[Marxism] Richard Fidler and Marvin Gandall brave the cold

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at videotron.ca
Mon Mar 20 10:49:20 MST 2006


Heh. I look grim (sinus headache) but, as Richard's article makes clear, we
had an good turnout despite the bitter cold, which was why the low
attendance elsewhere, which you can usually guage based on the size of
the local one, was so surprising. Below, a decent piece from last Saturday's
Globe comparing the Vietnam and Iraq antiwar movements:

Critical mass proves elusive for American peace activists
By PAUL KORING
Globe and Mail
March 18 2006

Innocently unaware, children reached up to touch the skeletal fingers of a
towering, flag-clad Grim Reaper, a monstrous walking parody of the famous
Uncle Sam Wants You poster. The symbolism, like the weather, was chilling,
but the mood was festive as three dozen peace activists marched along with
dancers and bagpipers and floats crammed with candy-tossing, green-clad
folks in the annual St. Patrick's Day parade this week.

No one seemed to mind that a gaggle of self-described peaceniks had joined
this week's parade, or that only a single sign demanding: "England out of
Ireland, USA out of Iraq" made any attempt to link the boisterous,
celebration of Ireland's patron saint to the Iraqi war launched by
increasingly unpopular U.S. President George W. Bush.

A few "cut-and-run" catcalls rang out through the sunny, late-winter
afternoon. Mostly the crowds lining the elegant quadrangle of streets
framing Wisconsin's gleaming white Capitol dome were either quietly
supportive or smilingly stoic and non-committal, in a Midwestern sort of
way.

Only a few of the peace marchers were young; most were middle-aged or older,
veterans of earlier anti-war struggles or other social activism. Unlike the
rage and violence when anti-war protests convulsed the United States in the
late 1960s, the modern peace movement is civil, polite and careful not to
vilify those in uniform. No one would dream of spitting on a returning
solider or calling him or her "baby-killer." There's no hint of rancour.

Asked whether it seems odd to be sharing a parade with a U.S. Marine Corps
colour guard that marches by carrying flags as the protesters assemble, Ben
Ratliffe, a ponytailed peace organizer and university student said: "Well,
we both have something to say."

Fifty-one soldiers, marines and airmen from Wisconsin have died in Iraq, and
local newspapers were chronicling their sacrifice this week. They are
honoured as heroes. Even those most bitterly opposed to the war don't blame
the military.

Mr. Ratliffe admits that only about 20 other local students are actively
involved in the peace effort on a regular basis. "We're all trying to do our
best to rebuild the movement," he said.

So goes it for a peace movement that, all across the United States, is still
struggling to reach beyond the hard-core group of committed protesters and
engage a broader spectrum of Americans.

Today, in cities and towns throughout Wisconsin and in other states, rallies
vigils and marches will be staged to mark the third anniversary of the start
of the war in Iraq on March 19.

Activists hope they will finally herald a rising outcry, echoing the angry
chorus of three decades ago that finally forced Washington to pull out of
Vietnam.

Even here in Madison, a small, proud city with a long liberal tradition
where a big chunk of the quarter-million population is comprised of
students, few are confident that the peace movement will finally take off.

So far, it has failed to ignite popular protest, even as the President's
popularity has plummeted to a near-all-time low and Iraq seems mired in
misery and strife, threatening to tip into civil war. Polls show one in two
Americans think it is time to get out. Yet three years after the triumphal
race of U.S. armoured columns to Baghdad, the end game and exit strategy
remain deeply divisive.

Some fervent anti-war activists believe millions of Americans will soon tire
of the war and rise up, thronging campuses and capitals in an unstoppable
force. "The youth of today will have to stop new wars" said Dennis Coyier,
57, who recalled almost wistfully "being tear-gassed over there on State
Street" during a Vietnam protest. Mr. Coyier served as a U.S. Navy corpsman
in a San Diego hospital, patching up wounded from Southeast Asia in the late
1960s, before becoming a foot solider in the anti-war movement.

"I'm dumbfounded that I'm not here with thousands of people," he said,
though the lament seems one of frustration rather than surprise.

Now, wearing a green "Another Veteran against War with Iraq" hat and pushing
a cart festooned with anti-war and anti-Bush buttons, Mr. Coyier said, "each
generation needs to relearn certain values."

If today's young people remain largely unengaged in the anti-war movements,
at least in comparison to their baby boomer parents, it may have less to do
with unlearned values and more with a dearth of body bags. After three
years, more than 2,300 U.S. servicemen have been killed, roughly two a day,
although the grim toll has dropped in recent months. By comparison, three
years after major troop commitments were made in Vietnam, U.S. GIs were
being killed at the rate of 50 a day. More than 16,000 were killed in 1968
alone. Thirty years ago, everyone knew someone who had been drafted and few
in the United States were untouched by the war.

"If there was a draft it would motivate young people," said Jane Jenson, a
72-year-old retired psychologist and founder of Military Families for Peace
in Madison. "There's not enough people who are affected by this war," she
added. One of her sons, a lieutenant-colonel in an army Black Hawk
helicopter squadron, spent more than a year in Iraq. "We have some
interesting conversations," she said as she waved a placard urging a Yes
vote in the forthcoming Troops Home Now referendum.

Tonight's rallies - activists won't even guess at how many people will turn
out - may offer only a hint of whether anti-war feelings are growing. But
early next month, voters in dozens of Wisconsin towns, villages and cities
will vote on whether to bring the troops home now.

In a rare, non-binding, but nonetheless intriguing litmus test of public
opinion that will be closely watched by Wisconsin's politicians as well as
those in Washington, on April 4, Wisconsin voters will cast ballots in 30
local elections with a "Bring our troops home" resolution.

Again and again, the issue of the draft - or, rather, the absence of one -
comes up. Instead of an entire generation being seized with the possibility
of getting called up and being sent, willingly or not, to fight and maybe
die in Vietnam, the U.S. military today is an all-volunteer force.

"College students are largely disengaged, very few of them are volunteering
to go, and none are under the threat of being forced to go," says Charles
Franklin, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin in
Madison. He sees college students actively engaged on some issues, but only
rarely on the war.

"Even as popular support for the war has gone down, the big question is
still unanswered: What should we do?" he said. "The problem for the peace
activists is that if you are going to be taken seriously, you need to offer
a substantive alternative."

Even ardent activists such as Jill Bussiere, a Green Party worker who
organized the petition that put the "Bring our troops home" question on the
ballot in her town of Kewaunee, worry that an immediate pullout could leave
Iraq spiralling into an even-worse cycle of violence.

"I wish I knew for sure what the right thing to do is," she said in a
telephone interview.

For the anti-war movement, the referendum could backfire, Mr. Franklin
warned, because what "we are seeing is expressive politics rather than
practical politics." If, after having managed to get the issue on the
ballot, the anti-war movement fails to win a substantial number of the local
votes, it would expose their lack of broad support. Although Mr. Franklin
said he expects a strong Troops Home vote in traditionally liberal Madison
and parts of Milwaukee, the vote will be very different in rural and
northern parts of the state. "In more conservative areas, the referendum
will be used as a whipping boy to show how out of touch the liberals are,"
he said.

"We really do live in a different world now than we did in the Sixties: The
country has become far more conservative in the last 30 years," Mr. Franklin
said.

A fierce wind whips whitecaps across newly ice-free Lake Monona, where Frank
Lloyd Wright's vision for a civic centre overlooking water wasn't realized
until six decades after the famous Wisconsin-born architect's death. In
Madison, folks can be patient and persistent. Every Monday for the past 25
years, a sidewalk vigil for peace, first inspired by Ronald Reagan's
decision to boost defence spending in 1981, has been held outside the Post
Office. Torrential rain or wind chills way below zero sometimes suspend the
vigil but last Monday's bitter wind was benign by Wisconsin standards.

"I was sitting in the Philippines waiting to invade Japan in 1945 when the
first atom bomb was dropped," said Jackson Tiffany, an 80-year-old with a
shock of white hair whose clapped-out car has a weather-beaten flower lashed
to its antenna. "That made me a pacifist," he recalled as he stood with half
a dozen vigil stalwarts. A few drivers respond to the "Honk if you want
Peace" sign held aloft but mostly the group gets polite nods or the friendly
small-city waves, during the hour it bears witness.

"There's a long history here in Wisconsin of opposition to war," Mr. Tiffany
said. "But this war isn't hitting the kids the same as it did a generation
ago when the draft was breathing down their necks." Mr. Tiffany leads a
training group teaching non-violent methods of resolving disputes.

"Three is our minimum," said Mary Beth Schlagheck, one of the originals who
has been a regular since the first Monday 25 years ago. "sometimes we get a
lot of people . . . as we did during the first gulf war."

Bundled against the cold and wearing a white beret, Mrs. Schlagheck, 61,
acknowledged that even within the tiny group staging the vigil, there are
differing views. "There are people who would have been much more accepting
if Bush had limited the wars to Afghanistan," to oust the Taliban that has
sheltered al-Qaeda, she said. "But the Iraq war was a war of choice, and
Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the terrorists who attacked our
homeland."

Steve Burns works in the tiny, cramped Wisconsin Network for Peace and
Justice office over the street where Vietnam protesters were tear-gassed and
where trendy coffee bars share a block with Wisconsin's Veteran's Museum.
The museum chronicles not just the exploits of brave Wisconsin regiments
from the Civil War, but also the state's proud anti-war movement that
bitterly opposed U.S. involvement in the First World War.

For Mr. Burns, a paid organizer, the peace referendum is just one arrow in a
quiver of issues. The troops home referendum effort has been run on a
shoestring budget "of less than $10,000" and Mr. Burns worries that
deep-pocketed Bush supporters may roll out a big-dollar campaign in the
final few days.

"There's a mixture of frustration and optimism," he said.

"Bush has made it clear that he isn't interested in public opinion." But
even if nothing really changes until the 2008 presidential campaign, this
referendum may "give a sense of the possible back to the people," he said.










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