The Washington demonstration and its importance

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Sun Jan 19 13:39:49 MST 2003

The demonstration in DC was a tremendous experience.  There is no doubt at
all that the movement continues to gain momentum as the war approaches. The
march the few blocks from the bus dropoff area to the gathering site was
itself a continual mass march.  The size was so large that organized
contingents of labor, Blacks and other groups tended to break down although
many individuals and small groups and individuals from these sectors could
be seen scattered throughout the vast crowd
demonstration.  A tremendous number of handmade signs -- some quite
beautiful -- highlighted the consciousness and care that countless
individuals brought to the march.  College and high school youth were the
largest single presence.  They were everywhere and in truly massive numbers.

The February 15 action, the next big national marches, got a big jump start
here.  I and many others distributed thousands of leaflets, all of which
were received with considerable interest in the issue of "What next?"
ANSWER has already endorsed, so this will be the first national action in
the current movement that starts out with just about everybody on board.

The dominant posters were "no war on Iraq", defending the people of Iraq,
calling for inspections of the US, and denouncing Bush as a war criminal.
One handmade sign carried a slogan that, for me, characcterized the learning
process that many erstwhile patriotic Americans have gone through in the
year and a half.  Under the heading of "Who is the Number One War Criminal?"
there were photos of Bush and Bin Laden.  The pciture of  Bin Laden was
crossed out.  The main enemy had proven to be at home once again.

Many other protesters carried official signs that said "Jobs, Not War."  (A
recent issue of the Militant, a journal which once helped organize
demonstrations of a  broadly similar, and sometimes equally conservative,
character, denounces this slogan as a  "nationalist trap," twisting it into
a chauvinist slogan calling for jobs for American workers only and opposing
solidarity with workers internationally-- presenting it none too objectively
as though it were aimed at workers in other countries, immigrants,
undocumented workers, and so forth.

The slogan, of course, says no such thing and has no such implications.  It
simply is one expression -- a tad too vague to be a personal favorite of
mine -- of the call to use the wealth,  now being used in an effort to smash
and subjugate the people of Iraq and lay waste their country, to meet human
needs..  Anyone who seels to convey the  impression that these
are national-chauvinist, and therefore have a proimperialist thrust despite
their official character, is simply stating that which is not the case.

There were slogans I didn't like.  There were patriotic slogans such as
"Dissent is patriotic" (well some is and some  and it all has a right to be
heard, which I suspect is the point most of the sign-carriers are trying to
make). My least favorite: a beautifully hand-lettered large placard that
read: "Only the UN should police the world."  Why  the hell should anybody
police the world?  Oh well, he was there so he was in the fight.

One of the most striking experiences I have had in these protests is the way
people who enter the fight  against the war under various patriotic or
seemingly half-hearted slogans have stubbornly stayed with the fight even as
their supposed partial demands (let Congress vote! No unilateralism! Let the
Security Council be heard! Let the inspectors in! Of course Iraq must be
disarmed but....) have stayed with the fight and hardened their opposition
even as their partial demands were met as part of  Washington's war
preparations.  The whole movement is directed against the US war, and is in
that sense anti-imnperialist, not just those who put forward the more
unconditional slogans that I advocate and march under.  This is why I am
also unwilling  to denounce anyone
putting forward limited or inadequate or even downright bad slogans as
"prowar."  Their stance on the war has to be derived from their deeds more
than from their words, which may not adequately express their deeds.

My initial estimate was at least 200,000, and I am pretty conservative about
crowd sizes.  I was never at a point where I could see the whole thing.  One
sign is that I ran into hardly anyone I knew, and I know a lot of people I
knew were there.  Buses were still arriving as we were desperately
struggling to leave.  The entire bus placement was disrupted by an enormous
unexpected inflow of buses.  The march was greatly  slowed by its own size.
Everyone I knew who had been at October 26 (I was at another protest) told
me this was substantially better.  The estimates of 300,000 seemed very
credible to me.  I react with organic slepticism to the 500,000 figure.

I want to end this on a somewhat narrow note by quoting a passage from an
old document that I think expresses a thought we can all use in building the
broadest support for the upcoming Feb. 15 national marches in NY and SF.  It
was called "A Reply to Criticism of our Antiwar Policy," by Lew Jones,
written in 1967 for the Socialist Workers Party discussion bulletin and
reflected the views at the time of virtually the entire leadership of the

Of course there are historical differences..  The antiwar movement during
Vietnam was taking place during a full-scale imperialist war.  But I don't
think today's movement should be criticized for having started before the
war got FULLY underway.  They were under no obligation to wait for the
massive bombing and invasion  before protesting.  The movement will face a
real test when a real full-scale war starts --  and there's going to be one
sometime,. somewhere, even if the very uphill battle to head off the
invasion of Iraq today is successful.  But today the young fighters and many
others are passing today's test.

Lew Jones wrote:
"The antiwar movement, by which we mean the whole coalition which has been
bu ilt up around the single issue of struggle and action around the single
issue of struggle and action against the war, is deeply profoundly
anti-imperialist in character.  It is not true that the witthdrawal wing is
the anti-imperialist wing within the larger movement -- the WHOLE  movement
is anti-imperialist.  The test of anti-imperialism in a period of war is
action against the imperialist war in Vietnam; this is the CONCRETE test of
anti-imperialism in this period."

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