Antiwar diversity

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Dec 19 13:41:33 MST 2002

The Nation, December 18, 2002

A Hundred Peace Movements Bloom
by Esther Kaplan

(Esther Kaplan is co-chair of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice,
which has endorsed United for Peace.)

Even with an enemy as easy to hate as Saddam Hussein, the Bush
Administration's war plans in Iraq have awakened "huge reservoirs of
unease" in the American public, says Peace Action spokesperson Scott
Lynch. The Administration's bullying autumn war drive, its explicit
discussion of pre-emptive strikes and regime change, its overtly
corporate agenda on energy and oil, and its early, arrogant attempts to
make war without Congress, let alone the United Nations, unleashed a
flood of antiwar sentiment and activity across the country. The sheer
breadth of this opposition could help to birth one of the largest
antiwar movements in US history--that is, if these politically diverse
antiwar eruptions can join forces as a movement at all.

So far, the strength of the opposition is certainly not its unity, but
its diversity. Here, for example, is a snapshot of the New York City
antiwar movement in the final days of November: Uptown, black and Latino
youth activists and tenant organizers huddle in a back room, discussing
how to turn out bodega owners and taxi drivers for their December 14
march in Harlem "for schools and jobs, not war"; while downtown, a
collection of apron-clad activists, from such global justice outfits as
Reclaim the Streets, hold a "bake sale for the military," a propaganda
stunt to promote an antiwar listserv. Some 2,000 high school students
walk out of their classes to protest the war, organized by one antiwar
coalition, Not in Our Name, and a week later, a thousand
African-American congregants pack the rafters--and basement--of the
House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn for an antiwar town meeting
sponsored by another national coalition, International ANSWER.
Meanwhile, coalition-averse artists, interior decorators, restaurateurs
and go-go boys calling themselves "Glamericans" meet to plan a
star-studded antiwar bash designed to reach those who get their news
from MTV.

Glance around the country and one sees this diversity multiplied: People
came out for peace marches and vigils even in such conservative redoubts
as Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Anchorage, Alaska. An estimated
100,000 turned out for a march in Washington. Such mainstays of the
institutional movement as NOW, the NAACP, the National Council of
Churches, the Conference of Catholic Bishops and the California Labor
Federation--organizations that collectively represent millions of
Americans--have all issued strong antiwar resolutions, as have some
thirty city councils. Dissent--or at least discomfort--has cropped up
even in conservative quarters, at the libertarian Cato Institute, which
has called a war "unwise"; among former military and security advisers
such as Brent Scowcroft, who have pushed against unilateral action; and,
most impressively, from the likes of Colin Powell and George Tenet
within the Administration itself. Combined with international opposition
and lukewarm support for the war in polls, this resistance has already
slowed an invasion and backed the Administration into negotiations with
Congress and the UN. Former SDS leader Tom Hayden sees a level of
ferment that was unimaginable at a comparable stage of the Vietnam War,
say in 1965--when only 7,000 turned out for a national march on Washington.

The groundswell of opposition, however, was ahead of any leadership. As
Bush launched his war drive, Democratic Party leaders, urged on by
impassioned constituents, could have marshaled the opposition, but
declined. Peace Action, a descendant of SANE/Freeze, has 100 chapters
across the country and calls itself "the nation's largest peace
organization." But last fall, says Lynch, "we just didn't have the
capacity" to coordinate a mass action. Networks of the other
longstanding peace organizations--Pax Christi, the Quakers, the War
Resisters League--have provided the infrastructure for many of the tiny
vigils in Middle America, but nothing in the way of national
coordination. "The historic peace organizations are always there," says
Leslie Cagan, lead organizer of the 1982 antinuke rally in Central Park,
"and yet they always need to be regrouped whenever a new war comes along."

While these sectors regrouped, far-left groups stepped into the breach.
The International Action Center has built momentum since the 1991 Iraq
war through an antisanctions campaign and was ready to roll after
September 11, convening its new antiwar coalition, International ANSWER,
within days. It was ANSWER that organized the surprisingly large October
26 rallies in San Francisco and Washington, with groups like Peace
Action coming along for the ride. Next in line was Not in Our Name, a
more populist alternative to ANSWER, whose pledge of resistance struck a
chord across the country, reproduced in small-town papers like the
Sierra Vista Herald, which serves an Arizona military town, and inspired
a national day of actions in early October. Much has been made recently
in the left and mainstream press of these coalitions' ties to the
Workers World Party and the Revolutionary Communist Party, respectively,
but journalists' warnings about the risks posed by these groups lag
behind conversations in the streets.

Peace activists have been strategizing about the International Action
Center since an earlier guise forced dual marches during the 1991 Gulf
War; at issue was their refusal to condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait or
to support economic sanctions as a war alternative. And newcomers like
youth organizer Erica Smiley, 22, weathered painful squabbles over the
DC demonstrations last April--with ANSWER moving the date of its
Palestine-focused march to coincide with a national student peace march,
nearly eclipsing the latter's call to "stop the war at home and abroad."

But students, antiglobalization street activists and old-time peaceniks
alike appreciate ANSWER's knack for mobilizing the unaffiliated and
turning out the Arab-American community--the latter due in great part to
the leadership of groups such as the Free Palestine Alliance in ANSWER's
coalition. Tom Hayden recalls "similar divisions, and rival
organizations and factions," in the 1960s antiwar movement, but says
there was an "ecology" to it, in which "most of us recognized that there
was a certain inevitability about the other camp." While some antiwar
activists shun ANSWER altogether, most adopt this ecological view, and
say they are ready to work with--or at least around--the coalition. Most
also agree that a sectarian approach--even a liberal sectarianism that
seeks to isolate the far left--will never build a broad antiwar
movement. And they share the confidence, says David McReynolds, a
longtime activist with the War Resisters League, that "ANSWER's monopoly
has to be broken, and it will be."

It's already being chipped away in a variety of ways. A broad spectrum
of players--traditional peace groups; student, global justice and
antiracist activists; mainstream labor, environmental, civil rights and
women's organizations--piggybacked onto ANSWER's big march to convene an
ambitious new national coalition, United for Peace. A hundred-plus
celebrities, working in conjunction with the National Council of
Churches and other liberal institutions, announced their opposition to
the war on December 10 through the new Win Without War
coalition--joining a national day of some 150 antiwar actions called by
United for Peace. Student, labor and women's coalitions are in the
works. And young anticapitalists, with their distaste for
authoritarianism of any stripe, are honing creative strategies for
cooperating with ANSWER while maintaining autonomy. On October 26 a
local coalition spearheaded by the DC Anti-Capitalist Convergence
organized its own feeder march, drawing attention to the potential
domestic costs of the war, which preceded ANSWER's rally. DC ACC's Zein
El-Amine considers the action a great success, because "it was done not
by being separatist from the larger event but by building our own
coalition and preserving our own ideas."



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