If George W. Bush and his advisers thought they would enjoy widespread support for an invasion of Iraq, the demonstrations in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and many other cities on October 26 showed them otherwise. In spite of the facts that U.S. ground troops have not been committed to Iraq, that there is no military draft, that there have not been American combat casualties, and that Saddam Hussein is guilty of many of the crimes of which he has been accused, Americans took to the streets in numbers that even Washington’s police acknowledged were the largest since the end of the Vietnam War.
In addition to as many as 200,000 in D.C. and 75,000 in San Francisco on Oct. 26, we have received reports of 8,000 in Seattle, 5–6,000 in Denver, comparable numbers in Chicago and Austin, Texas, 5,000 in Atlanta, Georgia, 3,000 in Augusta, Maine, 1,500 in Montpelier, Vermont, 1,500 in Kingston, New York (including famed folk singer and local resident Pete Seeger), 1,500 in Tucson, Arizona, the week before (on October 19), around 300 each in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Duluth, Minnesota. Every day there are reports of additional local actions, and plans for further actions, from all over the country.
Demonstrations were also held in other countries on Oct. 26. Among those we have heard of were the ones in Rome, Berlin (and all over Germany), Copenhagen, Tokyo, and Mexico City.
The Washington, D.C., demonstration might have been larger than it was, because the New York buses were very late in arriving, and it is likely that fear of the sniper attacks caused many not to plan ahead to attend — though suspects were apprehended during the week prior to the demonstration. Even so, the action was a great success, for which the International ANSWER coalition (ANSWER is an acronym for “Act Now to Stop War and End Racism”) deserves to be commended.
The D.C. march and rally (observed on C-SPAN, which covered the events for more than six hours) were representative of the diverse opposition to the threatened war in Iraq. The proportion of people of color in attendance was higher than at previous antiwar demonstrations. The organizers reached out to Islamic religious groups throughout the country to join, and many did; again, this was a positive step forward for the antiwar movement.
Labor participation was higher than in the past, as well. One of the rally speakers, Michael Letwin of New York City Labor Against War (NYCLAW), read an impressive list of unions which have passed resolutions in opposition to Bush’s plans to invade Iraq. Another labor speaker was Clarence Thomas, an officer of Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which had been locked out of West Coast ports by the employers’ Pacific Maritime Association and which has had the Taft-Hartley Act imposed upon it.
The rally speakers as well reflected the breadth and strength of the antiwar movement. Several representatives of Veterans for Peace spoke, including a veteran of the Korean War, a veteran of the Vietnam War, and a veteran of the 1990–91 Gulf War. A woman veteran who had been stationed in Korea during the 1980s gave a chilling account of a massacre of civilians carried out by South Korean troops, with U.S. forces standing by.
Politicians and former politicians who spoke included Rev. Jesse Jackson, Representative Cynthia McKinney (Democrat of Georgia), Rev. Al Sharpton, and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark. All of them paid tribute to Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who was killed the previous day in a plane crash on Minnesota’s Iron Range.
Nearly every speaker contrasted the billions of dollars already being spent for war, and the billions more that will be spent, with the money that is not being spent for human needs in the United States, especially at a time when the U.S. economy is performing poorly. Vermont businessman Ben Cohen, a founder of the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream company, explained that just half of the money being wasted on military spending could reduce public school class sizes, provide health insurance for all children in the U.S. who don’t have it, feed all the hungry children on the planet, and provide medicine for everyone in the world who is suffering from AIDS. He unrolled a banner-sized bar graph showing expenditures for human needs contrasted to spending for war, and the bar for war had to be unrolled as a separate ribbon because it would not fit on the graph!
Polls Show Declining Support for Bush’s War Plans
Successful antiwar demonstrations were held on January 19, and January 26, 1991, against Bush Senior’s war, and they may very well have played a role in his decision not to march on Baghdad at that time but to content himself with expelling the Iraqi forces from Kuwait. However, the support for the Gulf War within the American population — and the working class as well — was high. The contrast to public opinion today could not be more striking.
In spite of the groundswell of patriotic sentiment following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, only a slight majority of respondents to opinion polls support military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and that majority is conditional on a broad alliance of countries, United Nations authorization, and Congressional approval. According to ABC, only slightly more than one in four people who were asked approves of the United States “going it alone” to remove Saddam. It should, moreover, be understood that pollsters tend to phrase their questions in such a way to slant the result: for example, they will ask, “Do you favor military action in Iraq to stop Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction?” Even with such prejudicial phrasing, it is clear that Bush has not convinced the American people of the necessity of going to war against Iraq.
What is even more encouraging is that polls are showing a decline in support for war. Just as an example: the CBS News/New York Times poll of October 7, 2002, asked if the U.S. should go to war soon or give United Nations weapons inspectors more time (a good example of prejudicial phrasing if there ever was one). Thirty percent favored going to war soon, and sixty-three percent answered that the UN inspectors should be given more time. Two weeks earlier, thirty-six percent favored going to war soon, and fifty-seven percent called for more time for inspections. When asked whether the U.S. should act now or wait for allies, twenty-nine percent agreed with acting now, whereas sixty-five percent said that the U.S. should wait to build an alliance. Support for “going it alone” had declined two points from two weeks earlier.
Popular support for Bush Junior’s Iraq war is considerably lower in the initial stages than it was for the Vietnam War or Bush Senior’s Gulf War. The Vietnam War had been under way for a full year before the first national demonstrations took place, and for three years by the time more than 100,000 people went into the streets to protest it. And as history has recorded, that movement, combined with the heroic resistance of the Vietnamese people themselves, stopped the most powerful empire in history in its tracks and dealt the United States its first military defeat. It is possible that George W. Bush, who spent those years in an uninterrupted fraternity party, does not understand the significance of a popular antiwar movement or what it can do to his foreign policy. If he continues on his present course he will learn a very hard lesson indeed.
November 2, 2002