in Iraq completely moribund. Instead of an antiwar movement, there is a repeat of 2004, when UFPJ, MoveOn and other antiwar organizations put their money and efforts into the Anybody But Bush campaign and helped give the country four more years of George Bush.
This election year, George Bush isn’t running, but the war and occupation will continue long after he’s gone unless the self-appointed liberal leadership in the antiwar movement either quits tailing the Democratic Party or just shuts up. Since neither of these phenomena are likely to happen, it is up to the grassroots of the movement to wrest the mantle of leadership away from these lobbyists and put the movement back into the streets where its real power is. The lobbyists have had their chance and all they’ve done is spend a ton of our money on advertising, lobbying and salaries with no tangible results. This should make it clear to the people who actually make up the antiwar movement that our hopes lie in hard work, street protests and direct action, and developing strategies that are not based on the US election cycle.
This may very well require a new organization stepping up to the plate. UFPJ has struck out as a national organization, primarily because they have refused to organize or help organize any national demonstrations in a year. ANSWER, meanwhile, seems to have forfeited their place in the game because of their perceived sectarianism and a bit of red and Muslim-baiting. MoveOn and similar organizations are, on the national level, much more like spectators and concessionaires at this point than they are real players, having thrown in their lot with the democrats. The only existing national organizations that could possibly provide fresh leadership at this time are Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). However, given the rather specific constituency of both of these groups, it would seem that there would need to be some other groups either currently in existence or yet to be formed willing to coalesce and create a truly national mobilization to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bring the troops home.
Let the candidates tell their lies. Let them argue about how they are against the wars while they vote for the wars. Let the national antiwar organizations that have hitched their wagons to the Democrats or Ron Paul be dragged into the dead-end ditch of electoral politics. But let those of us interested in having a vibrant and viable antiwar movement ready to hit the streets after January 2009 start trying to figure out how the hell we’re going to do that. This doesn’t mean your vote is meaningless. It just means that it isn’t as meaningful as the candidates and the liberal elements of the antiwar movement want you to think it is. If it was, don’t you think we would know when the troops would be out of Iraq?
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 collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org