Comments on the Jan. 18 March and the Anti-Iraq-War Movement

“True revolutionaries are not concerned about dominating or controlling this growing movement, but inspiring and unleashing it”

by Linda Thompson Lancz


Size of the March

It seemed fairly clear to everyone that the size of the October 26 Washington action against war on Iraq was approximately 200,000. The figures for January 18 range from over 200,000 to the 500,000 claimed by the organizers. The reality of the size was probably somewhere in between.

Almost everyone agreed that Jan. 18 was far larger than Oct. 26, and one of the largest actions to be seen in Washington since the days of the anti-Vietnam War movement. These estimates are far more significant due to the brutal cold that covered New England and the East Coast for weeks before the march and the below freezing temperatures the day of the march.

Composition

The demonstrators were far more racially diverse than in the antiwar protests of the 1960s, and groups from virtually every nationality in the U.S. were represented with banners and signs. The crowd was overwhelmingly young with campuses well represented. The aging veterans of the anti-Vietnam War era were present but their ranks were swelled by new generations of protesters. It appeared that the youth were far more sophisticated and knowledgeable than those at the beginning of the ’60s, judging by the signs displaying solidarity with Iraq in spite of Saddam Hussein and the preponderance of “NO BLOOD FOR OIL” signs.

This reporter was overwhelmed by the variety and creativity of the signs. Many protested the deaths of millions of children in the Middle East and made connections with what is going on in the Philippines and Colombia. There was widespread horror expressed at the U.S. government’s use of bombs as a substitute for a sane foreign policy.

Speakers

Speakers at the rally were diverse as to age, nationality, and organization. In contrast to the movement of the ’60s, I would say that a majority of the speakers were Black or “Third World.”

Labor was represented by Brenda Stokely and Michael Letwin, co-convenors of New York City Labor Against War, who called for support to the giant actions against war called for February 15 in New York City.

Also highly significant was the fact that Fred Mason, president of the Maryland state AFL-CIO, spoke in behalf of the increasingly large sector of the organized labor movement that is opposed to the war.

Unfortunately, in contrast to the speakers list for Oct. 26, the speakers on Jan. 18 were predominantly male. Rev. Herbert Daughtry, pastor of the Brooklyn House of the Lord Church; Bill Fletcher, co-chair of United for Peace and head of Trans Africa; Damu Smith, founder of Black Voices for Peace; Reverend Lucius Walker, of the Inter religious Foundation for Community Organization and a representative of Pastors for Peace—all spoke against the racist aspects of intervening in the Middle East and in support of Martin Luther King’s historic antiwar stand. Reverend Graylan Hagler of Plymouth Congregational Church in Massachusetts also spoke.

Reverend Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition gave perhaps the most conservative speech of the day, speaking in favor of “containment” of Saddam Hussein and favoring “negotiations over confrontation.” He referred to King’s call for a mass multiracial coalition that engaged in mass action for a war on poverty. Jackson and the Reverend Al Sharpton of the National Action Network spoke at both rallies—on Jan. 18 and Oct. 26. Sharpton spoke appropriately on the antiwar legacy of Martin Luther King.

Viola Plummer of the December 12th Movement was the sole Black woman who spoke besides former Representative Cynthia McKinney (Democrat from Georgia). In addition to McKinney there were a few other politicians on the program, including Rep. John Conyers of Detroit and Councilman John Baron of Brooklyn. Lucius Walker read a statement from Congressman Charles Rangel, who was not in attendance.

There were many representatives of the Muslim community, both in this country and internationally. Dr. Esam Omeish spoke from the Muslim American Society and Ihab Darwish of the Free Palestine Alliance spoke out against Israeli genocidal policies. Ismail Kamal spoke from the Muslim Student Association and Dr. Ghazi Khankan for the Council on American Islamic Relations. Ashraf El Bayoumi attended from the Cairo Peace Conference.

Academy Award-winning actress Jessica Lange gave one of the most moving and educational speeches at the rally, as had actress Susan Sarandon on Oct. 26. Both actresses were militant, knowledgeable about the issues, and very effective speakers. Former Attorney General (in the Johnson administration) Ramsey Clark is always well received and was perhaps the best-known speaker on the podium.

There were representatives of the international antiwar movement as well. Jeremy Corbin represented the Stop the War Coalition in Britain, which built the largest demonstration in British history, an estimated 400-500,000 people in London on Sept. 28, 2002. Marie Hilao Enriquez of the mass organization BAYAN in the Philippines spoke of the repression “which is propped up by the U.S. military” in her homeland. She also called for solidarity with the struggle to get the U.S. out of Colombia and to remove the U.S. military presence from Vieques island in Puerto Rico. Hector Castro was in attendance from the Committee for Social Justice in Colombia and pointed out that the issues of U.S. foreign domination are the same in Colombia and the Middle East.

Miles Solay was a young representative of the Not in Our Name coalition. Folksinger Patti Smith performed on both Jan. 18 and Oct. 26. Ron Kovics, the Vietnam war veteran and author of Born on the Fourth Of July, spoke of the need to support the upcoming February 13–21 Week of Resistance to the war. Nadia Marsh, of Doctors and Nurses Against the War, gave one of the best talks, discussing “collateral damage”—the civilian victims of war—denouncing the smallpox vaccination of health care workers as unnecessary, a phony government campaign to build up war hysteria, and contrasting the billions spent on war to the needs of 41 million Americans without health care.

The ANSWER Coalition leaders are fairly impressive. The most appealing of the group is the female leader Mara Verheyden Hilliard cofounder of ANSWER who co-chaired the rally with Larry Holmes, also listed as a cofounder of the ANSWER Action Center. Brian Becker, co-director of the ANSWER Action Center, was the only speaker who addressed the question of self-determination versus U.S. domination.

Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, co-chaired the rally with the other ANSWER leaders. The entire group, while attractive and talented, spoke in an angry agitational style which became really annoying after about an hour. It was inappropriate for a TV audience watching on C-SPAN. Very few took up the key issues of self-determination, and almost no one called for withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East. I can’t recall anyone taking up the issue of the United Nations inspections or the issues of terrorism and civil liberties. In general there was a dearth of educational speeches and reasoned arguments, and most of the speeches sounded like angry posturing. A lot of the speeches focused on attacking Bush and ignored the issues that need to be clarified for the American public.

While the speakers were impressive from the standpoint of the breadth of a new generation and new layers of antiwar organizers coming to the fore, the list was more marked for who was not invited to speak. There were no representatives of the pacifist wing of the movement and, whether Chomsky and Zinn were invited to speak or not, they were not on the platform. There was no mention of the life of the antiwar activist priest Phillip Berrigan, who recently died—at any rate, no mention that I am aware of, although the ANSWER web site does have a tribute to him. It would have been fitting to have a representative of his organization, Jonah House, give a eulogy.

Also, there were no representatives of the feminist or environmental movements and no one from the Green Party. Although the Nation of Islam’s newspaper, The Final Call, has been in the forefront of opposition to the war, no speaker was present from the that organization.

While the Oct. 26 actions seemed promising, this writer was less enthusiastic after Jan. 18 about the potential of the ANSWER coalition to broaden the movement and include all the mass organizations in this country. To their credit ANSWER is supporting the February 15 action in New York City and the Feb. 16 action in San Francisco called by the coalition United for Peace and Justice. What is needed more than ever is a broad unity on the part of all of the organizations in the face of the war threat.

Power of the Internet

An article on the United for Peace web site by Leander Kahney brought out a salient feature fueling this antiwar movement in the online news article, “Internet Stokes Antiwar Movement.” I am a veteran of the antiwar organizing of the ’60’s and ’70’s and served as co-chair of the Greater Boston Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam from 1965 to 1970. I was filled with awe, as was Kahney, at the power of the Internet to mobilize people almost effortlessly. I remember spending hour after hour rubbing lettering off sheets onto flyer after flyer, back before computers and desktop publishing. I remember reproducing stacks of leaflets piled to the ceilings waiting to be distributed by antiwar activists on the street corners. I remember organizing activists to call huge phone lists, spending hours and money making calls for funds and publicity. For every organizing meeting and rally a mailing had to done. It took so much energy and fund raising to merely publicize the marches and rallies.

Sarah Sloan, an ANSWER organizer, was quoted as saying that joining the movement is as easy as typing “antiwar” into Google and being directed to hundreds of antiwar web sites. While the ANSWER group has done the nitty-gritty work of organizing the logistics for the last two rallies, it is really the power of the Internet coupled with massive antiwar sentiment that has united people as never before in U.S. or world history. It bodes well for the future of organizing that central web sites can be set up that effortlessly give millions access to actions, dates, travel routes, parking, speakers, lists of endorsers, and news updates.

Upcoming Actions

Actions are planned in New York City during the weapons inspectors’ report to the UN Security Council. A rally and concert is planned for Jan. 28 in Washington in response to Bush’s State of the Union address. United for Peace and Justice, International ANSWER, and Win without War have called for Jan. 29 local antiwar actions. The following week communities throughout the world will carry out “no war for oil” events at gas stations. On Feb. 15 and 16 come the mass actions planned in New York City and San Francisco by the United for Peace and Justice coalition as part of a worldwide day of opposition to war against Iraq. From Bangkok to Brussels, from Tokyo to Istanbul, the people of the world will say no to war in what the London Daily Mirror says may be the largest ever mobilization against the war.

Need for a Revolutionary Leadership

There is a need for education and direction in this burgeoning antiwar movement. Some of the popular slogans such as “regime change begins at home” can lead in the wrong direction. It is a clever and funny slogan, but it could play into Democratic Party politics, funneling mass opposition into support of the bosses’ more deceptive and foxy, less openly wolflike, political party (to paraphrase Malcolm X). The slogan doesn’t question the right of one nation to change the regime of another—nor do you hear such questioning in the major press. The movement against war on Iraq needs to raise the issue of self-determination of nations and demand “Withdraw All U.S. Troops from the Middle East.” “Support the Troops” is a fitting slogan, as it was in the ’60s, but only as long as it is coupled with the demand to “Bring the Troops Home Now.” In other words, “Support Our Troops—Bring Them Home Now!”

There are new possibilities for building a revolutionary party in the United States due to the worsening economy and deepening distrust of the capitalist politicians and corporate America. There is a real need for a revolutionary leadership to inspire and guide the new generations of activists and to share their experience with the new activists who are full of the creativity and energy of youth. True revolutionaries are not concerned with controlling and dominating a growing movement, but inspiring and unleashing it. That is the task facing the left today.