Seize the Moment

Ethan Young ethanyoung at earthlink.net
Sat Sep 21 11:41:46 MDT 2002


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This article appears in Vol. 1, No. 16 of Anti-War Perspectives, published
by the Burlington Anti-War Coalition in Burlington, Vermont. The issue will
come off the press today, September 21, 2002 at a Vermont statewide
conference "Stop the War: Organizing for Social Justice." For more
information about the conference, go to http://woofnet.com/stopthewar/

Seize the Moment

By Max Elbaum

As threats to invade Iraq mount, there is both greater urgency and increased
opportunity to reach out broadly with an antiwar message.

For readers of this newsletter there is no need to re-state the reasons
invading Iraq would be a human, environmental and political catastrophe.
What’s remarkable is that leading figures in the policy-making elite - for
their own reasons - are proclaiming that unilateral U.S. action could lead
to disaster. Today’s Republican dissidents will fall in line behind Bush if
an invasion does occur. But for the moment, their orchestrated campaign to
slow Bush down has created the biggest opening for public debate over the
"war on terrorism" since 9-11.

The challenge to the antiwar movement is whether we can take advantage of
this opening to qualitatively expand our influence and impact. Can we turn
widespread doubts about an invasion into a grassroots opposition movement
powerful enough to register in national politics? Can we move those who
think this particular invasion might not be a good idea toward a broader
critique of the "war on terrorism" and the racist, empire-building agenda
that underlies it?

In working to meet those goals, we now have a year’s rich organizing
experience to draw upon (as well as the experience of previous antiwar
movements). Every group and individual activist brings something to the
table. Conferences like the Sept. 21 gathering in Burlington give us the
chance to build a movement that is both rooted in and greater than the sum
of its individual parts.

War Times (www.war-times.org) brings to our collective effort the experience
of putting out a nationwide, free, bilingual antiwar paper.

War Times was conceived last fall by Bay Area radicals rooted largely in
racial justice, immigrant rights, and anti-prison-industrial-complex work.
We had participated in an ad hoc series of strategy discussions and
inter-generational dialogues in which 100-200 activists - about half 1960s
veterans and half younger folk, about half white and half activists of color
- grappled with the complexities of the post-911 world.

The idea behind War Times was that a missing piece of the antiwar mosaic was
an accessible, consistent source of information that could be given to folks
rather than something requiring people to "come to us." Already-committed
activists are flooded with information (from e-mail lists, the web,
subscription-based publications, and, in some areas, Pacifica or similar
radio stations). But with antiwar messages shut out of the mainstream media,
folks not already within the antiwar loop have little access to voices and
arguments of the opposition. That’s why, despite how costly it is, we
decided that a free, printed newspaper could be a crucial tool to expand the
reach of on-the-ground organizers.

Key concepts for War Times were "educational moment," "entry-way" and
"constituency consciousness."

Educational moment, meaning 9-11 sparked widespread discussions of the U.S.
role in the world, "why they hate us" and so on, opening doors to at least
introduce radical perspectives to folks who ordinarily would not even talk
about politics. It was - and remains - a time when seeds can be planted that
can later bear fruit in people taking to the streets.

Entry-way meaning that War Times would not try to duplicate the already
excellent work of so many organizations and media outlets. Rather, it would
be a vehicle for introducing new people to the essential arguments against
the war and making them aware of all the other organizations and
media-projects of the antiwar movement.

Constituency consciousness, finally, has two meanings. Politically, it meant
identifying the paper’s audience as the unconvinced, ranging from soft
supporters of the war to vacillating opponents. Sociologically, we have
tried to produce a paper useful to all constituencies, but especially aimed
at workers, communities of color and immigrant communities. While people of
conscience from all strata oppose this war, it is these overlapping and
specially-impacted sectors which, if galvanized in their millions, can
anchor a powerful antiwar movement. Hence the bilingual character of War
Times - in just about every big city in the country today, rooting oneself
among working people necessitates efforts at least in Spanish as well as
English.

Based on these concepts, since February War Times has produced five issues.
Roughly 100,000 copies of each have been distributed by 400-600
organizations and individuals  in all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. About
one-third are gotten out by traditional or new peace organizations or
coalitions; one-third by campus distributors (including in high schools);
and one-third by labor or community organizations which are not principally
antiwar formations but which want to educate their members and periphery and
link opposition to the war to their ongoing agenda. We’ve assembled an
e-mail list of over 7,000 people who receive notice of each War Times new
issue and, beginning this fall, periodic announcements of major antiwar
actions and resources.

Besides a constant scramble to finance this effort (60% of the $125,000 we’
ve raised so far comes from individual donations of $5 and up), we are
constantly trying to overcome shortcomings in War Times work. There is an
ongoing tension between the need to keep articles short and the overall
paper readable vs. dealing with the full and complex range of issues in
front of us. There is also one-sidedness in which movements we have closest
connections with and cover well; our roots give us much stronger ties to the
racial justice movements, for example, than to the anti-corporate
globalization movement, a weakness we hope to overcome.

Beyond all that, War Times is not and cannot be a "stand-alone" effort. It
is dependent on and meant to serve organizing groups and coalitions. In
developing those crucial forms, we play only a secondary role. But based on
some direct involvement plus extensive interaction with organizers who
distribute War Times all over the country, we have learned some lessons.

One is that building stable antiwar formations requires both dealing
front-and-center with the inherent racism of the "war on terrorism" and with
the negative racial dynamics that frequently penetrate into the movement
itself. Coalitions are fragile and unstable unless organizations and
activists rooted in communities of color have a central seat at the table
formulating policy and strategy.

Another is that the most successful efforts are those which are the
most-outward looking, where the left elements grasp that the
anti-imperialist wing of the antiwar movement will grow only in tandem with
a much broader peace-and-justice movement. When such sentiment is
consolidated, folks have a stronger basis to put the many political
differences within the movement into proper perspective, and avoid the
tendencies to infighting and self-marginalization which have too often
undermined the good intentions and hard work of so many activists.

Finally, we’ve been reminded that there’s no substitute for grappling with
how to get some real political muscle in the way of the government’s war
machine: what steps will lead to expanding our base and having a measurable
and cumulative impact on actual events. Given our initially small size and
what we have been up against since 9-11, there are no easy answers here. But
nothing builds self-confidence and heightened morale like actually making a
difference "out there."

The April 20 actions were a huge boost to our collective morale precisely
because they had focus and scale sufficient to show there was a real
movement - especially in solidarity with Palestine - actually existing on
the ground. Today, the over-riding challenge is to formulate and then follow
through on an equivalent activity that throws down the gauntlet against Bush
’s plan to invade Iraq. Clusters of activists across the country, from
nationally prominent leaders to salt-of-the-earth organizers in the
trenches, are beginning to take on this question with vigor and urgency. If
a creative plan for mobilization can be united upon by an accountable
constellation of forces who have earned some moral and political authority,
I am convinced it will unleash tremendous energy and enthusiasm from the
grassroots. Then, together, we will be able not just to understand and
denounce the real "axis of evil," but throw a serious wrench into its deadly
war machine.

Max Elbaum is one of the editors of War Times.


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