The neocons are still winning. Four and a half
years after the neocons tricked the nation into launching the most foolish military
adventure in its history, the U.S. military continues to execute their policies.
The occupation of Iraq and the six-year occupation of Afghanistan continue with
no end in sight, and preparations for war with Iran continue. If events proceed
on their current course, the U.S. will occupy large swaths of the Middle East
for decades – spending trillions of dollars, losing thousands of additional
lives, and feeding the regional instability that gives rise to terrorism.
We in the antiwar movement are still losing. Dozens of major protests, hundreds
of Web sites, thousands of vigils, and millions of e-mail messages have had
little impact on war policies. The lame-duck Bush administration confidently
ignores us, most Republicans rail against us, and most Democrats take us for
granted. While polls show increasing public opposition to the war, the movement
has failed to translate this mood swing into a tangible result.
While there are a number of reasons why the neocons continue to defeat us,
the most important one is that we lack a coherent, unified strategy for winning
this debate. If we hope to reverse this situation, we in the antiwar movement
need to do an honest appraisal of where we are and what we should do next. The
aftermath of the Oct. 27 regional protests is a great time for this reappraisal.
My contribution to this discussion follows.
Just Getting Out There Isn't Enough
Too many of us take unearned pride in our accomplishments.
We need to face the cold, hard fact that we're failing in our efforts to end
the war. The best athletes, artists and professionals are their own harshest
critics. They don't accept mediocrity. We shouldn't either.
If you organize a vigil that is attended by a handful of people and is noticed
by no one who can change the situation, you have made yourself feel better,
but you haven't meaningfully contributed to the prospects for peace. If you
host a low-traffic Web site or post to a rarely visited blog that preaches only
to the converted, you have also failed to move the dial.
Instead of dissipating energy on thousands of small, poorly organized, invisible
activities, we need fewer, larger, and better-planned initiatives. Benchmarks
for success should include an accurate estimate of attendance (rather
than the inflated numbers we often publish), media attention and impact on people
with decision making power.
Recent examples of actions that were successful in my view are the Jan.
27, 2007, United for Peace and Justice march on Washington and Code
Pink's Camp Pelosi action. (I cite these examples because I observed them
but didn't participate in organizing them – so I believe I can be objective.
My choosing to omit other actions may be more a reflection of my unfamiliarity
than of a negative opinion.) The Jan. 27 march was well-attended, attracted
numerous congressional speakers, and received good media coverage. While only
a small number of people participated in Camp Pelosi, it generated substantial
media coverage and attracted multiple comments from the speaker of the House
– who could almost unilaterally end the war by holding up a future funding bill.
Setting a Goal
Most activists participating in antiwar organizing
are also concerned with many other issues. Among the most common are holding
Bush and Cheney to account through impeachment, fighting racism against Arabs
and other minority groups, ensuring that adequate funds are available to help
the disadvantaged, preventing global warming, and learning the truth about 9/11.
These other concerns are important and each can be readily linked to the war.
But focusing on these other issues during antiwar organizing has disadvantages.
A multi-issue platform may narrow the number of individuals and groups available
to support a given action. It may also dilute the message being sent to the
public via the media.
The question that peace activists should ask themselves is whether ending the
war in Iraq is, itself, a sufficient goal. If so, they should participate in
the broadest possible antiwar movement and leave other issues aside when doing
coalition organizing. If they don't think opposition to the war is a sufficient
basis for protest, I hope they organize outside the antiwar movement.
There is a strong counterargument against single-issue antiwar organizing.
Some peace activists argue that certain communities will participate in antiwar
protests only if their issues are added to the protest agenda. In certain cases,
the addition of an issue to a protest platform may attract more new protesters
than the number of demonstrators deterred by the addition. In this case, a multi-issue
protest may make the most sense. But activists should take care before coming
to this conclusion, because the new source of protesters is usually much more
apparent than the potential attendees being driven away.
The San Francisco Oct. 27 coalition employed two creative ways of dealing with
the multi-issue conundrum. Interest groups organized smaller protests and feeder
marches to the larger demonstration. At the end of the main march, protesters
had the option of visiting a "Peace and Justice Convergence" at which
they could learn more about the ideas and activities of groups that supported
This accommodation has a couple of disadvantages that coalitions need to be
aware of and try to ameliorate. First, the action was less cohesive than usual.
Protest speakers at the initial and closing rallies spoke to relatively small
audiences because of the number of alternative activities under way. Only the
march was well-attended. We were fortunate that the media counted the larger
number participating in the main march rather than focusing on the poor attendance
at the rallies. Second, a lot of the limited volunteer energy that may have
been available to maximizing turnout at the larger protest was instead spent
on the smaller sub-actions.
In my view, the war is an overriding issue because it involves immediate life
and death, and because it has long-term implications for the economic health
of this nation. To stop this war, I choose to work with others with whom I disagree
on many other matters. I view coalition actions through the prism of whether
they help end the war. Anyone who participates in a peace coalition should be
honest with themselves and others about their overall political goals and their
reasons for working in a coalition. Assuming their goal is an end to U.S. wars
in the Middle East, they should welcome any opportunity to enlarge the coalition
and bring in new protesters
Broadening the Coalition is the ANSWER
In the western U.S., ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War
and End Racism) is the dominant antiwar protest group. Only ANSWER has the experience,
discipline and volunteer strength to organize large antiwar marches in San Francisco,
Seattle, and Los Angeles. (In the eastern part of the country, both ANSWER and
United for Peace and Justice [UFPJ] are capable of organizing large-scale antiwar
protests.) In working with ANSWER activists, I have found them to be serious,
committed, and very good at what they do.
ANSWER is a multi-issue coalition consisting of "organizations
that have campaigned against U.S. intervention in Latin America, the Caribbean,
the Middle East, and Asia, and organizations that have campaigned for civil
rights and for social and economic justice for working and poor people inside
the United States."
ANSWER-organized protests typically reflect this multi-issue orientation,
with some of the ill effects noted earlier. For example, strong condemnations
of Israel at ANSWER protests have alienated many progressive Jews, including
those associated with Tikkun.
It has even generated counter protests from at least one San
Since Census reports (at http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/tables/07s0075.xls
indicate that Jews outnumber Arabs in the United States by five to one, the
inclusion of anti-Israel rhetoric in antiwar protests is not consistent with
the goal of maximizing attendance at these demonstrations.
ANSWER's multi-issue focus may be a factor in the shrinking turnout at antiwar
protests in San Francisco and nationally. The San Francisco Chronicle
reported that ANSWER's fourth-anniversary Iraq War protest in San Francisco
on March 18, 2007, attracted only 3,000
demonstrators. Although this estimate was effectively refuted
by ANSWER's western regional coordinator, Richard Becker, I'm quite certain,
having attended both, that the turnout was far below that of the first-anniversary
protest in 2004.
Perhaps realizing that multi-issue actions were turning off potential demonstrators
and splintering the antiwar movement, ANSWER published an open
letter to antiwar activists in May 2007 calling on peace activists to join
together under the banner of "End the War Now" to build a series of
This letter was followed by ANSWER's efforts to work with UFPJ and other groups
to organize regional, single-issue antiwar protests on Oct.
27, 2007. Roughly a dozen such protests were organized nationwide. The San
Francisco Chronicle reported that 10,000
attended the San Francisco protest. Although I don't believe that it exceeded
the size of the March 18 protest by a factor of three as Chronicle reporting
would suggest, the better press coverage would indicate that the peace movement
benefited by working together toward a single goal.
Positive press aside, the protest was not as large as organizers had hoped.
A key factor driving this shortfall was a lack of advance publicity for the
protest, which, in turn, stemmed from a lack of volunteers participating in
the outreach effort and a lack of funds to purchase paid advertising.
The reasons for the lack of money and volunteers are complex. While over 150
groups endorsed the protest, most did not contribute funds or activists. Organizers
of the non-participating groups may have chosen to remain aloof because they
do not believe that building large-scale, single-issue, antiwar protests is
the best use of their time and energy. Or, they may not have wanted to participate
in activities that they didn't control. Or, they may not have trusted an effort
led by ANSWER.
I've learned that many peace groups are reluctant to work with ANSWER. While
some of this reluctance is rooted in the anti-Israel tone of some ANSWER protests,
there is another cause.
The leaders of ANSWER are members of the Marxist Party
for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), a group that splintered from the Worker's
World Party in 2004. The Marxist orientation of ANSWER's leaders deters some
on the Left
from becoming involved in ANSWER-led protests, for fear of being dismissed as
"communists" by their opponents on the Right.
While ANSWER invited other groups into a broader coalition, it didn't quite
roll out the red carpet. The ANSWER-organized initial meeting for the Oct. 27
San Francisco protest was held on July 12. Although no one was turned away from
the meeting, it did not appear that ANSWER sought out, contacted, and invited
every antiwar group in the San Francisco Bay Area to attend the meeting, irrespective
of ideology. ANSWER formed the coalition subcommittees, selecting chairpersons
from the ranks of ANSWER activists.
In offering this critique, I want to be very precise: It is to ANSWER's credit
that they did allow politically diverse outsiders (such as me – a libertarian)
to become involved in the coalition and play significant roles (in my case,
administering the protest Web site). ANSWER's leadership also made an extra
effort to involve local UFPJ and labor unions. Finally, to their credit, they
reached out to some religious groups – Marxist atheism notwithstanding. But,
in my opinion, other outsiders like me needed to actively insert themselves
or they didn't get involved at all. ANSWER should have gone the extra mile to
This is far more than a mere point of courtesy. By not inviting a broader array
of activists into the early planning process, ANSWER increased the chances that
the Oct. 27 protest would look much like previous ANSWER-sponsored protests,
as it ultimately did. If, instead, ANSWER leaders had courted progressive Democrats
and Greens, attendance may have been much larger and protest content may have
been more representative of mainstream Bay Area opinion.
The question left in my mind is one of whether ANSWER's leadership really wants
an early end to the war. Marxist theory, as outlined on PSL's
Web site, suggests that the worker's revolution will occur amidst a crisis
in the capitalist system. U.S. wars in the Middle East, by creating regional
instability, driving up oil prices, and exacerbating deficits that reduce the
dollar's value heighten (the extremely small chance) that a revolution-provoking
crisis might occur here. If the war ends, support for protest and radical change
will ebb, so peace in our time would seem contrary to the interests of a Marxist
While I harbor this doubt, I will say that ANSWER activists I met seemed consistently
sincere in their desire to see an early end to the suffering of Iraqis and U.S.
soldiers caused by the war.
Perhaps they realize that a revolution is not in the cards any time soon. If
that's the case, ANSWER activists and other socialists participating in the
antiwar movement should be more open to the strategy of pressuring elected officials
to end the war. If a worker's revolution is not on the immediate horizon, the
electoral process is the only mechanism that can translate majority opposition
to the Iraq War into a near-term U.S. withdrawal.
If ANSWER's leaders sincerely want the war to end, and they believe that large
protests can accelerate this process, they need to become part of a broader
protest coalition that truly represents – and can thus attract – mainstream
antiwar opinion in the U.S. The lead organization for such a coalition should
be MoveOn.org, which, with its 3 million
members and substantial financial resources, could take the antiwar movement
to the next level.
We Can't Be a Wholly Owned Subsidiary of the Democratic Party
A coalition centered on MoveOn.org would be heavily
influenced by the Democratic Party. That would be fine, since Democrats have
the nation's largest political party and are poised to both strengthen their
hold on Congress and take over the presidency in 2008.
But the peace movement must remain independent of the Democratic Party establishment.
The Democrats have not only failed to end the Iraq War, they have also financed
the surge and have done little to prevent an attack on Iran. Even if failed
Democratic "redeployment" legislation had passed, tens of thousands
of U.S. occupying troops would have remained in Iraq indefinitely.
An antiwar movement that shills for the Democratic Party would also exclude
the growing number of antiwar Republicans and Libertarians, as well as the Greens,
Socialists, and Independents who have been involved in peace activism for many
An independent antiwar movement would oppose Democratic Party candidates who
support the war or who have been insufficiently opposed to it. MoveOn.org's
defeat of Joe Lieberman in last year's Democratic senatorial primary is a heroic
example of its independent antiwar activism.
Unfortunately, MoveOn.org has been less heroic on other fronts. Their public
antiwar actions thus far have consisted of widely dispersed peace vigils and
in-home movie screenings that don't garner national publicity. Even worse, they
chose to support the House Leadership's toothless
timetable and war funding legislation back in March. MoveOn took this position
after running a membership e-mail
poll that received a relatively small number of votes and did not give members
a full array of possible strategy choices.
With last spring's failure of the congressional Democratic strategy, MoveOn
appears to have learned its lesson and is taking a harder line against the war.
However, it did not support the Oct. 27 mobilization – perhaps for fear of being
associated with ANSWER.
In the crucial election season coming up, peace activists need to apply pressure
to all candidates – including Democrats – who do not support a rapid
and complete withdrawal from Iraq and who do not oppose an attack on Iran. We
should be sending them letters, calling them out by name at protests, and criticizing
them in the media.
Between now and January, peace activists will
assess recent events and make their plans for protests to mark the fifth anniversary
of the invasion of Iraq next March. If we have a good strategy and we execute
it well, there won't be a need for sixth-anniversary protests in 2009 and we
can all go about our other business.
In my view, the best strategy will be carried out by a broad coalition led
by groups that represent large slices of American public opinion. Large, single-issue
protests should be our core tactic, but a limited number of smaller actions
should also be included as long as they are strategic – like Camp Pelosi was.
Random, unfocused actions should be opposed.
Political leaders who aren't ending the war, like Nancy Pelosi, should be challenged,
as Cindy Sheehan is doing. The goal of these challenges need not be to defeat
the incumbent. We win by simply forcing leaders like Pelosi to explain their
positions to their constituents, as she has failed to do by not holding a town
hall meeting in her district since January 2006.
The neocons are a small group, yet they have controlled U.S. military policy
for the last seven years. They obtained this control in part because we who
oppose the unjustified use of military force have been unfocused, undisciplined,
and un-united. On Oct. 27, 2007, this began to change, but we have a very, very
long way to go.